Christian TEFL graduate Stephen and his wife Olwen run bible-themed English friendship groups in Japan attracting more than 50 people across the meetings.
We asked him more about how a ‘holiday of a lifetime’ turned into a God-inspired change of life.
1. Tell us about what inspired you to take a TEFL course with Christian TEFL and go to Japan?
My wife, Olwen, is already TEFL qualified with 23 years’ experience teaching English to Japanese ladies in Belgium.
However, our first experience of the country was a ‘trip of a lifetime’ in 2014. I realised I loved the country and could live there, not realising that God had been speaking to Olwen about this very thing! Around the same time, some Japanese students Olwen had been teaching had returned to the country and were asking her to come out and lead groups there, even though they were not believers.
A short time later we were at New Wine, met Christian TEFL and I took a TEFL course.
By the end of a second fact-finding trip in 2015 we knew He wanted us to return to Japan and we finally settled here in September 2016.
2. You then went on with your wife to set up ‘friendship groups’ Tell us more..
Olwen runs the groups in Japan since it is for ladies, but I do participate in some Saturday groups. Each meeting includes real English teaching as well as a study of a bible passage or a Christian book.
3. What happens in your friendship Bible lessons?
For the first 20 minutes we chat over a cup of tea to help facilitate friendships. Then we practise the rhythm of English, by singing or chanting a poem. After that, we look at a Bible text, focussing on some vocabulary and grammar. We discuss the text in English and Japanese, comparing our cultures, experiences, opinions and relevance to today’s world. There is homework: to prepare for next time.
While the teacher is a Christian, the group members are not necessarily believers and we make it clear that no-one will be forced to change their beliefs.
4. What is Japan like to live in?
Japan is great; the Japanese are friendly and helpful and many can speak some English. With the 2020 Olympic Games coming, the government is encouraging more English learning and also making it easier for English-speakers to find their way around.
5. How easy is it to discuss Christianity Ð and what reception do you get?
We find the Japanese are very open to talking about Christianity, as long as they do not feel under pressure to commit. If that happens before they are ready, rather than say no, they will simply stop coming.
Around 50 members attend two monthly groups in Tokyo as well as seven weekly groups in Nagoya. Members bring friends so the growth is largely organic. So far, one lady has been baptised which is a big step here as it can jeopardise family relationships. However, without this very visible commitment, many churches will not let you take communion or consider you a Christian.
6. What are your hopes and prayers for these groups for the future?
We pray that this lady’s example will lead to others since we think there are some who are close to making such a commitment. We would also like more teachers for more groups. (These teachers must have their own support as we cannot pay them!)
We will also apply for a renewal of our three-year visa (as “religious workers”).
Thank you, Stephen and Olwen. Every blessing to you both.
Discover more about the friendship groups Stephen and Olwen run:
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