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Church ESL camp preps Hispanic elementary students for school year

Charmaine Traffanstedt, seated at the teacher’s desk, with Laura Aponte, standing left, designed and taught a Gospel-centered ESL camp for kindergarteners through fifth graders at Cross Community Church in Houston.

HOUSTON (BP) – Fanny Baltanado planned to spend just six months visiting her new granddaughter in Texas when the unanticipated COVID-19 pandemic thwarted her return to Nicaragua. She would need to find a church home near Humble, Texas.

Fanny Baltanado, shown with her granddaughter, volunteered to help with Cross Community Church’s back-to-school ESL class for elementary students after taking an adult ESL class there.

An adult English as a second language class attracted Baltanado in March to Cross Community Church, where she became a regular attendee and in August, helped the church teach ESL to local Hispanic elementary students in a back-to-school camp.

“For me, this was an amazing experience because we are able to bring the love of Jesus Christ to the people, especially kids,” Baltanado said. “I think they are the base of the society, and we need to help them to be more comfortable, to be more confident with themselves, because they are (in) difficult times.”

ESL classes ranked as a top community need when Del Traffanstedt and his wife Charmaine planted Cross Community Church in the majority Spanish-speaking Eastex-Jensen area of northeast Houston in September 2021. The couple learned of the need for the ESL camp for children after launching their first adult class in March, said Charmaine Traffanstedt, who directs the church’s ESL ministry.

“In talking with some of our students, they were relating to me that their children were coming into the school district for the first time this year,” Traffanstedt said, “and knew very little English.

“We came up with the idea to do a three-day English as a second language class just for kids, kindergarteners through fifth grade,” she said of herself and fellow teacher Laura Aponte, “and we focused on doing the basic English language that would help them just kind of function in school.”

Traffanstedt and Aponte wove in Bible stories, creation, the fall of man and the salvation found in Jesus, incorporating Spanish and English oral Bible storying and singing.

On the last day of the camp that attracted 40 students and eight mothers Aug. 3-5, Senior Pastor Del Traffanstedt presented the Gospel.

“No one professed faith, but it did generate many questions that night about the church and our faith, and we had visitors (and) family units from the camp at our church the next Sunday,” the pastor said.

Traffanstedt describes Cross Community as majority Latino with half of the members speaking both Spanish and English or primarily Spanish alone. Attendance averages 85 at the church plant, with Northeast Houston Baptist Church in Humble as the sending church. In the church’s immediate community of nearly 29,000 people, 68 percent of homes are primarily Spanish speaking, with 31 percent primarily speaking English, according to 2019 U.S. Census figures.

Biblical creation was included in the back-to-school ESL class at Cross Community Church for Spanish-speaking kindergarteners through fifth graders in the majority Hispanic Eastex-Jensen community of Houston.

For Pastor Traffanstedt, the ESL classes are an act of true love.

“The class for primary students is important because it is a direct need voiced by both parents of our Adult ESL program and our school partners.

“As we learn to love our community well to share the Gospel, it is important to meet actual needs instead of just doing activities we like to do,” Traffanstedt said. “If you respond to an actual need, it shows the community we are listening and we mean it when we say we love our community.”

Charmaine Traffanstedt, certified in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), describes ESL classes as adaptive to any church’s language ministry needs, regardless of the primary language spoken in the community served.

“We are able to do an ESL program because of the prayer, material and financial support of our partner churches,” she said, including volunteers from Emmanuel Baptist Church in New Caney. “A big part of the beauty of an ESL program is it’s not simply the church giving somebody something, it is the church coming alongside someone and helping them achieve a goal that they’ve set for themselves.

“There’s an affirmation of dignity that comes along with that. There’s a friendship and a partnership approach to an ESL-type ministry,” she said, “that lends itself well to creating those Gospel conversations that come alongside that, where you are able to start doing life with the people coming in, and the people that you’re reaching out to.”

Charmaine encourages churches to start small and use available resources, such as training offered by the North American Mission Board.

The ESL camp included nightly dinner, class time that pointed out the Christ connection in each Bible story, crafts and games, and utilized the Jesus Storybook Bible and the Woman’s Missionary Union Telling the Story curriculum.

Charmaine appreciates that Baltanado, a former adult ESL student, is active in the ESL ministry.

“It was encouraging to see her go from a student, to a regular attender in the church, to serving in the camp as well,” Charmaine said.

Baltanado, who accepted Jesus 28 years ago, is thankful for Cross Community Church and the opportunity to serve.

“I was looking for a church,” she said. “I didn’t find anything like Cross Community, because I think they love people. I (identify) with them, and I like to work with them.”