Impacting Cultures around Indianapolis through Teaching English
At the Doorstep
Each week, nearly 100 volunteers from Faith Church in Indianapolis and surrounding churches invest in more than 500 refugees through the Faith International English Classes (FIEC). These 500 people represent 33 cultures and 26 languages. “We have always been a strong missionary-sending community,” says Dawn Waltz, FIEC administrator. “But it was really exciting when we realized the world had started coming to our door. Our church had to expand on the property and we realized that here were refugees in this low-income neighborhood who needed a lot of help.”
And thus God laid it on the heart of one woman to pray. This prayer was quickly answered when a missionary couple returned from Turkey and within a month had “stumbled” upon 17 families of Turkish background. Thus birthed the FIEC. With little training, 12 church volunteers spent a year teaching English two nights a week, applying for green cards, sharing meals, dancing, helping with the children’s homework, celebrating, and crying and laughing together. “It was like family,” Waltz says. “It was exhilarating and it was exhausting!”
The Need for Training
These refugee families began telling others within their apartment complexes about the English classes. Immigrants and refugees from several cultures began walking into the building asking if they could be taught. “It was a thrill to have the world coming to our door after decades of us sending out missionaries to the world!” Waltz exclaims. However, the team soon realized that they needed education in teaching English and they came to the Billy Graham Center’s Institute for Cross-Cultural Training (ICCT) for training. “We were truly birthed out of the ICCT program,” Waltz says. “We needed to be very good at our English teaching. Some places do a bait-and-switch where they just want to use this as a way to share the gospel. However, we realized we needed to teach English with excellence. If we did that, it would open many doors to sharing about Jesus.”
One of the leaders of FIEC attended ICCT’s Reach Out With English (ROWE) training, receiving instruction in TESOL theory, methodology, and practice. This led him to develop a mission statement reflecting the ROWE philosophy and infused him with a new energy and expertise to share with the FIEC leadership team and volunteers.
By year two, FIEC had grown to minister to eight people groups. This burgeoning ministry began to once again tax the volunteers—an internal poll reflected the fact that 70% were on the edge of burnout. As Waltz explains, “They were tired of constant lesson planning, finding resources, and teaching two nights a week—all without on-going professional training.” They made some simple changes, including forming an even stronger leadership team and cutting back on a few ministries in order to do certain things with excellence. Waltz shares: “We decided to teach only one night per week instead of two, giving more continuity to the classroom and more relaxed time for teachers to spend with students outside the classroom. We searched for curriculum that met the needs of multicultural backgrounds and began organizing committees for the extras events we were offering. We were also going to be intentional about providing professional seminar training for our staff.”
That is when ROWE stepped in the second time. “We needed a ‘team-shared language and vision’” Waltz explains. ROWE staff came on site to provide training to the volunteers. “We were like dry sponges, and we came away feeling saturated, better equipped, and invigorated by [the teacher’s] expertise, encouragement, and example” Waltz says.
A Growing Ministry
Today, FIEC is still growing and deeply impacting the fabric of cultures in and around Indianapolis. They serve nearly 500 people every week, using every classroom in the church building. FIEC is completely volunteer-led and operated and includes a nine-member leadership team, administrator, structured children’s program divided by age levels from ages 0-14, childhood coordinator, welcome team, security guard, staff-care hospitality team, set-up team, student-entry assessment team, registrar, teaching teams in ten classrooms of adults divided into six levels, generous budget, and the full support and blessing from the church leadership and body.
Waltz and the rest of the team are strongly committed to “modeling God’s love, not just our love. We always keep our relationships with Christ first and from that we serve. And we have seen so many people cross the line of faith because our volunteers have gone the extra mile. It’s been amazing!”
FIEC has begun expanding its ministry outside of the church facilities as well. Many of the volunteers mentor other individuals and organizations near Indianapolis who want to begin an English program in their churches. FIEC has partnered with several universities in central Indiana to provide practicum experience for their Teaching English as a Second Language (TESOL) students as well.
More than seven years into this, Waltz has seen many lives—both refugee families and volunteers—deeply impacted through FIEC. However, she cautions that doing this ministry with excellence requires endurance. “It’s not a sprint. It’s a marathon,” she says. “To be sustainable, you have to know what you are getting into. You need more than just a great heart—you need training and skill to serve authentically.” As she prepares to serve hundreds of people each week, Waltz clings to 2 Chronicles 16:9a: “For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.” She sighs. “There are so many blessings in this ministry. But it takes commitment that comes only from God.”