Lebanon

Are my students really listening to me? Does what I say really make a difference? Perhaps it does in more ways than I even know.

I was scanning through Rami’s* homework, making a few small edits before I sent it back to him to correct. I was paying more attention to the essay’s grammar and spelling than to its content until my eye caught a sentence, and my thoughts halted abruptly.

Wait a minute, I thought. That’s my class he’s talking about. That’s something I said. He was actually listening!

Every time I teach, I start my class with worship. Most semesters, I’ve had the joy of teaching an 8:00 A.M. class. I’m not a morning person, so this has been a real challenge for me. This semester I was able to negotiate for a later start time. I was so thankful, but then my next thought was, Oh no, I won’t be able to do worship because they will have worship in another class before mine. I looked at the schedule again and breathed a sigh of relief. My class was their first class in the morning.

The new semester began. We met on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and rather than having students present worship for extra credit as I had done in the past, I decided to lead worship. I started by sharing some of our church’s key beliefs along with a few interesting nuggets I’d unearthed in my personal devotions. Then I watched as worship morphed into something other than I’d imagined.

One morning, I handed out little squares of cream-colored paper to each student and asked them to write down any questions they would like to ask about life or the Bible. I collected the folded squares and tucked them away to read at a later time. I promised I would answer their questions during worship time.

The questions ranged from “Is God out there?” to “How do I start reading the Bible?” to “Why don’t we have women prophets?” to “How do you live a balanced emotional life?” They were thinkers, and they were asking tough questions.

Week by week, we worked through the questions. My format was simple. I found verses for each student to read about the topic, then I summarized the answer and talked about how to make it practical. One day, while correcting Ben’s homework, I noticed some scribbles in the corner of his textbook. I looked more closely at the page and realized he had written down verses from a recent worship talk. I was humbled to realize someone had actually been paying attention in class and wanted to remember the verses for future reference.

Near the end of the semester came the question, “What is marriage?” Since most of my students were single, I decided to approach it from that perspective. We reviewed what qualities we should look for in a marriage partner from Proverbs 31 and 1 Timothy 3. In the Making It Practical section, I reminded them to pray three times a day, ask wise counselors for advice, and look for someone who shared similar habits and life goals. I emphasized that love is a principle and not a Hollywood-style feeling.

Five days later, Rami’s homework was sitting in front of me, and this sentence caught my eye: “I have learned in my English class that love is an action that we do, and most likely a decision that we make, which means it is something that we decide to do.” He was working on a dorm worship thought, one of his writing projects for his Advanced Writing class that I was teaching. He incorporated into his talk what he had learned in his English class. My class. During worship time.

This past semester, I was struggling with the challenges of a coronavirus life and unsure about my missionary-wife role. My husband was busy studying theology and teaching Bible studies every day. I could see the visible results of ministry in his life. While I enjoyed teaching one class in the language institute each semester, the rest of my time was filled with mundane tasks such as printing letters and scheduling appointments. I didn’t know whether I was making a meaningful difference in anyone else’s life.

Then I saw Rami’s homework, and I realized there was something worth holding on to. Something worth investing in. Each student who came into my class was a life I could influence. It could be something as seemingly insignificant as a five-minute worship talk, and I might never know its value until heaven. I encourage you to never grow tired of sharing Jesus in any way and any place because someone, somewhere, is listening, and that’s worth it all.

*All names have been changed

In picture above:

Maria, far right, with a group of English Language Institute students in Byblos, Lebanon.

avs.pngWould you like to help make a positive impact in the lives of others? If so, please consider volunteering through Adventist Volunteer Service which facilitates church members’ volunteer service around the world. Volunteers ages 18 to 80 may serve as pastors, teachers, medical professionals, computer technicians, orphanage workers, farmers, and more. To learn more, visit AdventistVolunteers.org.

Maria Shajiei is a volunteer missionary in Lebanon, serves as the executive secretary to the president at Middle East University, where she also teaches in the English Language Institute. She grew up in the mission field and changes identity based on her mood, as she is Dutch-Mauritian by ethnicity, British by nationality, American and Middle Eastern by culture, and African by birthplace.