by Bradley Baurain
Here’s a survey of why agencies are scrambling to use this strategic tool.
The world wants English. During the 1980s and even more so since 1989, English has without a doubt become the premier language for world politics, business, education, science and technology, and other areas.1 Over 1 billion people speak English or are learning to do so. It is now an unofficial but all-pervasive common tongue for anyone crossing international boundary lines. Along with the demand for English comes a great need for English teachers, and therein lies a great potential for Christian ministry. Any teacher in the right place at the right time can have a life-shaping influence; Christian teachers in the right place at this right time can have a Kingdom-spreading influence. TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) is a missionary field that reaches around the world.
Christian organizations are beginning to realize the exciting possibilities of TEFL ministries. Leaders and educators cannot use too many phrases such as "unprecedented opportunity" and "incredible potential" to convey just how big an opening there is. Over 75 organizations listed TEFL ministry opportunities at the Urbana ’90 missions conference, and Dr. Lonna Dickerson, visiting professor of missions/intercultural studies at the Wheaton (111.) College Graduate School, believes that there are at least 100 mission boards or Christian educational organizations able to place people in TEFL.
"There’s no question that there are a great number of opportunities out in which expertise or background in English can be used as a ministry," comments Dr. Jan Anderson, professor of English at Clearwater Christian College in Florida. She had a chance to find this out firsthand during the summer of 1991 as she led a Christian teaching team to Guangdong Province, China. "Going to China gave me a vision for the potential there. I’d like to increase my students’ awareness of the possibilities and challenge them to go. Christian ought to do this."
China is one the largest places can stand in the TEFL gap. Deng Xiaoping ended China’s post-1949 isolation with his "open door" policy. As the country soon discovered, English is the key to making the "open door" a functioning passageway for dialogue with and benefits from the rest of the world. An estimated one out of four Chinese people now study English in some way; English is on the required curriculum from the very earliest school years. As a result of this situation, the largest (name withheld by request) of a number of organizations sending Christians into China (and Tibet) has touched the lives of 150,000 students in 60 universities through 1,500 teachers in 10 years.
Another booming area for TEFL ministry is Eastern Europe. Donald Crane, Central Europe East director for Greater Europe Mission, recalls that prior to 1989, Eastern Europe had had the Russian language imposed on it for reasons of political and economic hegemony. Little or no opportunity existed to learn English. The dramatic political upheavals of 1989 and the resulting shifts in geopolitical alignments created an almost instantaneous and certainly wide need and demand for English. Crane found that national Christian leaders felt that TEFL would be an excellent way for Americans to contribute to the church’s work in the region. A Czech pastor founded the Christian Language Institute in Ostrava and GEM became involved.
TEFL WORKS AS A MINISTRY
TEFL can occur in any setting. Even a brief perusal of promotional literature reveals that Christian teachers are used in the U.S.S.R., China, Japan, Mongolia, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Austria, Portugal, Senegal, India, and the Philippines. They work in government buildings, language camps, church basements, corporate training centers, public schools, M.K. schools (for the children of non-Western missionaries) and university classrooms. The ways in which TEFL is or can be used for Christian witness are many and various. The truism that flexibility is what brings ministry to life applies in double measure.
TEFL can and has supplemented traditional missionary efforts. OEM’s Crane notes that while TEFL is new as an evangelistic tool, it has long been used in Bible schools in order to give students access to the large theological library available in English. He feels thai TEFL’s main value lies in its contributions to church growth: "We are contributing to society, providing a legitimate service, and we want to do a good job at it, but we wouldn’t be doing it in the first place if we weren’t concerned for church growth first." GEM currently requires all personnel going to Eastern Europe, teachers or not, to obtain TEFL training. International Teams reports that TEFL is proving to be a useful means of friendship evangelism in France, an established field. TEFL can also be a natural follow-up to translation or literacy ministries: Literacy and Evangelism International provides TEFL training for people who work in its literacy programs. In addition, literature distribution efforts, such as those of Operation Mobilization’s ships Doulos and Logos II, include educational materials.
One means of TEFL witness is direct, classroom-based. Depending on the country and setting, a curriculum might be specifically Christian. A reading passage might be a Bible story; a conversation topic might be a Beatitude. For example, His Life (a biography of Jesus) and the New Testament were used as classroom material in OEM’s 1991 Eurocorps program. Literacy and Evangelism International publishes Bible-content adult literacy materials that can also be used for TEFL. Out only two years, these books are already being sold, used, and reprinted around the world. Foreign students of literature in English need to know the Bible; even in Chinese universities, courses in "Literature of the Bible" are more common than not. Small group English conversation tutorials can easily lead to discussions of spiritual issues. Special culture lectures on Western history or values can legitimately and easily include Christian ideas. A student may take the initiative to share religious or spiritually oriented concerns or questions in a journal or other written assignment. The teacher can then dialogue with the student in writing, pray more specifically, and raise those issues in private conversation as God allows.
By far the greater avenues of witness, however, are relational, presence-based. The mere presence of a native English speaker can lead to curiosity concerning life in the West or why material comfort has been traded for teaching abroad. If that person or the sending organization is known to be Christian, additional questions- "Why do you believe in God?" or "What happens when you pray?" – arise. OEM’s 1991 Eurocorps teams (its first in TEFL after two to three years of contacts and networking) invited students to outside evangelistic events, such as concerts or Bible studies; the Bulgarian team was even able to help with a Luis Palau crusade.2 Outside of the classroom, bridges of friendship and witness can be built. grow and witness opportunities come when shopping or on the soccer field more so than through the classroom. One-on-one real-and lifestyle evangelism are the unspectacular but productive keys to TEFL-based witnessing.
The Christian teacher is on display. The Eastern European young who has found that capitalism is not salvation or the Chinese young woman who has peeked around the facade of Communism and found emptiness are going to be watching. What has this teacher got inside that I have not? Is Christianity another game to play or will it truly fill my spiritual vacuum? Even if the Christian teacher is not giving nightly altar calls, then, ministry is occurring: actions speak quite loudly. Students are likely to be impressed by excellence of teaching, a commitment to the task, a caring attitude, an "as unto the Lord" work ethic, and clear moral standards. There can be no doubt, then, that professionalism in teaching must be the first line of witness in TEFL ministry, and that the transparent lifestyle called for by TEFL ministry requires living on the edge of faith in dependence on God.
The central specific issue in making TEFL a viable and fruitful ministry is professionalism. TEFL is not an excuse to be in Poland, nor a cover for slipping into Mongolia; it is the ministry itself. Unfortunately, some organizations and teachers neglect this essential. Christian teachers can then be perceived as cranks. A recent guidebook disparagingly refers to "the misfit or oddball perhaps fleeing unhappiness at home or using TEFL as an excuse for spreading the gospel.3 Worse, the cause of the gospel can suffer: "If someone wants to teach overseas and desires to have a witness, that witness can be poor if the teaching is poor, or at least the witness can be compromised," comments Wheaton’s Dickerson. "[But] [i]f the teaching is good," points out Mark Dyer, President of International Teams, "the teacher is winning a hearing as a Christian. We want excellent English teachers so that people will respond."
Because of the great need for English teachers, the temptation is to settle for less. "There are unending possibilities to get involved, but we do not want to spread ourselves too thin," says Dyer. "We’re more concerned with the long term." GEM’s Crane agrees: "We’re not a hit-and-run operation. We’re committed to building a credible, professional reputation. We would like to be the standard by which all others are measured. That means smaller teams and harder work now, but it will be better in the long rue." In short, says Dickerson, "to be credible witnesses, we must do a professional job of teaching."
One key to professionalism is leadership. "What holds us back is leaders-we need people with the experience, vision and pastoral gifts to lead new people into new places," says It’s Dyer. "If we expand now without godly leadership, we’ll pay later, in all ways." Leadership is doubly important to any organization which sends its teachers out in teams, including virtually all of the organizations cited in this article.
For instance, the team concept is central to one organization’s summer and year programs. The team offers spiritual support, as teachers worship and fellowship together. It offers cultural support, as teachers bounce through the highs and lows and adjust together. It offers academic support, a "brain trust" for the unique situations encountered in teaching. In China and Eastern Europe, English teachers can be rather isolated or unusually dependent on their own resourcefulness, thus the team is often the bottom line (humanly speaking). With all this in mind, the goal is "senior teachers" qualified, mature, and committed enough not only to function but to minister in the midst of it all
In attempting to exploit the demand for English, various types of Christian support organizations have sprung into being. The Timothy Project, a group of interested faculty, friends, and alumni associated with Wheaton College, is a basic resource organization. Opportunities for TEFL in Eastern Europe are discovered through a network of informal contacts; however, there is no recruiting, no fund-raising, no media campaign. With the goal of developing "Timothies" (Philippians 2:19-22), individuals volunteer their time to do the bookkeeping for support-raising, to prepare and send out newsletters, and so on. "We facilitate the process," says Project member Don Church. "We seek to involve people and to raise interest, but we are not a big budget operation. We feel that if a thing is of God, people will give to it and it will work. We just make it as easy as possible for people to go."
Worldwide Tentmakers is a more active middleman organization. "We are a facilitator and a catalyst," says Executive Vice President Ralph Gruendling. "We are a catalyst in that we get people thinking about the possibilities. We facilitate in that we provide resources, access to the international job market [through the maintenance of a jobs database], and we help the tentmakers’ relationship with their local churches." On that last point specifically, Gruendling says WT screens applicants carefully for spiritual readiness and maturity, then encourages a commissioning service, an accountability structure, placement on the missionary prayer list, etc., so that the church regards the tentmaker/ teacher as a bona fide missionary.
Finally, there are full-service organizations. These differ from the above in that more traditional support-raising methods are used, recruitment/marketing is a key component of the program, training is in-house, and organizational involvement or support after sending/ placement is more comprehensive. Most of these organizations recognize the significance of professionalism and seek to communicate it even in their short-term training programs.
For individuals taking a long-term view, the TEFL ministry continuum begins with academic preparation. While it is possible in some countries to a position as an English teacher simply by virtue of being a native speaker, "it is a great myth that merely speaking English qualifies a person to English," argues Wheaton’s Dickerson. The program at the College Graduate School offers the minimum she feels is needed if a person is. to make the most of the TEFL ministry opportunity. The coursework includes: (1) an introductory class in TEFL, laying a foundation of language teaching principles and techniques; (2) supervised practice teaching, giving students an opportunity to get their feet wet and to be critiqued; and (3) a seminar in how to evaluate, select, use, and adapt from among published teaching materials, including an estimated 25,000 available textbooks.
Certificates and master’s degrees are also available. More than 150 universities and colleges offer graduate programs in TEFL. Relatively few of these, however, are located at Christian institutions. Columbia Biblical Seminary and Graduate School of Missions has been running an M.A. program since 1987. The program begins by laying a good theoretical base in general research and linguistic principles. After that, says Sue Pahle, TEFL faculty member, the stress is practical, on educational methods rather than linguistic theory. To accomplish this, Columbia requires five methods courses (versus one typically) in subjects such as curriculum design, testing, how to teach writing, and how to teach speaking. This seems to be the wider academic trend as well. According to 1991 surveys of TEFL educators and recent TEFL program graduates, "methods and materials" received by far the highest usefulness ratings (of the four areas of methods and materials, education, literature, and linguistics).4 Students at Columbia are also required to complete a teaching practicum overseas, in which they teach 90 hours over an eight- to ten-week period. (Only 69 percent of all programs call for the sort of practical training mandatory at Wheaton and Columbia.5 Few are oriented toward training for overseas teaching.)
Preparation is not only academic – cultural readiness is a necessary companion. Intercultural Studies is a required concentration accompanying the Columbia M.A. in TEFL. Wheaton College will offer a special summer 1992 Institute for Cross-Cultural Training, packaging culture, language, and TEFL. Cultural issues and cross-cultural communication are key topics in the training programs of all of the organizations cited in this article.
Of course, spiritual readiness is also important. According to Columbia’s Pahle, ministry emphasis permeates its M.A. program by means of the individual mentoring structure and the faculty’s ongoing inclusion of ministry insights and recommendations into all course material. Columbia and the other schools and organizations cited in this article stress leading Bible studies, discipling new believers, and prayer in evangelism as prerequisites to a successful English-teaching ministry. They are necessary spiritual skills if a teacher is to a witnessing advantage from relationships built
ADVANTAGES OF TEFL AS A MINISTRY
One advantage of TEFL Is the advantage of the tentmaker: the use of pre-existing structures. Things do not need to be built from the ground up. In most cases, Christian teachers "answer an ad," as it were, and step into a classroom. The point is that the classroom is already there, with students who want to learn. English programs exist and teachers are needed-these are facts. One way or another, English will be taught, whether by Christians or not. Everything on the field is in place; the task is "merely" to mobilize and prepare people to take advantage of the situation.
Another advantage of TEFL is that it is the most flexible of callings. It can potentially be done by almost anyone-the newly graduated college student, the retired businessman, the high school teacher on summer vacation. It can be done for any length of time- from as little as one month to indefinitely. It can be done anywhere in the world, with any age group, in any setting.
That TEFL can provide Christians with access to closed countries has already been mentioned. Several organizations send Christian teachers to China, which does not allow missionaries and attempts to regulate Christianity. Mongolia, closed for hundreds of years, has recently been opened to Christian teachers. Vietnam, where pastors are still in prison, is also seeking Christian teachers. Carrying the light to these darker comers, Christians need not go "under cover." China, Mongolia, and Vietnam want Christian teachers and know that they are getting them from purposeful Christian organizations.6
TEFL has immediacy. Upon arriving, the English teacher is quickly plunged into the people and activities that will constitute his sphere of ministry. "A big advantage to TEFL," comments WT’s Gruendling, "is that to a great extent you have an instant audit-and credibility. Your contacts are sitting right there in front of you and you have some respect automatically by going in as a teacher." If that running start is not blown by poor teaching, the Christian teacher can thus make a significant impact in less time from ground zero than the average missionary.
Last but not least, TEFL has an unusually high ripple potential. In many cases, Christian teachers deal with a country’s elite, the future movers and shakers. For instance, only about 5 percent of Chinese youth can attend a university. Teachers sent there thus have the chance today to influence the people who will shape China tomorrow.
International Teams is building and exploring several opportunities in the former Soviet republics and Vietnam that would put Christian teachers in front of classes full of government employees and international business-people. President Dyer says that IT thus continues to plan to emphasize business management and English in a two-pronged approach. He sees TEFL as an "outreach to the upper middle class." While this sounds unusual, he points out that in most communist (recently communist or changing communist) countries it is that class that has been most isolated from the gospel. OEM’s Crane concurs: "The [TEFL] target defines itself. Someone who wants to learn English is going to be highly educated, a professional, motivated, a thinker. They will be the backbone of the church, the leaders of the future." (To be fair, this is not always true. Efforts in TEFL with refugees abroad target a distinctly different class or group.)7
SOME NEGATIVE CONSIDERATIONS
No one is recommending jettisoning study of the native language. Many if not most TEFL students are at a language level too low for in-depth spiritual conversations in English. And although English is the international lingua franca, "by far the most effective language for reaching the hearts and minds of a people is their language, not ours," reminds Wheaton’s Dickerson. Most agree. IT requires at least six months of language training for all teachers. Another organization runs a one- to two-year language school for career-minded teachers. This is appropriate. While being opportunistic, Christians should want to avoid ethnocentricity, or being identified as the "ugly American" who demands that the rest of the world speak his language. Teachers will be better equipped to know, love, serve, and stay If they speak the native language.
How long will this TEFL window remain open? Politics is In Eastern Europe, we were out yesterday, in today. In China, we are in today but could be out tomorrow. Writing on August 20, 1991, the day after the attempted Soviet coup, Ed Marvin, general director of the ERA International Association of Language Cooperation, writes: ‘The events of yesterday lead us to wonder whether this era of opportunity is already ending. This openness for the spread of the gospel could come to a screeching halt."
Some leaders, such as GEM’s Crane, feel that eventually the market will be saturated, returns will diminish, and ministry potential will wither. Dr. Dickerson at Wheaton disagrees: "This is not something that is going to die out in our lifetime. ESL-teaching in the U.S. and TEFL-teaching overseas are not a passing fad. The demand for English teachers will increase in the next century. Western Europe is not really saturated-there are lots of opportunities there. But they are no longer willing to accept people who bumble along somehow as teachers."
In other words, if things settled down on the chaotic educational scene of Eastern Europe, or if China somehow got all the teachers it wanted, TEFL would only be open to the more qualified teachers. The field would be closed to those unprepared to remain. Once again, we see that professionalism is truly at the heart of the TEFL ministry effort.
COMING FULL CIRCLE TO OUR BACKYARD
TEFL is indeed a ministry without boundaries. But we need look no further our own backyard to discern where it begins. International students, immigrants, and refugees learn ESL (English as a Second Language) inside the United States. English tutoring programs and international friendship outreaches can minister to the world without leaving city limits.
World Relief operates a large ESL-teaching program in DuPage County, Illinois. Started in 1981 by a group concerned for Hmong refugees from Laos, the program went under the sponsorship of World Relief in 1984. It was and is a wholistic program, addressing many resettlement needs- housing, employment, transportation, health and public aid, as well as English.
Education Program Director Marilyn Sweeny recalls that 1987 was a watershed year, as an amnesty law went into effect requiring candidates for legal residency to learn English. World Relief’s program grew from four to eleven classes in a single year; currently there are thirteen classes with about 475 students (not including 75 children in the day-care program) representing 25 countries. Increases for 1991 reflect an influx of young (ages 18 to 25) Amerasians, the children and families of American servicemen from Vietnam.
The ESL ministry challenge differs from that of TEFL in several ways. Students are primarily "working poor" instead of intellectual/upper class types (which of course matters not at all to God). The program is more intense than many abroad. Students attend four days a week and can log as many as 200-plus class-hours in a single year. They are struggling with survival and culture; English is more coursework to them. "Our pro-is geared for real-life English," Sweeny. They have traditional immigrant desires and motivation is high. Sweeny detests stereotypes of Hispanic laziness and is ready to point to students in her program as evidence to the contrary. Most students are not highly educated: they average six years of schooling in their native countries, 60 percent are semi-literate (grade school reading level), 10 percent are illiterate, and five percent are pre-literate. In keeping with World Relief’s philosophy, Sweeny highlights the program’s priority of caring for students outside the classroom: "A community-based organization can stress meeting the needs of the students, adapting to them instead of them adapting to classes. We can be more closely connected with their lives."8
"Closely connected with their lives." This is perhaps the trumpet call of the English teaching ministry. Writes one leader: "Yes, we are teachers. Yes, we share our professional expertise. Yes, our classrooms are devoted to top quality education. But above and beyond everything … the hallmark of (TEFL ministry) will always be that we care deeply for every single student in every single classroom. They are the reason we do it!"
Unless otherwise noted, all information and quotations were obtained from interviews done by the author.
1. Susan Griffith. Teaching English Abroad: Talk Your Way Around the World. (Oxford: Vacation-Work, 1991), p. 13.
A Korean student dreams of studying at UCLA, the wife of a Peruvian ambassador in Islamabad wants to be able to speak English at official functions. A Greek secondary school student has to pass her English exams in order to proceed to the next year and, like most of her classmates, attends a private tutorial college for conversational English. A Czech worker associates English with the language of freedom and liberalism and wants to be able to read on eof the newly available foreign newspapers. A Turkish youth wants to be able to flirt with tourists from northern Europe. A Mexican waiter wants to get a job in the Acapulco Hilton. A Saudi engineer has to be able to read reports and manuals in English for his job. The list is open-ended…
2. Pamela, Patel. "Eurocorps Responds to People’s Needs—Teams Use TEFL in Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia." The Europe Report, August 1991, pp. 1, 6.
3. Griffith, op. cit., p. 15.
4. Lynn Henrichsen. "What employers want in an ESOL teacher." TESOL Placement Bulletin, May, 1991, pp. 1,3.
5. Ali A. Aghbar and Xiaolin Zhang. "Survey of MA/TESL programs in the US: A call for more training in pedagogy." TESOL Matters, June/July, 1991, pp. 16-17.
6. This does not by any means mean the teacher has total freedom. Organizations working in closed countries constantly walk a thin line, balancing the imperative to minister with that of staying in the good graces of the host country.
7. Examples of this sort of outreach include various TEFL programs for the Vietnameserefee camps in Hong Kong, TEAM’s TEFL work with Afghan refugees in Pakistan (Church Around the World, September, 1991), and World Relief’s TEFL efforts in the Philippines.
8. "Why Do We Do It?" Bridges, Fall, 1991, p. 2.
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