More Christian Missionaries Teaching English in Taiwan


Following from Michael Turton’s post, there’s probably no better time to point out that the ATII missionary-teachers originally sent by the King Car Education Foundation are not the only Christian missionaries teaching English in Taiwan. The author of this thread on forumosa.com told  me that completely by chance he stumbled across the blog posted by one of the missionary-teachers of another group. This group is affiliated with Studio Classroom and seems to have some undetermined number of workers involved in teaching English in rural Taiwan. It’s a long blog with a lot of entries, and much of it will probably not be of interest to anyone reading my blog. One post that may interest you, however, is a June 18th post complaining about interference from the MOE with their exploitation of English classes to proselytize in public schools.

We’ve been plugging away with camp preparations. As a matter of prayer, we just got an email tonight saying that our supervisor wants us to change most of the songs that we have chosen for camp (not to mention, practiced with the other song leaders for the past month). It seems that because our camp is being funded by the Department of Education, we can’t have anything officially religious, especially in the camp book, etc. I don’t know whether to be more upset with the stupid government or with our local organization for teaming up with the gov’t in the first place, but I’m pretty ticked off about the whole thing. I don’t really know what specifically to ask prayer for, but just pray as you feel led (and, um, pray for us in discussing it with the Taiwanese people. They’re not used to the whole “The department of education can blow it out their ear” approach, and that’s all I really feel like telling them right now). We are hoping to get around it by putting the songs on powerpoint instead of the book, but in case that doesn’t work, do any of you have suggestions for non-religious songs that we could sing with junior highers? We realized while talking that westerners just don’t really do much group singing outside of church, so we are having trouble thinking what on earth we could sing with them.

All of this makes me think of a couple of things. The initial use of ATII/ King Car missionaries-teachers seems to have opened up a whole bunch of problems. A precedent was set and now it may be harder to stop the continued flow of missionaries into rural Taiwan to do whatever they do there. It could be possible that a conflict exists between ATII and Studio Classroom. I don’t know anything about the religious ideology of Studio Classroom, but I can say that many of the Christians I know would not be pleased by the teaching of the founder of ATII, Bill Gothard. ORTV may also be displeased.

One point that is clear is that not all agents of the central government support the use of missionaries as English instructors – after all, it is illegal. MIssionary teachers seem to continually be having trouble with their visas. Trouble is reported on the Jun 18th post quoted above and also on the Oct 1st post from the previous year. These problems were both settled by intervention from ORTV which is the broadcasting unit of Studio Classroom. It is possible that this reflects friction within the government concerning the on-going legitimacy of their arrangement.

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Comments

As a preface, I think many sorts of mission are poorly done, disrepectful of government laws, etc., etc. I am not defending ATII, or the other groups you have named.

However, let’s also be clear that all manner of missions is legal in Taiwan and occurs in many, many institutions. As long as missionaries are not openly proselytizing while being paid by the government they are not illegal. To be honest, I’m not sure what you meant by “it is illegal.” In government elementary schools, yes, in colleges, universities, churches, non-profits, etc., no. As you probably know, the first English teachers were in fact missionaries, and missionaries published the first Chinese-English dictionaries and the first (I think) romanized Taiwanese scripts. Many churches resisted KMT abuses and advocated mother tongue education. Missionaries are not intrinsically bad. You also should be applauding the fact that this particular blogger waited for a legal visa–a missionary visa in fact–rather than just coming to Taiwan.

One thing I really like about Taiwan is that people are fairly comfortable talking about their faith. You can disagree or learn from each other without carrying all sorts of American fundamentalist/church-state/civil religion baggage into conversations. It’s kind of nice…

Taiwan is a democratic nation that practices freedom of religion. As such, individual members of any church group are free to travel here and practice Christianity in whatever way they feel is necessary. As a staunch supporter of democracy in Asia, I am bound to support the government of Taiwan on this.

On the other hand, members of these groups are not free to work for compensation. That is a clear violation of their visa status. It is illegal and foreign teachers are irregularly prosecuted for doing so. If ATII missionary-teachers are tolerated, it is not because they are missionaries but because the illegal teaching of English is widely tolerated. Let’s see what would happen if they violated the space of another professional group.

Jon, I hope you are not saying that because a century or so ago, Presbyterian missionaries built churches and schools that now, any illegal action by anyone claiming to be a missionary should be tolerated. Taiwan is governed as a modern nation state would be. One of the mandates of that government is the provision of free, high-quality public education conducted according to the constitution and laws of the land. I can not see why the clear and open violation of its established legal system is an acceptable or even effective to pursue this.

I am with you, but I am saying that there is an actual missionary visa that the government issues. It does not seem true then that “members of these groups are not free to work for compensation.” Ideally, you should want people to apply for and come on this visa, and use it in appropriate situations. It seemed to me that in the particular case you sited the person had applied for a missionary visa.

For me, the hardest cases are people who mix and match. I’ve met peace corps who sort of moonlight as missionaries on their off hours. Is this appropriate? On the other hand, should we regulate private time? I agree it’s an improtant issue, and hope that you will continue to write about what an ideal situation should be.

I have no problem with what people do in their free time. I also have no problem with missionaries coming to Taiwan or citizens who hold religious and political beliefs contrary to mine. Why would I? Why would anyone with a strong commitment to democracy and freedom of speech? I still think that none of this has anything to do with my problems regarding the way ATII and King Car have been conducting their rural education programs.

I have not read the ORTV blog completely or carefully enough to know much more about the author’s visa status than I have already written. Why do you think she has a missionary visa? I have spoken directly to more than a few ATII/King Car missionary-teachers who told me directly they are here on tourist visas. It is also not clear to me that a legitimate missionary visa allows you to work for money outside the auspices of the group you are missioning for. Do you have information on this that I don’t know about? Next time I run into the Mormons, I’ll ask them.

Regardless, I doubt that your speculation about the situation is correct. The ORTV missionary-teachers spend most of their time teaching English. They were required to have special training and preparation in English teaching, as are the ATII people. The purpose of the programs bringing them here is to teach English. It seems clear to me that the main role they are supposed to be playing in Taiwan is English teacher, not missionary. That is why the ORTV people were told by the MOE to stop using religious material in their classes. ATII people have told me about similar restrictions on their activities. If they were here on missionary visas and the English teaching was something they were doing on the side, I doubt there would be comment from the MOE.

Honestly Jon, I can understand your concern that their freedoms be preserved. I support this completely. But they should not be given special license to violate the criminal code of the ROC just because there are well placed people who support their activities and it saves the government money and trouble. This damages the law, the government, and the quality of education. That’s where my position ends.

I’ve met peace corps who sort of moonlight as missionaries on their off hours.

That’s against the regs. For one thing, there are no off-hours, you’re 24-7. For another, missionizing as a PCV is against regs. You should talk to their RAPCD next time you run into this behavior.

One thing I really like about Taiwan is that people are fairly comfortable talking about their faith. You can disagree or learn from each other without carrying all sorts of American fundamentalist/church-state/civil religion baggage into conversations. It’s kind of nice…

yes, it is great being in a religiuosly tolerant country where hardly anybody subscribes to a belief that involves holding that the rest of the world is going to hell unless they believe in your religious views. It’s a relief to live here, religionwise.

Michael

Michael,
Thank you for your comments concerning the Peace Corp. While you and I don’t completely agree on the ‘wrongness’ of what’s going on here, we do seem agree on one thing. It is wrong to use Christian missionaries to deliver public policy in what is supposed to be a democratic and secular state.

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