NGO Expulsion Highlights "Teaching English as a Missionary Language"
Richard Bartholomew printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Sep 11, 2006 at 03:35:37 AM EST
Did US State Department-funded NGO evangelise in Uzbekistan?
Last week saw the expulsion of a US NGO from Uzbekistan, for alleged missionary activities. The Boston Globe reports:
A Massachusetts-based organization involved in social and economic development programs in the central Asian country of Uzbekistan has been ordered by an Uzbek court to close for allegedly trying to convert Muslims to Christianity, according to reports from the region.

...The Partnership in Academics and Development , which lists a Woburn address on its website, was founded in 1999 by Erick Schenkel , an Arlington resident who subsequently moved to Tashkent, the Uzbek capital.

The organization ran US State Department-funded programs to provide small loans to farmers and to train journalists. It also sponsored business education, mental health consultations, and a variety of student services, according to the website. There is no reference to religious orientation or religious programming on the site...


Of course, a court under the control of Islam Karimov cannot be taken as evidence of anything much, and the report notes that the dictator has been desperate to squeeze out US NGOs since his massacre of protestors last year. It also cites Nicholas Daniloff, an academic who has worked with Schenkel and who believes the charge of proselytism is "bull".

However, this is not the first time that Partnership in Academics and Development has been accused; as I noted on my blog back in May, a blogger recently based in Afghanistan wrote in 2005 that

In Mazar there is a strange organisation deviously called Partnership in Academic Development [sic] (PAD) which I had suspected for a while after having gone there to check out their library and English language programme...I spoke to an Afghan friend recently who confirmed my suspicions. They go for students and offer them free English and computer lessons, and then start talking about Jesus and love. I was told recently that the mullahs rumbled them, and they had to move to a different part of the city, near the UN office, and keeping a low profile.

Whether or not this is accurate, the phenomenon of "Teaching English as a Missionary Language" certainly goes on, and is the subject of a paper by Alastair Pennycock and Sophie Coutand-Marin, two Sydney-based academics. Their work is available to read online here, and contains the following information:
Our own searches have revealed a vast interconnected network of missionary organizations using English language teaching as a key tool. The Mission Finder.org site offers `Christian Missionary Opportunities to Teach English as a Second Language' and provides connections to a wide range of other organizations. A brief sample includes the following:...
Educational Services International (ESI) urges people to; "Teach English overseas in Muslim Asia, China, Russia, & Central Europe. Current opportunities in Egypt, Turkey, Morocco, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgzstan, Czech Republic, Hungary, Russia, Ukraine.' (http://teachoverseas.org/)

Clearly, the clandestine activities of groups like "Educational Services International" is going to create problems for other NGOs.

I have looked at various cases of missionary activity over the past couple of years. Conservative evangelical missionaries often seem blithely unreflective about the ways they make use of power relations between the West and the Third World in order to propagate their message, and they also sometimes fail to consider how their actions may have adverse consequences for others. Yet we have to remember that while groups like Samaritan's Purse or SIL may have agendas or strategies that are sometimes objectionable, their humanitarian work is often commendable and greatly appreciated. And where missionaries appear devious, this is often due to the woeful lack of religious freedom in the countries where they operate. Evangelical missionaries are changing the world; but understanding their motivations or their effects requires an appreciation for many shades of grey.




Display:
It's also worth noting the current situation for religious groups in the country:
Uzbekistan is clamping down on religious groups, with congregations closed, harsh penalties for unregistered religious activity and activists deported, Forum 18, a religious freedom watchdog, says...

"...we've got very severe raids on religious communities, detentions of religious believers, beatings and the deportation of foreigners who have been involved in religious activities in Uzbekistan," [Felix] Corley said. "This is something new that has been stepped up in the last couple of months."

...Corley said the country's Muslim community was "more tightly controlled" than any faith, with the government telling imams what they could preach and, in reality, appointing them as well.


Some conservatives have already spoken out against Bush's ties to Karimov, and it'll be interesting to see the extent to which this might lead to further pressure from conservative Christians.

by Richard Bartholomew on Mon Sep 11, 2006 at 03:50:57 AM EST

Considering the sorts of stories I've heard from other Native Americans, as well as the things I've read, most missionaries are more of a curse to the local people than a blessing.  They go in to convert people instead of lifting them up.  They insult people, are totally ethnocentric and blind to cultural mores and norms (for the most part).  Among many indiginous groups they have a VERY bad name and are strongly disliked, if not hated- for the very reasons I've mentioned.

If these people would go in to HELP, and keep their mouths shut, they would be doing the world (and Christianity) a major service.  Why do you think that most of the Muslim world is hostile to Christianity?  It is because of abuse in the name of Christ!!!

by ArchaeoBob on Mon Sep 11, 2006 at 10:37:43 AM EST

I agree that missionaries often display the unfortunate attitudes you have described, but I don't think that anti-Christian hostility in Muslim countries can be explained solely in terms of "abuse in the name of Christ". As we all know, many of those countries have distinctly theocratic elements in their governing structures, any ideological challenge to which (whether Christian, secular, rival Muslim or whatever) is likely to be met with repression.

And while of course Christians should not take unethical advantage, why should they have to "keep their mouths shut"? It seems to me that there's trap here: there is much to complain about in the conduct of some missionary organisations, but at the same time I for one want to support religious freedom. That freedom has to include the right to be annoying.

by Richard Bartholomew on Mon Sep 11, 2006 at 11:40:31 AM EST
Parent



I agree that we have freedom of religion- but I am saying that these people should OF THEIR OWN VOLATION keep their mouths shut and let their actions speak.

Sometimes they are more than annoying- like when they encourage the destruction of cultural artifacts, claiming that they were part of devil worship and so on.  That is happening right now in areas of the world, where significant cultural sites are being destroyed for religion's sake- almost invariably Christian fundamentalists, but I would admit that muslim fundamentalists have been to blame for this as well.

It is also more than irritating when they insist that you are worshiping false gods or devils, when the names you use are your people's names for Jesus and God.  I've experienced that a few times.

It gets downright offensive when they belittle important cultural institutions and want them replaced with questionable American ideas.

by ArchaeoBob on Mon Sep 11, 2006 at 06:34:42 PM EST


There are a lot of people involved in the making of VPLegacies custom elearning development and they need to be catered to for all sorts of responses in terms of need.


by LayneMarvin on Sun Apr 05, 2020 at 03:24:11 PM EST


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