As many Western countries prepare to welcome Syrian refugees from the Middle East, at least one organization* that partners with Christian Reformed World Missions stands in the gap to prepare them for a successful transition before they leave and to help the ones who stay behind. The organization, which has been sending Christians to teach English in hard-to-access areas in Asia for 33 years, is placing teachers in Syrian refugee camps and also partnering with schools in North Africa.
Gordon and Bettie Van’t Bosch, members of First Christian Reformed Church in Rocky Mountain House, Alta., talked about their work with this organization at a recent meeting of Classis Alberta South and Saskatchewan (a regional group of churches). “Teaching English,” Gordon said, “is all about building relationships while using the gift of teaching and living among [the people you are teaching]. Your example often leads to a deeper understanding of why you have hope.”
A young woman* who grew up in Sully (Iowa) Christian Reformed Church spent a month last summer teaching English in a refugee camp in Jordan.
One of the highlights, she recalled, was watching two sisters about 4 years old blossom. “The first week they attended school, they were crying and had to be coaxed into the classroom each day. The next week they were no longer crying. By the third week, they were running into the classroom. During the last week, they were giggling, shouting out answers,” she said.
“Giving students a stable place to grow and learn is essential to their ability to learn and concentrate,” she continued. “The older children have seen and remembered more as shown by the difference in their artwork that displayed bombings they have experienced in more details,” she explained.
Many students are three years behind in their studies because of the disruption of war, she said. “If they don’t have educational opportunities,” she surmised, “they won’t have the critical thinking skills needed to evaluate whether something is true or not.”
“Working in a refugee camp has changed my perspective,” she said. “Things aren’t as black and white as they appear. It is not ‘us’ versus ‘them,’ nor is it Islam versus Christianity.”
When asked if she would recommend the opportunity to go and teach she eagerly replied, “Absolutely!”
*Names are omitted for the safety of those involved.