Building an ESL Bridge to the Gospel

international helloIn some countries, like Peru, people are anxious to hear the Gospel. If a missionary gives them a tract, they sit down and read it right away.  Many mission fields, however, don’t enjoy this ready response.  Missionaries need to build bridges to nationals. Once friendship is established with nationals they are often more receptive to the Gospel. Teaching English as a second language can be that bridge.

We found this true in Taiwan. Most people know very little about our God. We’ve been asked if our God is a man or woman and how old he is. Society puts strong pressure for people to worship their ancestors and other gods, at least outwardly. It takes time for people to build a foundation of truth to be ready to accept the Gospel. Even attending any kind of church is a social stigma.

On the other hand, lots of people want to learn English. They have studied English in school and they may have had to read textbooks in English, but they have very little opportunity to speak it with a native speaker. An English Bible class provides a good way for people to learn about the Bible in a socially acceptable setting.

Teaching English can be a good evangelistic tool in foreign countries. Here are some things we learned in our ministry in Taiwan that may work for you.

 Start with needs.

What group of people do you want to reach? What age group? What level of English do most people in that group speak?

In Taiwan we taught English to three groups of people. One group involved adults with beginning English. This meant they had already been taught to read the alphabet and some basic grammar and sounds. They could read a bit, but they couldn’t converse very well.

The second group consisted of advanced adults who could basically say most of what they needed to, but they needed practice using it with native speakers. They also needed help with pronunciation of sounds that were very different from Chinese sounds.

We also taught a little English to our Chinese Sunday School students. Mostly we taught Bible, but we also gave them a taste of very simple English.

 Teach the level of English needed.

 Beginning Adult Class

In our beginning adult class we used two books: an English conversation book and an English Bible story book. These adults needed basic conversation skills and wouldn’t be interested if we couldn’t offer that. We also wanted them to hear about the Bible. With each book we had the students repeat vocabulary words after us. Then they used the vocabulary words in sentences. Often they repeated the sentences of the lesson after us too.

We spent a lot of time teaching them to listen for the distinctive sounds and repeat them after us. For example we would pronounce these words: bait, bat, beat, bet, bit, bite, boat, bought, but, butte. Then we’d give each word a number and test them. “Which word am I saying?” we’d say, and see if they could tell the difference. Then we’d have them say a word and we would guess which one they were trying to say.

We would ask questions from the lessons, but the questions were always written out and the answers could be easily found within the text.

 Advanced Adult Classes

These were much more fun for us to teach. We’d have them repeat the vocabulary words after us and use them in a sentence. They would take turns reading the text around the room. We would ask harder questions. Then we had time for discussion that would spring from the Bible study without being tied to it. When we studied the story of Joseph, for example, we would talk about jealousy in families and let them speak freely about the subject. These lessons often took two hours because the students were comfortable enough with their English to speak freely. We became very close to some of our students because we were able to discuss so many things.

 Children’s Class

When we taught children we used the most basic English and tried to teach them sentences they would be able to use. What’s your name? How old are you? Where do you come from? That kind of thing. It was especially important in Taiwan that we never make them look or feel foolish and encourage them no matter how well they did.

 Where do I get curriculum?

In countries like Taiwan it is easy to find basic English conversation booklets. We just went to a local bookstore and picked something that looked like it would be helpful and at their level. We could also find English Bible lessons about the life of Christ, but little else. Finally I wrote lessons that taught the basic Old Testament stories and the Life of Christ. You’ll find my Old Testament stories here free and the Life of Christ lessons very reasonably priced.

 Should I charge for the classes?

Missionaries often ask this question. In many countries people don’t value what they can get for free. You have to charge a little just so they take them seriously. On the other hand you don’t want to charge so much that it keeps people away.

We charged for the books, but didn’t charge for the classes. This covered our expenses, but also left the ball in our court. If someone complained that there was too much Bible and they only wanted conversation, we just smiled and said, “This is a church. This is what we do. We offer classes for free but we always teach the Bible. If this made them quit coming, at least we knew they weren’t really interested in learning more about God anyway.

In a few weeks we’ll talk about how to use ESL to bring the Gospel to immigrants in your own country. We’ll tell you about an exciting church plant that has done just that.


[image from Deposit Photos/gvictoria.]