Resistance: The act or power of resisting, opposing, or withstanding.[1]

Having spent years teaching EFL[2] abroad with little positive response to Jesus,[3] I totally get that I’m planting and watering,[4] removing the rocks even, as a veteran worker reminded me.[5] Only God makes things grow and what a privilege to be in his service as a co-worker – alongside many others.[6]

In addition to the above gardening and building metaphors, I see my teaching as being a signpost to Jesus. Now that I’m teaching ESOL[7] in the UK, I’m involved in a lot of classes that are church-based. But that doesn’t mean the classroom is necessarily utilised as a place to present my faith directly.[8] However, my character – a new creation in Christ – is there for all to see.[9] What about my gut reaction to bad days, difficult people, interruptions, and setbacks?

In addition, I trust that being purposeful about the manner in which I interact with and focus on people points towards Jesus. In faith, I think about how the approach and content of classroom activities could be a taste of his kingdom: an alternative, a glimpse, a nudging, an invitation.[10] Whether in the UK or elsewhere, I don’t ever want to give up doing good and being ready – when prompted – to share the transformational hope that I have in Jesus.[11]

As anywhere else, relationships and trust with learners in the ESOL classroom are key to credible witness. I need to work hard to earn the right to speak in – with no strings attached. Being mindful, respectful, positive, and curious about cultural differences helps enormously as does learning names, where people are from, and all about their families and lives.[12] In short, making the classroom a safe, hospitable, and generous space. In addition, availability in and out of the classroom has been huge in terms of witness.[13] My prayer is that learners, co-workers, and onlookers may get a snapshot of who I am together with what I teach.[14]

As we find ourselves interacting with individuals and groups of people who seem resistant to Jesus, we need to be wary of our Jonah-like tendencies to despise those God has compassion on. It’s not an ‘us versus them’ but ‘Jesus for all’ mindset, even with the possibility of rejection.[15]

Defaulting to categorising people can lead to four dangers:[16]

  • Firstly, compressing groups of people together, treating them as if they were more alike than they are.
  • Secondly, amplifying the differences between people.
  • Thirdly, there is the risk of discriminating and favouring certain people over others.
  • Lastly, whole groups of people can become fossilised and treated as if they were static.

When we encounter apathy and opposition amongst our learners, are we likely to categorise learners from resistant backgrounds in the ‘fossilised’ group? What would gospel witness actually look like in practical terms for the individuals, families, and friendship groups before us over in-or-out labels and broad categories?[17]

Many religions and cultures have close to zero-tolerance for those who don’t conform – at least outwardly. There are rules and it is the responsibility of the community to enforce them. Still more cultures expect the outward to be perfect and this can come across as a superiority complex. To insinuate that someone is in need of grace could be deeply insulting. However, what people say they believe often differs to what they actually believe. Outer appearances don’t automatically mirror the inner life.

Having Christ-like concern helps us to work and pray towards heart transformation – where face is not lost and cultural principles are not violated unnecessarily. As we imitate Jesus amongst our learners, we signpost a God who is perfect love.[18] Rather than seizing power through aggression, this Jesus healed and set people free. He upheld singleness with integrity and purity but at the same time relied upon, spoke with, and protected women. Often people are astounded that Jesus-followers would choose to lovingly pray God’s best for a person, family, culture and nation that is ‘other’. Lastly, we need to remain mindful that our ‘battle’ isn’t with the people we see before us but evil spiritual power.[19]

And don’t scenarios shift quickly? Previous generations of Christian workers would have understandably despaired at times when they couldn’t see anything happening. But would any of them have envisaged Iranian and Chinese people turning to Christ in such numbers?[20] How stunned would we be if we could glimpse the God-given ‘hope and future’ concerning some of the resistant groups of people we work with.

So as English teachers, let’s persevere with skill and great faith, making sure that assisting our learners with their linguistic needs remains one of our top priorities.[21] As we do so, there may be direct questions, challenges, and prayer opportunities along the way to which we need to respond with gentleness, confidence, and clarity.[22] Even when there seems to be little positive response to Jesus, we can remain full of hope, faith, and expectation that, if not in our lifetime, but in God’s own time, and in God’s sovereign purposes for the nations, there will be gospel response among groups of people now so resistant.


Recommended Reading

Anderson, Matthew. ‘The Value of Asking Questions’ (3 Oct 23). Bible to Life. (last accessed April 24).

Bell, Steve, Grace for Muslims: The Journey from Fear to Faith (Authentic, 2006).

Readable autobiography with insights and hope for what seems at times like an insurmountable task.

de Langhe, Bart & Philip Fernbach. ‘The Dangers of Categorical Thinking’ (Sept-Oct 19). Harvard Business Review. (last accessed April 24).

McCord, Kate, In the Land of Blue Burqas (Moody Publishers, 2012).

Highly recommended for the author’s inspiring use of gentle biblical story-telling to nudge a resistant people group to consider worldview and Jesus.

Smith, David and Barbara Carvill, The Gift of the Stranger: Faith, Hospitality, and Foreign Language Learning (Michigan: Eerdmans, 2000).

Highly recommended for the way in which the authors invite teachers to consider reimagining their classrooms as hospitable places – for Jesus’ sake.


About 2:19

A bunch of ordinary Christians who are purposeful about teaching the English language skilfully, and in doing so, forging strong relationships and sharing Jesus with International people.


[1] is my lazy go-to. I like too.

[2] English as a Foreign Language: usually in contexts where the dominant language isn’t English.

[3] Very few in the majority people group have accepted Jesus. This ‘resistance’ is perceived by us through the indwelling Spirit, although God ultimately knows people’s hearts – Jeremiah 17:7-10 – perhaps there are thousands more who follow Jesus quietly or silently.

[4] Some of these expressions can get a bit tired. Try asking someone what they mean by ‘sowing seeds’.

[5] This after 30 years of collective witness to a resistant people group.

[6] When downhearted with a lack of response we could do with praying into 1 Corinthians 3:7-18.

[7] English to Speakers of other Languages. Yes, really, they haven’t come up with a better acronym so far!

[8] For integrity’s sake, I need to be and do what it says on the tin: that is teach English. On occasion, I have used biblical content with permission from learners, co-workers, and stakeholders.

[9] Think Luke 6:43-45 as in words and behaviour being an overflow of the heart, a light on a hill can’t be hidden – Matthew 5:13-15.

[10] Motivated by Jesus, surely we could do better than the superficiality common in a lot of materials and activities (e.g. complaints, shopping, restaurants & hotels stocked with plasticky people and questionable situations). More ideas from yours truly here: Article – Thinking through materials – Christianly

[11] When weary and thinking of giving up – see Galatians 6:7-10. For being poised but respectful on the other hand see 1 Peter 3:8-17.

[12] It’s often a disgraceful thing for men and women to mix in many parts of the world and I need to be cautious about jumping in even as ‘the teacher’. As for being curious, I love asking about aspects of fasting and tithing across faith groups for instance.

[13] I find some of the better conversations occur in the ‘gaps’ – before and after class, during toilet breaks, to-and-fro comments in homework books & diaries, and social media.

[14] The Praying Hands by Albrecht Dürer.

[15] In contrast to the warrior-prophet model of belief or death, it is astonishing how Jesus allows people to walk away from him. See the wealthy youthful leader in Mark 10:17-45 or Judas in John 12.

[16] We can learn spiritual truths from the Harvard Business Review! See Article – The Dangers of Categorisation

[17] Compassion, kindness, humility, the list goes on. See the tremendous outworking of being loved and declared holy by God himself in Colossians 3:12-17.

[18] Consider the 99 names of Allah such as the ‘Great Forgiver’ and ‘Most Loving’: (last accessed April 24)

[19] Read about the powers behind some resistance and how to ‘clothe ourselves’ in response in Ephesians 6:1-20.

[20] Mandarin and Cantonese-speaking churches are the fastest-growing in the UK at the time of writing.

[21] Linking integrity and transparency with trustworthiness can speak volumes of our witness.

[22] Great questions invite people into reimagining their worldview. Although he knew the answers, Jesus asked a lot of questions (e.g. “What do you want me to do for you?” – Luke 18:41), inviting people to ponder, respond, and converse. Read more about intentional questions: Article – The Value of asking Questions