English learning begins in middle school for Japanese students, if not earlier. Unfortunately, it is often taught through grammar books, resulting in poor conversation skills and a lack of enjoyment. Since English is considered useful for finding good jobs and traveling, it creates an opportunity for missionaries to use English conversation as a wonderful tool for connecting with individuals and sharing about God and His works.
As we have talked with other missionaries and learned from our own experiences, we have come to the conclusion that Christian stories, specifically ones that teach a moral or principle, are most effective for impacting students. While students might reject a direct propositional statement (“God is the One in control of your life”), their heart may be opened by hearing stories that teach the proposition (Joseph, Nebuchadnezzar, Jim and Elizabeth Elliot, etc). As they begin to learn more about who God is and what He does, the story of the Gospel becomes more than a simple American religion.
In the end, our children’s classes turned into a lot of games, ending with a story time, while our adult classes worked on using grammar in conversations and paused for a “break” to hear new and exciting stories. Don’t worry, the adults also played games from time to time, though the stories frequently held more of their attention.
Our friend, Pastor Randy Gilmore, has helped us think through teaching English to other cultures. Feel free to check out his blog and sign up for his newsletter about using ESL for evangelism.