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Living and Working In China

February 21, 2008

 Tom Morse - China

I've just finished my first term as an Amity teacher working in rural China. The college I work at is at the bottom of the ladder as far as colleges go in China, and it doesn't even offer a 4 year program. The students almost all come from the countryside and their families struggle to pay the few hundred dollars a year Nanning Teachers college costs. Out of 320 or so students about 95% of them are female, and about 50% are labeled as ethnic minorities. Most of them will go back to their hometowns to become English teachers in middle schools and high schools. The scary part is they can hardly speak English.

Due to China's increasing economic growth on the Eastern coast, those away from the growing cities are quickly getting left behind. For example, my students who are English majors struggle with the national English test for non-majors that are required for students to pass at four year colleges regardless of their degree. Whether or not my students pass they will still go on to teach. Furthermore, China tests students on English proficiency as part of the national College Entrance Exam. So as a result students in the countryside get left further and further behind because their teachers obtain only minimal English proficiency during their time in college. The goal of Amity is to meet them at their point of deepest need; they do this by sending qualified English teachers to rural teacher training colleges. Amity only requires the school to pay 2,500rmb per month, which is about $300, this is less than 1/3 of what other foreign teachers are paid in China. Without Amity my school would not have any foreign teachers and this would allow another generation of rural students to be left out of China's economic growth.

I live in a small town called Longzhou about 45 minutes from the border of Vietnam in Guanxi province. The only real product of the town is processed sugar cane, other than that it is mainly small farms and shops. I am one of only two foreigners that live in the town, the other one is my teaching partner from Amity. Our two apartments make up the small area we refer to as "America Town." Outside of campus there are a very limited number of people who can speak English, so my Chinese has improved rapidly. My time is mostly spent teaching, with students or exploring the country side.

The students' English is very poor; especially when you consider that in a few short years they will be teaching it. Most of them had never seen a real foreigner, let alone talked to one. Most of them struggled at first with simple questions like: What is your name? Where are you from? Am I in the right classroom? It has been an exciting first term watching them get more and more comfortable in my class room. When asked, "Who is your favorite teacher?" one student said, "You are, because you don't belittle us (she was holding a dictionary at the time)." Many of them have never received encouragement from their teachers or even their parents. Other Amity teachers told me that some of their students told them that they had never even been hugged. So even as a teacher, who is just slightly older than my students, I get to be a source of much needed love and encouragement.

One of the biggest joys though comes from going to the local protestant church. The Church was established in Longzhou around 1900 by an early missionary to the region. The church has survived the Japanese invasion of WWII, the Chinese Civil war, and even a Vietnamese invasion in the late 1970's. It is only a few blocks from both Deng Xiaoping's former residence and Ho Chi Minh's. The church struggles now with low membership, and no minister. However, I get the joy of sharing in singing and praying with about 15 local people, and 5-10 students every week.

Recently I was talking with one of the students who had been going to church with her Christian roommate and I and she told me that now she wants to become a Christian. Her mother has become ill and now she wants to be able to pray for her mother, and is looking for the comfort of religion. She has also asked me to pass this prayer request on to all of you. She told me that she wants to be able to pray to Jesus to help her family, and that she knows God will help them. It was one of the most moving experiences of my life to know that I had helped another person find solace in the Lord.

Even though my Visa says "Teacher" and not "missionary" with your support and the Amity Foundation we can still meet people at their points of deepest need. Whether it's through increasing levels of teacher education in the countryside or walking with students in their (new) faith journeys.

Tom Morse
Tom Morse serves with the Amity Foundation of China as an English teacher 

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