By Laura McKillip Wood
When the college where my husband, Andrew, worked announced it was closing, his job teaching intercultural ministry ended. As he searched for another job, he remembered he had taught students they could do cross-cultural ministry with people around them by reaching out to immigrants and refugees in their own towns.
Andrew had taught English as a Second Language (ESL) classes in the local public school, had participated in campus ministries to foreign students, and had reached out to people in stores and parks when he learned they had come to the United States from other countries. Despite this, he felt he was unsuccessful in making lasting relationships or real connections with them.
With his college closing, Andrew wondered if he could find a job that involved some sort of cross-cultural work. He remembered an idea he had often shared with students: teaching English as a second language to people in other countries via the internet.
Andrew began researching opportunities to teach English online. He found many platforms offering ESL opportunities that connected potential students with teachers. He signed up for one, thinking he would try it out. Before he knew it, he was meeting with people from different countries around the world.
Resources Plus Opportunity
“I have the ability to speak English, and I have a computer,” Andrew says. “That’s really all I needed to get started.” He explains that since the pandemic allowed more work-from-home opportunities than before, many people have learned to connect via technology. Andrew utilizes this same technology for ministry.
“Look at the resources you have and look for opportunities to use those resources where you are today,” he says. “Look for ways you can reach out and participate in God’s work with what you already have.”
When he was teaching in-person, Andrew often took students on short-term mission trips. He spent months planning the trips and raising support. Resources from a wide variety of churches and organizations went into a limited experience for a few students. Teaching ESL online uses skills Andrew already has as a native English speaker to link him with people who value those skills, and it requires very little investment.
Offering a Service
Some people who are interested in teaching English to speakers of other languages might immediately conclude they are unqualified. Andrew, who has no formal ESL teacher training, encourages those people to try teaching English anyway.
“You don’t have to be trained as a teacher,” he says. “You just have to be able to listen to people speak English and correct their mistakes.” Andrew says he provides something valuable to people who sought him out as a teacher.
Andrew allows students to choose topics of conversation they find interesting so they are more engaged in the lessons. Sometimes the chosen topic is one Andrew truly enjoys and knows a lot about.
“I was doing lessons in front of bookcases that hold books about religion,” Andrew says. “One of the students saw my books and said, ‘I see you have books about religion. I’ve always been curious about religion and haven’t had a chance to explore it the way I wanted to. Could we talk about religion in some of our English lessons?’”
Since then, they have had several conversations regarding faith and religion. The student lives in a Catholic country but had not been serious about religion for a long time. His children did not know much about Christianity.
At Christmas, the student and his wife decided to teach their children about Jesus’ birth. The children were interested and wanted to learn more about Jesus. Now Andrew and his student are reading through some ESL materials that use the book of Luke to teach English. His student uses his new understanding to teach his own children about Jesus.
Andrew looks forward to his sessions with students. Each one brings a different story. Two of his students are teenage siblings from an Asian family who immigrated to New Zealand not long before the pandemic began. Their parents chose Andrew as a tutor because they wanted a Christian influence on their children, and they wanted to give their children extra practice with English.
Andrew has become a mentor to these teens, teaching them vocabulary to talk about their own faith and providing an adult, Christian influence for them. The boy sibling recently told him that he had only two friends: a boy his age and Andrew.
A student from a wealthy European family asked Andrew to help with the application process to an Ivy League college in the United States. This young man is interested in making money, but Andrew learned he also wants to make the world a better place.
“I’ve challenged him to think through his priorities and have asked him to prioritize improving the world over accumulating wealth.” Andrew taught him about microloans to people in developing countries. Now this student wants to study microloans in college. He also aspires to complete an internship at the United Nations. Andrew hopes his influence will stay with his student and help him see the world in a different way.
A Job with Purpose
“Remarkably, instead of needing to raise support for this work, the people I’m teaching pay me to minister to their felt need of acquiring English. At the same time, I have been able to offer friendship, encouragement, and even to share my own faith,” Andrew says. “This is a great way for people to make extra income on their own schedule, reaching out to others from all over the world with the love of Christ and his message of hope.”
Laura McKillip Wood, former missionary to Ukraine, now lives in Papillion, Nebraska. She serves as an on-call chaplain at Children’s Hospital and Medical Center in Omaha. She and her husband, Andrew, have three teenagers.