by Johnny Appleseed
Like a small child tossed into a pool and then told to quickly dog paddle and tread water, so I was tossed into English teaching. I was a short-termer at the time, doing refugee work in a closed country. “But I don’t know how to teach English” was my refrain, but a response was instantaneous, “but you speak it!”
So with a provided textbook, I went to class. And I learned from my new students. They told me they needed good English to get a fine marriage partner in an arranged marriage. Years later when I wrote about this to other English teachers, I was told this is a surprising reason for learning English. But more than ever, after teaching for years where arranged marriages are the norm, I see its truth, especially for men. Men don’t learn English as well as women in many countries, and they need it to be a good breadwinner, especially by observant girls’ families.
Years earlier, I did hear about the importance of English in God’s plan for world evangelization. The far-seeing missions expert Dr. Ralph Winter talked about the importance of English teaching as glorifying Jesus. He and others saw work as worship, and so-called secular jobs as ways of showing the light of Jesus and His gospel. This was called the Stewardship of Work. Hard, honest and thorough work is known to honor God and not just to please men, especially when it’s not always seen. Ms. Ruth Siemens, the founder of this tent-making ministry, is an example. Ruth Siemens worked in Spain when it was still a closed country. Through her work and ministry, she saw the groundbreaking start of an evangelical Spanish church.
Still for me it was a midlife career change, when money and time afforded an opportunity, that I was able to get a master’s in teaching English as a foreign language. I never doubted this move, even with the extra cost. With a master’s in English as a foreign language, it opened doors to schools, universities and other departments of higher learning. Teachers, or lecturers as teachers with masters are often called, are treated with more respect. They are listened to. And what makes these English teachers tick, like their Christian beliefs, are observed.
The start of my full time English teaching was not easy. My parents died shortly beforehand and in my last conversation with my father, he said he wanted me in English teaching. But in spite of my grief, and maybe because of it, I found I loved English teaching. I was in a rising democracy in the Far East at the time, and students were wonderful to a new teacher, coming from their Confucian background. Small gifts like candy, socks and even apples were frequent. I found I moved around our classroom a lot, as I was taught in my master’s program at a like-minded college. And I saw English teaching and students’ learning from different angles as I moved about.
Now I have learned a fair amount of the local language in the closed country where I currently work. It’s been a blessing. More than ever I see language-learning as a two-way bridge, and especially for those of us from monolingual countries, like so-called native English speaking countries. Teachers should be seen as learners as well, going through their own pain in learning vocabulary and syntax that is very different. It’s part of the humility in being a servant for Christ.
This GO Equipped! tentmaking course was beneficial. I wish I had it 20 years ago when I got my master’s and started full time teaching. Its emphasis on hospitality was most important for me, and I will have to redo my defensive barriers to give hospitality the emphasis it deserves. Also it was good to see that we are the fragrance of Christ, as mentioned in 2nd Corinthians. There’s a lot of darkness out there, and any light, does shine.