THE SIGHT OF MUSLIM STUDENTS showing up to a church every morning caused some neighbors to complain to religious officials. The authorities questioned Andrew Ng, who explained the church was the only institution willing to provide space for ElShaddai to meet. If the mosque across the street were willing to open its doors, he said, ElShaddai would be more than happy to meet there. That ended the controversy.
While some in the larger Muslim community might be suspicious, many Muslim refugee families send their children to ElShaddai, knowing they will receive a quality English education. They also receive character education with lessons on Biblical values such as integrity, honesty, and patience. Ng Oi Leng sees ElShaddai as an opportunity to show students God’s love and answer their questions. The school also offers Christians the opportunity to love those whom the larger culture disdains.
Suspicion also comes from some churches. They fear working with Muslims could get them in trouble with authorities. Others are uncomfortable working with undocumented foreigners. Still others don’t want to help because they are focused on increasing their own numbers.
Where those Christians see danger or distraction, Andrew Ng sees opportunity. God is bringing people from around the world to Malaysia with very tangible needs—and the school is the means for Christians to reach them. By building trust as educators, teachers and staffers visit their students’ families and get to know community needs and leaders. They send in medical teams to provide treatment and prenatal care for migrants with little access to healthcare.
Although the school has a reputation for its excellent English education, it has also proven itself flexible and willing to change its offerings to meet the needs of its diverse community and reach beyond its comfortable church setting.
ElShaddai created a special accelerated learning program for Rohingya, who are often illiterate and lack formal education. Beyond core subjects—math, English, and science—the school emphasizes life skills (finances and taking care of a family) because Rohingya typically marry young.
ElShaddai staffers realized that Afghan women have little education or English-language skills, so they set up adult classes for them. They also found that many Afghan refugees are capable seamstresses, so they helped create a sewing center. During the pandemic, an NGO paid the refugees to sew masks and PPE for front-line doctors fighting the coronavirus.
THREE YEARS AGO, ElShaddai took an unusual step in order to reach more students. Instead of transporting students to St. Barnabas, feeding them, and looking for churches to offer classroom space, ElShaddai sent teachers into existing migrant-run community schools. Those schools offered rudimentary classes taught in their native languages, but they lacked qualified teachers for English and other core subjects. ElShaddai teachers have raised the educational quality and prepared students for an internationally recognized certificate. ElShaddai now has 10 of those subcenters.
A year later, the school went further. The parent of a Rohingya student was also a leader in the local Muslim community. When teachers from ElShaddai visited the family, they asked if the school could bring a medical team into that community. The Rohingya leader agreed and set it up in the Muslim religious madrassa. Seeing the available space and convenience, Andrew Ng asked if ElShaddai could bring teachers into the madrassa to teach math, science, and English so that parents wouldn’t need to send their kids all the way to the school. The leaders eagerly agreed.
In the morning, the students study the core subjects—including the character classes—with their ElShaddai teachers. In the afternoon they study the Quran with madrassa teachers. Andrew Ng says if students only learn the Quran, they are prepared only to become imams or religious police when they grow up. With a well-rounded education, their options become much broader. Currently ElShaddai is teaching in four Rohingya madrassas.
ElShaddai’s secondary school, Excel, meets a few blocks away from St. Barnabas in a rented space in Klang’s Little India, sandwiched between Bollywood video stores, Indian spice shops, and the blue-domed Masjid India mosque. It began in 2017 and now has 50 students.
This year, eight students plan to take their International General Certificate of Secondary Education exams to become ElShaddai’s first class of graduates, yet concern looms about what comes next. Brima’s son James is one of the eight students preparing for the test, and he worries about how James can afford university fees on their current salary.
Brima knows going back to Liberia isn’t an option even though the country is calmer than when he left. The man responsible for his parents’ death is an important figure in the Liberian army. Brima fears if he ever steps foot back in Liberia, he could be killed.
“What happened to us, we did not pray for it,” Brima said. “No refugee prays, ‘I want a catastrophe to fall on our nation so we can be a refugee.’ Every human wants to live a better life.”
2019 income: $525,267
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Paid staff and semi-volunteers with some allowance: 138
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