Last week, I finally began to visit the private schools of our partner church in Thailand. Heeding the advice of my supervisor, I began with the four schools in Bangkok, thinking my supervisor would accompany me, but at the last minute, other business kept him away and I went on my own. If you will remember, my job is to recruit volunteers to serve in short-term mission assignments in Thailand and many of these volunteers teach English as a Second Language in the private Christian schools of our partner church. This ministry is critical because it does three things:
- It gives English-speaking mission workers the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of Thai children in grades K-12, building a strong Christian foundation.
- It makes our Christian schools more competitive, drawing non-Christian students into a Christian environment for several years.
- It transforms the lives of those who serve, often resulting in those who commit their professional lives to the church as pastors, missionaries, and church leaders.
The first school I visited was Wattana Wittaya, an all-girls school established in 1874. With 3,087 students in grades K-12, they begin teaching English with the very young and look for native English speakers to help the students with pronunciation and conversation. Situated on Sukumvit Road in the heart of Bangkok, Wattana Wittaya’s campus is one of the most beautiful campuses I have seen, with several gardens having academic themes. The buildings are a mixture of old and new, but all are well-maintained and study areas are conducive to learning. Wattana School has a few native English speakers who teach, but they need many more, so that every student will have the opportunity to practice speaking English with someone who can help them pronounce the words correctly.
My second visit was to Bangkok Christian College, a 156-year-old all-boys school with grades 1-12 on a campus punctuated with tall high-rise classroom buildings. At almost 6,000 students, BCC is easily the largest and most financially secure Christian school belonging to our partner church. With a strong reputation for excellence in teaching and an English Immersion Program beginning in first grade, BCC attracts students from families of all faith traditions into its strong Christian environment. All of its graduates go on to study at universities in Thailand and abroad.
Bangkok Christian College’s modern facilities and resources are a stark contrast to other schools belonging to our partner church. Many, many schools struggle to provide a good education with much less. But that does not mean that this school does not also need volunteers in mission. Bangkok Christian College has many, many foreign teachers who teach English, but BCC would like to have more Christian teachers who can share their faith, as well as be good role models for their students.
Sacha Pittaya [The Loyal School] has 330 students in grades K-6 on a tiny concrete island in the center of the city of Bangkok. The newest building on campus is easily 30 years old and showing its age. Yet my visit there and my conversation with the Principal and two Thai teachers of English revealed a love for the students and the school that was deep and strong. With a principal who has been teaching there for forty years, it was possible to see the name of the school reflected in everything she said and did.
One of the ways that Sacha School has adapted to the changing times is by becoming a school that focuses on the needs of the very young. Almost half of its students are in Preschool and Kindergarten and, yes, it tugged at my heart-strings to see these tiny tots raise the flag on Friday morning as the rest of the little ones sang the National Anthem at the top of their lungs. Many of these tiny students go on to other schools when they finish kindergarten, relieving Sacha School of the need to provide older students with the advanced equipment and resources they can ill afford. Yet these tiny tots need teachers, for they pick up English words and phrases easily, giving them a great foundation for their future learning.
And then, there is tiny Jane Hays Memorial School with its 65 students in grades 1-6. Named for the wife of Rev. Samuel McFarland, a Presbyterian missionary in the 1800’s, Jane Hays School has been teaching Christian principles to Thai youth for almost 100 years. The school’s principal told the students that I would be visiting and, when I arrived, I was mobbed by students eager to talk to me and ask questions. How hungry they are to learn! Any volunteer at this school would be well-loved.
Each school I have visited has its unique challenges, as well as characteristics that make it stand out from the other schools. My job is to help these schools (and twenty-one other schools throughout Thailand) find short-term mission workers who will share their faith as they teach students in these schools to learn a language that is vital for their future – at work and in church. Here are some more photos that I took in these schools: