by Ed Erny
By following these eight rules, teaching English can open hearts to the gospel.
Missionaries who have used English language instruction as a means of evangelism generally fall into two groups: (1) those who have tried it and have been disappointed with the results, and declare it ineffective; (2) those who have used it effectively and are very enthusiastic about it. They have discovered a tool that can open hearts and homes of millions to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
OMS has had an extensive ministry to Chinese through English instruction for more than 25 years in Taiwan. This has given us ample time to discover (often by trial and error) the following essentials of effective evangelism by teaching English.
1. Partner with the local Christians. People in most countries have a strong interest in learning English, as well as a desire to make friends with Westerners, so classes usually fill very quickly. However, unless local Christians work alongside missionaries, these classes usually produce little fruit.
Asians, for example, associate English with the West, and although they may have a mild interest in the Christian faith, they tend to think, "Very interesting, but you Americans are not Asians, and you do not understand how difficult it is for me to reject my family’s religion and my cultural heritage to become a Christian."
But when they encounter local Christians working side-by-side with missionaries, this sort of reasoning falls by the wayside. In their fellow countrymen they can see a live illustration of how the power of the gospel can take a Buddhist, Shinto, or Hindu and completely transform them.
2. Be up front about your intentions. Some missionaries invite students to classes, intending to befriend them and eventually witness to them about their faith in Jesus Christ. This may be the only way to go in some countries that prohibit open witnessing, but where it is possible we have found that it is best from the very beginning-even in our advertising-to make our intentions very clear.
Students should understand from the outset that in the classes they will not only study English, but also the Bible. In Taiwan we always schedule a convocation at which time we explain the requirements of the course and explain our purposes: (1) to teach English with integrity and to do it to the very best of our ability; (2) to tell the good news of Jesus Christ.
We emphasize point two, explaining that it is because our lives have been changed by Jesus that we have come to Taiwan to tell them about Mm. We say that if this offends them, perhaps they should study English somewhere else, because part of each class period will be a Bible study.
3. Group students according to their English ability. Because students come with different abilities, you can’t satisfy the needs of both advanced and inexperienced students. Some classes shoot for the middle and usually miss. People get frustrated and many of them drop out This is one of the biggest mistakes missionaries make trying to teach English classes.
To avoid this, give a placement exam at the convocation. Two-thirds of the exam tests their reading and writing ability; one third, their comprehension of spoken English. Then on the basis of these scores you can assign students to the appropriate class.
In Taiwan we teach on six levels. Local people teach beginners and missionaries teach the three or four advanced levels. We often get graduate students and professionals in these classes.
4. Charge reasonable fees. Do not offer free instruction. We tried that (reasoning that because we were explaining the gospel, it should be free). We also wanted to stay clear of "cram schools" that prepare people to pass key exams and charge exorbitant fees. But students who came to our free classes dropped out at an alarming rate, producing low morale for both teachers and the few students left.
Probably the Chinese find it hard to believe that anything free has any real value. They expect to pay. If we don’t charge, they think we must have some ulterior motives. Certainly, if the teachers were competent, they would not be teaching in a school that makes no charges.
Once we charged fees, both attendance and morale zoomed ahead. We don’t charge as much as the "cram schools," but we do charge a modest fee and make it clear that the money does not go to the teachers, but is used for equipment and materials. Students who complete perfect attendance get a refund of part of their tuition.
5. Build in opportunities for evangelism. During the 12-week semester we require students to attend five or six lectures. We hold them every second week on a Friday night. That night the lecture pre-empts classes. We require attendance and check it. (Our tuition refund policy helps here.)
In these lectures we cover the existence of God, the Bible, man’s nature and sin, the deity of Christ, and the plan of salvation. We show Moody Institute of Science films at the end, and the people really enjoy them.
Regularly we hold Sunday afternoon rallies (in English) in five major cities in Taiwan. Open to the public, they are designed especially for our students and radio listeners. After some singing, someone preaches in English and the message is translated into Chinese. Then everybody divides into small groups to discuss the message. Missionaries and interpreters help with these. People like these groups, because they give them a chance to mix with foreigners and coo-verse in English.
Our camp programs in English have also been an effective means of helping our students come to faith in Christ. During those three or four days they get a more intensive exposure to both the gospel and the Christian life style.
In addition, we offer a variety of publications in an English-Chinese format. These publications attract people who at first have little or no interest in Christianity, who very much want to improve their English. Those with limited English can still get the full impact of the message In their mother tongue. We publish a bimonthly or quarterly magazine for radio listeners, a series of English conversation textbooks, various booklets of English proverbs, similes, idioms, etc., testimonies of people (especially young people, students, and scientists) who have come to faith in Christ, a book of answers to frequently asked questions, books on Christianity and science (especially evolution), and books of songs and choruses.
Our English correspondence course, The Abundant Christian Life, consists of four lessons intended to lead the reader to a commitment to Christ and then into Christian living. Other special English activities include bus rides, picnics, and shopping trips. These help our students to make friends with Westerners in a relaxed, enjoyable setting.
6. Follow up converts. Once students commit themselves to Christ they must be given encouragement and teaching about Christian growth. In addition to the correspondence course described above, we also offer a special Sunday evening meeting, which we call our Upper Room Ministry. Both new converts and seekers come to this two and a half hour session, which begins with a meal and then we sing and have a short biblical exposition. Then we into small discipleship groups led by missionaries, who try to keep in touch with everyone in the group during the week, either by phone or mail.
If the new converts are still in school, we encourage them to join a Christian group on campus, like Inter-Varsity or Campus Crusade. All of are referred to a local home or school. However, you most tell them about this in advance, just in case parents would be hostile to a visit from the pastor, as is often the case in Hindu and Buddhist families. If so, the pastor can arrange to meet the new convert in the park or a restaurant.
7. Location is important. The main English language center should be located in a major city. In Taiwan ours is located in Taichung, a city of nearly one million people. It should also be incorporated into the life and ministry of a local church.
8. Teach the Bible. Make clear at the outset, especially in handbills and newspaper ads, that the teachings of Christ and the Bible will be part of the course. We started with a regular Bible survey course, tot found it didn’t work because our students got bogged down in the history and so on, so we switched to a course that includes 20 lessons on the life of Christ, the parables, and the teachings of Jesus. We devote about one-fourth of the time in our English classes to this material.
By following these eight essentials, a program of teaching English can become an effective means of evangelism. Some who perhaps have written off English language instruction as too time-consuming, or as not contributing to the building of the church, need to take a second look and try again. At OMS, we’re sold on it!
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