From the air, the island was nothing more than a tiny patch of light in the middle of a black sea. Excitement replaced Amanda Verley’s previous reservations as she anticipated her landing on the Pacific island of Guam where she would teach English for the next nine weeks.
Amanda first heard about the opportunity last fall when Harvest Ministries Director Ken Keith visited Maranatha Baptist University to recruit English teachers. This opportunity was exactly what Amanda would need to complete the required practicum for her TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) minor.
But her heart was set on going to China as she had two summers earlier. After several attempts to return to China for her practicum fell through, she reconsidered Guam.
Now as she looked over the island she would call home for the summer, she knew this was the place God wanted her to be.
Arrival in the Pacific
When she finally stepped off the plane, the weight of the heat and humidity struck her full force. “I’ve always thought the Midwest was humid in the summer,” says the Michigan native. “But [Guam] has a whole different level of humidity.”
Thankfully, Amanda quickly acclimated to both the weather and the cultural differences. Since Guam is a United States colony, Western influence is prevalent. “In some ways it feels like America,” says Amanda. “But when you look around, it is so diverse.”
Spreading the Gift of Language
Like any new teacher, Amanda felt both excited and apprehensive on her first day of school. Even after a week of preparation, the unknown still loomed.
The morning passed smoothly as new students trickled in. But when registration came to a close, Amanda was faced with her first challenge: only one student came to class.
After modifying a lesson plan designed for six students, Amanda found ways to help this one boy improve his English skills. In the process, she learned the value of flexibility in the classroom, a skill that would serve her well throughout the summer.
Over the next few days more students arrived from China, Saipan, Korea, and Taiwan. On any given day, Amanda had seven students, often from multiple countries. With each one came significant language and cultural barriers.
“For [Americans], when we get a question wrong in class, it can be embarrassing, but we just move on,” Amanda says. “But for them, that’s a really big deal.” So she used positive feedback and encouragement generously.
Since she was “starting from scratch every day,” Amanda’s TESOL training from MBU proved invaluable during her time in Guam. Both the faculty experience and the class structure prepared her to take on the challenges of teaching.
Spreading the Gift of Christ
But Amanda had more to teach than just English. She was also there to share her faith. Many of her students had never heard the name of Jesus, but she found that the story of Christ transcends languages and cultures.
The Bible lessons Amanda taught helped her build deeper relationships with her students as they asked about the Bible and Christ. “I was able to share the gospel pretty clearly,” she says. “It was a challenge to me to make the gospel story understandable and put it into simple words for them.” She even presented one of her students with a Bible at the end of the summer.
But life on Guam was not all warmth and sunshine. During long days of teaching and ministry, exhaustion was common, and maintaining a positive attitude was not always easy.
Through these struggles, Amanda learned that sometimes one must set aside her personal preferences for the good of the group. She also realized that her personal time in the Word was vital to a day’s success.
“God supplies strength and energy for a long day of teaching when you feel like you don’t have any within yourself,” Amanda says.
Looking to the Future
As the summer came to a close, Amanda knew she would miss her students and friends on the island. But she was also ready to go home.
As she boarded her flight home, Amanda realized that teaching in Guam had done so much more than just fulfill a requirement for her minor.
“I had prayed that God would use this trip to show me if TESOL was something he really had for me in the future,” she says. “The longer I taught, the more I realized how much I love TESOL and teaching.”
Guam also confirmed Amanda’s true passion for the Asian people and for China. Ultimately, she would love to return to China and live there permanently as an English teacher.
Amanda will receive her Humanities/Cross-Cultural degree in May and hopes to get her CELTA certification this summer. The future holds many changes, but no matter what life brings, she knows the Lord will guide her.
And maybe someday soon she will fly back toward that eastern horizon.