Universities no place for undercover missionaries

Source:Global Times Published: 2010-1-18 21:57:30

By Eric Fish

An outgoing and affable English teacher from the US finishes her first lesson of the semester at a respected Chinese university. After class she starts chatting with students in fluent Chinese and casually invites them over to her home to play games and eat snacks.

A few classes later she begins raising discussions about belief and faith during class and shows a movie with Christian themes. Finally, at Easter time, she tells her students that if they are interested, they can come to her home to watch a movie about Easter, and she'll even make them Western food!

When the students arrive, the movie they are treated to is The Passion of the Christ, which graphically depicts the crucifixion of Jesus. As many girls in the room begin to cry, the teacher starts reading from a Bible and tells them that Jesus did this for them.

Some convert to Christianity on the spot. Those that convert are later encouraged to try to convert their friends, and one student is even persuaded to break up with her non-Christian boyfriend.

This story from one university in Nanjing is not the first of its kind, and it is hardly a rare occurrence in China. Christian missionaries started coming to China during the Tang Dynasty (618-907), emboldened by Matthew 28:19, "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

Over a thousand years later they are still coming, hoping to win converts. Many foreign missionaries began to renew their focus east to China when it opened up to foreigners in 1979. However, since religious proselytism without government permis-sion is illegal in China, they've had to come under a number of guises, foremost among them being English teachers.

Dozens of overseas organizations send thousands of teaching missionaries to schools throughout China every year under the pretense of being legitimate English institutions. They have recognized that using missionaries who are ostensibly English teachers not only helps them enter China, but also helps to efficiently convert many people.

A teacher, especially in China, is a highly respected profession with much influence, and foreign teachers are especially intriguing to many Chinese students. So when unsuspecting and naïve students meet these teachers with ulterior motives, they become easy prey.

Most of these organizations are funded by private donors and Christian organizations back in their home countries and often maintain huge cash reserves. Some can even afford to send their teachers through two years of free Chinese lessons before beginning their teaching which makes them all the more influential with students.

However, the most important service these organizations provide is helping keep teachers' activities under the radar of those that might not like what they're doing.


The organizations will pay the teacher's salary directly and only receive a small payment from the university, letting the school spend a fraction of what they would normally pay for a foreign teacher. They also often donate textbooks, teaching materials, or other resources to the school and award student scholarships.

Some of the bigger organizations have even been known to fly university officials to the US to be wined and dined. Because of all these benefits to the university, officials are usually will-ing to turn a blind eye to the proselytism the foreign teachers engage in.

If a teacher happens to be religious and a curious student brings up the topic, there's nothing wrong with a teacher explaining what their religion is all about in an even-handed manner.

But when great lengths and expenses are undertaken to put students in pre-concocted positions of intellectual and emotional vulnerability, then an ethical, as well as a legal line has been crossed.

These teachers are abusing the respect and authority that comes with their job so they can manipulate the feelings of impressionable students.

While the universities may get many significant benefits from these organizations, they can't sacrifice the quality and integrity of the students' education by hiring teachers who are only using their job as a pretext for propagating their own religious beliefs.

The author is a teacher and freelance writer in Nanjing. globaltimesopinion@yahoo. Com


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