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Dear Friends & Family,The beginning of July saw the start of two new evangelistic efforts in Nong Doan. Every Wednesday afternoon, Karl is teaching English and Bible to students at Anubaan Nong Doan Elementary School. The school called him up to come teach English, and Karl negotiated with them to teach for free as long as he could use Bible stories as part of the curriculum. During every class hour, Karl will teach just English for 50 minutes and then gets the last 10 minutes of class to tell a Bible story in Thai. The first week, first through third graders heard about how God created the world. Next up will be the creation of man and the fall.
One the brilliant opportunities that I have had as a missionary in Thailand is to hold an evangelistic kids club in a local elementary school. While school officials in the U.S. continue to close the door to any religious influence in public schools, many Thai schools at all levels are opening the way for the Gospel to be proclaimed to Buddhist students.Not all Thai schools are friendly to Christians but a surprising number of Buddhist teachers are willing to grant permission for Gospel proclamation alongside English teaching. While living in Central Thailand, every Friday I went to a small elementary school in a rural village, teaching English through games and songs to twenty to thirty Buddhist children.... and telling them Bible stories. As often as I could, I got Thai Christians to tell the stories, and over the course of year and a half we covered a number of major Old Testament and New Testament stories.
I recently got an email from a young man who is teaching English in Korea and planning to move to Thailand to teach there. My name had been given to him as someone to ask for advice. For others who may be thinking about a similar route, here’s some thoughts based on my experience and observations from living and working in Thailand:My BackgroundI am now a missionary but I previously taught at a Thai government college in a large city for 1.5 years, besides lots of informal English teaching. I have run seminars for Thai teachers of English and taught elementary school kids in Thai public schools as well. With that said, here’s what you need to know about:
“Mr. Eddy, tuck in your shirt, please.” The tall twenty two year old Scotsman turned to see who had called to him. He didn’t look so happy with our older Thai colleague. “I’m all done teaching. I’m just going home.” Our colleague was not persuaded. “You are a teacher and you are still at school.” Mr. Eddy begrudgingly tucked in his dress shirt and continued down the hallway.For foreigners coming to Thailand to teach English, the expectations of the institutions that they teach at can seem overbearing. This is particularly true for younger teachers who are more accustomed to the informal individualism of Western youth culture. But whether one is at home or abroad, there are certain expectations for how one should dress on the job. In Asia, this is particularly important as there is often a high cultural value on appearance and maintaining an image appropriate to one’s role in society. Being a teacher is not just a job but an identity. It is a role in society that is accorded much respect because teachers are role models for the students they teach. In Thailand, teachers are even called the student’s “second parent” because of the big role that they play in student’s life, dispensing not only academic but personal advice and guidance.
There are few things more frustrating to students than busy work. Plowing through assignment after assignment, the distinct feeling that all of one’s hard work is pointless gnaws away at the soul, inoculating students to the possibility of actual learning.As a foreign English teacher in Thailand, I discovered that many Thai people have developed a mental block that prevented them from truly learning English. This block had developed over the course of many years as they were run through an “English as a Foreign Language” curriculum that really amounted to busy work. But they suffered not just a day or two of busy work when the real teacher was out sick. This was years of busy work. And now many were convinced that they simply couldn’t learn a foreign language. “I studied English for ten years, and I still can’t say anything more than ‘Hello’” is a common refrain.
A few days ago, I got a call from a teacher at Anuban Nong Doan Primary School. “Can you come and teach English to our students? How about one day per week?” The teacher was disappointed to hear that I only had one half day per week available but nevertheless wanted to meet with me to discuss the details and said that they would be able to compensate me for my time.I arrived at the school the following afternoon, expecting to meet with this one particular teacher but instead found myself sitting at the head of a table with all the school’s teachers gathered around, about 15 teachers in all. We initially talked about day and time, but when the chair of the meeting turned to me and asked how much money I needed, the discussion got more interesting. “I don’t really need any money, actually. I am happy to teach for free but the only thing that I ask is for permission to use stories from the Bible as part of curriculum.” I assured them that I did not intend to pressure the children to change religions or try to get them to convert. I merely wanted to use some stories from the Bible as part of my teaching. The teachers discussed this idea back and forth for a bit. One of the concerns was “What will the parents think?” They feared that some parents could misunderstand my intention and think that there was some foreign teacher trying to convert their kids. Into their conversation, I threw out another option, “Or, instead of using Bible stories as part of the English teaching, for every hour of teaching, I could do 45 minutes of English, and then 15 minutes of a Bible story in Thai.” They liked that I idea more but were still not enthusiastic. The chair of the meeting, whom I was seated next to, turned to me and with a big smile on his face and asked, “Can’t you just teach English?” I gave a big smile back and didn’t say much of anything. This is a Thai way of saying, “No”. He understood and realized that I wasn’t going for it.
One of the most common and accepted roles for Westerners in Thailand is that of English teacher. Since there is such high demand for English teaching, it is common for missionaries to teach English as a way to get to know people and to share the Gospel, either inside or outside of the classroom. But is this a good idea? Is it a good use of a missionary's time? Is using English teaching as outreach honest or is the missionary being deceptive in teaching English when his real goal is to share the Gospel?
My friend Rich, a fellow missionary, recently did a post titled "Is Using English Teaching as Outreach a Deception?". Rich does a good job of laying out the various perspectives on this question and there is some interesting discussion in the comment section. I also included some comments there regarding my experience and convictions regarding this subject. For those who have used (or thought about using) English teaching as evangelism or have wondered about it, Rich's post and the subsequent comments give some good food for thought in framing the discussion.