Sherman native Michael Murphy has traded his role as pastor for that of teacher in China. Murphy turned in his weekly sermons for daily lessons in spoken English.
He was a pastor in Sherman for 15 years at New Life Church, which is now Victory Life Church on North Travis Street. His parents were Dorothy and Elbert Murphy. He graduated from Sherman High School in 1977 and Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Okla., in 1982. As a pastor, he has traveled to 26 countries.
Murphy’s travel to China began with a testimonial he gave about the language acquisition software Rosetta Stone. “They had used a testimonial of mine for about eight years on SkyMall magazine. They contacted me, looking for a teacher and a person who would partner with them in China in developing a new language program.”
The program was for English for non-native English speakers, and though Murphy tried to help find someone else to do the job, he ended up going to China himself to do it.
“I have been there two years,” Murphy said. Though he has managed to see a good bit of the country, Murphy hasn’t been on vacation. “I taught 32 classes a week which is about twice as much as the normal teacher over there, but I’ve got a lot of energy.” Each of those classes contained approximately 30 students.
“I had 900 students a week,” Murphy said. Most of those classes were taught at a middle school as part of the students’ regular day. Some, however, came after school. The students learn to read and write English from their Chinese teachers.
“English training in China is a massive business. And they employ as many native English teachers as they can.”
Murphy said he lives and teaches in East Central China in a city called ZhengZho, which has about 10 million people. And it is not considered to be a big town. There are 1.3 billion people in China, so even a place the size of Los Angeles County is considered to be a small village.
“There’s about 2,500 Americans in this city,” Murphy said. “In comparison, Beijing’s got 22 million people and about 40,000 Americans, and the point is that they don’t see very many people who look like me.”
He said he is getting used to getting looked at everywhere he goes. He is also getting used to people wanting to talk with him about America and the American way of life.
That includes religion. Murphy said he is not a missionary in the common sense of the word. He is an English teacher who also shares his love of God with others.
“There are no missionaries in China,” Murphy said. However, he noted, that most Americans think the Chinese people are not free to practice their religion. That he said, is not true.
“Religion is quite open in China,” he said. While people are free to worship as they please, Murphy said, the government gets nervous about large organized groups, and that is why Americans are not allowed to go in as missionaries.
He said the government discourages anything that might allow people to band together, and that is why they don’t allow their citizens to use social media the way Americans do.
They do have newspapers, though, and some of them are even printed in English. Murphy writes for one called China Daily, which is the largest English language newspaper in Asia. He is now a VIP blogger, thanks to an interest in his writing taken by the former chairman of the Bank of China.
“He’s now the head of their equivalent to our Securities Exchange Commission,” said Murphy. “His name is Xiao Jang. He started reading my blogs about education and got me invited to be one of their 26 VIP bloggers.”
As a result Murphy is now invited to speak throughout the country on the topic of journalism and media. He also gets paid for his articles.
“I am not bragging about this, I am just astounded,” Murphy said, and then laughed. He said he never set out to be a journalist. “But I do like to write.”
Next year he will be speaking in Beijing about the comparison between Western and Eastern education.
“And I am doing it at the invitation of the Ministry of Education.”
“They have an insatiable appetite to understand and to replicate Western education,” Murphy said. “So much so that they have programs there where they’ll attend three years of college in China and finish their senior (year) in their undergraduate degree in the U.S. so they have a diploma from a U.S. institution.”
“There are 200,000 Chinese college students attending school in the U.S,” he said, adding, they are here because when they go back home, that Western diploma gives them a leg up on the thousands of people competing for jobs.
Though Murphy is not a preacher in China, he does work with a volunteer Christian organization that rescues handicapped orphans. They keep the children in homes until they can be adopted out of the country. The adoptions are done with the approval of China’s government because the children are considered undesirable.
“Many of them are left to die in hospitals,” Murphy said.
Instead of preaching a sermon every Sunday morning, Murphy attends what are called “an English corner. It’s a place in park near a beautiful river that people come to practice English. I volunteer there on Sunday mornings. It’s kind of like having church to me.”
Though he can’t really teach the Bible in China, Murphy said, he can use passages from it while he teaches English. He can teach the Bible as a work of literature. “I can’t teach it as a book of morals or a book of religion. And I tread very lightly on that.”
He said he has a guitar and started taking it along to teach his students songs. He was surprised when they really liked that.
“And just frankly, not bragging, but they revere me for it. You would not believe how they treat me,” Murphy said, and he laughed again. “Simply because, in this part of China they just don’t see foreigners.”
Murphy said he left China for a few weeks because he didn’t have a contract for work. Workers without contracts are not permitted to stay in the country. When he goes back in a couple of weeks he will be working under a new contract.