Christian groups are known to learn foreign languages to spread their message across the globe, they but have also found a non-English-speaking target group here in the U.S.
According to a 2010 Census report, the number of people who spoke a language other than English at home rose steadily over the last three decades.
Twenty percent of the U.S. population spoke a language other than English at home. About half of them acknowledged that that do not speak English “very well,” according to the report.
Davoud Tafti, an Iranian-American from Columbia, Md., has had conversations with Jehovah’s Witnesses, who are famous for their door-to-door proselytizing, in the past.
“They come to my neighborhood all the time,” he said.
Jehovah’s Witnesses derive their their style of proselytizing from a passage in the Bible that says: “And every day, in the Temple and from house to house, they continued to teach and preach this message: ‘Jesus is the Messiah.’”
Even though Tafti said he was used to the denomination’s proselytizing, he said he was surprised to see a pair of them at Centennial Park in Ellicott City, Md., when he and other members of the Iranian-American community were celebrating Sizdeh Bedar, a festival commemorating the Persian New-Year.
One of the Jehovah’s Witnesses was Iranian-American and could speak Farsi fluently. The other could understand the language but had trouble speaking, Tafti said. He said it seemed the other Jehovah’s Witness was still learning to speak Farsi.
“We thought wow, this is interesting,” he said. “They’re clever.
Other Christian groups, however, are reaching those who speak foreign languages through different methods.
One group is helping them learn English.
“God started to bring families into our lives from different countries,” said Rev. Ed Woods of Continental Baptist Missions, which is based in Rockford, Mich.
In response, the Continental Baptist Missions started an English as a second language program. Woods is in charge of Enable Learning, its language program based in Ithaca, N.Y.
“Our goal is to bring people into Christianity,” said Woods.
However, not all the students at Enable Learning share that goal.
“Most of those who come have heard about Christianity, but their goal is to learn about English,” he said. “We try to accommodate their goals.
The center has taught students from Russia, Hungary, Poland, Japan, China, Brazil and other countries, said Woods. Recently most of their English-language students have been East-Asian.
The students who complete the two-year program usually go back to their countries, find jobs in the U.S., or use their English knowledge to further their academic research rather than joining a ministry, said Woods.
The program teaches English through a Bible-based curriculum that spans from the Book of Genesis to Resurrection. However, Woods said, the instructors at Enable Learning respect their student’s views and don’t “jam [Christianity] down their throats.”
Instead, they focus on teaching their students English and “let God work within their hearts,” Woods said.