Cooperative ESL Ministries (CESLM) is a group of local Calgary residents who have come together to fill a gap that we have seen in society’s integration of the immigrant, refugee, and international community who have come to Calgary. We believe that ordinary, open-hearted Calgarians, with training in cross-cultural communication and good principles of adult education for language learners, can make a difference.
Madeline Johnson is the founder and past President of Cooperative ESL Ministries Society, and also founded the Agape Language Centre (1997-2003). She holds a Bachelor of Education and a TESOL Diploma. As the only daughter of a pioneer Pentecostal pastor couple, the RJ Whites, she learned early the frustration of “not having a voice” through her mother’s stuttering affliction. Madeline was a music and school teacher for 16 years, and a pastor’s wife for 21 years (overlapping). She is also a “social entrepreneur.”
Madeline and her husband pioneered the first church, children’s, youth, and women’s programs in the new oil town of Swan Hills, AB. She worked with her husband Mel in World Vision, joining him on several trips assessing World Vision projects in Central America, Africa and Asia. In 1985-86 she took additional training at SAIT (Southern Alberta Institute of Technology) and subsequently was employed there for eight years where God had her learn the technical skills she would need. She served two terms as the first woman elected Board member in her Calgary church, carrying the Christian Education portfolio. The Johnsons are grateful to God for three sons, three daughters-in-law, seven grandchildren, and for the immense privilege of being a part of the family of God.
CESLM started with a vision in 1999. During a prayer meeting, Madeline Johnson (founder of CESLM) was reading John 17 aloud and was thinking of the importance of “last words.” Her voice changed, her heart pounded, and tears came to her eyes as she read the plea of Jesus in verse 21 and repeated again in verse 23, that the believers would be one “so that the world would believe.” Since 1997 Madeline had been leading Agape Language Centre in Calgary and seeing firsthand how God was using it in the lives of everyone — teachers, students, and church members. In ESL Bible Study she had been asked “How do you know what church to go to — it seems like they’re all competing with each other?” The commitment gelled: more churches need to do ESL as an outreach to newcomers, but we must do it in a way that the world can see that we are one family. As Madeline shared this vision, others caught it and “put their shoulders to the wheel.”
CESLM’s first ‘Mini-TESL Conference’ for church-based ESL programs and churches that were thinking of offering ESL, was held in January 2001 at Rocky Mountain College with 28 attendees. By September of that year, CESLM held its second conference, with attendance doubling to 59 people. By the third conference in 2002, it was clear that Calgary’s Christian community was catching onto the vision of welcoming newcomers through ESL, and 100 people were in attendance. In 2002 CESLM applied for and received non-profit society status in Alberta, and received federal charitable status in 2004.
In March 2007, CESLM received a grant from the Language Training Department of AB Employment, Immigration and Industry (now Alberta Employment & Immigration) for a Project Manager for Intercultural Appreciation and Competence. Bev Chambers applied and was accepted for the Intercultural Workshop Project Manager. In August 2007 CESLM applied for another grant from the Alberta government, and was approved in January 2008. This grant helped CESLM hire three more individuals in 2008 for the positions of: Community Relations and Advocacy; Training Events and Financial Administration; and Curriculum Research and Revision.
In October 2008, Madeline Johnson retired as President of CESLM to spend more time with her family and enjoy some much-deserved rest. Kenny Thompson became the new President, and held the position until March 2011. Madeline and her husband Mel Johnson returned to help CESLM in January 2010 as Resource Development Coordinators. CESLM is grateful to everyone who has embraced its vision over the past decade, and has helped turn that vision into a reality, with nearly 50 churches now offering ESL classes, Bible studies, or conversation groups in Calgary!