I try to be progressive and connected in my ESL lessons. So after teaching numbers, it seemed logical to teach time, then days and months, then dates (ordinal numbers), blending in present, future and past tenses in a more contextual way. So far, so good.
The next step for last night's class was to talk about holidays - a more interesting way to practice dates. We talked about birthdays and anniversaries and such, and once people got the hang of it, I shared some holidays that are important in America, thanks to a great resource by Bill Perry, A Look Inside America. Since 4th of July is coming up soon, I thought it might be a good one to focus on, so I told them a little bit of the history and traditions. They loved this, because they love America, and many of them can't wait to celebrate their first 4th of July this year.
I had people in my class last night from Congo, Burma, and Mexico, so I asked them to get into small groups with the other people from their country and put together a short presentation about a holiday they celebrate in their country. The Mexican group talked about their Independence Day (from France, of all places... who knew?) in September, with parades, food, and dancing. The Burmese talked about their Karen New Year in December, which they celebrated in the Thai refugee camps with a feast and prayer of thanksgiving.
The Congalese holiday is the one that really interested me... it's a big holiday, but seemingly for no purpose but to thank God. You might think, "Oh, like our Thanksgiving Day," but I don't think it is the same. For one thing, they don't sit on couches like potatoes in a turkey coma watching football. This is a huge celebration, with music - singing and dancing (which the women demonstrated for us) and preaching and praying and praising. But like our Thanksgiving, they spend this time thanking the Lord for his provision and blessings... which is a big deal to me, because they celebrate in the midst of civil wars, corrupt government, malnutrition, sexual violence, malitia, and other dangers.
I started thinking about the 4th of July, how I presented our traditions of eating hamburgers and hotdogs and watching parades and fireworks... how we celebrate because of our freedom and rights and safety in America. And I thought about Thanksgiving, and how we celebrate because God has given us so much. But what if we didn't have much? What if we weren't free and safe? What if we had no rights? Would we still praise the name of the Lord?
Christians all around the world do this all the time, and most of them are more passionate and vocal about their praise than we who have plenty of food and a sturdy house. I realized this as Odette and Marta danced and sang, "Thank you, Jesus! Praise the Lord! Hallelujah!" as their smiles stretch wide across their faces. They sing and dance because God is good... "oll de time!" - He is good today, when they are safe in America, and he was good last year when they were hungry in Congo... and he will be good next year, no matter what the circumstances. Many people in their countries serve gods who are not good, so these women rejoice that they have a good God whom they serve, and who loves them always.