Cut off the top of the pumpkin. ‘Cut off’, ‘cut into’, ‘cut out’, ‘cut’ …horrible prepositions. Hollow out the pumpkin, then carve a face. The verbs ‘hollow’ and ‘carve’ were new. Place a lit candle inside and replace the top of the pumpkin.
Unfortunately, within two minutes, the odour of burnt pumpkin filled the room. Nevertheless, it was a fun lesson.
This next class has a coursebook to work through, so we’ll have a brief ‘Halloween culture spot’ and then move on to today’s chapter.
The class members arrive. I point to the candy and the glowing blackened pumpkin, and ask ‘What is special about today?’
“Wan sheng jie!” (Ten thousand spirits festival)
Halloween is mentioned in some popular English coursebooks, so these local English teachers know it exists. I give a brief presentation, followed by several questions.
“Does China have anything similar?”
“Oh yes! We have several ‘Ghost Festivals’. We burn paper images of money and other things so that our dead relatives will be provided for. Of course, we don’t really believe that their spirits live on. It’s just a way of showing respect.”
I bet deep down some of them believe in an afterlife. I think of another teacher friend, a new Christian. Having refused to burn paper money for her recently deceased mother, she was then plagued with incredibly awful nightmares.
“Do some people still believe in a spirit world?”
Kathy, petite, well dressed, an English teacher and a successful businesswoman besides, is quick to answer.
“Sure they do. My mother prays every morning for our family.”
“And who does she pray to?”
Raylene catches my eye, but doesn’t speak. Her mother is a Christian. Raylene claims to ‘somewhat believe’ in God.
Wilma looks up, her narrow eyes gazing thoughtfully through thick glasses.
“It isn’t important what we believe, so long as we’re good people. What is the word for ‘lunhui’ (reincarnation)? If it is true, we’ll come back in a better life next time anyhow. If it isn’t true, we haven’t lost anything.”
The class members nod in agreement and look to me.
“That’s fine IF reincarnation is true. You know I’m a Christian. What if there really IS a God who judges?”
Everybody laughs in embarrassment.
We move onto a cute song about kids going trick-or-treating. The somber atmosphere dissipates like a snowflake in hell….
The topic for the second half of the lesson is ‘complaining’. Students are asked to share their ‘pet peeves’.
Kathy laughs. “I hate it when I step in what dogs do – what is that called?”
What DO we call that?
Raylene sighs deeply then speaks.
“I’m peeved because I have to ask for leave. I don’t know the English word….”
She is silent, looking at the floor, cheeks glowing. Her friend, Wilma, steps in.
“We’re only allowed one child. Raylene is pregnant again. She needs a small operation. What’s that in English?”
They look questioningly at me. Each pair of beautiful brown eyes represents a soul. An eternity. Perhaps even two souls….
“I’m so sorry. It’s called an ‘abortion’.”
They dutifully write the new word into their notebooks. Briefly, I consider the folly of adding the word ‘murder’. I know from experience that this is a much bigger deal to me than it is to Raylene. She sees it as preventing life – an illegal life at that. Still, I can’t let the moment pass without saying something.
“Raylene, this is more than a ‘pet peeve’. This is serious.”
After class, Raylene offers to postpone her medical appointment so that her time away will coincide with that of a planned break. I understand how my Lord felt when he addressed Judas, saying, “What you have to do, go and do quickly.”
Wilma also stays back to ask how she can get a Bible. During her student days, she apparently used to read the Bible in the university library. I refer her to the local church.
As I wearily pack away the black jack-o-lantern and slip a piece of Halloween candy into my mouth, I consider another serious issue that is more than just a ‘pet peeve’.
Due to increasing globalization, many Asians are eager to learn English. An undergraduate degree plus a certificate in English teaching is all you need to find teaching work here. Why don’t more Christians come? Why do we live in comfort in our home countries while others, in ignorance, head for the horror of a Christ-less eternity?
Teaching isn’t for everybody. Eternity is.
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