Kerr teaches herself Spanish to minister to community - Word&Way

Kerr teaches herself Spanish to minister to community

By Vicki Brown, Word&Way News Writer

Yvonne Kerr will do anything in her power to fulfill her calling as a teacher — including teaching herself a foreign language. Now that skill has opened ministry doors in Monett.

Kerr taught at Wheaton Elementary School when the first Hispanic students arrived for classes about seven years ago. "When the first students came in, none of the teachers spoke Spanish," she explained.

Nor did the school offer English as a Second Language (ESL) classes.

She taught remedial reading for first- through fifth-graders, and decided that to minister effectively to her students she needed to learn Spanish. Kerr taught herself the language with books, tapes, Spanish-language newspapers and by listening to and trying to converse with Spanish speakers. "I'm still learning," she said.

Love for Hispanics also was an impetus. "I love the language, the Hispanic people and their culture, and I enjoy being with them," she said.

Kerr said she felt called to be a teacher when she was about 12 years old. "I have always enjoyed teaching," she added.

In 1997, she felt God calling her to meet the needs of Hispanics who were settling in Monett and those commuting to the area to work in several manufacturing firms.

After teaching school for 30 years, Kerr retired five years ago. Since retirement, she has concentrated on the second calling, "and loving every minute of it."

Shortly after retiring, Kerr taught an English class through First Baptist Church's Hispanic work, El Renuevo. But because she also helps meet her parents' needs, Kerr decided to tutor individual Hispanics. Currently, she works with four adults in English, in citizenship and in subjects needed to complete a Spanish-language GED.

GED and ESL assistance are important, Kerr noted, so that newcomers develop the skills "to get better jobs. For many it's a dream to have their high school diploma."

Kerr serves as translator for First Baptist's twice-monthly dental clinic administered by Dr. Eric Kean. Kerr assists with setting up, taking health histories and visiting with patients. She is available to assist Hispanics with little or no English-language skills to fill out forms and to communicate with the dentist and dental assistants.

She also actively ministers through El Renuevo. First Baptist began the work about six years ago with current pastor Angel Mancillas. El Renuevo averages about 25 to 30 in worship.

"Generally both parents work," Kerr said. "They have to balance family, work and church."

In addition to Sunday activities, El Renuevo offers a home Bible study every Thursday night.

The church also wants to train more leaders. "We are focusing on training in leadership so that if they move, they can start Bible study and ministry in other locations," Kerr explained. "We have had a lot come, then move. Probably the majority is still passing through. Some return to Mexico or to other Latin countries."

But more Hispanics continue to settle in and around Monett. As they do, El Renuevo and First Baptist members and Yvonne Kerr plan to continue current outreach and to find new ways to minister. (07-27-05)