A Retiree’s ESL Story

How one retiree got involved in the English as a Second Language (ESL) ministry, and grew spiritually:

A few years went by, and I had decided to retire. I had no idea what to do or what to expect, but if I could get by with my pension, I wanted to volunteer in some way. I figured that God had enabled me to be able to retire and He must have a purpose in mind for that. The ESL program teaches English to foreign speaking folks and at the same time teaches them about Jesus. The program exists in numerous states, but Grady County’s structure is one-of-a-kind in that it is headquartered at one church, meets weekly, serves anybody who wants to come, and depends on other Baptist churches to voluntarily feed the students and teachers on a rotating basis.

I was attending New Ochlocknee Church at that time and, being a small church, we only assisted in this once a year. Bear in mind that I didn’t even know what was happening in those ESL classrooms. All I knew was we fed them all once the classes ended. And every year, I saw Jimmy Payne at the church mingling with the teachers and students. I’m a slow learner, but I finally asked him, “Why are you here every time we are?” I got a simple answer: “I’m here every week because my wife runs the program and I help her.”

Hmmmmm. I’m retired with no idea what to do next. I don’t know what Jimmy is actually doing there, but maybe I can do it too! So I called him at home one night. I think he was surprised. “What can you do?” he said. I told him a little bit about myself. I worked for the State of Florida in communications. I dealt with the press, wrote a lot of things, and one of my jobs, at one time, was functioning as the speechwriter for the Florida Commissioner of Agriculture. (I neglected to add that I was a self-educated speechwriter, by no means a professional one.) Jimmy seemed satisfied, so he told me he would speak to his wife, Barbara, about me. I think I had met Barbara in passing, once at Harvey’s.

I’m not sure how their conversation went, but I know that Barbara wanted to know what my credentials were. Most all of the ESL teachers WERE retired teachers. I certainly wasn’t. I had done some training seminars, I knew I could speak in front of a group as I had in my past, but credentials or certificates, I didn’t have.

Jimmy persisted, “He’s a good guy—give him a chance.” Barbara thought it over and came up with the perfect solution. “I’ll pair him with Ann Parks. She’ll keep an eye on him.” And, so it was. Ann Parks took an inexperienced beginner and molded me to the point that now we share duties as team teachers. I must say I continue to be amazed by her teaching abilities as well as her spiritual commitment week after week.

Bear in mind that I had just been saved and was “green” in the spiritual sense as well as my “teaching sense.” I often said that with all the time I spent being exposed to Pastor Howard Tillery, Jimmy Payne, and Ann Parks; I had no choice but to continue to grow as a Christian. Or, to put it another way: I had been so far down that there was only one direction for a guy like me to go and that was up!

– Pat, Grady County Baptist Association’s ESL ministry in Cairo, GA