a blog for teachers who follow the Master Teacher
Last fall before COVID-19 began to disrupt life around the world, my teaching team in southern Iraq began the dance of displacement. After one month in-country and only one week in the classroom, we left our university for a standard visa run. To date, we’ve not been back. Within two days of our exit, civil protests effectively shut down the government including the visa office and then our school. Sadly, the protests turned bloody. Over 500 people were killed nationwide in the following months.
In the quiet autonomous region of Kurdistan in northern Iraq, we waited for word that we could return. First, it was tomorrow, then next week, next month and finally next year. For one steeped in the Protestant work ethic, it was a challenging quest for purpose and usefulness under conditions we continued to think were temporary, in a place without work, and in a city that I struggled to call home. Months later, in spite of my heart knowing better than to wallow, I would wander the city streets, away from my teammates, fighting tears of depression over the absence of purpose.
Then, one winter’s evening in a moment of spiritual lucidity, I decided to . . . well . . . pray, instead of mope. I took to the streets in communion with the Father as I petitioned through the burdens on my heart, principally my cry for purpose.
Four blocks later, I came across an acquaintance “Miraz,” a teenaged gum-seller, along with two of his buddies. One of Miraz’s friends gestured “food” by a raised hand to his mouth. My heart’s cry for purpose was answered by three hungry boys in the Master Teacher’s classroom on a cold street in February.
We went across the street to the warmth of a restaurant and ordered. The boys spoke Kurdish; my English and basic Arabic were useless. Via the universal language of smiles and gestures we exchanged names: Kenton, Miraz, “Royar” and “Fadil.” The latter added “Georgie” after his given name, perhaps something picked up from some exposure to Western media. I looked at him and launched into the nursery rhyme:
Georgie Porgie, pudding and pie
Kissed the girls and made them cry
When the boys came out to play
Georgie Porgie ran away!
They turned to one another with “Is he done?” looks, and then Fadil, breaking into a grin, gurgled in his throaty voice, “Georgie Porgie,” the only partially-comprehensible phrase to them. We all erupted in laughter.
With the help of the calculator on my phone, I learned their ages: Miraz—16, Royar—16, and Fadil (Georgie Porgie)—13. The three guessed at my age: 30, 45 and 50. My flattered 57-year-old self ordered a round of Pepsis for all of them.
We were gifted with a beautiful 40 minutes together, out of the night chill, with their delighting in food and a lifestyle that I’ve taken for granted. Though they were the recipients of the tall American benefactor, I was the one receiving the greater blessing from a Greater Benefactor with my heart’s cry for purpose answered in the company of these three.
An encounter with the Master by another stranger in a strange land ends with her exclamation: “Here I have seen the One who sees me!” (Hagar, the handmaid of Sarah, in the wilderness south of Canaan)
“Here I have seen the One who sees me!” (Kenton, a beloved child of our Father, northern Kurdistan)
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In moves orchestrated by the Master Teacher, Kenton Kersting has taught English in China, Laos, Lebanon, and (briefly) in Iraq. He’s grateful for the 21 years of experiences and memories in these four countries and for the life lessons taught along the way. In any given country/culture, he credits heaven’s grace as the factor enabling him to bridge the gap between two cultures, two languages and two heights (his two meter frame and that of most anyone else in any country in which he’s lived). Most of all, Kenton is grateful for the guiding hand of the Master Teacher who has never misled him in this (bottom-line) wonderful 21-year journey abroad.