The Privilege of Teaching
I have the privilege to teach at several seminaries in the United States and sometimes in Canada. I teach an intensive course, six to eight hours a day for five days, Monday through Friday, and at a later date the students send me their book reports and course papers. The only exception is at the Colorado Springs branch of Fuller Seminary, where I teach the course over four weekends. The smallest number of students that I have had in the past was six, and the largest was twenty-five.
Most of my students tend to be mature, sharp and eager learners. My most recent teaching, at Fuller Seminary in Colorado, Columbia International University (CIU) in Columbia, SC, and at Denver Seminary led me to reflect on my position as a professor.
As I thought about my role as a teacher, Eric Liddell came to mind in the movie “Chariots of Fire.” When his sister expressed her concern that his running training was distracting him from his mission work, he said to her: “I believe that God made me for a purpose. But He also made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure.”
Upon returning home after teaching for eight hours one Saturday, I said to my wife, Barbara: “I believe that God made me for a purpose. He created within me a love for teaching, and when I teach thoughtful, teachable students, I feel His pleasure.”
And thankfully, God affirms our purposes (my wife and I) each and every time I teach. You see, my class deals with Islam and current events. I recognize that as an Arab Christian, having lived the first 50 years of my life in the Middle East, God has given me a unique understanding of Muslims and their worldview. It is a privilege for me to help Christians, primarily American Christians, whose dominant view is through the lens of 9/11, see the Muslims as a people created in the image of God and are in need of Christ instead of seeing them as the Ninevites that Jonah believed were not deserving of God’s mercy.
At the end of each course, my students send me their responses to the class time we had that day or weekend including insights they gained (‘aha’ moments), issues they are struggling with or disagreements with things I taught. Here are some quotes from some of my students (permission granted from all of them).
--- "Your course is the single most important class I have taken up to date. The ideas discussed, the books that have been read… the questions that were posed and the viewpoint and theology have been helpful in better understanding Islam. Overall this class has reshaped my thoughts on Islam and given me a better understanding of how to reach Muslims with the gospel. As I am graduating this semester with my Masters in Muslim Studies, I felt like this class was the cherry on the top, tying everything together. I wish that every church in America could have a chance to sit in on this class. My prayer is that I steward this information well."
--- "This class was truly one of the best I've ever taken. I love walking away from a class feeling like I've learned so much that it has a significant impact on my worldview. I will highly recommend this class to every other student I get a chance to tell about it!"
--- “This weekend was again very impactful. It was refreshing to have a break from the gut wrenching issues that we have previously discussed. I was filled with passion this weekend, not with the passion for knowledge and justice, but a passion to have a better relationship with Jesus Christ and dedicate more time to improving my prayer life. I have learned so much over the past weeks; it has had a profound impact on my life and my outlook on the world. I am eternally grateful to God for opening my heart to have compassion toward Muslims.”
--- “This weekend’s classes were extremely eye opening. I would be so bold to say that these last two days were the most eye opening of all the classes I have taken so far.”
--- “Concerning the week as a whole, I would have to say that the Lord has really used the class to tenderize my heart toward Muslims. I realize I had somewhat shut down toward Muslims because of the constant flow of media inciting fear and hate.”
--- “This week has had a profound impact on my heart and I just feel incredibly blessed for the experience. Thank you for all of the time, effort, energy and prayer you put into this week. I have had a few friends take this course in the past, and they all told me it was their favorite class they took at CIU and now I know why. I am committed to praying for Muslims and for you both and your ministry! … ‘Mary’ as well has been telling everyone that it was her favorite class she has ever taken in her life. It truly blessed us both and was an encouragement to us especially in our ministry.”
--- “I have gained an incomprehensible amount of knowledge on this subject over the past five days. I will certainly be reading and then re-reading this material in the weeks to come to continue to gain more insight on Islam, current trends and evangelism methods. I plan on praying on a daily basis for Muslims and praying for opportunities to build relationships with Muslim women in my area. I feel empowered and closer to the heart of God after taking this course.”
A professor at another institution who teaches world religions and took the course wrote: “Everything this week has contributed to understanding the Muslim world in a radically new light. I am so grateful, especially for this new transformed view as I teach next semester.”
Upon reading these responses I felt God's pleasure, at the same time I reminded myself, and continue to remind myself that what I am passing on to those students is my limited understanding, the "two fish and five loaves" and when he chooses to multiply and bless, I stand in awe. He deserves all the glory.