It’s hard enough being a Christian at school in the UK. People might think you’re weird, or have outdated beliefs. The pressure to be like everyone else and not stick out too much can mean we don’t often stand up for our faith. But what would it be like to be known as a Christian in a school full of people and teachers opposed to your beliefs?
Rina’s from Sri Lanka. Her Dad is a pastor of a local church. But many in her country are Buddhist or Hindu. And the school she went to had strict, Buddhist teachers.
In 2004 a massive Tsunami devastated her community. The disaster was seen around the world and in the aftermath, instead of helping the children cope with the loss and tragedy, Rina’s teacher said the Christians were to blame – and that they were a curse. Many Christians survived because they went to church (apparently on higher ground) on that Sunday, incidentally keeping themselves out of the devastation. But to Rina’s teacher, the tsunami was punishment for the Christians’ existence —an unwanted price everyone else had to pay.
“She said Christians are bad so the tsunami came and that when the floods subsided, the statues of Buddha remained,” said Rina, who felt singled out. By the end of the assembly, the whole school knew that she believed in Jesus. “At that time, I felt so lonely and so bad about it, but I didn’t hate that teacher, I just prayed for her.”
Rina and her family were untouched by the tsunami, but two of her classmates weren’t as fortunate. The two girls lost almost everything, and Rina felt compassion for them. Without thinking twice, she extended help.
“The same teacher who cursed Christians asked us for a list of the names of everyone who helped my classmates, and a list of all the things we gave them. I approached her and gave her my list.”
Rina donated clothes, pencils, school items, shoes, and bags. Rina’s teacher examined her list, and her lips slowly curved into a small smile.
“She found my list amusing.”
Rina and her teacher ended up talking and she explained, as best as a fifth grader could, that the tsunami didn’t come because of the Christians at all. “She realized that Christians aren’t as bad as she thought.”
“There was a time when some people burned part of our church. When that happened, I didn’t go to school for two or three days. The mob wrote derogatory remarks on our church wall which could be read by everyone passing by our church. I didn’t go to school because of that. Sometimes I feel shy to go outside and meet friends as I am a Christian.”
But by the 10th Grade her school employed a teacher that taught a class on Christianity. Because of this class, Rina learned that there were three other Christians in school. Later on, to her delight, she found out that there were 12 more.
“It was a great pleasure to learn Christianity in our school as it is a Buddhist school. Not every school allows this.”
Rina’s happy ending doesn’t come too often—many schools in Sri Lanka force children to practice Buddhism. Rina’s younger churchmate, 15-year-old Shiloah*, experienced being bullied by her teachers for not participating in their rituals:
“It’s so hard in school because all of them are Buddhist and I am the only one Christian in my class. There are just a few Christians in the school so it’s so hard. I have so many problems because of the Buddhist customs and traditions. There’s a custom that the school and the teachers are forcing me to do – in that custom, we have to offer flowers in front of the statue and to worship the statue and serve food to the Buddhist monks in front of the teachers and the students. The Buddhist custom is called ‘lamasari.’
They are forcing me but I don’t do it because I don’t follow that religion. I am Christian so I don’t do that.
Mostly I don’t go to school during those days when they do these customs. But when I’m made to do it, I don’t say prayers to Buddha, I just put my hands together so that it will look like I am doing it. I don’t worship Buddha. I just put my hands together to symbolize that I am doing [what they want] otherwise the teachers will give me punishment because I’m a Christian. When I do it, I pray to God instead.”
In 2015, Open Doors supported 35 Christian volunteer teachers with the help of a local partner. This year, we are supporting 50 teachers, and each are reaching at least 30 Christian children. We are also working with a major partner in seeking government accreditation for Sunday School classes as religion classes.
“The law of the country, which is the education ordinance, actually provides freedom for each and every student in their school to observe their own religion,” says a representative of our local partner. “And the law also states that you cannot force a child to observe any religion that’s not theirs—but the school principal, the local government authorities, the administrators, this is what they do.”
“With the support of Open Doors, we are able to support volunteer Christian teachers who go into these government, Buddhist, or Hindu dominant schools, and teach Christianity to students who cannot learn it in their schools.”
*Names changed for security reasons
We support people who are beaten, tortured,
imprisoned, falsely accused, and hated simply for following Jesus.