Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Teaching English or evangelising in Morocco?

Guest Opinion from Mourad D, in Fez, Morocco.

Evangelising via English

Morocco has had a long history of religious tolerance and is unique in the Islamic world for its protection of religious minorities including its Jewish citizens. However there are laws in place protecting Moroccans from Christian evangelists hell-bent on converting (saving?) Muslims.

Over the years evangelists have tried all kinds of ways of getting into Morocco to "spread the word". Some methods have been plain stupid (smuggling bibles in the door panels of cars) and others, like setting up business fronts, quite sophisticated. In Fez, we have even seen houses purchased in order to set up prayer meetings.

Recently I came across the story of Jennifer Beck who spent five weeks in Morocco this summer traveling and teaching high school English. Now had this been all she was doing it would have been fine. And if she talked to people about her faith in her own time it would not be a problem. However, Jennifer returned home and talked to the University website; Whitworthian and what emerges is a disturbing picture

According to Ms Beck, she chose a Christian organisation called TeachOverseas as her program because it offered her an opportunity to teach in Africa during the summer months.

“I wanted to go through a Christian organization, but not one that was all about door-to-door evangelism. I liked that they chose to go out and represent Christ through teaching,” Beck said. “The organization works with countries that are ‘unreached’ groups where Christianity isn’t a part of the culture.”

Before leaving for Morocco, Beck met up with her three other female teaching teammates in Pasadena, Calif. There, they were taught cultural norms, taught how to teach English and make lesson plans. Even over a week of training, Beck said she was unsure of what Moroccan culture would be like.

One thing that continually surprised and confused Beck was how to interact with people of the opposite sex in Morocco’s predominantly male-dominated culture. The differences were compounded with the problem of combating the widely held belief in Morocco that U.S. women were promiscuous.

“In public, if a man says anything to a woman, a woman cannot reply or else it is seen as a sexual advance and for us, it was really odd to adjust to this,” Beck said. “We would be followed or stared at for very long periods of time.”As a resident of the Open Door theme house, Beck is no stranger to the concept of hospitality.

The members of the Open Door theme house make it their goal to keep their home available as a refuge for Whitworth students. At any time, students are encouraged to come over for a place to relax, do homework and fellowship together.

The theme house has a prayer room, where anyone can come and pray in a quiet location out of residence halls. Additionally, three nights a week, students can sign up to come over for free home-cooked meals.

The Moroccan locals also used food as a means of ministering to Beck and her fellow U.S. teachers. The school maids often invited the teaching team to their homes to learn how to prepare Moroccan food.

So what is this English Language teaching organisation?

According to their website:

TeachOverseas is a unique interdenominational ministry that offers you the wisdom of experience with a cutting edge sensibility. Since 1981, we have transformed lives in a dozen different countries through hundreds of summer and year-long programs teaching conversational English.

Each year, we train and send hundreds of Christians to teach English, Business and other subjects in: China, Czech Republic, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Morocco, Russia, Slovakia, Ukraine and Vietnam. To date, over 100,000 students around the world have benefited from our teachers' commitment to excellent teaching and Christ-like service. We are an openly Christian organization and have developed an excellent reputation with national governments and local school administrations.

Teaching English is perhaps the best overseas opportunity for Christians. It deals with people face to face; leads to discussions that point to truth; and is needed everywhere in the world. — Ralph Winter

Teaching English as community service is a very worthwhile vocation, but using teaching of English as a way of evangelising is at best dubious, at worst subversive. It is hard to find anyone in the Moroccan Government who is aware of this program's Christian purpose. Christians are very welcome in Morocco - Evangelists not.

Here is a list of earlier stories on evangelical work in Morocco;

German Evangelist Flees

Evangelists Target Morocco

Smuggling Bibles

New Christian Crusade in Morocco


Anonymous said...

A very good and responsible article. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

As a Christian I wish to apologies for the misguided actions of evangelists who not only give Christianity a bad name, but play into the hands of those who wish to criticize our faith. To try and spread the word of Christ by teaching English is a sneaky thing to do. I have always enjoyed Morocco and your very balanced blog contributors. Thank you

Intelligent Reasons said...

I am intrigued by this blog article. I have an English Degree with minor in English Education and found that all of teaching deals with the material (knowledge) and the teacher (the person and the core of who they are). With that in mind, everyone has an "agenda" whether consciously or unconsciously. So, with these "evangelicals" if they truly are "Christ-like" and feel inclined to share their "love", how does that differ from the adamant new age or humanist that truly wants Moroccans to be as they are? - Oregon, USA

Anonymous said...

In reading the article from her college, I got that she chose the organization because they weren't about evangelism, instead, they were there to teach English in the spirit of serving the people in a Christ-like, loving way - based on humanitarian principles. What's wrong with that?

And looking at the organization's website, they don't say anything about evangelism either. They do talk a lot about teaching conversational English. Am I missing something here?

I've traveled in Morocco myself a few times and have found that Moroccans have tried to convert me to Islam. Taxi drivers will say "Islam is the best." And students on the train have tried to get me to say the Islamic confession of faith so that I will become a Muslim. Hmmmmm....

Emily said...

The organizations website doesn't say anything about evangelism...and it doesn't seem that she was going to go over with the intent of evangelizing. Christians are called to represent Christ wherever they go. You say that it is ok if they talk about their faith but not to proselytize...well, that appears to be just what they're doing. They are Christians who go over, teach English for no money, live and work in a different culture (which can be very hard), and you're criticizing them for not hiding the fact that they are Christians. Also, half this article seems to be pointing at the fact that they have a place they can go an pray...they're Christians. It's what they do...they're not inviting other people to come pray with them. Just fellowship between believers. If a Islamic Moroccan were to go to the US to teach Morocco, would they not feel comfortable to have a quiet place they could go to pray five times a day without the interruption of those who do not share their faith, and so would be a disruption to their worship time? Just because they have a designated place they can come to pray and worship in quiet, and just because they are unashamedly Christian, and will talk about what they believe IF ASKED, does not mean they have an ulterior motive. Maybe they just want to give generously of what they know (ie. English) to those who would not have the opportunity to learn. I know I would feel extremely happy if someone from another culture (who may not be comfortable with mine) would be willing (most times without pay) to teach me their language first hand. And I wouldn't care if they were were Muslim, or Hindu, or Sikh...and I'd probably be interested in asking them questions about their faith (I'm not interested in converting, and they're not proselytizing...just a simple inter-faith dialogue in order to better understand one another).

Anonymous said...

Thank god they outlaw missionary activity, it would be heartbreaking to see the blight of US style suburban christianity eating away at moroccan culture and traditions.