EVERETT — The small windowless room on the grounds of the Bible Baptist Church was no ordinary classroom.
Tucked inside on a wet November night was a diverse group of women representing a range of cultures and countries — from Central America and Europe to the Middle East and Asia. Each week they gather to practice their English at the church on Casino Road in Everett’s south end.
Sometimes the women, many of whom are recent immigrants and live nearby, play the role of translator for each other. But mostly they cheer each other on as new words are attempted, or offer advice for adapting to a new country. Outside the room, the long hallway bursts with energy from kids in the nursery.
Looking for ways to reach people who were immigrating to the area, several years ago volunteers from Bible Baptist launched free English as a Second Language classes, known as ESL.
“Many churches coast and maintain, and aren’t engaging the community,” said Erik Sanders, the lead pastor at Bible Baptist. “We want to find those ways to engage more people.”
These sessions are just one way the Bible Baptist Church has grown and adapted to the neighborhood since it was founded 50 years ago. The church also offers citizenship test preparation classes and hosts a mobile food bank.
“There was a huge influx of nationalities coming to Casino Road,” Sanders said. “Recognizing that we have this large multicultural population around us, we began to brainstorm ideas to help them and share the gospel with them.”
The language courses are taught by ESL certified teachers from the church. Congregation members also provide complimentary childcare for the students.
“That way there are no barriers to coming,” said John Dalles, who organizes the lessons. “We get in people that we don’t normally get into the church.”
Participants are usually wanting to improve their English to get a better job or to communicate with their children’s school, he said.
“I hear a lot, ‘I want to go to a parent-teacher conference and not need a translator,’ Dalles said.
“We want people to know this is not just a place people gather on Sundays and Wednesdays,” he added.
Also new in recent years is a service held in Spanish led by Pastor Oscar Soto. The pastor, who had founded a church in Mexico, was looking to start a church on Casino Road when he partnered with Bible Baptist, Sanders said.
“We had been interpreting services into two languages,” Sanders said. “But that wasn’t sufficient and we really wanted a full-fledged Spanish Ministry.”
He said over the past two years the Spanish congregation has nearly quadrupled.
The entire church has been growing steadily since it was founded — blossoming from a handful of people to more than 450 today.
When a Minnesota man, Ron Storz, and his family established the church in 1968, it was originally located on Holly Drive. The congregation quickly outgrew the space and in 1972 construction began on a new building along Casino Road. The church expanded its footprint at that location in 1990, and today the congregation is aiming to raise about $3.5 million for another building.
In the new space, Sanders hopes to start a counseling center for couples and families, while increasing youth programs.
Sanders, the current lead pastor, grew up in the church. He returned to the church in 2001 as an associate pastor.
“I was always thankful for the church,” he said. “But as a pastor, you want to see it thrive and grow, and see it make an impact in the community.”
Lizz Giordano: 425-374-4165; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @lizzgior.