When a Need Meets a Passion

– The English Immersion Experience and Beyond

“How could Wycliffe Australia as a Western mission organisation be of help to Kartidaya?”

Barry Borneman, then the CEO of Wycliffe Australia, asked this question to his roommate, Marnix Riupassa, then the Executive Director of Kartidaya, during a 2012 Wycliffe conference in Bangkok. Neither expected the answer to develop into a yearly English learning programme that even COVID-19 could not stop.

Sprung from a Heartfelt Passion

As the leader of Kartidaya, an Alliance organisation in Indonesia, Marnix’s reply to Barry was that his team needed a better command of English to do their jobs well — for writing emails and reports, setting up travel arrangements for non-Indonesian speaking consultants and accessing commentaries in English.

To Kartidaya, the programme was an answer. To Wycliffe Australia, it was a heartfelt passion. Marg Borneman, Barry’s wife who heads the programme, said one of Wycliffe Australia’s passions is to empower national Bible translation organisations. To Marg, who has a background in teaching English, the programme is about much more than that.

The “English Immersion Experience” (EIE) lets participants improve their English by being immersed in it – living in an English context and learning from native English speakers.

Marg Borneman (Left in front) and the 2016 EIE class from Vanuatu and Indonesia at Kangaroo Ground. )
(Back row left to right: Pastor Joshua of Translation Literacy Programme [TLP], Marcel of YMP3, and Kalite of TLP. Front row left to right: Marg, Pastor Ola of GPM, Isma of Kartidaya, and Raewyn of SIL Australia.)
Photo: Rod Jones

“It was a great opportunity to be immersed in English, building the participants’ confidence through sharing life and stories of family, work and faith with each other, Wycliffe staff and home-stay hosts, and taking part in church based English classes, ” Marg said.

The programme started in 2012. Each year the experience has been enriched in different ways, such as participating in a TESOL training course, Wycliffe’s Open Day, Wycliffe courses on cross-cultural ministry and programme planning workshops.

A Common Desire Among Participants

Over the years, 22 national Christian workers have benefited from the programme, hosted by Wycliffe Australia at its National Centre in Kangaroo Ground on the outskirts of Melbourne. Apart from Indonesia, participants came from the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and East Timor.

2017 EIE participants from Vanuatu and Indonesia in the classroom at Kangaroo Ground.
(Left to right: Elsy of YPMK Kaleb Yosua, Father Norman of TLP, Pastor Mon of GPM, and Ocha of GPM.)
Photo: Marg Borneman

Though these participants have different roles in different countries — Bible translators, pastors, Scripture engagement workers, administration staff — they share a desire to see the Scriptures translated into the heart languages of their nations. The programme was also an opportunity to experience each other’s cultures and hence better understand each other.

The Mutual Benefits

As a staff member of Kartidaya, Netty Manalu attended EIE in 2019. While she was there in Kangaroo Ground, she stayed in the same unit with her mentors, Marg and Barry.

“They did not know my language, so it pushed me to speak English,” Netty said. Though it was not easy, she learned quickly, “not only English but also their [Australian] culture and weather”.

Karyadi Antonius, another EIE participant from Kartidaya, also found the experiences beneficial. Karyadi joined the programme in 2015. He now serves as the Executive Director of Kartidaya.

“It was a good opportunity to improve my ability in English. Now I’m more confident in speaking English and more familiar with the culture in speaking English,” he said. “With EIE, I could learn English both inside and outside the ‘classroom’.”

Working as a receptionist for Wycliffe Australia, Mary Keef joined the programme as a mentor.

“Getting to know the participants was very rewarding and most encouraging,” she said. “Seeing their willingness to try and their desire to learn was wonderful.… They are so devoted to the Lord and committed to Bible translation… giving of themselves abundantly.”

When COVID-19 Became the World Backdrop

Since 2012, Marg had been keen to support the participants with their English after they returned home. This had been difficult due to other responsibilities, but the chance finally came in 2020.

Christine Franklin, an EOE mentor taking part in an EOE session on Zoom during the pandemic. Her Aussie flag was there to show something from her country. 
Photo: Kirk Franklin

After COVID-19 appeared on the world scene and Zoom became a part of daily work and life, Marg and her team decided to run the first virtual version of EIE this summer — English Online Experience (EOE). The six-week programme had 11 participants, including a translator from East Timor and 10 who work with Kartidaya. Five of the mentors work with Wycliffe Australia, one with SIL Australia and the seventh is a supporter of Wycliffe Australia. The group met once a week starting in August. Each 90-minute session included three groupings – the whole class, small break-out groups, and sometimes participants met individually with their mentors. For homework, participants talked with their mentors by email and WhatsApp.
Several participants said EOE was not just language learning, but also an “online English fellowship” because a key element of the programme was nurturing spiritual growth together. There were sessions for reflections and discussions on the Word of God and prayer.

To some, EOE was particularly a blessing because it was virtual.

“Because of my area of finance work, it’s impossible for me to leave my work for a long time to attend an English course,” said Anita Chandra of Kartidaya. Yet, through Zoom and WhatsApp, she could practise with her mentor without leaving the country and her job.

Helene Savage, an HR assistant for Wycliffe Australia, had been taking an online TESOL course. The EOE provided her with a great opportunity to observe how a class is led and also to practise teaching sessions herself. She also loved meeting the Indonesian colleagues.

“The best part was the sweet fellowship,” Helene said. “It felt like we were one big family and by the end of the six sessions, even the shyer ones to speak English looked a lot more confident and comfortable.”

Due to international travel restrictions because of the pandemic, the in-person EIE may not happen soon. Yet, the need of these national workers for better English and the passion of Wycliffe Australia to help have become a strong motivation to keep the programme going.

“We plan to offer several options for ongoing English support for this group, as well as run EOE2 early next year with another group of participants,” Marg said. “We look forward to building our relationships on a personal and organisational level and seeing what fruit, beside English improvement, God has for us in the future.”

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