Humans are vastly diverse, with no two people completely alike; everyone holds something that makes them different: from appearance to style, food preferences to beliefs. These differences can –– and often do –– cause separation but in Southeast Asia, OM teams and partners are working to teach the next generation that love is a great unifier.
Choosing a path
Tina* grew up in Southeast Asia with a Christian mother and a Muslim father in a majority Muslim country. At the age of 13, she made the decision to follow Jesus and began attending church services. Because of fear of religious persecution from both her family and community, she kept her church attendance a secret. Gradually Tina grew tired of hiding her new identity in Christ, so she went to live with her uncle in another city where she felt she would have the freedom to live out her faith more publically.
At first, even in a new city, Tina was bullied by fellow classmates for her faith in Jesus. She felt isolated until she moved into a new place where the owners of the house were Christians. Slowly Tina began to make friends, many of whom were Muslim. But, instead of bullying her for her faith in Jesus, the friends showed Tina love and acceptance and invited her to share how she came to know Christ as her Saviour. From this invitation, Tina discovered she loved sharing her testimony and teaching those who were willing to listen about her faith in Jesus Christ.
Transforming lives through education
Today, Tina works in collaboration with OM to bring education to children in villages –– particularly communities that are often overlooked and underfunded.
“It was my calling to [teach] to the kids here in Southeast Asia, especially [in the marginalised communities],” Tina said. “We basically want to be there, in the middle of the needs of the community and be a part of the transformational development in that community.”
In a rented building, Tina and a team run a learning centre where children in elementary, middle and high school learn educational and valuable life skills that help set them up for future success.
Tina said the children participate in a lot of hands-on lessons in addition to book knowledge. In a recent project for high schoolers, students were tasked with making a meatball-selling business. They had to purchase supplies, distribute the workload, make the product and sell it. In addition to learning the process of making and establishing a business and product, Tina said the students learnt to work through disputes and show each other respect and love.
Tina’s love for sharing her testimony and the gospel is a central part of what pushes her to maintain the children’s ministry. Sharing is not always easy, given her area's political and religious climate.
“Here, we cannot freely talk about the gospel,” Tina said. “We cannot use Christian terms because it will make people [feel like we’re trying to change them and they will be disinterested] … it could also be illegal as well because the law is mostly on the side of the dominant religious group.”
One of the goals of the learning centre is for it to be a tool through which Tina and other team members can build relationships with students and their families, and –– if given the chance –– share a bit about their faith.
“Building the trust and a relationship before sharing the good news is really important here,” Tina said, “and it’s [often not easy].”
In addition to conversations about their belief in Jesus, the learning centre seeks to repair the relationship between religions in the area.
Tina explained that the divide between Christians and Muslims where she lives in Southeast Asia is currently very wide. Often, neither group wishes to know or communicate with the other. Tina also sees this behaviour in students at the learning centre, and she hopes that as children and youth attend the centre, they will learn to love, respect and embrace one another’s differences.
“We want them to see that the world is not just black and white, Muslim and non-Muslim… we want to help them to see the beauty of diversity,” Tina shared.
In addition to the learning centre, Tina said that the first children’s camp in the area has recently been established. Called Peace Camp, the camp’s main goal is to teach children to love the differences in the world and the people around them in the hope of bringing peace and unification to the community.
Precious and limitless
Although Tina loves to share her life story and her faith, she maintains that, if nothing else, she wants the children to know that they are important and worthy of pouring into so that they can be self-sufficient.
“[We want the children to value the idea that they are] really precious,” Tina said. “You can look after yourself, [you don’t have to limit yourself,] you can do more. I think that’s why it’s really important to reach the kids and the family through the kids. The transformation affects their mindset, their perspectives and the way they grow up and see the future.”