ESL Rice Missionaries

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I recently came across the MissionFinder.org website and saw adverts to 'Use ESL to help plant churches among unreached Muslim peoples.' I found this rice missionary approach a little troubling; I see no reason to see a culture and religion as rich as Islam as 'unreached' and worry about the idea of abusing ESL in this way. Missionaries masquerading, as ESL teachers are nothing new; Mormons, generally honest about their intentions, and evangelical Christians, among others, poured into post-war Japan offering English lessons, while trying to make converts, and South Korea was also targeted. Little headway was made in Japan, but South Korea has a huge evangelical Christian population. Now they are heading for 'unreached' Muslim countries as well as refugees in the USA and other western countries.

The element of subterfuge used by some is what worries me; my profession is being abused by many of the missionaries. I find things like this from Teamworld perturbing:

My students are refugees looking for hope. They see English as a ticket out of poverty, but I have greater aspirations for them. Many have found personal hope in Jesus Christ.

When I was living in London, many of my students were asylum seekers, desperate to learn English and to get on in their new society. If students see English as a ticket out of poverty, and for many it is, and they enrol on an English course, then that is what they should get. I do not feel that it is the role of a missionary pretending to be an ESL teacher to decide without consultation that they have greater aspirations for their students. It is a fundamentally arrogant idea to assume the superiority of a religion, and should have no part of education, especially when it is a unilateral decision by the people in the position of power. Refugees and asylum seekers are particularly vulnerable and should not be subjected to this. Refugees and asylum seekers come from countries with valid cultures and religions and should be treated as such, instead of being manipulated by self-appointed saviours. The quality of the Teamworld teaching doesn't sound too high:

My English classes meet in a coffee shop. Over steaming cups of espresso, my class (mostly college students) laughs a lot and learns some English idioms ('It's raining cats and dogs?!'). Often we end up discussing spiritual truth-like why I believe Jesus' death could pay for my sin.

The example of the idiom chosen to demonstrate the 'teaching' is one that is rarely used any more, and just a pretext to getting on to the subject that really interests this 'teacher'. How many native speakers nowadays use 'raining cats and dogs'? It's only a few steps removed from teaching them to say 'hey nonny nonny'.

This mediocrity is seen elsewhere; the Tennesean.com of 09/13/04 gives another example:

'When Paul talked to the people of Athens about God, he told them he was the Lord of what?' asked Virginia Willis, speaking slowly and clearly.

'The ... Lord ... of ... the ... light?' responded Huang, an immigrant from Taiwan, tentatively.

I couldn't have answered that. It's virtually meaningless to someone from outside the culture of Christianity. The same article does quote Christian ESL teachers who see the manipulative nature of the subterfuge, so the practice is not universally accepted among believers, even proselytizers.

I have no objection to those who are up front about their primary aims, but this sneaking around deciding what vulnerable people really need while pretending to be ESL teachers chills me to the bone. I feel that they are undermining the ESL profession, as they have none the ethics of teaching. The goal of an ESL course should be to get people using English and not walking with the Lord.


Categories: General

3 Comments

This is an interesting post, You might be interested to read an article at by Alastair Pennycook that explores this issue in some depth.You can access it at http://www.tesolislamia.org/articles/TEML.pdf

Hi. I stumbled across this post while searching for information about English courses. I'm a missionary kid and we have taught English lessons in our ministry before. I can say from experience that teaching English was not a way for use to undermine the people and "get them to walk with the Lord" but a way to teach them English, make contacts, gain friendships, have fun, and THEN, outside of the English courses start to ask them questions about their faith and religion. In fact, the lessons we taught had no mention of God or Jesus at all. I sincerely want to teach people proper English and help them grow in their skills. Once I gain these contacts then we can start friendships and it can lead to conversations about God. I understand where you are coming from about people not being upfront about their position as a missionary but you can't categorize every missionary who's ever taught English in this way. It's a creative and fun way to help people and to gain friendships with the people.

Hannah, my complaint was with the subterfuge- this sort of pretence undermines teaching seriously- it's basically deception and bringing any hidden agenda into education is a worry.

The person who goes to a mission and has lessons there knows what they're getting. I can't see anything wrong with a mission offering classes. I would also say that missions often operate in remote areas where businesses wouldn't open schools, which I think is laudable.

The person I quote is infiltrating and cheating, which is very different. To put it very simply, what would you think of an atheist/humanist website dedicated to planting atheist teachers in missions? Then backing that up with a spot of gloating about people who go to missions being vulnerable- would you want those people to cross your threshold? That is basically what they're doing- it';s creepy and dishonest and a million miles away from a mission offering free or cheap English classes.

The deception is a breach of trust at a level that undermines the educational process to me.

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