Investigating the Place of Mission Work in English Language Teaching

Recently we published English Teaching and Evangelical Mission by Bill Johnston. In this post, Bill talks us through what inspired him to investigate the place of mission work in English Language Teaching and the message his book aims to communicate.

 English Teaching and Evangelical MissionThis book is the culmination of my many years of interest in the intersection of language teaching and teachers’ religious beliefs, particularly those of evangelical Christians who use language teaching as a platform for mission work. In recent years many non-evangelical TESOL professionals, myself included, expressed concern over this practice. Such concerns seemed potentially valid, yet they were not informed by any in-depth empirical research. To cut a long story short, I decided to go “into the field” and take a close look at a language school in Poland that explicitly offered “Bible-based curriculum” in its classes. What I found very much surprised me – a school with a warm and open atmosphere in which evangelicals and Catholics learned English side by side. That’s not to say there were not more questionable aspects of the school’s work. These, though, were by and large subtler, and it took painstaking ethnographic work to tease them out.

I don’t regard this book as the last word on the topic – quite the contrary, I see it very much as an exploratory study that, I hope, will encourage other researchers, especially those who are not evangelicals, to gather extensive data in other settings. My biggest hope is that the book will encourage a respectful and open exchange between evangelicals and non-evangelicals working in TESOL. We live in times in which political, cultural, and religious divisions seem to be becoming more and more sharply delineated, often to the consternation of those who find themselves on one side or the other of a supposed demarcation line. My experience collecting data for this book taught me that there is a lot less dogmatism than one is led to imagine. During the data collection period the evangelical teachers and missionaries I spoke with expressed an often vivid curiosity about my beliefs and motivations, and presented their own with conviction but also with humility. Our positions remained profoundly different; yet connection and even friendship was possible.

If my book has one overall message, it is that listening carefully and respectfully to those whose views are radically different than your own is a much preferable alternative to the strident, doctrinaire shouting down of one’s “opponents” that is increasingly evident in the media – on all sides of the political landscape, I might add. This is certainly true today in Poland, in my adopted country of the United States, and in many places in Europe, the continent I come from. I would wish my book to offer a small, quiet voice arguing for calm and for dialogue.

For more information about this book, please see our website.