Of all the way I can describe my experiences teaching at the school, the description that I resonate most strongly with is ‘humbling.’
This isn’t the kind of humbling you experience when you’re in the presence of a hero, or when you hear the story of a martyr who died selflessly standing up for his beliefs.
No. I’ve learned a different kind of humility. I’ve experienced a different kind of humility. A humility not derived from comparing yourself to another. A humility that comes from simply being stripped down and laid bare. A humility that presents itself to you in the most honest and vulnerable moments. The kind of humility that is true to yourself.
I feel as if it would be incorrect to say that my experiences at this school have humbled me. Rather, I want to say that humility emerged from the dry soils of my heart.
Sure, I work with a few very dedicated and amazing teachers and administrators. But, it is not they who have humbled me. It would be more correct to say that my students have humbled me, but still it would not be completely accurate.
It is hard to put in words, but to put it simply - forget about the semantics - through teaching my students, I have learned a different kind of humility.
A humility that derives from the realization that I am not ‘just’ one of many teachers that these students will have in their life. Even if I may be one of 30-40 different teachers in their lives, my responsibility to them is not any less than if I were to be the ONLY teacher they ever have.
A humility that derives from the realization that even if for those brief 2 hours a week my students are in my classroom, they deserve the best of me. During those 2 hours, I can make an impact and a difference, for better or worse. In a matter of 2 hours, I can instill in them courage and belief that they can conquer the world, or feelings and thoughts of ineptitude and worthlessness.
A humility that derives from the realization that my students deserve a better teacher and mentor than the one I currently am. I am far from the ideal teacher, and it is when I think and reflect upon my students that I realize that I have so much more room to grow. No matter how great I eventually think I am at teaching, the fact will be - I have yet more room to grow, and I will strive to improve myself as a teacher, because I will know that my students deserve the best.
A humility that derives from the realization that no matter how much effort I put into my work, almost all of the time, nobody will know. It is between me and God. At the end of the day, all I have is my integrity. Either I will go to bed with the assurance that I gave my 100% in prepping for future lessons, or I won’t. My students will never fully realize the amount of work I put in or not put in, and the same applies for my coworkers.
A humility that is not dependent on external circumstances or factors, but a humility that is derived from a deeper realization of myself. God has laid me bare before myself, and I am humbled.
God is showing me who I am, as I am, and I am humbled.
Humbled by the sheer amount of faith God has in me. He could have brought anyone into the lives of these students, but here I am led by Him.
Humbled and praying everyday for God to give me a bigger heart.
Humbled because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Humbled because I know God is with me.
Humbled because God loves me, and in my humility I have come to love God more.
Humility. I used to think humility was simply the full realization and utilization of the gifts and talents God has given us. However, now my definition and understanding of humility has been slowly deepened.
Perhaps, humility is being laid bare before God and self.
Whatever the definition is, it means nothing if it’s not in my life. I pray for more and more humility in my days. I don’t want this special project with God to end any time soon.
When I was a kid, Social Studies was always my favorite subject.
Even in high school, my favorite subject was US History, Econ/Gov, and World History.
These classes inspired me to pursue a degree in the humanities.
I always had an appreciation for learning about different places and people. Sure, memorizing dates and places can be tedious at times, but I was always fascinated by history and geography. Maybe because I wanted to travel to these far-off distant lands one day. Whatever the reason was, my Social Studies classes during my elementary school years molded me to be the person I am today.
Now, as a teacher of Social Studies, I have a newfound appreciation for the subject. I realize now that my Social Studies classes during my early years equipped me in ways I could not have imagined when I was younger. My Social Studies classes were not times spent simply memorizing factoids so that I can one day boast that I can list all the factors that led to the failures of the Reconstruction era in American history. If being able to efficiently memorize dates and events was all that my Social Studies classes prepared me for, then my Social Studies classes should be considered the biggest waste of my time. My Social Studies classes would have been a huge disservice towards my education.
As I teach Social Studies, I am now grasping why Social Studies is so crucial. It isn’t important because it’s history and geography neatly wrapped up together. It’s important because of what the latter half of its name suggests - ‘studies.’
Social Studies equips students with important and in my opinion necessary study skills that will stick with them beyond the class room. Skills that cultivate critical thinking. Skills that enable students to analyze and draw inferences from their surroundings. Skills that encourage students to ask ‘why?’ and ‘how?’ Skills that open doors that lead to those very far-off distant lands, to broader horizons.
I want to inspire in my students the same passion and love I have for Social Studies. I want to show them that it’s not about memorizing tidbits of information and regurgitating them back to me. I want to show them that Social Studies, if done right, is supposed to take them on a journey. It’ll enable them to think critically and to ask the right questions. It’ll give them the courage to use their imagination to imagine themselves in the shoes of other people. It’ll give them the skills they need to succeed in any field their hearts desire.
Social Studies is not just history + geography. It’s so much more.
I just hope I can communicate this to my students through my curriculum and my lessons.
Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about tithing.
We’ve all been told - us Christians - at one point or another that we should give our offerings to God every Sunday. Somewhere around 10% of your income, or the weekly $1-$2 given to children by their parents to encourage a habit of giving offering to the church.
As I got older, I learned more about where this money goes. When I was a child, I always imagined that the money was somehow magically sent to God on a beam of light or that it was burned as an offering so that the money will reach God in the form of smoke. I knew God didn’t really need the money when heaven was supposed to be made of gold and clouds, so I figured it was all just another test.
Eventually, we learn that there are actual practical applications of the offering gathered during services - utilities, rent, pastoral income, etc. That’s the point where I got some sense of responsibility and stake in the church. I was an investor and the church was my investment. If I loved the church and wanted it to continue to operate, it made sense that I put in money towards the church - put your money where your mouth is.
Now that I’m earning a salary and living on my own, this whole topic of tithing materializes into a very real issue, and not just some theoretical concept I can keep pushing further and further into the future - “I’ll start tithing when I make my own money, ” “I’ll start tithing once I’m settled,” etc.
I have no excuse to not tithe now. It used to be the case that if I were to tithe, I would be tithing my mom’s money and not the fruits of my own labor. Now that I reap the fruits of my labor, I feel the obligation to start tithing the customary 10%.
However, I am finding it ever harder to give my offering to God. I wonder if it’ll get harder as I make more money. You would think that the more money you make, the more you’d be afford to give, but I’m finding it that the more money I make, and the more self-sufficient I’m becoming, the harder it is for me to give freely. I can’t help but have the sneaking voice whispering over my shoulder, “If you give this 10% now, just imagine how much more God is going to give to you. You should give now since your going to receive more later anyways.”
It seemed like a harmless voice. An honest voice. If I’m completely honest, I can’t help but think that God will give back more than I give to Him. However, I don’t want the fact that God will always give more than He takes away to be the basis of my giving. God’s giving doesn’t always come in the form of material goods, so in actuality I have no guarantee that I will be better off financially by tithing, but I’m human, and I can’t help but have these thoughts.
I am learning firsthand the depth of the poor woman’s heart in Mark 12. I make 1000JD a month. About 150 of it goes to transportation, another 110 towards my rent, another 150-200 towards food, and another 50 for utilities. This leaves me with about 500 JD towards whatever else I want.
10% is 100JD.
After I did the math, I immediately thought, “God doesn’t need all of that money. It’s symbolic anyways. I need it more than God does. I’m still not financially stable.”
It’s true - I’m not completely financially stable. I’m not as stable as I wish I would be. I have to pay a 350JD down payment for my apartment, which doesn’t leave me with much this month. I can justify my not giving 100JD this month.
But I can’t help myself asking, “Why go through the whole process of making excuses and justifications? Why can’t I just give?”
The poor woman was in a far worse financial situation than I am now. Yet, she gave. She gave it all - apart from the clothes on her back - she gave it all. Sure, she may have done the math and realized if she gave what she had, she wasn’t going to afford food that day. Forget about rent - she didn’t even have a place to call home. Yet, she gave it all.
She trusted her Father. She put her faith in her Father and believed that He would provide. Her actions spoke on behalf of her faith.
And here I am. I have money in my wallet and in my bank account. I have an apartment (granted it’s unfurnished, but still). I can afford food. I have clothes on my back (not just the same measly outfit she wore everyday). And here I am. Unable to give freely. Trying to come up with 100 reasons why I can’t give it back.
All because I’m not comfortable enough. I’m not stable enough. I’m not secure enough. When will it be enough?
I realized, it never will be enough.
My soul will be restless until it rests in His arms. It will never be stable, secure, safe, comfortable enough until I put my faith in God first.
I can’t let my faith be dependent upon my financial circumstances, or any external factors for that matter.
I will give. Yes, with a heart that is not completely giving and scared. With doubts and insecurities I will give. I will give this imperfect offering in such an imperfect manner, all in faith that God will teach me how to give better as I continue to give.
Today marks the end of my first week as a Middle School Social Studies teacher. I am employed by an American private school located in the west side of Amman. It’s a lot to take in at one time and I’m still trying to absorb it all.
The school bases its curriculum on the Massachusetts Education Standards and tries to raise students of the highest caliber - lifelong learners and global thinkers who will become responsible citizens with leadership qualities and universal values who have a sense of pride in one’s cultural identity. It’s an ambitious goal, but one I can’t help but hope that the school succeeds in reaching.
I teach 5th graders, 6th graders and 8th graders. I teach kids with dyslexia, learning disabilities, and emotional problems. I teach kids who know English, Arabic, and French. I teach kids who don’t know anything. I teach kids who take 12 subjects a week. I teach kids who always forget to bring their books from home. I teach kids who forget my instructions and rules within the first five minutes of class - sometimes it’s not their fault. I teach kids who are picked on and feel like they are ostracized because they don’t know English that well. I teach kids who brighten up and overflow with joy once they grasp a concept or a lesson. I teach kids who act out because they want attention since they don’t get it at home. I teach kids who have great parents. I teach kids whose parents who are my colleagues. I teach kids that have horrible parents. I teach kids that have extremely rich parents. I teach kids that are rich in general. I teach kids who would probably trade their wealth to have more time with their parents. I teach kids who think I’m Chinese. I teach kids who ask me why I don’t yell at the students who misbehave more. I teach kids who need constant supervision. I teach kids of ambassadors and politicians. I teach kids who aren’t afraid to pull that, “Do you know who my Dad is?” card on a teacher. I teach kids who are about to learn really quickly that it doesn’t matter. I teach kids who hate learning English. I teach kids who get dropped off by their drivers and maids - never their parents. I teach kids who probably have a better relationship with us teachers than they do with their parents. I teach kids who always get everything they want. I teach kids who get nothing that they want from me, except what they need. I teach kids and kids will always be kids. I love each and every one of them.
I pray God can give me a bigger heart. A heart worthy enough for these kids.
Our minds work in very interesting ways. I am just now finding that for the past two months, my mind, without my telling it to do so, has been pushing back the thoughts of this day. It knew, well before I realized, that today was a big day. Yet, it tried its best to keep my thoughts of today at bay for as long as it could. Perhaps, it knew that my constant obsessing over details, my elaborate paranoia, and my inclination to play out a thousand different scenarios for every situation would not be helpful in the least bit in my preparing for this next step.
Do I have fears regarding this next step? Absolutely.
Do I have reservations and uncertainties? More than I would like.
Am I hopeful? Sometimes.
But here I am. There’s no going back. I’m off to Amman again. I think I have about one thing set in stone, and there’s still much room left for going over details. However, I’m at peace with the fact that I have an easier time answering “Why are you going to Amman?” than “What are you going to do in Amman?”
What will I do there? I don’t know. A lot of things. Maybe nothing at all. I may end up helping refugees in some small way. I may end up with absolutely nothing to do. But I take comfort in knowing why I’m going to Amman.
My ‘why’ is not a practical one. Putting another gold star next to my name was definitely not one of my reasons for deciding to take this next step. Could this all somehow work out to help me in the future? Sure. People have told me it would look great on a resume. Perhaps they’re right. But that’s not my ‘why.’ If I’m a hundred percent honest with myself. I don’t even think it’s because I want to help refugees. Don’t get me wrong, I do want to do that, but it’s not my ‘why.’
My ‘why’ is simple and concise, but at the same time complex and vague. Perplexing too. But it brings me peace. I am not afraid.
This next step is one of many small steps God has laid out for me to take. I don’t know where it leads. I may wander around for a bit, but I know I won’t be lost. This is just another small step God wants me to take with Him. That’s all the ‘why’ I need.
“Show me where it hurts, God said, and every cell in my body burst into tears before His tender eyes.
He repaid me though for all my suffering in a way I never wanted:
The sun is now in homage to my face, because it knows I have seen God.
But that was not His payment.
The soul cannot describe His gift.
I just spoke about the sun like that because I like beautiful words, and because it is true:
Creation is in homage to us.”—Rabia
This hiatus will soon come to a close and I will again find myself pouring out my thoughts, reflections, and observations onto this digital archive.
Next destination: Amman, Jordan [along with other countries in the area}
Purpose: to learn, to experience, to grow
This study abroad is going to be a big step in my life. After I come back, I will be halfway done with my Junior year, wholly invested into my majors and academic goals, and starting ‘one shoe in’ towards my life goals.
I remember I wanted to live somewhere far from this land of suburbia before I went off to college. But now, after traveling a bit, seeing the world, spending some time elsewhere, I dig this place a lot.
Torrance is one of the largest industrial cities in California - home to an Exxon Mobil refinery, Honda, Toyota, and once upon a time Nissan as well. However, it’s also heavily residential - 5 public high schools, 8 middle schools, and many more elementary schools. It’s overall a very convenient place to live. I’ve come to love this place.
Still, I must say that my ties to this place don’t run so deeply merely because of the convenience it provides, or the fairly consistent weather. No. I would say it’s the people who live here. My family (the ones I had no choice in having as well as the ones I picked) makes this place home.
Every year I come back from BC, they grow (for the most part) and change, and I can witness all that has gone on in their life while I was away. It’s a sobering realization that life really moves at its own pace and will not wait for anyone. Still, I’m glad that it’s always moving forward for the people I love - to greater and bigger things.
These people are the ones that get me up and moving in the morning, the ones that I can spend countless hours doing nothing at all with, the ones that make one another angry, so that we all learn to forgive one another and enable each other to better love. These are the people I have come to call home.
In this world everyone is preoccupied with something. Some are preoccupied with love for women, some with possessions, some with making money, some with learning - and each one believes that his well-being and happiness depend on that. And that also is God’s mercy.
Religion does indeed divide people. But, everyone strives for somethıng - a deeper meaning or truth. We’re all searching for something. İn that searching, we are unified.
Lately, I’ve been feelıng out of place. Accordıng to my Christian missionary frıends, I should be careful to not ‘lose sıght of the truth’ (what they believe to be universal truth). Obvıously, they didn’t quite agree with some of my beliefs. Among Muslıms, I know I’m dıfferent because I’m Christian. Where do I fit in?
We don’t have an accessıble body of objectıve moral knowledge. We belıeve that certain thıngs are bases of moral knowledge for us (ex. Bıble, Torah, Quran), but no matter how hard we may believe ıt to be so, ıt doesn’t make ıt an absolute truth. We can belıeve them to be so, but another person has no more reason to believe what I believe than I believing theirs.
Truths aren’t sımply truths because somebody claıms them. Truths stand the test of tıme and life. Truths are applıed ın our lıves.
When İ claım “Jesus ıs the Way, the Truth, and the Lıfe,” I have to stop and thınk about what ın my lıfe attests to thıs truth. What can I present to somebody who doesn’t belıeve thıs as proof that my lıfe ıs infinitely better now that I have faith in Jesus as the Messiah? I honestly can’t provıde anythıng objectively that’ll logically persuade them that my life ıs better (than theırs) now that I have Jesus ın my lıfe.
All I can do is love.
We forget that the Truth Jesus stood for is that ‘God so loved the world that He gave Hıs only Son to dıe for our sins.’ The Truth ıs that God loves us. Jesus ıs that fınal perfect revelatıon of God’s Love displayed ın flesh for all the world to wıtness. The Truth Jesus claımed wasn’ the truth of an ınstıtuıonalızed Chrıstıan religion, although that ıs what ıt was later adopted ınto. Jesus claımed the Truth of God’s Love. God’s Truth - not a sımple absolute truth claım.
We can twıst what Jesus claımed ınto an exclusıve absolute truth claım once we start takıng ıt upon ourselves to judge or grade how well others agree wıth our belıefs. Once we do this, it no longer becomes a truth that sets people free. It becomes a truth claim that condemns. The only way God’ Truth can free people is if we stop gettıng in its way. We have to stop evaluatıng other people’s beliefs and start living out the Truth in our own lives - love them. We have to stop pushing our faıth and beliefs on other people as if they were objective facts that they should know. İnstead, let our lıves be the proof of thıs Truth.
I choose to believe that we live ın a fallen world - something that people are not morally or ıntellectually obligated to concur with, but something one who is a Christian must believe in. However, ıf a Muslim brother doesn’t see lıfe ın such a perspectıve, I refuse to take ıt upon myself to try to demonstrate to hım how crappy our lıfe ıs, and how wretched we are, that we must be lıvıng ın a fallen world. Instead, I’m goıng to love hım even more and try to help hım see God ın every part of hıs lıfe. From there, God wıll do the rest.
Lovıng vıgorously wıth God’s love doesn’t equate to prosletyzıng. ‘Make disciples in my name’ doesn’ necessıtate convertıng (thınk about ıt). I’m not goıng to try and convert somebody to my belıefs or my faıth. I’m goıng to love them and encourage theır walk wıth God, however they decıde to take ıt. (NOTE: walk wıth God - not wıth themselves or wıth ıdols or Satan).
I think I got ıt rıght with God in my life - at least I believe so - and if I meet somebody who thınks the same (genuınely) ın theır lıfe on theır own path, then I’m goıng to encourage them to dıve ınto theır relatıonshıp wıth God deeper, because I have faıth God wıll reveal Hımself to those who genuınely seek and correct those who are humble and hungry for God. I’m not goıng to tell them to get off theır road and start followıng mıne (I have no ıdea where ıt’ll lead). If ıt turns out that they’re not genuınely seekıng, conversıon wouldn’t have helped anyways - they would have just become a lukewarm Chrıstıan.
All our souls yearn for God. We search for thıngs of thıs world and leave ourselves unsatisfied. Christian God, Muslim God, Jewish God - we’re all searching for God regardless of what we may think He’s like and how we portray Him. God is God and our souls yearn for Him. Why can’t we just start helping each other get back to Him?
Budgeting is hard. It makes you think very seriously about what is absolutely necessary in your day to day life.
When I eat, how often am I just treating myself out verses actually eating to get through the day? This is one of those questions that we don’t usually think about. We think that going out to eat isn’t a hard choice to make and the obvious choice to make at times, but when put in perspective, there are so many other things you could eat instead of what you choose to eat (things that are cheaper, healthier). Why do we choose what we choose?
In America, we have the luxury of having a diversity of foods, of being able to travel miles just to eat at a specific restaurant, of swiping our card and paying for it later, of eating more than we need to. Some of us can’t stand eating the same thing over and over again (sometimes even two days is too much), and we make it our job to find a different place to eat every meal. We’ll drive 20+ miles if we have to.
The reality is, the majority of the world dont’ have our luxuries and it’s easy to forget that. It’s easy to take things for granted. We lose appreciation for what we have and our heads get swelled up with out sense of entitlement.
Trying to live on this budget has reminded me of all that I have and all that my mom works for. It taught me to check my spending. It’s fine to treat yourself out once in a while, but once it gets difficult to differentiate when you’re treating yourself out and when you’re just frivolously spending - that’s a problem. It’s a problem I don’t want to have. It’s not like I’m struggling through the day to find food to eat or water to drink. The difficulty is in abstaining from trying to satisfy my petty comfort wishes like eating McDonald’s, or buying a soda.
I grew up in luxury (personally, I think many of us in the U.S do - not all of us). But now, I don’t have the luxury to live like that.
That’s the amount I have in cash. It’s also the amount I want to limit myself to using for the next 10 days.
I’m anticipating 80TL for my bus ride to and fro Ankara. Tack on another 30-40 TL for my cab ride to the airport. That leaves me with about 50 TL for food.
Food-wise it isn’t so bad. There’s a place down the street from where I’m staying (Professor Morris kindly let me crash at his place) where it’s 1 TL for pilaf and another for bean stew. Realistically, I can get by with 5 TL a day for all my meals.
Getting to the Great Istanbul Bus Station will be a journey in itself as well. Hopefully, once I get into Ankara things will take a more leisurely pace. Even though it’s the end of the program, I still feel like I have tons of things to do everyday. Still lingering stress.
Today, we visited Hajji Bektaş’s shrine on our way to Ankara. Also, I finally discovered my personal connection to the shrines I’ve visited.
It hasn’t been easy trying to relate to a tradition that I’m not familiar with (again coming from a Protestant background). Visiting shrines and pilgrimages were just not in my vocabulary. I couldn’t quite grasp why anyone would go. What made these places so special? Just because somebody is buried there (regardless of how great they were when they were alive), does that make the place holy? Do people HAVE to go on these pilgrimages? Why? What if they’re not even buried there?
Lots of questions.
But today, it was somewhat different. I didn’t come to know why people around the world visit these holy places. I still don’t know the reason for why other people do it. I just came to know why I would.
It’s peaceful and calm in many of these places. It was in these places that I was able to hear all the different voices in my head - questions, complaints, worries, doubts, anxieties… From there, I began to be able to slowly one by one quiet them until all that was left was one voice. God’s.
It’s hard to tell in the daily conundrum of life, what voice is whose. Mine, my mom’s, friend’s, teacher’s, God’s - it all becomes mashed up together into white noise. Noise that we try to distract ourselves from. But it was in this last shrine, that I was able to realize the internal process that has been going on for the last couple of weeks. One by one, I was able to put a lid on all the other noises until finally I came to hear God’s voice only. It wasn’t a loud voice either. It was in the silence itself. It was presence.
It was only then that things started to click. Questions I had were answered gradually one by one. I don’t have all the answers to all my questions, but I have more than I started off the trip with and that’s fine by me. God answers - always - but I may not exactly be able to hear Him, or I’m trying to hear the loudest voice. It’s not always the case that God is the loudest. However, if one prepares his/her heart to truly hear God, one discovers that He’s been inside our hearts all along calling from the inside. Not always the loudest, but always the clearest.