Guest Post: There and Back Again: A Hobbit’s Tale of Asia

Hello, adventurers! I am so excited to introduce you to a college friend of mine. Rachel Toepfer is a wonderful and talented person in so many ways, and Rachel has shared her teaching experience at the English Language Institute of China with us in her post below:

I graduated from OCU in 2013 and right after I received my degree, I felt led to go on the adventure of a lifetime: Asia. I always wanted to travel and explore, and I told God I would go anywhere He wanted me to go, do anything He wanted me to do, no matter how hard… EXCEPT I did NOT want to go to Asia, be gone for more than 2 weeks at a time, or teach kids. So of course, He sent me to Hong Kong for 5 weeks to teach English to middle school kids. Moral of this story: don’t tell God what you won’t do, because He’ll make you do just that.

So off I went to Asia with an organization called English Language Institute China, or ELIC for short. One week of training and orientation in Hong Kong, three weeks of teaching middle school students in English, and one more week of a vision tour of another Asian country where ELIC had long term teaching programs, finishing off with a couple days back in Hong Kong for debriefing. Now, I am not a teacher, so I was beyond terrified to try and teach English to Chinese students. But thankfully, the students I had already knew an awful lot about English. Hong Kong students are taught English starting at a very young age, typically having tutors for the language as early as two-years old. They are very competitive in all of their schooling because they must score high enough on their exam to get into university. Only one out of four students score high enough to get there, and they need that degree to get a high paying job. In order to pass the exam, they have to be fluent in their own language, which is Cantonese Chinese, as well as Mandarin Chinese and English. So for them, English camp in a must.

I spent the entire week of training panicking, thinking my students wouldn’t like me, I would be a terrible teacher, etc. But thankfully, God was in control. As I stepped into the classroom the first day, I met 19 kids who would grab my heart and never let it go. I thought I was scared walking in there, but then I saw these kids’ faces. They were more scared of me than I was of them. I was their teacher, and if they got a question wrong or used the incorrect pronoun, that meant they were in trouble. But I didn’t yell at them, I wasn’t disappointed with them with they got the question wrong. I smiled at them and told them they did a good job and I was proud of them. They were shocked. Teachers don’t usually do that. It made me different to them, which made them listen more.

But what I really wanted them to see was the truth of Jesus Christ. So I began to think of ways to introduce the Gospel into my class. Hong Kong has religious freedom, so I was in no danger for presenting the Gospel. But how? Well, I’m not a teacher, but I am a performing artist. My passions are music, drama, and sign language, so I used these as tools, playing videos of such and teaching them songs where God was evident. We did a journal writing at the beginning and ending of every class where I would write a question or a prompt on the board and they would journal about it for several minutes. This helped them work on their English writing and I would read their entries and write something in response for them to read, helping with their reading as well. Many times, the writing prompt was a video of a skit with a Biblical message. One of their favorites was the video of the Good News Players performing the skit “Clincher”. These videos and writing gave way to discussions about God in their journals.

In addition to the writings, I taught them the song “Amazing Grace” and explained the lyrics by definition and meaning. I showed them some sign language to Christian music. My good friend Shayna Misukonis ended up being one of my teammates and together we did another skit or two from the Good News Players repertoire, again presenting the Gospel through drama.

For a while, though, it didn’t seem that any of it was catching on to my students. I was becoming discouraged, but through prayer, support for my team, and spending some time reading the book of Isaiah, I chose to trust God and keep trying. Then one of my students asked me a very honest question: why do you believe in Jesus? God didn’t just open a door; He kicked it down. So I explained my belief in Christ and dependence on Him as the one and only Way, Truth, and Life in the most basic English I could think of on the spot.

After 12 days of teaching, it was time to say goodbye to my kids. It was the most heart-wrenching thing I’ve ever done. My class of 19 students had gone from scared and timid to alive and joyful. It was a transformation that was so intense, it could only be possible by the love of God. My kids had gone from thinking they were no good, that as a native English speaker from America I would be disappointed in them, and I was only there because I had to be, to realizing that I paid to come to them because I wanted to be with them, because I saw them as special and smart, and I truly cared about them. That class on that 12th day was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.

Most of my kids are on Facebook, so I thankfully still get to talk to some of them every once in a while. They always ask when I’m coming back to see them. This summer, I plan to go back and do a performing arts mission trip to preach the Gospel to this absolutely wonderful people. If you are thinking of going to Asia, especially Hong Kong, I highly recommend it. I doubt you’ll regret it. But just remember what Bilbo Baggins used to say to Frodo: “It’s dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

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