But first, English

Nicole James | Brazil

During a trip to Brazil, OM writer Nicole James visited the English Short Course, where she learned several students’ stories and talked to former and present teachers.

As an American who's studied English, taught English and learnt foreign languages, I understand the language learning process from the perspective of both student and teacher. During my time travelling with and writing for OM, I’ve interviewed workers from almost every continent--unfortunately, I haven’t met anyone from Antarctica yet--and have had teammates from Germany, Denmark, Panama and Mexico. With few exceptions, my conversations with OMers serving outside their home countries have all been in English.

It wasn’t until I had been immersed in OM culture for more than two years, though, that I realised how much effort non-native English speakers exert to blend into OM’s international culture. In the Near East, my Spanish-speaking teammates and I all attended Arabic classes, but I took for granted the fact that the class language was English.

There’s nothing easy about Arabic, but I didn’t think twice about the English curriculum. For many prospective OMers, though, taking the good news of Jesus overseas requires learning not one but two new languages.

English Short Course

OM Brazil is well aware of the linguistic challenges many Brazilians face when they join OM teams overseas. In fact, the second part of OM Brazil’s CTM missions training programme, the English Short Course (ESC) requires one to three language modules, depending on skill, so students “can leave here with a good level of English, where they can go and use the language and not struggle too much,” explained CTM director and former English teacher Nelia Leal.

ESC’s setup models many other intensive language programmes. Students take 15 hours of lessons a week, three hours a day, and spend the rest of their time completing homework and studying.

“I know you’re going to be tired; I know you’re going to have headaches. Drink lots of water. But you will learn because of the blessing and power of the Holy Spirit,” Nelia likes to assure students.

“And we’ve seen that,” she confirmed. “I’ve been here for seven years. I’ve seen people arriving and struggling, but at the end, you can see victory. I love that.”

When I first met Fernanda Diaz* from Brazil in North Africa, we chatted easily in English. I was surprised to find out she’d only studied for 11 months—five in Brazil and six in the UK, where she'd lived for eight months—before she moved to her current host country and began studying Arabic. In her case, English was critical, not only for team life but also for classes. “I learned Arabic through English. There is no Portuguese-Arabic, just English-Arabic,” she explained.

“The Latin people don’t put focus on English. I was like them,” she continued. But her foray into missions changed her mind. “Language is important. If you don’t have good English, you are going to struggle.”

Student stories

On base at OM Brazil, I wandered into Ruan and Thamyres’ English class. Ruan, headed for South Africa, had been studying for five months. Thamyres, who planned to join the OM Ships ministry, had joined him the month prior. The questions I asked them were not questions I would have normally posed to first-year students. But with translators on hand, I pressed ahead.

“What did God teach you personally during the missions training?” I asked.

“To trust Him because we suffer many, many problems for money and support. And God does a miracle for me. I don’t have faith in Him, but this faith grows, and I’m so happy because I’m believing in Him so much now,” Thamyres responded.

“Before I came to OM Brazil, I was more shy,” Ruan said. “I always had difficulty for having conversation with people I never met. For preaching, I always had this difficulty, but after I came to OM, God changed this.”

The words and the tenses may not have been 100 per cent correct, but I was astounded that two students with so little study could confidently answer my questions in English. And God had truly changed Ruan—instead of shying away from conversations with new people, he was talking to a stranger in English!

Later that afternoon, Eduardo and Beatriz Azavedo* were just finishing their beginning English class when I entered the classroom. The topic of the day had been “personal information”—the kind of details universally required for visa applications and immigration cards.

I asked them to write down their names in English, then requested, via translator, to hear the story of why the middle-aged couple, parents of two teenage daughters, would quit their jobs to start a journey that would eventually require learning two new languages.

Both Eduardo and Beatriz had pastored a church that lacked a vision for missions. Slowly the couple became convinced they needed to go deeper into what God was calling them to. Beatriz took a trip to Egypt through the Baptist church. Afterwards, Eduardo travelled with her to the Near East (an OM field consisting of Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria). “Then we understood that we needed to be in missions,” Beatriz summarised.

Based on Beatriz’s Lebanese heritage, the couple decided to work with Arab people. Pursuing God’s call to missions dramatically affected the family’s lifestyle: They left their big house, sold their car, transferred their daughters to a public school, enrolled in OM Brazil’s training programme and started learning English. “For us, it’s difficult to understand English or another language because we are not young,” Eduardo admitted. “We have to put more effort into understanding another language.”

Still, they decided to press on. In the fall, they plan to go to England to continue learning English, and the family hopes to move to the Near East in early 2018. Through the entire process, Beatriz said, “We learned to rely on God. The direction [for our lives] is from Him, and He takes care of us better than we take care of ourselves.”

God-sent teacher

Liliane Nascimento had recently established her career as an English teacher when she understood God’s calling to missions. “But God, I need to get married. But God, I need to finish university. But God, what about my career?” she prayed.

For almost five months she wrestled with the Lord, finally quitting her job in 2012 to start the training programme at OM Brazil. Then she joined the OM Ship Ministry for two years.

When she returned to Brazil, Liliane felt God leading her to invest in her career again—this time for His kingdom, not only to earn money. Obediently, Liliane took a course to teach English to foreigners as a second language. One day, on a visit to the OM base, she talked to Nelia about ESC.

“Are you coming back here to teach?” Nelia inquired.

Liliane hadn’t been planning on the position, but she realised God had opened the door for her to teach English at OM starting January 2017. “I didn’t have to give up what I liked to do,” she explained. “Actually God brought it back into my life to use for Him.”

The intensity of the class--and the subsequent difficulties students face--is similar to other courses, Liliane described. “We use the same books and talk about the same topics.”

However, the students’ motivation and the rate at which they progress exponentially outshines outcomes at “regular” language schools, she said. In addition, Liliane creates extra curriculum so students can operate in English on a spiritual level as well as communicate everyday topics.

“They memorise Bible verses, they learn how to share the gospel, how to pray in English…They learn to share their testimony, they read books, they watch videos, they learn [worship] songs—things that they will encounter, so they are prepared,” Liliane stated.

Her role as an English teacher directly impacts students’ ability to create vibrant communities of Jesus followers wherever they go.

“Once the students know English and feel confident to speak, they feel the world is limitless. There are no boundaries. They can go wherever they want. They can talk to whoever they want to talk to,” Liliane said. “They won’t be shy or afraid to share the gospel because [they] don’t know how to say, ‘God loves you,’ in English. They know.”

*Name changed for security

Nicole James is an international writer for OM, passionate about publishing stories of God’s work among the nations and telling people about the wonderful things He is doing around the world.

Published: Thursday, 20 July 2017
Credit: Nicole James
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