Pupil gives thanks for the love, comfort and care provided at his Christian school
"What makes our school different from all other schools is the love we feel, the comfort and care we receive and, most important, we are all Christians in class.” So says Rafael who thanks God for St Aphrem’s School, Bethlehem, which he has attended for almost five years, starting at the age of four.
“I find my refuge in this wonderful school,” adds Rafael, who is in a special needs class with four other children of the same age. “I do not feel anywhere more happier.”
“We pray that Jesus keeps our school safe”
“I feel closer to Jesus every day,” he explains. “I feel He takes care of us and brings us happiness and blessings because we talk to Him every day … and we pray that Jesus keeps our school safe and becomes bigger and bigger.”
Rafael’s father is unable to work because of poor health, and his mother supports the family, including Rafael’s two siblings, from what little she earns as a helper for the elderly.
They are among the poorest Christian families at St Aphrem’s who cannot afford even their daily needs, and the school strives its best to help them. Thanks to the donations of Barnabas supporters, it can offer minimal fees, or in some cases no fees at all, so that Christian children, like Rafael, can attend.
The school provides books and stationery for the poorest children. It also sources donations of food for their families from some of the better-off school parents as well as supporters in the wider community.
Poverty has grown during the Covid-19 pandemic, which badly affected the tourism sector in which many Bethlehem Christians worked. Parents lost their jobs and incomes and, with few signs of a revival in visitor numbers, they are continuing to struggle. At the same time prices for food and daily essentials are rising.
Head teacher Miss Amal Behnam explains that since St Aphrem’s opened in 2003 it has been committed to spreading the values and teachings of the Lord, despite the difficulties that Bethlehem Christians face living as a minority in a non-Christian society.
She says the school enables students to “realise the power and strength of being strong Christian believers, fearless and yet cautious, and remarkably well-behaved citizens”.
School is more important than ever
However, St Aphrem’s still faces great challenges, particularly because the number of Christians in the Muslim-majority city is dwindling as more believers emigrate. Miss Amal explains that, at this time, it is even more important to preserve St Aphrem’s because it provides a Christian education in a safe and secure environment to 650 students – 96% of whom are from Christian families.
She thanks the Lord for His blessings and gifts. “[The] challenges are great,” says Miss Amal, “but with God’s grace and the loving care of Barnabas we shall survive them all.”