An interview with A global worker in a Restricted Access Nation
What is the nature of your ministry with children? Please describe how your role as a global worker in this location was needed.
I am primarily a teacher and within my region I have worked with local children as well as expats in an educational capacity. The most important thing children need is someone to listen to them and hear how they truly feel about an issue in their lives. High pressure and expectation in Asia makes for much stress and many children do not feel close enough with their parents to vocalize how they truly feel. Another thing children need is a chance and an opportunity to dream bigger. With the expectations of their grandparents and parents riding upon them, girls and boys within Asia often feel trapped by a future which appears to have been predetermined. I feel that a relationship with my students offers me a chance to encourage them to think for themselves about what they would really want to do and to pursue those dreams. Finally, as an English teacher, I am able to offer what all local children and expats need – an English language education. English, being the primary language of our global community, is a must within Asia, particularly for those who dream of working within international companies or working abroad. Furthermore, English gives every child a leg up in the educational processes of Asia. As an educator, I can offer my expertise to those who need such instruction.
Are children there responsive the Gospel? If so, why?
The nature of outreach in restricted access nations limits how, when, and where someone like myself may share with children. In one on one tutoring situations with expats, I am able to discuss quite a few topics. In the past, not only have I shared the gospel, but I have discussed issues such as body image, spiritual warfare, and life after death with Korean children who have a natural curiosity about what Christianity is really all about. Within the classroom or English summer camp, however, professionalism and security dictates that any outreach be regulated to sharing 'proverbs from a wise book' or teaching virtues and character studies as opposed to discussing spirituality or the gospel outright. However, despite the constraints, children are more than willing to consider the 'salt' which one may insert into one's lesson, such as whether 'loving your enemy' is actually possible, and if so, how. Later on, after class, one on one, or within their homes, one may be able to share more openly.
What difference are you seeing in the lives of children as a result of your ministry? Please share a testimony
I don't know if these stories count because they feel really inconsequential in the big scheme of things, but I believe that small steps may lead to larger changes.
“Elena” is a young Korean expat whose family works within my city in an international company. Having moved from her homeland, this girl, who was then in Grade 3, found it hard to settle within a city that was so foreign to her. Due to her issues with English at the international American school in town, I began to tutor both her and her older sister. What became increasingly obvious to me was that “Elena” was struggling with not only fitting in but also coming to terms with her own cultural heritage and standards of beauty. Over the past two years, I have watched “Elena” come to accept not only herself and what a healthy body means for her, but to also accept that 'healthy' looks different for other people. Focusing more on the inward, “Elena” is slowly coming to realize that who she is as a person is just as (if not more) important than how skinny she is. This semester, I had a real 'praise God' moment when I heard that she had uplifted another girl who was struggling with the same issues that she has been struggling with. “Elena” is a nominal Catholic Korean, who I hope one day will realize that true love comes from her Heavenly Father. Perhaps this acceptance will happen through our continuing lessons, or perhaps it will happen with someone else. I do not know, but I know that our Father is looking over “Elena”.
“Josiah” is another young Korean expat from a quasi-Buddhist background. A self-proclaimed atheist at the age of ten, “Josiah” loves science and the natural world. However, his curiosity as well as the pressure of moving to another country has begun a journey of inquiry which I am blessed to have been a part of. Issues with bullying and performance anxiety (regarding his school marks) have caused him to seek for meaning and help. As his favorite tutor, “Josiah” and his mother often come to me for advice on a variety of matters. One night when we were discussing the allegory of “The Silver Chair”, we began to talk about other ideas.
“I don't believe in that stuff,” he told me. “But I think it is so interesting.”
“What stuff exactly?” I asked, looking up from his homework.
“Stuff about God but I think it's cool.” “Josiah” smiled at me. “I wish I could have stories about that.”
The fact that “Josiah” is beginning to respect Faith is a good step, but the most important thing for me is to point him in the right direction. Several months ago, his mother asked for an English Bible and the two of them now attend a Christian meeting place run by Koreans. For the past few months, “Josiah”, his mother and I have discussed a variety of topics ranging from spiritual warfare to personal emotional healthiness to the Scriptures themselves. I look forward to where this relationship will lead.
What can the Canadian church do to help partner with you?
One way to reach children is running free (or subsidized) SUMMER CAMPS which offer training in various areas of English learning. Summer camps can be run similar to the traditional Day Vacation Bible Schools – with crafts and activities and games and short stories – but all with a slant toward English Oral and Written education. These summer camps need financial support as well as workers – and they are greatly appreciated during the summer time when the children have a few short weeks off. Targeting lower income families is highly suggested since they are the least likely to get opportunities to introduce their children to actual native English speakers. Other summer camps with art or music focuses could potentially work as well.
Another way to help is to PROVIDE HUMANITARIAN AID, particularly to impoverished children, children in orphanages, or disabled children. These children need a lot of practical aid – educational resources, qualified teachers, and day-to-day necessary items. Wise inquiry as to what is really need followed by practical aid would be the best way to better these children's lives.
One way to help is PRAYER. Prayers is a welcome gift and should bind us all together as we work for God's kingdom.
Another way to help is FINANCIAL GIFTS. Financial gifts can aid us to run summer camps with greater resources – better curriculum, supplies and tools for preparation and activities. Gifts can also aid in humanitarian projects targeting children (orphanages and social welfare homes).
Finally, VOLUNTEERS are always appreciated. Having a small, well-trained team come into the region to help run summer projects is always a great way to target a specific group of kids and pour into their lives. These kinds of camps can run for a week or two long and are a really great way to see what life is like for children within my region.
What are the greatest challenges/obstacles in reaching children?
Bureaucracy, safety concerns and fear of the unknown are general obstacles or challenges for the average worker coming into my region to work.
Many parents in my region are dreaming of a day their child can be educated by a native English speaker. The challenge therefore is not so much the people themselves, who are open to allowing their children to come into contact with foreigners, but the political and social structures which have a particularly anti-Christian bias. Getting a visa can seem hard, but the reality is that being conscious of security on arrival may be a large obstacle to efficacy and safety. As a result, getting short-term (much less long-term) workers into the country to work with children is difficult since my area of the world seems daunting to the average Christian.
Working with children is never popular and most people feel unequipped 'to be teachers'. We should train people how to run camps before sending them abroad so that upon landing, they feel enabled to complete the focused work set before them. The challenge is that life on the field is never certain so preparation must be thorough before arriving.
How can we pray for you and your ministry?
- Please pray for safety since global workers within restricted access nations are watched and curtailed in their activities. Despite these dangers, workers must answer their calling to spread the gospel.
- Also pray for wisdom and discernment as to whom they should share the gospel with and when. Timing is important in restricted access nations – and knowing when to speak determines safety and efficacy.
- Finally, pray for opportunities. In a region of the world where global workers are watched and are often unwelcome, we are unable to openly go out into the streets and call upon people in public places. Churches are restricted and long-term work must be carried out carefully. God-given moments are key to global workers such as myself. Pray for opportunities to arise so that we may be able to speak more freely to those who are ready to listen.