A few days ago, I got a call from a teacher at Anuban Nong Doan Primary School. “Can you come and teach English to our students? How about one day per week?” The teacher was disappointed to hear that I only had one half day per week available but nevertheless wanted to meet with me to discuss the details and said that they would be able to compensate me for my time.
I arrived at the school the following afternoon, expecting to meet with this one particular teacher but instead found myself sitting at the head of a table with all the school’s teachers gathered around, about 15 teachers in all. We initially talked about day and time, but when the chair of the meeting turned to me and asked how much money I needed, the discussion got more interesting. “I don’t really need any money, actually. I am happy to teach for free but the only thing that I ask is for permission to use stories from the Bible as part of curriculum.” I assured them that I did not intend to pressure the children to change religions or try to get them to convert. I merely wanted to use some stories from the Bible as part of my teaching. The teachers discussed this idea back and forth for a bit. One of the concerns was “What will the parents think?” They feared that some parents could misunderstand my intention and think that there was some foreign teacher trying to convert their kids. Into their conversation, I threw out another option, “Or, instead of using Bible stories as part of the English teaching, for every hour of teaching, I could do 45 minutes of English, and then 15 minutes of a Bible story in Thai.” They liked that I idea more but were still not enthusiastic. The chair of the meeting, whom I was seated next to, turned to me and with a big smile on his face and asked, “Can’t you just teach English?” I gave a big smile back and didn’t say much of anything. This is a Thai way of saying, “No”. He understood and realized that I wasn’t going for it.
He and the other teachers discussed further and I added that the Thai government has given me a visa to teach the Bible and that is my primary work. To do other kinds of work is technically outside of my visa. And I again reassured them that I will not be inviting children to change their religion. In the end, we were able to agree that I would teach every Wednesday afternoon for a few hours and that in every hour of teaching, I would do “just” English for 50 minutes and tell a story from the Bible in Thai for 10 minutes.
Although I did not explain this at the teachers meeting, my thinking is that if I can give these kids some exposure to basic Bible stories (creation, the fall, Cain & Abel, the flood, and so forth), then these can be building block of understanding so that the children will be able to more readily understand the Gospel when they hear it at some other place or time.
Providentially, before I had gotten a call from this school, I already had plans in place to do a once a week after school kids club to teach English and Bible. One of the Christian men in Nong Doan had helped arrange this. The teachers at the school have given me the okay to invite the school children to this after school activity at which I and my helpers will have complete freedom to do as much Bible content as we would like.
As far as the school goes though, teaching a bit of simple English without Bible content is a benefit to the children themselves and builds goodwill in the community. Plus, when I am at the school once a week, I expect that there will be opportunities to get to know some of the Thai teachers and/or other school staff, looking for opportunities to talk about spiritual matters.
I am happy to be a good neighbor to those around me be doing things like teaching some English but my primary purpose in Thailand is not to raise the level of English education in the country but to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is important that I not loose focus and let my time be consumed by other activities that do not contribute to that end.