It was the end of my last official Bible class of the year at the refugee center. I'd taught about the "I am" statements of Christ; this Friday, for the two-hour exam period, I hope to bring everything full circle in the biggest lesson of the year: His death and resurrection. But for this class period, I ended with the account of Jesus' question: Who do you say that I am?
The question, suspended by PowerPoint, hung there on the whiteboard in the rectangle of the projector. Students began gathering their books and pencils in the shuffle and conversation that mark the end of any class period around the world. A student of mine, whom I'll call Ahmad (you may have read about him here), raised his hand. Ahmad has this gentle-giant quality about him, and always speaks with a gentle, halting voice. "I am shifting"--that's the Ugandan word for moving--"back to [my home country] over the holiday." He hopes to get a job; to find a wife.
My eyebrows pulled upwards. What? I asked a few questions to clarify. It was true, and of course good news for him, that he was leaving the center over the holiday. Just like any good counselor, I'm thinking a good refugee center hopes to work itself out of a job; to send you home healthier, richly nurtured despite a stormy season of life.
Then, he asked his next question: "Who was Jesus Christ?" I inquired further, head cocked, thinking, I've been teaching about that for the last four weeks--and comprehended (I think) that he wanted to find out what the words "Jesus" and "Christ" actually meant.
But I must admit my heart sunk like a stone, stirring up waves in my chest. Classmates were milling around, the question still there, like a man with a sandwich board that people walk by in intent conversation on a crowded street. Did Ahmad know enough about Jesus to make an informed decision about him? To move back to his (aggressively non-Christian) nation, and remain resolute in what he knew about the person of Jesus Christ?
I swallowed, and expressed my joy for Ahmad's...wonderful news. He asked if he could take a Bible with him. I lent him my easy-read version from the center, with instructions to a) read the book of John, b) return the Bible to me at exams, and c) come back with his questions and thoughts.
"And we'll have a..." he paused. "Con-ver-sa-tion."
Yes, Ahmad. We'll have a conversation about the most important thing we could ever talk about.
Our interaction stayed with me as I walked home in the warm, late-afternoon sun, as I sautéed dinner, even the next morning as I sang with EMI's Friday morning worship: Break my heart for what breaks yours... It was then that I felt hot embarrassment at the tears leaving telltale streaks on my cheeks in front of all my coworkers. Yes, I know that salvation belongs to our God, and certainly not to me or my most valiant efforts. But something feels appropriately crucial about what my students hear, and decide, about this subject.
Since then, I've secured a Bible for Ahmad and a Jesus film in his own language. And Monday night found me up late, pasting images and text in the PowerPoint for Friday. When I finally snapped shut my laptop, my jaw ached from the tension of seeking to communicate clearly and with the engaging presence deserved by the Greatest Story Ever Told.
I feel like the lesson--at least as it's planned--is comprehensive and direct, hopefully easy to understand. I've planned dramas and a movie clip to liven it up a bit (steered carefully away from a the more gory images; would refugees have distracting flashbacks?). My primary concern now is that I'll be able to maintain their attention for the whole two hours, so they don't lose anything.
But my heart feels magnetized by Friday, by the question at the end of the handout: If you would like to learn more about Jesus, circle YES. Even as I write, I swallow the thick concern that feels like it's formed in my throat as much as my eyes.
I'd love your prayer for Ahmad--and for Friday.