Last summer, second-year student Jessica Khalil participated in the prestigious Oxford Union debating course. Winning the competition that followed, she was awarded a two-week trip to Oxford University. study a subject of her choice. Although this in itself was an incredible accomplishment, what also made Khalil feel blessed was the opportunity she had to broaden her skillset and discover a new way to glorify God and share his message.
Khalil is majoring in health sciences pre-med, with aspirations to become a cardiologist, and it might not be immediately obvious how important debating could be for her, but she has seen the positive effects of public speaking in her own life, which will transfer into her future career. Once a student who would feign illness to avoid presentations, she transformed into someone who utilized communication skills to help fundraise for Operation Smile while at home in the United Arab Emirates.
All forms of speech dictate our success or failure in whatever we choose to do.
With the insightful understanding that, “all forms of speech dictate our success or failure in whatever we choose to do,” Khalil saw the Oxford course as an opportunity to enhance her communication skills, personally and professionally, and to satisfy “her desire to perfect her speech, with the purpose not only of drawing the attention of others but also creating a lasting impact through words.”
Following the British Parliamentary Style debate, Khalil learned philosophies and the strategy of understanding and manipulating opposing debaters and the audience, as well as intonation and the importance of an open mind to form stronger points. She discovered how to apply debating techniques to everyday life, and that the essence of communication is in its ability to create meaningful relationships, develop trust and respect, and conduct ourselves according to our faith.
Khalil was often assigned her stance on an issue, resulting in the defence of an opinion she may not have had. Through this rather unorthodox method, Khalil realized that pride has an impact on communication and debate, “acting as a stubborn filter according to how we see the world.” As Christians, we are called to humility and empathy, finding common ground and grace with our neighbours, rather than jumping to conclusions and judgement.
Khalil found her Christian background made the experience more significant. By combining debating and refined communication skills with biblical teachings, Khalil has developed a better understanding of both.
“I hope that I can reach people who are longing for God through my work in healthcare. I know that if that is my goal, I need to learn to speak the truth of God without compromising it regardless of the environment I am placed in, while simultaneously speaking emotion and persuasion through love and compassion to those I am intended to reach.”
Though her faith is certainly not up for debate, learning the art of debate helped Khalil realize that expressing it in a meaningful way upholds true biblical principles and will ultimately help us go into the world and make disciples.