By Amy Galliford
She doesn’t always get to see the fruit of her ministry, but for Linda Salem, there is joy enough in planting the seeds in the classrooms of Kingsford, in Eastern Sydney, as she lives according to the words of Jesus, “Let the little children come to me.”
Every week, armed with extensive psychological education, a light-hearted yet steadfast authority and a tenacious love for the Lord, Linda heads to the local public school to lead Special Religious Education (SRE) classes for students. While today’s SRE comes with a unique set of challenges, Linda’s experience and enthusiasm for sharing the word of God with children makes her just the person to overcome them.
“I’ve always been good with kids – growing up in a big Lebanese family, you’re always looking after your cousins.”
Descending from a line of priests, she grew up in the Orthodox Church but says she was saved at a Billy Graham crusade when she was 17 after several years of witnessing faith in action in the life of a friend. Aside from that, it was in the classes at her Catholic school that she first read the Bible – an intersection of Scripture and education she would return to decades later.
Despite never seeing herself as a leader, she took on a leadership role in the children’s ministry at Kingsford Church of Christ. With that background, she was well-equipped to move into SRE when her church began engaging in more outreach.
Reflecting on her feelings through this time, Linda says, “I thought I couldn’t do it – it’s a big thing to look after children in the spiritual realm. But I remember distinctly asking the Lord for the gift to be able to teach children, and He gave it to me.”
Now, alongside her SRE ministry, Linda also works as a counsellor, serves as an elder at Kingsford Church of Christ and annually attends the Southern Cross Kids Camp (SCKC) as the camp psychologist.
When asked what has driven her commitment to children’s ministries, Linda is quick to answer.
When Linda began teaching SRE in 1995, the rules were much more relaxed. Now, an accredited curriculum ensures that lessons meet the values and goals of education. The curriculum follows a three-year cycle that covers the full arc of the Bible story – “God’s great big plan.” The materials issued by the Baptist Association typically form lessons around an engaging activity, a Bible lesson and some kind of simple written work.
Her psychological training plays a big role in her leadership both in SRE and at SCKC, given the increasing number of behavioural issues evident in schools. In all her children’s ministries, Linda must carry the responsibility of leading kids from highly disadvantaged circumstances.
“The most challenging thing is to practise a non-judgemental stance. You can get so fired up about these kids going home to bad situations. But over the years, you see the breakthroughs by God’s power.”
Beyond such issues in SRE, the increasing opposition to religious education within schools raises its own set of challenges.
“The evidence shows that faith being taught in schools improves mental health and wellbeing in children … but there has been growing opposition in the mainstream curriculum. We make sure we are present and available every week. For the most part, teachers are very welcoming, and the children love to see us.”
Here, in the positive responses and incremental growth of students, Linda finds her relentless drive to continue her ministry.
“You don’t get to see a lot of fruit. You have to dig deep and see the bigger picture of what God is doing in that moment. Because God is working.”
Linda’s friend once told her he was mentoring a young pastor who wanted to teach SRE in a local school. The young pastor explained he had become a Christian in SRE, coincidentally at the school that Linda’s friend knew she had taught at. When asked whether he knew Ms Salem, his face brightened, and he recalled that she was the one that led him to the Lord.
Linda continues planting seeds, trusting that God will water them. She doesn’t always get to see the fruit, but when she does, it’s a harvest that counts.
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