A disclaimer to start. I tell this story because it has a moment of true beauty to it and I’m trying to do it some justice. To get to that moment though, faith and culture may get caught in the crossfire. This story is in no way a jab against any culture or creed. The flip side is true as well. I don’t write it as an endorsement of a particular faith or culture, either. It’s just a moment laced with some beauty and I hope it is taken that way. So, here we go.

If Spanish is your first language, we’ve got you covered here.

It’s Southern California and we know our audience. We’ve got instructional assistants, teachers, and other staff members that speak Spanish well. Our English Language Development is primed for the native Spanish speaker. Our number of families that check Latino on school forms hovers around 80%. It just makes sense.

If Egyptian is your native tongue, then we are a bit limited.

No one here speaks Egyptian, well or otherwise. Of course, kids are truly resilient, particularly when it comes to acquiring language. I have seen kids with no knowledge of English pick up an amazing amount in a matter of months. It’s a joy to watch when you get a chance—progress in over-drive.

The new boy speaks only Egyptian.

He is brand new to the country; no language references and no culture connections, either. He is an in island, of sorts. His teacher is in luck. There is a little girl in the room who speaks Egyptian and English. She is second generation and the perfect liaison to help navigate the new student back and forth between both languages and some of the nuances that go with each.

When asked to translate and answer questions for the boy, the young girl is only too eager to help. She nods emphatically and moves her seat next to him. She is excited for the chance to illuminate a brand new world for somebody.

For the first few days, the teacher notices nothing.

The boy never asks any questions of the girl. When she attempts to translate, the boy works to ensure no eye contact is made. Occasionally, he leans to the girl and whispers a few, short phrases. Something is up. At the end of the day, the teacher pulls the young girl aside.

“I notice he doesn’t seem to ask anything. Ever. Is he understanding anything at all?”

The girl nods. “Some.” He is very strong in math and understands during math.

“What about the rest?

“I’m not really sure,” she says, looking a little uncomfortable.

“What’s the matter?”

“He refuses to accept my help because I am a girl.”

“Oh, I am so sorry that I put you in that situation. I didn’t realize.”

“It’s okay,” she says calmly.

“But, I did notice him talking to you very briefly from time to time.” The young girl nods.

“Yes. He is forbidden to talk to me. His parents won’t allow it because I am a Christian.”

The teacher seems confused by this. “Then, what was he saying to you?”

“He was cursing me because of my faith.”

By now, the teacher feels awful.

Again, I am truly sorry. It was insensitive of me. I deeply apologize for all of this.”

The girl just smiled. “No, no. Don’t be sorry. I want to thank you, really.”

“Thank me?”

“Yes. I thank you for the opportunity. My mother was so proud of me because I used my faith.” She smiled, pondered her sentence, and then corrected herself. “I am my faith,” she said proudly.

I have heard it explained that if you discard or ignore your values when they are tested, then you don’t really have any values. You have something more akin to hobbies. No hobbies here—just faith.

I thought about ending with the lines about children inheriting the kingdom of God. It’s a good Bible reference. But, I think the words from her own pure heart work best—

“I am my faith.”


Click here for more inspiring stories from Chris Bowen.


Feature image courtesy of Flickr, woodleywonderworks.

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