One of the programs I’m in charge of is our adult education program, which is currently teaching English to 140 refugees. I substitute taught for it a little bit during Ramadan and it’s amazing to see how eager the students are to learn. Education is such a tool for hope. There’s a woman in the preparation class, a mother of four, who doesn’t even know how to read and write in her native Arabic but is learning the English alphabet and slowly how to read and it’s such an amazing thing.
We’re in the process of hiring a new teacher for the program and yesterday the head teacher and I sat and interviewed our top three picks from our little pile of applications. We pick the three, of course, that had the most teaching experience. They were a diverse and very sweet bunch.
The first guy was a Syrian man. He fled Syria about two years ago, but became a believer about fourteen years ago. He was a professor for several years at a university in Syria, teaching biochemistry. He’s been unable to find work in this country because of his legal status. And he has had a hard time building community here because he keeps his distance from most Syrians since he is a believer and so is heavily ostracized for that. He’s applied for resettlement in the US but the process is arduous and is taking forever. During the interview he told us a bit about what it was like becoming a believer and having his family disown him. He told us it is very hard for Westerners to understand because we have freedom in what we believe, and people can change what they believe without massive repercussions. He told us how no one accepts you. How he spent years living in fear, feeling alone. But when he met his wife it was so joyous for him because he can be free now, he’s no longer alone. He was a very sweet, very thoughtful man, and spoke excellent English.
The next man was a South Sudanese refugee with a big smile and a lot of energy. He has been in this country for more years than his home country. He was excited about teaching, excited for all the opportunities he’s been given, and was very keen to work in a place that is an extension of the church where he can be open about his faith. He said that in his teaching job now people just give him a lot of credit and tell him what a good man he is and give the glory to him. At that job he’s not allowed to talk about his faith. He would like to work in a place again where people don’t say “Yes, he does these good things because he is a good man.” but instead would say, “Yes, the people here do these good things because of Christ.” One of the questions we asked was when he has a lot of work to do, how he decides in what order to do it. He said that first he looks at what he has to do that affects other people and their work and he does that first, then he will do the work that affects only himself. Which I thought was a brilliant answer. And life advice.
The last man was Eritrean and has been a refugee here for less than a year. He was soft-spoken, kind, almost meek. But the sort of meekness that has a quiet strength behind it. He was very honest and open and has a really big heart to support other refugees. He has clearly not been hardened by his circumstances but has allowed them to make him more sensitive to needs of others. One of the questions on our sheet asks the person to describe what some of their strengths are, or what things they would bring to our organization. Each of the men struggled with this question and indeed, it is a very Western question. He stumbled over it a little bit, and I summed up what he said with, “So it sounds like you don’t give up very easily. That is a very good strength.” And he nodded and smiled and said yes, he does not give up. And then said that really his strength is Jesus. He said “Really, Jesus is my source, my strength, my rock, my joy. Everything. He is everything.” It was beautiful.
We’re still juggling the budget a bit, so aren’t exactly sure if we have enough to hire one full time and one part time, or just one full-time. And I’m trying so hard to look at it as “We’re giving someone a job!” and not “I have to tell two people no!” When I found out that I have to do the interviewing and hiring for a new teacher I was immediately wondering how I was going to cope emotionally with turning two people down. And I’m still not sure.
Such a wealth of goodness in people who lack opportunity and whom circumstances have seriously, badly altered their course and chances. I felt the same way working with street kids the last few years. So much potential! Just need a little help, a little push, a little lift. And I’m really glad that my job right now lets me work with others to be that little help, little push, little lift. But our capacity is only so much. And the need right now is so terribly great. I can look at the world and despair all of the wars, all of the displaced. And wonder why I bother or give into the temptation to hunker away and hide myself from these hard things because I could if I wanted to. I could give in to fear and despair and keep my world small and tightly protected. But Christ was clear and the Gospel’s are sure that we must work to bring in the kingdom in the ways Christ told us to. So we work to do our best and to keep being better and to not give up on people or stop taking seriously the commands Christ gave and to keep living in the faith that Christ is going to usher in his kingdom and we must work to bring that kingdom here even now. And for the rest, for the rest we pray.
“[Living] ‘by faith’ is the capacity to resist that queen bee of consumerism and to hold actively to health care for all, dignity for the least, homes for the freezing, food for the starving, a place for the displaced, homecoming for all of God’s creatures. No we do not know how to get there from here. But it is promised. It is sure. It is lived toward.” Walter Brueggemann