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Karolina Šlamaitė, top, a reader from Lithuania, connects with Lana Heaton, a volunteer in Kansas, during a Zoom meeting.
Screenshot by Bobby Ross Jr.

Volunteers needed to read the Bible

Let’s Start Talking seeks Christians willing to donate time online.

NORTH RICHLAND HILLS, Texas — When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, Texas-based Let’s Start Talking was preparing to celebrate its 40th anniversary.

Since 1980, the international ministry has sent Christians around the world to help non-native speakers improve their English skills by reading the Bible.

The sudden halt to global travel put a temporary stop to those in-person connections, but the emergence of videoconferencing platforms created a new opportunity.

Almost overnight, LST Connect — the ministry’s online version — was born.

“Actually, pre-COVID, we had talked about this … and we just couldn’t find the right technology,” said Leslee Altrock, Let’s Start Talking’s program director. “But when COVID happened and everybody needed that kind of platform, then it really opened the door for us.”

Four years later, the traditional programs have resumed, including Let’s Start Talking’s international trips and its domestic ministry FriendSpeak, hosted by churches across the U.S.

Still, demand remains high for LST Connect volunteers.

“We have readers that are just sitting on a waiting list,” Altrock said in an interview at the ministry’s office — a former house provided by the Legacy Church of Christ in North Richland Hills, northeast of Fort Worth. 

By donating one hour per week, a Christian can make a big difference in the life of an international friend, Altrock said. Volunteering requires internet access and a one-time registration fee of $55, which helps pay for training, she said.

Leslee Altrock, program director for Let's Start Talking, laughs during an interview at the ministry's Texas office as volunteer John Royce listens.

Leslee Altrock, program director for Let’s Start Talking, laughs during an interview at the ministry’s Texas office as volunteer John Royce listens.

Karolina Šlamaitė, 29, who lives in Lithuania, heard about LST Connect during the coronavirus lockdown.

The ministry matched her with Lana Heaton, 65, a Kansas church member who had traveled on four Let’s Start Talking trips to Italy.

Via Skype, the two women of different generations and nationalities developed a close friendship as they read the Bible.

“Honestly, I was thinking at first only about how to improve my English skills,” Šlamaitė said in an online interview. “But with life lessons and events — how to say — I learned not only how to speak well in English but also how to react to the events of life.”

In all, Let’s Start Talking programs involved 1,257 workers last year — 934 with FriendSpeak, 193 with LST Connect and 130 with in-person international projects.

Related: COVID-19 left her blind. Then it took her father. But this young mom refuses to ‘give up on God’

Through those workers, 1,737 readers from 47 countries engaged in faith-filled conversations, according to the ministry.

“There’s just one LST approach, and now there are three ways that we’re doing it,” said Ben Woodward, who directs FriendSpeak. “When we train churches, and we give it over to them and let them grow it and mold it into what they need it to be, we call it FriendSpeak.

Ben Woodward, director of FriendSpeak, at the Let's Start Talking office in Texas.

Ben Woodward, director of FriendSpeak, at the Let’s Start Talking office in Texas.

“LST international is when we send people overseas to work with our church partners,” he added. “And LST Connect, we feel like, is really the best-kept secret because it’s newer and started during COVID.”

The results are the same with LST Connect, Woodward said.

“We’re just having a harder time getting the word out about it,” he said.

Šlamaitė thanks God she discovered LST Connect.

For the Lithuanian woman, Heaton has become a trusted mentor, despite the 5,000 miles that separate the two.

“So she is not only my teacher, she’s my friend, and I like the LST group and Lana,” said Šlamaitė, who has a Catholic background. “I’m very happy that I found them.”

Heaton, a 1980 graduate of Abilene Christian University in Texas, attends the Salina Heights Christian Church in Salina, Kan.

“I would encourage people to get involved with LST Connect,” Heaton said. “It is absolutely something that any person can do if they can read and speak English. You will find the readers extremely grateful, and remarkably, you can develop a deep relationship with someone online.”

Karolina Šlamaitė, top, a reader from Lithuania, connects with Lana Heaton, a volunteer in Kansas, during a Zoom meeting.

Karolina Šlamaitė, top, a reader from Lithuania, connects with Lana Heaton, a volunteer in Kansas, during a Zoom interview with The Christian Chronicle.

“How often do you have an opportunity to speak to someone of Jesus that willingly and knowingly comes to you expecting to hear and use the Bible?” the volunteer added in a Facebook message. “Additionally, it is a convenient way to reach the world with the Gospel as it can be done from home or anywhere you have an internet connection — from your home, iPad, laptop or desktop.

“It’s the simplest way I can think of,” she concluded, “to share Jesus and give the world the most desired commodity: the ability to speak English.”

BOBBY ROSS JR. is Editor-in-Chief of The Christian Chronicle. Reach him at [email protected].

How to help

For details on how to volunteer with LST Connect, see lst.org/connect.

Filed under: Bible reading English lessons' FriendSpeak International Legacy Church of Christ Let's Start Talking LST Connect National News Partners Top Stories volunteers

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