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Presenting the Word: ESL in Japan

Presenting the Word: ESL in Japan

by Marion Van Driel


People relate to stories that resonate with cultural familiarity. And so Mike Hoyer, ESL instructor in Japan, uses the common bicycle wheel as an object lesson. With over 70 billion bicycles in the country, it’s an apt illustration.

The hub of the wheel, he suggests, represents God who is at the center of the universe and our lives; the tires represent each created person, and the spokes connect the two.
A retired Christian school educator and principal, Hoyer describes each spoke as a subject leading to the hub. The spoke of linguistics: “Multiple languages emerged during the Tower of Babel project, when God confused the construction crew whose purpose was to ascend into God’s realm.”

The spoke of science: “Another spoke helps unpack the created order of things as God designed them.”

“The spoke of Biblical Studies is helpful in understanding God’s relationship to humanity throughout history. Hoyer explains the human fall into sin, God’s covenant and New Testament gospel of Christ.”

“Another spoke could be called Business and Accounting. Learning how to be creative in providing work, resources and finances for people was part of the created order,” he explains. He goes on to describe the relevance of agriculture, art, medicine and poetry. “The Psalms were no different in that sense; they express the man-God dynamic. I love the relationship between raku pottery (something I used to do) and the tea ceremony as expressed in Japan.” He explains that a varied range of subjects provides balance, preventing the wheel from being wobbly. All of this learning, he tells the (mostly college) students, provides them with livelihood and an understanding of their relationship with God.

Mike and Colleen Hoyer are no strangers to cultures different from their own. Calling Canada home, they have travelled extensively with Christian world relief agency World Renew (, before accepting this one-year opportunity with Multiply ( to teach English in Japan. For Colleen, it’s a second go-round on this particular mission; she taught English in Japan thirty years ago. Back then, it was full-time for her; today, she and Mike share a full-time position, giving them time to enjoy side trips around the area. For a ‘retired’ couple, it’s a wonderful opportunity to engage in God’s work at a more leisurely pace.

The Hoyers are located south of Osaka, in Sakai, where two churches together provide one full-time ESL position. Many of their students are from a local college, St. Andrews, where one of the pastors takes courses, and recruits for the ESL program. Only about one per cent of the Japanese population believes in Christ. Both Colleen and Mike employ relevant conversation starters with a link to Christianity, like the Japanese tea ceremony, a ritual with parallels to communion.

In Japan, resistance to the gospel message is passive; there is an outward polite interest, but change is slow. However, “the program does have influence,” says Colleen. “One of my chaplains became a Christian through the ESL program.” Scripture memory is integrated into the English classes; Mike hands out business cards weekly with the verse in English on one side, and Japanese on the other. In a country where spring is all about cherry blossoms, and Easter is nothing more than an excuse to buy cutesy chicks and chocolate, he’s also provided students with an ESL link to the true story of Easter.

Dependent on the Spirit’s grace, Colleen reveals that a meaningful devotional time frequently finds her students staying behind after class for brief discussion.

Multiply is praying for someone to take over for the Hoyers in 2020. With the 2020 Olympics pending, “there is a big push for people to learn English,” says Colleen, and a great opportunity to tell the redemption story.

When Colleen and Mike arrived in January for their one-year assignment, they came in ‘cold’ due to the timing of their decision. Hopefully, this can be avoided in future; the Hoyers are eager to provide helpful orientation for their replacement(s) before returning to Canada.

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Anyone interested in this ESL opportunity should contact Multiply’s Mission Mobilizer, Greg Laing,