A language school director offers his students more than a language
Khalid dreamed of learning Portuguese, an unusual goal for an Arabic-speaking Middle Easterner. But he wanted to be a tour guide, and a foreign language is a professional asset. That’s how I first met him.
He was excited to sign up for the free Portuguese classes I taught. He was an ambitious student too, excited he could get extra help, and driven to learn. He liked to stay after class and visit. I assumed he just wanted to sharpen his conversational skills. It didn’t take long, though, for us to become friends.
That opportunity appeared the day he messaged me, “My sister has been killed tragically.” He learned she was crossing the street after finishing her university classes for the day when she was struck by a car and killed instantly. He and his sister had been close; he was devastated. I reached out to him, but he disconnected; for a while we had no contact.
I respected the space Khalid needed; I knew how confusing grief can be. Then, after a week I reached out and messaged him. In fact, I began messaging him often. Each time I told him I was praying for him and his family. He responded briefly at first, and then more openly. One day his message was clear, “I am depressed. I have no more desire to do anything, to go anywhere, even to eat.”
I knew he wasn’t doing well. I messaged back wondering if he’d meet me somewhere, anywhere, just so we could talk a bit. I was surprised he responded and suggested a small restaurant nearby.
His younger brother joined us, and the three of us talked easily about life, sports, language learning, university classes. I was grateful that in this simple setting we could laugh together a lot, eat a little, and strengthen our growing friendship. It was only as we took a walk after the meal that the two brothers began talking about their sister and the pain of their family’s loss.
Khalid shared how in his worldview he was not allowed to grieve. He had grown up believing that feeling depressed was evidence of a spiritual weakness. “But I am grieving, I do feel depressed, and I’m supposed to accept this tragic loss as the will of God.” Tears came to him as easily as the guilt that overwhelmed him. The conflict between what he had been taught about life and what he was experiencing of life was hard to watch.
As we walked, I began sharing how I had discovered that God understands me and cares about how I feel. I was able to tell Khalid about God’s love and how He shows it to us freely. I shared with him how grief is a normal emotion that we all experience when we meet loss. I shared what I’d learned in my university training about dealing with overwhelming grief. We talked about how God is in control even when painful things happen. At the end, we stood there along a busy street, in the shadow of a highway ramp, and prayed.
That walk was the beginning of many more visits together. One week he invited me to his home; I began visiting him weekly. That regular time together has given us many opportunities to talk about life. Each week we usually play a game of soccer together, eat a meal, and then have a spiritual discussion. He is dedicated to his religion and we both openly talk about our view of God, but each week he respectfully waits for me to pray before our meals in his home.
As our friendship grows, I sense God has given us a foundation for more and more spiritual conversations. I thank God for giving me the opportunity to offer Khalid the comfort God has for him, but I also thank God for the privilege of opening to him the blessings that are waitingfor him as well.
–A MENA Union Global Mission Pioneer