Sweat dripped down my back pooling at the hem of my skirt. The cows lowed outside and I watched my feet as I walked down the aisle of desks as to not trip over the dog who had taken up residence in my classroom. Although I cannot recall the grammar lesson from that day, I remember it was like any other day teaching and living in Southeast Asia.
It had been a long semester, the most difficult in my four years overseas. In a matter of a few months, I had suffered through family sickness, chronic insomnia, visa issues, funding problems, family death, and anxiety attacks. I would wake up in the morning asking myself “what else go possibly go wrong?” Which the world seemed to take as a personal challenge proving to me that something else could and would indeed go wrong. Trial after trial weighed on my shoulders. There were days all I could do was my very least, when even the thought of driving to school exhausted me.
It was not always like this though. Life in Asia had been going pretty well. I was learning and speaking the language, my relationships with locals were thriving, and though I never planned to be a teacher, I found that I loved being in my classroom with students. God was also working powerfully and answering prayers over students and the local church despite the restrictions that came with living in a Communist country.
Living in a restricted country, my co-workers and I act cautiously in how we speak and share our faith with locals and therefore developed ways to creatively integrate God’s truth and word into our lesson plans. At the start of the semester, we began working with a new technique known as teaching it slant. We developed a curriculum of stories from the Bible making minor adjustments
to better fit the culture of our students. While a priest became a monk and a wheat field started sprouting rice the core principles of the story remained the same. We used the stories to teach vocabulary and critical thinking also leaving time for personal journaling and discussion. My students enjoyed these lessons and I enjoyed knowing they were learning the Good News of God even if they did not yet know it.
Then that desert season came. I no longer felt like as if I were thriving, but instead spent my hours desperately asking the Father to get me through the day. My apartment which was once a revolving door to students and neighbors was now a desolate wasteland with me as its only resident. Overwhelmed by bad news and terrified to look at my phone or check my email lest I be met with more. I jealously watched my co-workers continue to serve how I wish I could still serve and felt guilt-ridden that I had nothing to offer. I was knocked down for the count.
Deep into those months of grief as the sweat pooled and I tried to drown out the sounds of cows while also avoiding the dog at my feet. I asked my class if they had any last questions and concluded the day’s lesson. Turning to leave a student called after me. “Teacher! I have to tell you something!”
He began by explaining that he had been absent from our last class because he had gone home to his village to visit his sick father. He then recalled a story we read in class a few months earlier about a man with a skin disease. This story was one of the slanted Bible stories. It was the story of Naaman who was told by the prophet Elisha to wash his skin disease-ridden hand in the river and he would be healed. I asked my students if they believed such miraculous healing could
really happen. They all agreed it was not possible, that they did not believe in miraculous healing. Every student agreed but one.
That one student stood before me now telling me how he and his animist parents begged the spirits to heal his dad, but the spirits did nothing. He told me how he remembered a story I shared in class about miraculous healing, and that I said I believed in miraculous healing. He told me that he remembered I was a Christian and he told his parents all this too. He told me how they decided to try praying to my God and when they did his father was miraculously healed.
I stood dumbfounded as my student went on to share how his parents wanted to know more about my God. In the darkest days of my Southeast Asian life, God was still working. On the days grief overwhelmed me and fear overtook me His power withstood. This student who had never been to my apartment even back during the lighter days, who had only heard a slanted version of the Gospel, and knew nothing of Christians other than his teacher calls herself one was seeing undeniable evidence of the work of God’s hands.
Is that not what I had been longing for since the day I stepped off a plane onto Eastern soil? For God to show up in the lives of the local people. The sweat still drips down my back and I still must watch for stray animals who lurk in my classroom. The days still often feel dark, but God continues to remind me the light is still there even when I cannot see it. Even when I am overcome and have little to give His power is made perfect in my weakness.