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Language program helps church meet Hispanic/Latino needs

9/4/2003 News media contact: Linda Green · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn

This report is a sidebar to UMNS story #427.

A Report By Linda Green*

When Hispanic/Latinos began moving into the blue-collar community of Levy, Ark., a few years ago, local United Methodists decided to build a connection by building a bridge - right across the language gap.

The church began teaching English as a second language, helping the new arrivals communicate with their neighbors and function more easily in society.

"It is a good program, and there is a great need for it," instructor Patty Jones says.

The church saw its neighborhood changing and realized that it had to change too. Along with the language program, it began ministering to Hispanic/Latinos through a wellness program, day care and a mother's day out program. Last May, the church launched an English/Spanish praise service. A new bilingual Web site helps church members communicate with their new neighbors.

"We are reaching out in hopes that they will become a part of our church and the United Methodist family," Jones says.

Jones, who only speaks English, teaches the language course in part because of her family's history. "I do it because my family, a long time ago, came from another country and they didn't speak English. Someone taught them how to speak English, and we should help the people here now learn to speak English so they will be able to communicate."

The United States, she says, is made up of "immigrants, and we should help them as much as we can."

"We felt it was our calling to reach out in Christ's name and share the good news," says the Rev. David Bush, church pastor. In a few years, Hispanics will be the largest group living in Levy, and the bilingual Web site "has helped us to start building a bridge to this community."

The Levy area, on the edge of North Little Rock, Ark., had been a lower- to middle-income, blue-collar community, says Jim Lane, church lay leader. Ten to 15 years ago, young, upwardly mobile people moved in for the affordable houses and career opportunities, he says. For the same reasons, Hispanic/Latinos began moving in five years ago.

The congregation and townspeople "have been impressed with our new Hispanic neighbors," Bush says. "They work hard and are very family oriented. They have a community spirit."

The demographic changes didn't require major adjustments for the congregation, just the addition of programs that would help in meeting their new neighbors. "The members opened their hearts and the doors of the church to the people in the community, " Jones says.

"The church hopes to gain more people for heaven, to win people to Christ," she explains. "It has responded by being friendly and trying to take the people in our community in as part of our family."
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*Green is a news writer with United Methodist News Service.

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