How I Got Involved in ESL by Edie Barry (1948 - 2013)
When I was in GA’s, a mission organization for girls, I fell in love with foreign missions. I thought perhaps God had a plan for me on a foreign field. I took Spanish in high school and college in case I went to a Spanish-speaking country. The closest I came to a “foreign missionary” as I had envisioned it was to work in VBS one summer in Texas and Mexico.
Instead of pursuing missions, I chose to teach school. After a year and a half of teaching, I married David, and we moved around the country for five years. When we lived in Amarillo, Texas, I had my first, but very brief experience with the ministry of teaching English to internationals.
When we moved to Ooltewah, I wanted to put down spiritual roots and do something to make a difference in the name of Christ. For a few years I was very involved in the mission organization of the church and association. Then I had heard about the Conversational English program at East Ridge Baptist Church and the training the Hamilton County Baptist Association provides for volunteers. When I sat in on one class to observe, I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I started fifteen years ago with the new center at Concord Baptist Church. Helping people from all over the world to be more functional in our language has been an extremely rewarding ministry.
In 1992, I was offered a part-time position teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) at Chattanooga State under the Adult Basic Education program. This was a stretch for me, but now I see it as a spiritual marker to another level. After four years, I was offered a full time position in ESL, K-12. This was a major stretch. The job is inherently very challenging. It required certification, which meant I had to go back to school.
I work with Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists, as well as Christians. I have been able to present the significance of Christmas and Easter as elements of American culture. I try to share my faith when I have appropriate opportunity. Just before school was out this year, I gave my high school class an assignment which required them to show who they are by telling about five things they brought to class in a bag. During her presentation, an Indian Hindu girl pulled out of her bag a picture of her god. She expressed her love and devotion to him. Up to this time I felt a kinship with foreign missionaries, but that day I was overwhelmed with the field before my very eyes. God had brought the foreign fields to me, not just one, but many!