By Shanya Perera, K4 teacher at St. Roman Parish School

The freedom to follow Christ without persecution, oppression and death is an anomaly and a blessing many of us take for granted. Certainly, the freedom to integrate faith and learning in the classroom is a rare exception, not the rule. I know this because until I was almost 18 years old, I faced a life of constant persecution and discrimination because as a Christian, I was part of a despised minority. I was born in Sri Lanka and grew up there and in Saudi Arabia. My family had an underground church and a covert Christian ministry in Saudi Arabia that led to our immediate deportation after being discovered, a miracle in itself because we should have been put to death instead. We returned to Sri Lanka where we faced persecution and death threats for being Christ-followers. My sister and I were constantly and openly ridiculed in school by our principal and teachers, had leadership positions withheld and were nearly expelled from school for being Christians. Discussing Christ or acknowledging His presence in the classroom was impossible to do.

My lack of religious freedom growing up served to intensify, not quench, my passion for God’s agape love to be revealed to my students. Throughout the New Testament, Jesus’ passion for children is evident. He made sure His disciples did not get in the way of children coming to Him, raised a child from the dead and even encouraged us to have the faith of little children. I firmly believe that our faith isn’t something to be relegated to a specific time of day or situation. Instead, Christ invites us into a continuous and transforming relationship with Him.

As a teacher with Seton Catholic Schools at St. Roman Parish School, my students learned from their first day that God’s love for them never changes, that Christ died for them and loves when they come to Him with expectant prayers of petition, thanksgiving and confession. For many of my students, this is their first experience in school and that reality is frightening. So they’ve found comfort in the fact that the Holy Spirit is here with them to provide them with wisdom and assistance as they navigate life. My students ask me to pray with them about overcoming their fear of sleeping in their own beds at night, or being kind to their siblings. They ask me fascinating questions about Bible stories we’ve learned about or suddenly burst into thanksgiving to God for their blessings. And each time this happens, my heart bursts with joy at the very different reality these children are experiencing compared to my childhood and early school years.

As I reflect on the responsibility I’ve been given to serve Christ in the field of education, I am overwhelmed by what a blessing it is to finally be free to incorporate my faith into my classroom. Integrating prayer and biblical teachings into lessons provides my class with a strong foundation on which to build the rest of their lives. The Bible promises that a life firmly built on the unwavering foundation of Christ, will never be destroyed in the seas of uncertainties, hardships, disappointments or even successes and blessings. I can think of no better way to equip my students to face life than to teach them to build their lives, their school careers and their hopes and dreams on Christ.