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Learning by Doing

A total response to the gospel

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“How much English can you teach in only one week?” many people ask. “Is it worth all the expense and trouble to travel to another country on a short-term missions trip? Wouldn’t it be better to just donate that money to the church?”

Our response is, “Teaching English is a means to build relationships with our brothers and sisters in other countries, and in so doing, serve and encourage them. In return, our hearts and minds are changed in a way that would never happen had we not gotten on that plane.”

STEPPING OUT

In 2003, God laid on my heart the idea to use English classes as a vehicle to share the gospel. This idea is not new within the C&MA, but it was new to Appleton (Wis.) Alliance Church. After my wife, Debbie, Dan Senf was the first person I shared this idea with. God made it clear that we should venture out in our missions effort and use this tool to share the wonderful good news.

In the summer of 2004, Debbie and I led a group of five to the Magdalena Alta Alliance Church in Quito, Ecuador. We went willing to try something new and experience God’s tremendous blessings. Debbie was the only teacher in the group. The missionaries estimated that we would have 50 students, but just under 100 showed up eager to learn. The first material we used was English in Action, published by Dawson Media (The Navigators).

We learned two things. First, God was pleased to bring many into His Kingdom through this ministry. Second, we needed to develop material that fit our mission-trip model.

Upon our return from Ecuador, Debbie and I started to write and assemble material based on a model that would present the gospel through English classes in six days of lessons, four hours per day. After the rough material was assembled, it was organized by Dan Senf and published. Donna Eddy developed the sequence graphics used in lessons 2 through 6, and Elvy Belknap corrected the Spanish language inserts. This process took two years. The material was then used in three successive trips to teach English at the Iglesia Alianza Christiana Y Misonera Cono Norte-Callao in a suburb of Lima, Peru. Each year the revising and editing continues.

TOTAL IMMERSION

The teaching method we developed for use on our short-term trips is based on “total physical response” (TPR), the way in which we learned our mother tongue. As we were growing up, we heard our parents say things like, “Sit down now”; “Eat your lunch”; and “You go to bed.” We learned what those phrases meant from the context in which they were said. TPR works much the same way in a Bible-based curriculum.

Each lesson includes props, small objects that correspond to the vocabulary being taught. We designed six lessons for a six-day short-term missions trip: lesson one is general vocabulary; lesson two teaches the story of Adam and Eve and that humans are sinners; the third session uses the story of Noah to teach that God is a just judge; lesson four describes Christ’s birth and tells of the Coming Savior; the fifth class is about Christ’s death and teaches that He took our place on the cross. On the final day, we teach Christ’s Resurrection and His victory over sin and death.

A teacher’s manual lists step-by-step lesson plans. The Bible stories are taught using TPR actions and sequence pictures that correspond to the phrases, and each lesson (except for the first) has the Bible passage in English and in Spanish pertaining to the subject. Also included are basic English greetings and common vocabulary words such as numbers, colors, animals, fruits, family members and body parts that tie in with each Bible story. Games and activities reinforce the lessons.

When we are going to teach English in Latin America, the host church in the country advertises the classes ahead and helps the team organize. The majority of those who enroll are non-Christians who have been invited by church members. During the week, students are encouraged to attend a service to hear a pastor extend an invitation to accept Christ. We have had from 20 to 60 people make commitments to Jesus each year.

On the final night of the classes a ceremony is held to give certificates to the students. They also receive an English Bible. The team members are always amazed as the students respond to us with gifts, hugs and many thanks for the time we spent with them. Many ask for e-mail addresses, and teachers communicate with their students throughout the year. Reports from the field after the team leaves indicate that many of the students remain active in the church.

What can be accomplished for Christ in six days of teaching English? We have an opportunity to show Christ’s love in a practical way to those who do not know Him. But in reality, it is us who receive the greatest blessing as we watch God use our humble efforts to share His good news.

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