Why do foreigners come to Vietnam to work for the long-term? Why do they leave their families, friends, jobs, the comforts of home in an “advanced” (i.e., wealthy) nation for life in a (poor) developing country? Money, adventure, penance, reconciliation, professional opportunity, a chance to contribute to Vietnam’s development, love (“home is where the heart is”) and religion, among others. For many, however, the main reason is to make “them” (the Vietnamese) more like “us.” To find out who “us” is complete the following fill-in-the-blank exercise: INSERT THE NAME of a country that has occupied Vietnam and waged war on its people, flora, fauna, and cultural treasures.
In the past they have come in the name of Profit, Civilization, King/Queen, Aggression and Religion. They are still coming to make money in Vietnam’s burgeoning “free market with socialist orientation” (emphasis on the free market) and to “lead people to Christ, disciple leaders, and then one day send some back to be missionaries in their home countries.”
How do they accomplish the latter goal in a country that has historically justifiable reasons to be suspicious of outside influences, especially those related to politics and religion? Easy – they either don’t mention it or they gloss over it. It’s the Trojan horse approach to making “them” more like “us,” taking to heart Christ’s call to “make disciples of all nations.”
It’s not enough to live a life of service and follow the basic tenets of their religion with its inherent commitment to social and economic justice, peace, forgiveness and love. They feel “called” to become clandestine missionaries – sheep in wolf’s clothing in a manner of speaking – and go out into the world to convert the heathen to Christianity so that they, too, may be saved, belong to Jesus and have eternal life.
In the 17th century it was the Jesuit missionaries, the main reason why there are 6-7 million Catholics in Vietnam today. Now, it’s expat English teachers and other professionals who claim to have a monopoly on the truth and who offer goodies that Vietnam desperately needs. Vietnam – with the need for English proficiency and 60% of the population under the age of 30 – is seen as fertile ground for this kind of low-key, backdoor proselytizing.
English Teaching Sans Jesus
For those interested in teaching English for a secular organization or company, check out this 2010 article that appeared in Transitions Abroad magazine. You can benefit from a meaningful cross-cultural experience, help your students learn and improve their English language skills and make some money at the same time – all without trying to swell the ranks of evangelical Christians, deplete the ranks of Buddhists and impose Western culture on the Vietnamese.
Consider this part 1 in a two part series. Stay tuned…