Spreading Christianity on the Sly: Chinese Students in U.S. Get Unexpected ‘Bonus’ of Church Teachings

How would this be for an appeal to foreign students? “Come to America for language immersion classes! Bonus: Free lessons in Christianity!”

I wouldn’t have the slightest problem with that — the cards are on the table, after all, so people can make up their own minds about whether or not the offer is attractive to them.

But that’s not not how it worked for a group of almost three dozen Chinese students who traveled to the U.S. for English immersion classes recently. Neither they nor their parents were informed that the curriculum would involve a serious dose of Christianity, and that a Christian church was the main host for the program. Instead, the trip was pitched as a chance for the teenagers to practice English while immersed in American life.

[L]eaders of the nondenominational West Valley Church in Los Angeles said the Chinese students were to spend much of their time at its affiliated summer school. The exchange-student program provides a “balanced and broad education” that in this case is run by a teacher provided by the Chinese agency that arranged the trip, and not by employees of the church or school — but kicks off with an introduction to Christian concepts as part of a welcome from the school, said its administrator, Derek Swales. Students placed with local host families who are Christian might attend church with those families or pray with the families at home, he said.

Some of the Chinese parents are understandably upset about what seems to them like a bit of deceit. No one likes to find out there was a hidden agenda, and it’s surely a little much to ask non-Christian moms and dads to pay for their offspring’s study trip if, in a hush-hush kind of way, Christian concepts are central to the educational experience. One of the parents told the Wall Street Journal:

“I’ve never heard of anything about Christian school or Christianity. Of course I would mind if they preach Christianity to my son.”

That makes two of us, ma’am.

Maybe the whole thing is the result of some Babylonian speech confusion, and no hanky-panky was intended. Regardless, the consequences for the parents could be significant. The Chinese government tends to keep a close watch on Christian initiatives within the national borders, and frowns upon all religious activities that do not have the imprimatur of the official bureaucracy (a policy which should be abhorrent to all Americans, actually, but that’s a discussion for another time). Paying for a son or daughter to attend a language class, only to end up on the wrong end of a potential government investigation — well, that’s clearly more than any of these folks bargained for or deserved.

The “truth in advertising” motto is about more than the promotion of honesty; in this case, insufficient or colored information actually put families at risk. Let’s hope the administrators of the West Valley Church will do some serious praying on the matter, and that Jesus will miraculously tell them to do better next time.

About Terry Firma

Terry Firma, though born and Journalism-school-educated in Europe, has lived in the U.S. for the past 20-odd years. Stateside, his feature articles have been published in the New York Times, Reason, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Wired. Terry is the founder and Main Mischief Maker of Moral Compass, a site that pokes fun at the delusional claim by people of faith that a belief in God equips them with superior moral standards.

  • Beth

    Lying for Jesus!

    • Keyra

      What “lying” is there? If it’s a lie, it’s diffidently not “for” Jesus (as Jesus does not accept lies)

      • Pepe

        Or because Jesus doesn’t exist?

      • Michael W Busch

        Do you really not understand how saying “we’ll help your kids teach English” and not saying “we’re actually trying to convert them to Christianity” is a lie?

        And, again, you don’t get to pull “no true Christian”.

      • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw m6wg4bxw

        I expected “definitely,” but your choice didn’t go unnoticed. Very interesting.

      • Rain

        Hey everybody stop accusing Jesus of accepting lies, lol.

        • Spuddie

          As soon as his followers stop lying on his behalf. =)

          I can picture Jesus facepalming on a regular basis after hearing what his followers do for him.

      • Hitch’s Apprentice

        ‘Jesus’ IS the Lie!!!

        • Hitch’s Buttbuddy

          Citations please. Back up your claims before you go frothing at the mouth with your spew. His ‘lie’ has left more of an imprint on this world than you ever will XD

          • Hitch’s Apprentice

            You mean, a STAIN, don’t you?

          • RobMcCune

            A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes

            –Samuel Clemens (Maybe)

          • Glasofruix

            There’s no proof of a historical jeebus.

          • Spuddie

            You mean those Chinese students weren’t lied to?

      • the moother

        Wow…, it seems like christians don’t even understand the definition of the word “lie”!

        So then it sems possible that these shitsacks are innocent of the accusation levelled agaisnt them.

        christians not only have no morals, they also have no brains

        • Michael W Busch

          Do not stereotype all Christians that way. Most of them have fairly good morals and entirely normal intelligence. They just believe a wrong idea.

      • eric

        Claiming tthe focus is learning English language skills when the focus is bible study is pretty clearly a deception.

        Again, have some empathy: if you signed up for a Chinese language course and they spent most of the time teaching you buddhist faith material, would you consider that to be a lie/deception or not? If its not okay for them to do it to you, then its not okay for you to do it to them.

  • Mick

    They tell each other they are saving souls for Jesus and He judges by the number of souls saved, not the methods used.

    To themselves they say, “It doesn’t matter what this heathen wants, if I can just turn him, I’ve got myself a free trip to heaven.”

  • Hitch’s Apprentice

    It spreads like a Virus…………

  • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw m6wg4bxw

    Christians would shit egg rolls if this happened to their children, being taught another religion. Is empathy not in the Bible? Or maybe it is, but simply hasn’t been plucked for consumption.

    • Mario Strada

      Very right. I’d love for someone to do it to them and watch the reaction. Watch the hypocrisy reach divine levels.

  • IDP

    I’ll bet this practice is FAR more widespread. I just was looking at a local “Christian School” website because I was curious if they teach real science or creationism (they take field trips to the Creation Museum so that answered my question.) I noticed that hey had an unusually ethnically diverse student body for being a tiny evangelical private school in a predominantly white community, and then I saw that a great deal of their students are “international students”. I wonder if the same thing is going on at this school, and if the parents of the exchange students know their kids won’t be getting a good education in anything BUT English immersion. This school has a specifically homo and trans-phobic statement in its “Statement of Faith”, and most of their alumni go to community colleges, so it’s not like you’re getting top-notch education as a tradeoff for all the Jesus and Creationism.

    • JTO

      We did this when I was in college with a Christian group. We advertised “free English conversational classes” that consisted of reading Bible passages. Luckily it was free so it wasted only time, and the students were of college age so technically it was adults, but it still seemed pretty shady to me then (about fifteen years ago), and so much more now.

      • smrnda

        I’ve seen this done a lot in college towns where I’ve been, with ‘English classes’ conducted at churches. At least in those cases it’s obviously *at a church* which kind suggests the possibility that there’s some religious element (not sure how obvious though.)

  • Stev84

    Of course they will cry about being oppressed by the evil, atheistic Chinese commie government now.

  • Paul (not the apostle)

    These folks need to consider the saying of Confucius ” Do not do to others what you would not have done to you” This predates the Christian version by about 600 yrs. Hey now that I think of it –maybe this concept does not need to be delivered by Jesus, maybe Confucius would be just fine. SOOOO leave the kids alone.

  • Robster

    The poor old churches are worried about China. There’s a billion and a half going along nicely without any chance of exposure to the baby jesus and his fun filled dogma and this results in very few Chinese joining the happy clappy christians. So many potential converts, so much money for jesus and the pope, just waiting for the jesus stuff to be poured upon them. Can’t do it in China though, gotta do it in the US so if there’s a chance, take it and they have. This church’s cleric probably had a message from jesus after that bourbonathon the other night and is now on a mission to convert the Chinese. Imagine his bragging rights and bank account if he succeeds!

  • the moother

    Something about this story sounds familiar… Oh yes, I remember now: Last month I was in Beijing and in a public square of a large shopping mall there were 2 Murcan women hollering, “free english lessons…, come and talk to us for free english lessons…”

    So, I hollered back that my English was rather o.k. but thanks for the offer…, anyway, as westerners often do in China, we got chatting anyway…

    Well, it only took them about 2 sentences to start telling us about jesus.

    Christians are liars.

  • Korou

    The comments on the original Wall Street article are pretty appalling! Saying things like, “Well, what did they expect if they visited a Christian country,” and “that is hardly an apposite thing to say” if someone asks how they’d feel if it had been a Muslim school.

  • Hitch’s Apprentice

    I’d like to go back to my childhood, the 50′s and 60′s…. when Christianity was still hidden under the rocks, where it belongs……………

    • Itsrealfunnythat

      I cant tell if youre being sarcastic but Id be interested in hearing more about this from your point of view.

  • eric

    The same sort of semi-deception goes on in H.S. foreign exchange programs (or used to, a couple of decades ago when my family was involved in the program): devout Christian familities sign up to host kids because they view it as a missionary/proselytization opportunity, and do not tell the program or the prospective kids that they are devout. A week or two after the kid arrives, the poor kid is sleeping on some other host parents’ sofa while the program scrambles to find them a new family, everyone is ticked off, the kid now has a terrible opinion of Americans, and the original (devout) host family doesn’t think they’ve done anything wrong.

    These programs *do* ask both hosts and kids about their religion and try and match people up appropriately, but there is typically an enormous difference between a European cultural christian putting “christian” down on their form and an American evangelical host family putting the same answer down on theirs.

  • Itsrealfunnythat

    Unfortunately this is par for the course, even domestically. My school would host a weekly “get together” for students that just happened to take place at the local church. Sure thered be games and fun but at the end theres a 40 minute church sermon….

  • Annette

    I have taught ESL and ESL teachers for over a decade. I also work for program that offers some of the academic portion of a certain teacher certification online, and I grade work at a distance. I’m always sickened by the number of college-aged and just-graduated kids who jump on with some missionary program to China, determined to sneak in under the auspices of teaching English, when their primary goal is to preach their religion. I actually got a little bit snarky today with one of my students who totally missed the point about his assignment on ethnocentrism while insisting his way was the right one, and that is why he was going to go teach people about Jesus, and what a dangerous, persecuted person he was sure to be by risking himself in China, for all the godless heathens. Honestly, I used to be one of those kids who felt that was a good way to go about it. But, I’m no longer a theist, so. . . . Anyway, this sort of Christian trickery goes on a lot, particularly when dealing with China.

    • smrnda

      My brother is a translator who splits his time between Japan and China. I don’t know how often he’s encountered people like that, but he did once tell me that it’s strange to learn a language just so you can tell people what to think. He said it’s using language like a weapon or a tool and not a real means of communication.

  • Kerry

    This happens all the time. Back in the day when I was still drinking the cool-aid, I was financially supporting several ESL (English Second Language) programs in China. This was a Christian stealth program to plant Christian teachers into China. Yes, they did teach English, but their aim was to befriend students and find a way to share “the good news of JC.” I am ashamed now for my role in this deception. It is any wonder that China views christianity with a jaundiced eye!

    Now, I live in Asia and I have steered many of the children of my friends away from these programs into real ESL programs. Many international ministries have whole divisions doing this program and they are very secretive when addressing them in their literature as to not let the cat out of the bag as to their true intent. Can anyone quote for me the 9th commandment? Oh….silly me, they are following Paul’s advice!

  • Ryan Hite

    That is not right… at all.

  • Anna

    My first thought when I saw this article was last week’s plane crash. The two teenage girls who were killed were part of a group going to what was described as a “Christian summer camp.” I wonder if it was along the same lines, and if the girls’ families were actually aware of what the program would entail.

  • Madison

    I read the comments in that WSJ article and scoffed at that Xavier bloke. He seems to think morals come from Christianity/religion. Need I say more?


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