I have spent the last academic year in an Evangelical School in the Middle East telling them about God’s love and how they should respond to what Jesus has done.
I taught a class of 8 and 9 year olds for most of the time. Although I am not a qualified teacher (yet), God really helped me get into the swing of teaching. This gave me the chance to become really good friends with ‘my children’ and now they feel like little brothers and sisters to me! They learnt a lot over the year and their English improved greatly. I learnt a lot too and managed to understand long division for the first time!
During the week I also gave my class a Bible lesson where we read and discussed events from the Bible. Sometimes I had to cut short the streams of questions they asked, as there simply wasn’t time to answer every single one! On Thursdays I lead the chapel time in the morning, for Years 1-6; singing songs and talking about a Bible story. It was lovely to see my children’s understanding of Jesus increase over the year.
Teaching there is a very different thing to the UK. We live in an age in which using computers in the classroom is compulsory. However, where I was, you couldn’t even guarantee an electricity supply! There were usually 4-8 hours without electricity each day – some days had only 2 hours of power – so I frequently had to abandon computer lessons, singing songs off the projector and every other “normal” activity that requires electricity! We did have a diesel generator at the school, but its use was rationed because of the cost – this led to some fairly miserable, wet, snowy, winter days.
Being a Christian, my job didn’t finish at 3pm when the kids had gone home. We (the staff at the school) tried to act as Jesus would all the time; trying to show his love for us to everyone we came across. Some good discussions were had with the parents and families neighbouring the school. They listen well and some are genuinely interested in what we have to say. Whoever we met – a main opposition MP, Palestinians, Jordanians, Lebanese, Syrians, Muslims, nominal Christians, Druze and even members of an organisation classed as ‘terrorists’; we tried to show them Jesus and used words whenever the opportunity arose.
There were a few cultural hurdles to jump adjusting to life in the Middle East. One of the major blunders I made was during the Christmas play preparations. My class played the nativity scene. Casting Mary and Joseph was easy, but the animals proved to be a cultural minefield. Parents took particular dislike to donkeys, horses, goats and, in one case, animals full stop. Unknown to me, ‘donkey’ is fairly high up on the Arabic swear-words list! The kids came in with threats from their parents saying that their children were not going to come to school if they had to be a particular animal. There wasn’t much I could do, as we needed people to play the animals. The boy playing Joseph turned up wearing a Batman costume – his family had obviously never heard the story of Jesus’ birth before! I got it all sorted in the end.
You would be wrong to think that the sale of alcohol in the Middle East is prohibited everywhere. Where I lived, whisky cost less than surgical alcohol and a lot of the local men drank heavily. The mother of one boy in my class put whisky in his water to help his hayfever! I caught four of my class drinking neat whisky at breaktime (these were 8 and 9 year olds). I was not expecting this sort of thing in the Middle East!
Neither was I expecting everyone to be extremely fearful of a solar eclipse. The government closed all the state schools and the parents wouldn’t send their children to school in case they went blind. Some families hung blankets over their windows to protect them from the ‘poisonous rays’. I however gave a great science lesson to the 5 of my class who turned up – and none of us are blind!
Despite all our cultural differences, I never came across an Arab that was openly hostile to me (apart from one taxi driver that is who assumed I would pay him double as I was British!). Their friendliness to strangers is embarrassing and really puts us to shame. I’d like to encourage you to go there, there’s much more to the Middle East than the news shows. Having said that, few countries in the region have escaped trouble and strife over the years. I left the Middle East three days before the war between Israel and Hezbollah started. The wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Palestinian Territories have been raging for so many years. Now tensions are building in Iran – will it turn into open warfare too? The people need to hear the gospel and people like you need to tell them.
Remember what Jesus said in Matthew 9v37 “The harvest is large, but the workers are few.” The Arab World needs you. The whole world needs you.