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Edna church becomes classroom for language classes


March 25, 2010 at midnight
Updated March 25, 2010 at 10:26 p.m.

Juana Medina, who attends classes held at the Redeemer Lutheran Church in Edna, smiles as the class laughs at the different meanings of the phonetic sound ate. The Rev. Andrew Schroer is extending his ministry to the community, which is seeing a shift in its membership, which includes a growing Hispanic demographic.

EDNA - Almost every weeknight, the fellowship hall of Redeemer Lutheran Church transforms into a classroom.

Adult students sit attentive and giggle like school children, but aren't afraid of their most important task here: to learn English.

The teacher, a blond-haired, 20-year-old Lutheran from Phoenix, chats with the students in Spanish about verb tenses and draws on a marker board.

Felix Andres, a native of Michoacan, Mexico, raises his hand often and contributes.

Andres has learned English at the church for two years. Now, he's able to read menus, shop and do everyday tasks.

"Yes, it's a little difficult, but we make it through learning little by little - and it has helped us a lot," Andres said in Spanish.

The church has offered language classes since 2005 to serve what the Rev. Andrew Schroer, the church's pastor, said is a growing need.

"Edna is a population of 5,899, but a third of it is Hispanic," he said. "Probably the next 20 years or so, it'll be well over half Hispanic. So we saw it not only as a need, but as an opportunity to reach out to people who we didn't know. We can share with them the gospel and help and share love in an area that is much needed around here."

The classes transformed the church from a mostly Anglo congregation to a place for bicultural fellowship.

"It's beautiful because it brings us all together," Andres said. "The pastor speaks to us in English and introduces things in Spanish when we're all together, and that's how we learn little by little."

All-Spanish services are held every week and members, both English and Spanish speakers, often mingle on Sundays during a potluck luncheon. The classes even encouraged many English speakers to learn Spanish.

"We want to not have two separate congregations," said Brenda Allen, a church member who learns Spanish in the classes. "There are two things going on. They want to learn English, and they work very hard at it, and the last part is they appreciate having a place to worship in their native language."

Life as a Spanish speaker in a world of English-only speakers is often difficult. Andres used to ask his children, who all speak English, for help translating.

". It makes you shameful in front of other people - that you don't know the language," he said. "And that's why we come. So, we don't have to depend on them."

The classes are made of mostly immigrants whom Schroer said are often misunderstood because of their language skills.

"Sometimes we hear people speaking Spanish and we think the worst of them right away," he said. "Most recent immigrants want to learn English bad, because they realize this isn't their country."

The church turns no one away - not the documented immigrants nor the undocumented immigrants, Schroer said.

"That's always a very sensitive subject. We will try to help people," he said. "We never say we condone that, but we try to help people as much as we can and show them Christ's love."

Schroer, who is fluent in Spanish, often helps students translate documents and prepare for citizenship tests.

"A lot of Americans get upset because it takes time and it takes people offering English classes, and that's why we're here," he said.

Still, many struggle with learning the language.

Andres devotes about an hour a day to studying. He does his homework and buys an English newspaper every week, he said.

"And that's how we do it. With a little push, after a little push," he said.



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