Meet the Most Enthusiastic English Teacher at BethBC: Dee Lewis.
People love Bethlehem, Palestine, and Bethlehem Bible College in particular. They come from all over the world during the year to visit, to volunteer, and to teach at our campus. Their lives are changed, their perspective on the situation is changed as well, through living and communicating with the native Palestinian people, and observing their daily life.
Today we are featuring one of our favorite, and longest-lasting English teachers, our beloved Dee, an amazing American woman from Michigan. I interviewed her, to see why after nine years she still comes every year to teach English at BethBC.
When was your first visit to the Holy Land?
My first visit to the Holy Land, the Israeli parts in particular, was 13 years ago. Then, we only briefly visited Bethlehem, and that was the only part of the West
Bank that we visited. I never saw the rest of the West Bank. And then I kept coming back. They say that once it is in your blood you just keep coming, it’s there and it is part of me. When my pastor (who studied at Jerusalem University College) said that anybody can attend in the summer, I joined the 5 week program at JUC.
How did you know about BethBC?
That’s a funny story; after I finished studying at JUC, I volunteered there for two years. I didn’t know anything about the Bible College then. At JUC I met Bart DenBoer, who was a volunteer at BethBC, and he had come to study for two weeks at JUC with his wife. We talked and became friends. And then they said: “Dee, you need to come to Bethlehem, to hear to the other side of the story.”
I thought that Palestinians were all terrorists, or all Muslims. I had a very prejudiced, narrow view of Arabs and Palestine. Bart and his wife had led tours to Bethlehem, and always were very connected to the Bible College. They encouraged me to come to volunteer, even for just one week. So I came, only for one week, and I volunteered, but I kept coming back to the family who hosted me, because I fell in love with them. I went back for three years to live with them! I was living with this family, and volunteering at BethBC, teaching English courses to the community.
Why do you chose to volunteer at BethBC every year?
What led me to keep teaching English after I volunteered for only a week, was Dr. Bishara Awad, the founder of BethBC. He came to the US to speak about the College, and I met him there, and he invited me to come to teach English. Sometimes all it takes is an invitation.
Tell me more about your relationships with BethBC staff.
When I first came here, Daniel Aqleh, a former BethBC staff, was my translator, and he was the one who helped me to adjust here. He translated to the students, and that helped. Samar (the receptionist) was always there, ready to make coffee, smiling, cheerful, happy, and always assisting me to make my stay here at the College pleasant. Dr. Bishara Awad was also welcoming too, and I went to the church with him and his wife. And Pastor Alex Awad (former Dean of Students) was a huge influence. How do I pick one? Everybody at BethBC is so welcoming.
How do you see BethBC’s mission among the community?
I really like that BethBC has opened the door to the community to be here and learn English, and that they have different volunteers that come here. The challenge is that after I leave, sometimes students don’t have anyone else to teach them. So that’s why I encourage anybody that’s interested in teaching English courses to come.
How did your stay in Bethlehem change your life?
When I first came here, I met with Pastor Attalah, who used to be the Director of the Academic Department of BethBC. We would talk, and he would share stories of his life as a Palestinian Christian, how he would go in different areas, or go through checkpoints, and how he was badly mistreated. In spite of that, he would always love, because he is a Christian – now that stood out for me. Wow, we in the US have no idea of what persecution is, until we have to go through checkpoints, or be abused in those different ways.
Because I’m a city person, I was impacted by how much the people here are connected to the land. We don’t understand the value of the land that is being taken from you, because we live in big cities and we don’t have that connection.
The Palestinian Culture
After my first year of teaching, which was a bit of a cultural shock, I was learning about the Arab culture, I was seeing the differences. The students I was teaching were Muslims, so I was learning more about Islam, and it was very interesting. Many of my Muslim students invited me to eat at their houses, and I went. And it was so welcoming. I started seeing the Bible stories, like when Abraham hosted people, or in Psalms: “My cup runs over.” I totally related to that, because here I was so filled with love, because of the hospitality. How could you not come back? So, I kept coming back, and every year I see a few of the students, and the circle continues to grow, it is just too much fun.
What impresses me the most is the difference I see in the people I’m with. They know how to laugh and make the best out of a difficult situation, and I don’t hear a lot of complaining (about difficult problems, like getting a job and providing for the family). I just hear and see how much the family supports each other to get through the different problems, so that is always impressive to me.
What do you say to the internationals who are afraid to come to Palestine?
They are missing a lot! The first year I came here, I had in my class a student who worked in the police, and he said: “Dee, you have nothing to fear here in Bethlehem,” but he still gave me his card, “if you do, just give me a call.” I never had to call! Now after being here for 9 years, I walk at 11:00 at night by myself to go home, and I have never felt fear, never!
Do you encourage them to come and volunteer at BethBC, and why?
Of course! Come and volunteer at BethBC, because in order to understand Arab culture, you have to live here. And you will fall in love, you just do! The thing that Christian and Muslim families will say most often when you are here: “You are part of our family, and we want you here.” It is something that you don’t hear in the US, and you will be treated like royalty.
Are you still planning to come next year?
I’m hoping to come next year again to BethBC. How can I not come back to my family?
If you want to continue be a learner, come here and you will grow in so many areas. There are so many ways that your eyes will be opened, biblically and culturally. Whatever you learn here you can take back, and hopefully you will find someone to listen to your stories of what’s happening, and then encourage others to come here.
Amira is the Communications Coordinator of Bethlehem Bible College. She is a committed Palestinian Christian who has a passion for writing about the intersection of faith and seeking justice for her fellow countrymen. To read more of her writings sign up for Bethlehem Bible College’s monthly newsletter.