Defining our Oasis
June 06, 2012 | President's Slice
By Joe Hale
Several years ago, NICS was challenged to re-think our philosophical approach in certain countries. We were limited in our effectiveness and expansion by using our traditional approach—operating overtly Christian schools. Many countries remained “closed” to us, as our religious identity made us suspect in regard to our motive for being there.
We went through the process of asking ourselves questions like, “if presence is all we can have, would we still want to be there?” (instead of being satisfied with someone else being there). The answer was clearly yes. Would we still want to be there if we could not as openly share our faith? Again, the answer was yes. For this reason, Oasis International Schools was born!
Since this time, we have learned through our Oasis schools (5 out of 21) that we can have an effective impact by respecting our host countries through adjusting our approach. Each Oasis location is different in that some are so strict (like Afghanistan) regarding religious issues that we cannot freely share our faith, teach Bible, have chapel services, etc.; others (like Turkey and Malaysia) welcome our presence and allow religious freedom, but simply want us to be careful not to require Biblical instruction for non-Christians; places like the Far East ask us not to share our faith with nationals; similarly, Indonesia has restrictions that allow the free practice of religion, but forbids any effort to convert others. Even in places with total religious freedom (like Singapore), we are encouraged simply to show respect to other religions by not “flashing” our religion in the face of others.
The dictionary defines oasis this way: “something serving as a refuge, relief, or pleasant change from what is usual, annoying, difficult, etc.”
Let’s note some characteristics of an oasis:
1. An oasis is effective through being more than doing. One will not see an oasis trying to turn the rest of the desert green, nor shooting its water out into the sand. An oasis exists because it is connected with a water source, resulting in water doing what water does… bringing forth life!
An Oasis school is effective, not because of our freedom (or lack thereof) to share in the same way we might in other locations. On the contrary, sometimes the simple presence of salt and light are more meaningful than relying on words or religious activity. Trees in an oasis provide shade simply because it’s the nature of trees to cast shadows; the same is true of people… presence means everything. We need not feel that the only presentation of Good News comes with words; sometimes it’s simply one weary traveler sharing with another where he found water.
2. An oasis is effective because of its location. Palm trees, grass, shade and greenery are present in most places of the earth, but when surrounded by hundreds or thousands of miles of hot, parched sand, a place of contrast takes on particular significance.
Location is another factor; it is a simple fact that a cold bottle of water is more desirable on a hot summer day than it is in the cold of winter. One can make the likely assumption that most people walking outside on a very hot day will be thirsty. Often Oasis schools are located in places where there are great needs (of every kind). We must remember that “a cold cup of water” is in our grasp and we have much to offer those who are thirsty.
3. An oasis does not discriminate in bringing refreshment to all weary travelers. Race, age, ethnicity nor direction of the traveler are issues for the oasis… she welcomes all who come her way.
Finally, we must serve without expectation or ulterior motives. It is not ours to determine who “drinks at our well” and who does not; rather, it is our heart simply to make sure refreshing water is available when weary travelers pass our direction. We offer a drink with no expectations… with no restrictions… with no discrimination. We do not share our “water” because we are obligated to share; we do not share trying to define and record results; we do not share with force. We share because we, too, were once thirsty and we grasp the thirst-quenching nature of water.
So, what does it mean for a faith-based agency like NICS to operate a division like Oasis? Simply that our ability to impact the lives of students is more about what we live out before them daily than a prescribed combination of words, strategies or plans. Isn’t the same true for all believers? Sometimes we speak loudly of our faith, other times we calmly whisper, and sometimes we just smile and watch Him at work.
Clearly, given the option, there’s nothing better than living out our faith AND using words. Many places in this world allow both, and we would always choose both when possible. The staff at NICS schools do this very effectively. However, in places where words cannot always be spoken, “living words” can be read by everything we do! This is our Oasis.