My experience as an EFL IFAPer in a CAC
Three years ago, God led me out of my comfort zone as a teacher at a Christian school to accept a new assignment through International Fellowship of Alliance Professionals (IFAP). I would be teaching English as a foreign language (EFL) in a creative-access country (CAC), a “tentmaker” using my professional skills to live as a Christ follower in a country where traditional missionary work is not feasible.
A Team Effort
My first year could best be described as “a year of adjustment.” The first school where I taught had never hired a foreign teacher before, and I had never taught in this country, so it was quite a learning experience for both parties. But with patience, perseverance, prayer and total dependence on God, I faced the challenge and passed many tests of faith, deepening my reliance on Christ. It was a difficult year, but I would not change a thing because God taught me more than at any other time in my life.
My second year went more smoothly. The college where my friends and fellow IFAPers serve as Eflteachers invited me to join the teaching staff. Working with my long-time friends as an unofficial IFAP team has been a blessing! By working as Eflteachers, we have the opportunity to build relationships of trust with our students and coworkers, which often opens doors for us to share our faith. Because we work in a CAC, we must be discreet and keep a low profile to avoid drawing unwanted attention from the local authorities.
Before my arrival, my friends had established weekly Bible studies with several students they had won to the Lord. My goal was to find a core group of seekers and followers to begin a Bible study in my home. I asked God to reveal to me which students He was calling to be His followers.
Nothing “Just Happens”
Soon God began to initiate opportunities for me to connect with several key students on campus. From these “divine appointments” I have learned to watch for signs of God’s activity in individuals and know when He is inviting me to join Him in His work in their lives.
The first time God set up a divine appointment, I was seated in a restaurant when two of my students “just happened” to walk in. Since I was dining alone, they joined me, and we began to chat. Linda* volunteered that she is a Christian and attends a community of faith in our city. Her friend Jenny is interested in learning more about Jesus and often attends the house church with Linda. I told them about my plans to begin a Bible study in my home, and both girls expressed a desire to attend.
Amazingly, just three days later, God initiated a second encounter. A new class had just started at the college, and the students came from other provinces. After the first class, one girl, Grace, stayed behind to present an unusual request: She wanted me to help her find a local Christian fellowship.
I was surprised at first and suspected that Grace was a spy assigned by school leaders to report suspicious activities to them, a common practice in this country. But instantly, the Lord brought the other two students to mind, so I introduced Grace to Linda.
Interestingly, my teammate had a similar experience with a young man named Samuel. That same week Samuel approached my teammate after class to inquire about a local fellowship since he also was new to our city and didn’t know any Christians. Soon, a core group of Christian students began to form on our campus, and we started meeting with them for weekly Bible study.
God initiated contact with another Christian student. I was interviewing all of my students about their families since this had been the topic of discussion in our weekly classes. When it was Chelsea’s turn, the Lord prompted me to ask her if there was anything interesting or unusual about her family. Her response surprised me. Her face lit up, and she told me that everyone in her family is a Christian. She and her widowed mother and two sisters not only study the Bible and pray together but also meet with a house church every Sunday in their home. Chelsea joined the weekly Bible study with Linda and Jenny, and we became close friends.
A short time later, our school hosted a speech contest, and Georgia, another student, came to my house to ask for help. It was an inconvenient time, but I have learned that divine appointments are often disguised as interruptions, so I invited her in. After we practiced her speech for an hour, we began chatting. Georgia made a reference to God, so I asked her if she is a Christian. Georgia smiled and told me that she had been attending the house church with Linda for several months and had just prayed to receive Christ earlier that week. She was a brand-new Christian who was eager to learn more about the Bible. Georgia joined my weekly Bible study and brought several seekers and followers with her.
Planting the Seeds
As Christmas drew near, the other foreign teachers and I seized the opportunity to use lessons about “Western culture” as a way to explain the meaning of Christmas to our students. To our amazement, the students’ interest level was very high. Many students asked significant questions after class. From these conversations, more seekers came to our weekly Bible studies.
We found out later why the students were so interested. Unknown to us, the Christian students from our Bible studies had been witnessing to their classmates! We had come along behind them to water and nurture the seeds of faith that had already been planted.
Our tag-team efforts continued throughout the year. By Easter, dozens of students were interested in coming to our homes for private viewings of The Passion of the Christ and the JESUS film. It was the first time most of the students had heard about Jesus, and we invited those who were interested in learning more to our weekly Bible studies.
By the end of that year, through the joint efforts of the Christian nationals and foreign teachers on our campus, about 30 students came to Christ and were baptized. In addition, about a dozen or more seekers were seriously counting the cost of following Christ. An off-campus Christian fellowship was formed and continues to meet each week.
This year, God brought even more seekers and new believers to us, and His work continues to grow. We continue to work in partnership with the Christian students we have discipled to reach their classmates and friends for Christ.
It has been an honor to be used by God to reach souls in an unreached area of the world where traditional missionary work is restricted. Although the role of modern missions has changed, God’s work of redemption in the world has not. God is using tentmakers to reach the unreached for Christ.
*Students’ names have been changed.