Master Teaching

a blog for teachers who follow the Master Teacher

The Winter of my Discontent

The harsh realities of life for the displaced of Syriaby Kenton Kersting

(Given the global refugee crisis, here at Master Teaching we’re reassessing our attitudes and actions toward the ignored and forgotten. We’ve asked ourselves five essential questions which we’ll answer over the next six weeks by revisiting some readers’ favorites. This post helps answer our first question: What’s life like for the ignored and forgotten?)

After serving China and Laos as a volunteer teacher for 15 years, came a re-direct from the Master Teacher to a location across the continent in the Middle East. On January 4, 2015, I landed at the Beirut, Lebanon airport.

Lebanon, with a 40% Christian population, is the least-Middle-East Middle Eastern country. The community in which I now serve, on the eastern border, is even more of an anomaly, being predominantly (90%) Catholic (at least prior to the influx of displaced Syrians beginning four years back which has raised the population from 50,000 to 90,000).

I was detained in Beirut for 10 days after a once-in-twenty-years winter storm shut down the mountain pass between the coastal capital and my new home. On a cold day in mid-January, my driver, Mr. Ali, deposited me at the steps of my guesthouse after driving through the long-closed mountain pass. “That will be $125,” Mr. Ali said. In spite of my 52 years, I almost cried, dumbfounded once again by the country’s high cost of living.

I made him help me tote my seven suitcases and tubs of belongings, representing my past 15 years in Asia, to my room before I paid him. He translated the Arabic note on the bathroom door that there would be hot water from 6:00 to 10:00 p.m., took his $125, and left.

Winter is the off season at this guesthouse, actually a summer retreat center, thus, the skeleton crew and cost cutting measures.

The radiator in the room was cold. In spite of a few hours’ heat that evening, the concrete building retained the winter chill that makes being outside in the sunshine more comfortable than indoors. There were no towels in the bathroom. I found some in a storage closet upstairs. There was no seat on the Western toilet in my room. A domed metal space heater was my initial source of heat. I plugged it in. It sizzled, and I warmed my knees by it.

I wrote my supervisor with the news that I had finally arrived. “I’m here,” I shared and added wanly, “I’m OK.”

Which I was (and am).

Just miles away, on the other side of the city, were tens of thousands of displaced Syrians, people bereft of their belongings.

I had just moved seven suitcases full of stuff across the continent and country by air cargo and overpriced taxi.

Most of the displaced live in makeshift housing and tents. Some have electricity; some don’t. Most have no running water, and their only hot water is from a kettle off a cooking stove in their dwellings. There are no toilet seats in the camps because there are no toilets (as we know and prefer them). There’s little or no money.

(Bottom line: I had the $125 to pay the taxi driver.)

The lame space heater quit sizzling and fizzled out completely. I unplugged it and crawled into bed under two comforters.

Across town there were pallets on floors, not beds; not enough blankets; canvas walls instead of concrete to shelter from the outdoor chill. Fourteen people had died of exposure in the storm that kept me out of the region for over a week, ten of them children who died in one night.

I had an advocate here in the principal of the school where I was to work who picked me up the next morning and introduced me to the staff.

The Syrians who crossed the border came with no advocates and were not greeted by friends on this side. They don’t yet have an Advocate at the right hand of the Father who intercedes for them.

The “winter of my discontent” was short-lived by these reminders from the Master Teacher and warmed by the acknowledgement and an outpouring of thanks and praise to Him for all that I did have.

Indeed, I am OK.

Further exploration

For more photos/videos of what it’s like to be displaced and without advocate or Advocate:

What’s your perspective?

We welcome your comments on any of the ideas in this post or in answer to the questions below.

  • How can we help those who are without advocate and Advocate?
  • How would you answer the question: What’s life like for the ignored and forgotten? 
  • How would you assess your attitudes and actions toward the ignored and forgotten?

Post Author

About the Author picture

In moves orchestrated by the Master Teacher, Kenton Kersting has taught English in China, Laos and Lebanon and can now be misunderstood in four languages. He is grateful for the graciousness of shop keepers who understand that mooing while holding up one finger and (miming) turning a crank with the other hand means he wants one kilogram of ground beef and clucking means he wants eggs.

He’s thankful for heaven’s grace which enables him to bridge the gap between two cultures, two languages and two heights (his two meter frame and those of his first, second and third grade students) in the classroom.

In spite of all (and most of all), Kenton is grateful for the guiding hand of the Master Teacher Who has never misled him in this wonderful sixteen-year journey abroad.

Photo Credit: Kenton Kersting

5 comments on “The Winter of my Discontent

  1. Julie Prentice
    February 16, 2017

    Thank you for this clear reminder about the world outside of ourselves, which it seems that we are often unwilling to see (much less experience). Truly seeing, it feels to me, is a good place to begin.


    • Melissa
      February 16, 2017

      I think so too, Julie, that truly seeing is a good place to begin. Thanks, Kenton, for giving us a glimpse.


  2. Sarah Beth Harmon
    February 21, 2017

    I finally read this article the morning that our water is out for maybe two days. Oh the irony! I’m thankful for the timing though. Its a good reminder of all that I have to be thankful for. Now I shall go gather snow in a bucket with a cheerful heart. Thankful that there is snow to gather! Thanks for sharing this article!


    • Melissa
      March 1, 2017

      I got caught up in leaving that snow (and getting stuck at the airport in it) and forgot to respond to your comment, Sarah Beth. I’m glad you found…comfort?…challenge?…in this post. It was a good reminder to me too to make an attempt at least to enter into the suffering of others and try to understand. May He give us eyes to see and hearts to understand!


  3. Pingback: Hopes and Dreams | Master Teaching

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This entry was posted on February 15, 2017 by in blessing the ignored and forgotten, Kenton Kersting, readers' choice.



Photo Credit: Eric Fischer via Compfight cc
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