The ESL (English as a Second Language) program at Pleasant Valley United Methodist Church in Wichita, Kansas, is dedicated to serving the Hispanic community by providing quality language instruction to Spanish speaking people. The ESL program is one of the primary outreach ministries of Pleasant Valley UMC. Each spring and fall semester, Jennifer Jepsen along with her husband, Tim, hosts the ESL program every Thursday. The program lasts for eight weeks in the fall and nine weeks in the spring.
Thursday, Feb. 26, was the start of the program’s spring semester of their fourth year serving at Pleasant Valley UMC. The weekly average of students in the ESL program is 92, however, the program saw 134 Hispanic people walk through the door on the first day of the semester. The program started with a meal provided by Olive Garden. Afterwards, the adults were pre-tested and placed into one of six different levels to study English in small groups with a skilled teacher. Meanwhile, the children were taught music, science and crafts lessons. Towards the end of the event, students and teachers joined together in a large circle to sing worship songs in English and Spanish. The event concluded with devotional time led by Pastor Tim Jepsen.
“This program has helped me a lot,” said ESL student Beatrice Martinez. “The first time I came here I didn’t speak any English at all, but now because of the program I understand a lot more now.
The Jepsens started ESL as missionaries in Mexico before bringing it to the United States. They brought the program to Pleasant Valley UMC with the intention of reaching the Hispanic community with the Gospel.
“Our goal was to plant an Hispanic church within an already established Anglo-congregation,” Jennifer said. “We wanted to work with a church that was looking to reach out to their changing neighborhood.”
The Jepsens’ goal was fulfilled in July of 2012 when they started the Hispanic church called El Pueblo de Dios. Approximately 30-40 people attend and services are held every Sunday at Pleasant Valley UMC from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Over the past four years, the ESL program has reached more than 1,500 Hispanics. The program currently serves Latino students from countries such as Guatemala, Mexico, El Salvador, Cuba, Columbia, Honduras and Puerto Rico. Besides providing students with language instruction, ESL also offers students citizenship tutoring as well as GED class provided by Butler Community College.
“One of our goals is to get them to be citizens so they can be rooted in the community,” Jennifer said. “We are trying to break down some of the walls that have been built where people take but don’t give back.”
Sydney Seeby, an ESL teacher said that she enjoys how ESL brings diversity to the Pleasant Valley congregation.
“This church is surrounded by a diverse neighborhood,” Seeby said. “ This is a great program and I’m happy that they brought ESL to this church.”
Sandy Binn, another ESL teacher, said that she enjoys getting to build relationships with her ESL students. She started teaching with the program four years ago and says that it has been a blessing to be able to watch her students grow and gain confidence with English.
“I see that the students feel welcome here,” Binn said. “That’s because this is really like a home, a home away from home.”
Story and photos by Marcus Wright, intern for communications at the Great Plains Conference