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New Horizons

Using TESOL to Spread the Gospel

Mary Yepez

More and more people all over the world want to learn English in order to get ahead in life, whether in the United States or abroad. So teachers of English are highly valued all around the world. Christians who teach English can use it to reach people with the gospel, either in their home church or on the foreign mission field.

TESOL (Teaching English as a Second Language) classes are in high demand. Those offering English classes for free have little difficulty attracting students for what is also called ESL (English as a Second Language) or ELL (English Language Learning). Outside of the United States, this field is called EFL (English as a Foreign Language) and is a huge industry.

Starting a TESOL Program at Your Church

If there is a member in your church who is an English teacher, that person may want to organize a simple conversation class and galvanize others in the church to host it. It is not necessary, however, to be a teacher. Inviting internationals from the community for some practice in conversation and refreshments is a simple, social activity.

With a little training (i.e., taking a TESOL class online), these conversation classes can expand to lessons in grammar and idioms. There is no pressure, since these are not academic programs and are free of charge. A minimal amount of material is needed. You could use photocopied handouts found on the Internet (search for: ESL/ELL free materials) or simply copy articles from a magazine.

Once the participants become familiar with your church, you can host a Sunday brunch and invite them to a service and a meal. Internationals greatly appreciate hospitality. In this way, we help meet both a practical need and a spiritual one.

At Franklin Square OPC in Franklin Square, New York, we have a group that meets during the week for a couple of hours, and both the teachers and the students have a lot of fun. The volunteers hold conversation classes and have now also begun teaching grammar and idiomatic expressions. Of course, there are always snacks. It is only a question of praying and getting started.

We began the Franklin Square TESOL ministry a few years ago with our Spanish-speaking group led by Pastor Nathan Ketchen, and then restarted it in February 2012 with facilitators, encouragers, and teachers Janis Seminara, Jacque Zarek, Pamela Smith, Miguel Lopez, and Dan Seminara. I have provided some training through the years, and other congregants have attended these training sessions, including our pastor, William Shishko.

He has been an enthusiastic supporter and has said, “Through our TESOL classes, we have learned new aspects of the meaning of ‘We are all things to all people.’ We also have learned new and blessed dimensions of love, while giving ourselves to the good of others. Seeking to work with people of other cultures takes us out of our comfort zone and into the world of others. For that very reason, it is a special part of learning about the love of the Son of God, who came from heaven to give himself for us.” Pastor Shishko and his wife, Margaret, also host “Spanish nights” at their home, where there is a meaningful cross-cultural outreach for Spanish speakers and where one can enjoy a delicious paella made by the Shishkos.

TESOL Programs of Study

TESOL has been an academic field for more than a quarter of a century. In many states, TESOL specialists and courses are required in high schools and colleges. TESOL services are provided for thousands of immigrant students who need greater proficiency in English in order to proceed along academic tracks.

TESOL generally requires training. How much training is necessary depends on the level of involvement and the goals of an ESL/ELL program. Missionaries conducting English camps, English cafés, and conversation classes may benefit from some training, but it is not imperative. The goals of these activities are not academic and neither are the end assessments. However, if a missionary wishes to establish an English language school, training will be required.

There are nondegree programs from which you can obtain a TESOL certificate that qualifies you to be an English teacher. The most popular one is the Cambridge Certificate for ESL. Certificates can also be obtained by completing online courses. Christian colleges, such as Regent University, Pepperdine University, Azusa Pacific University, and Wheaton College, provide TESOL/missiology training. A certificate can be earned in a short time—a year or less. Check your local colleges and universities for these programs.

Hundreds of colleges and universities offer degree programs (B.A. or M.A.) in TESOL. This preparation is excellent for missionaries who want to work full-time as tentmakers teaching English in a foreign country. This helps meet the financial burden of supporting the missionary. For example, if a missionary couple has been accepted as missionaries, the wife could work as an English teacher in the secular realm while her husband focuses on church business.

Doctoral degrees (Ph.D., Ed.D.) and postdoctoral studies in TESOL are also available at many universities, including Christian ones. These programs are for those who wish to teach at the college level and do research. Holders of a doctorate in TESOL can easily get teaching positions at higher educational institutions in places that are difficult to reach for the gospel, such as the Middle East and China.

My Own Experience in TESOL

While studying medicine, I would spend summers helping my grandmother with her English school in Spain, and that is where I first felt a call to become a teacher. It would take eight years of working in a medical office before I decided to act on this call and get an M.A. in teaching. Later I earned a Ph.D., did postdoctoral work in psychology and linguistics, and established myself as a TESOL researcher.

God has used me greatly in this field. A career in TESOL has taken me all over the world. I have lived in five countries as a TESOL university professor, a senior Fulbright scholar in applied linguistics, and a missionary and trainer. When holding secular TESOL positions, I have been able to share the good news with thousands of people—inviting them to local churches, distributing Bibles, and praying for and with many students and colleagues. My work in TESOL has taken me into arenas where missionaries cannot usually go.

If you enjoy international students and linguistics, I encourage you to look into the TESOL field. There are also jobs in TESOL for folks with no TESOL background. These afford opportunities to work and live abroad to share the good news with students and colleagues. Some websites for this and other resources in TESOL are:

TESOL provides a wonderful way to show God’s love to our international neighbors. It is a missionary tool that can be used for God’s purposes and to his eternal glory.

The author, who teaches at New York University, is a member of Franklin Square OPC in Franklin Square, N.Y. New Horizons, July-August 2012.

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