This year, Ramadan has fallen over the same month as Easter. Rebekah, part of the Unreached in the UK team at Redeemer Church and an English teacher at Open Doors International Language School (ODILS) in Plymouth, shares how her ESOL classes have been learning about these two celebrations.
This year, Ramadan has fallen over the same month as Easter. So, during the last week of term at ODILS, before the Easter holidays, I dedicated my ESOL lessons to learning about both celebrations. This was the first time I’d engaged with my students this way and so a lot of prayer was given to make sure my heart was in the right place – to show respect, openness and kindness towards a faith that is not my own.
In my morning class, two thirds of the students are from Muslim backgrounds and many of them are fasting. The lesson on Ramadan was humbling for me, because even though I’d prepared a lesson, ‘Teacher Rebekah’ became the student, and my students were teaching me! We practiced speaking Ramadan related vocabulary – in both English and Arabic. We practiced writing and speaking sentences about what they do during Ramadan. We also had a group discussion about the different ways Muslims participate. It was lovely to be able to take the position of a student and learn from them – I could tell that they felt happy because I was showing interest in something important to them. They seemed very glad to share their experiences and when I asked ‘Ramadan, easy?’ they all agreed, ‘Oh, easy. Very easy!’ The only exception is when Ramadan falls on a month in summertime – the daylight/fasting hours are long, temperatures are warm, and many become de-hydrated because of the abstinence from liquids… ‘very hard!’
Ramadan is the month in the Islamic calendar where Muslims celebrate Prophet Muhammad receiving the Qur’an from Allah. They fast from food, drink, alcohol, and smoking to worship and grow closer to Allah. Being a Jesus follower, I obviously don’t participate in Ramadan. But, in class I was able to relate to my students’ longing to grow closer to their God through fasting. I struggle to fast for one day, so I admire the commitment and devotion of the students in my class and Muslims worldwide.
Jesus still has my heart though (BIG TIME) …and so in the following lesson, we learnt about Easter. Understandably, I was more apprehensive about teaching Easter than Ramadan. How would it be received by my students from Muslim backgrounds? With some of them being strong Muslims, my main prayer was that they would simply hear the Easter story. That seeds would be sown. Being in a school setting, I didn’t want to come across as proselytizing, but I also wanted to be transparent about the Gospel message and Easter story…to magnify Jesus in the classroom.
In this same class, I have one student who’s an Eritrean Christian and my classroom volunteer who is ‘searching’ but identifies with her Romanian Orthodox church. Again, this humbled me. It humbled me because for most of my life, believing in Jesus meant I was in the ‘majority’. In this room, I was in the minority. I was very grateful to both (Christian student and volunteer) for being in the room because we made a minority of three, instead of a minority of one. My Eritrean student has always physically, culturally, and literally sat ‘on the edge’ of this class. She doesn’t where a hijab…the rest of the class do. She doesn’t speak Arabic…the rest of the class do. She doesn’t believe in Islam…the rest of the class do. As we started to talk about Easter, I saw such a difference in her – despite being in the minority, she was able to talk about the faith that was hers and because of this, there was joy in her eyes.
So, as we did for the lesson on Ramadan, we practiced speaking some Easter vocabulary and I used this to share the Easter story. Words like: Jesus, Church, Bible, Gospels (good news) cross, tomb, ‘He is risen!’, disciples, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. The Muslim students participated less in this lesson, but I could see as we were going through these words the students were aware of Jesus – known as Isa, in Islam. They seemed hesitant as to why Jesus came, why He died and whether it was Him who came back to life. And my answer to that was, ‘because God loves us…He loves us SO much and desperately wants to be with us.’ I emphasized this a lot.
Whilst the class were practicing spelling these words, a few of the Muslim students were talking in Arabic. I heard the word ‘Isa’ and I heard ‘Christian’. Then one of the students in this group asked, ‘teacher, Jesus loves Muslims? Or no?’ and I said, ‘yes! Of course, He does.’ And they smiled.
As the class was drawing to an end, one of my students from a Muslim country showed me something she translated on her phone. It read, ‘where can I get a Bible from?’ I was so amazed! I hadn’t expected this at all. I knew this student is from a Muslim background, but no longer identifies as a Muslim because she’s been hurt by Islam in the past. But to ask for a Bible, infront of her Muslim classmates, was a very bold move. I looked at the message translated on her phone and then smiled as I looked at her. Trying to contain my amazement, I put my hand on my heart and said ‘I can get you a Bible!!! I can get you one for when school starts again.’ She said thank you and wished me a ‘Happy Easter’.
It was only when I was walking home from work that God gave me a renewed joy for teaching. I sometimes find teaching stressful and doubt whether I’m able to reach the nations with Jesus and the Gospel. For some reason, I never thought that would happen in the classroom or in one of my lessons. But God reminded me that He loves to use us when we make ourselves available to Him.
So, be available
…wherever you go and whoever you go to
…be available to Him.