Tuesday, December 7, 2010


Cactus Flower Zendala    Pen & Ink

Take what you like and leave the rest 

I would like to tell you one of the many stories of Avis and Ray. 

Avis and Ray had already raised one family when the last child came along. By this time, they were not the struggling young couple, but were mildly comfortable, financially. One of the things they wished to do for their daughter was to provide her with a broad education, especially a respect and appreciation for other cultures. So they went out of their way to invite folks from other cultures into their home.

One Christmas, the daughter learned Origami from Itsuko Katsube, an exchange student from Japan.
 On Thanksgiving, the house would be filled with folks from Israel or Tunisia.
Visitors from British Guyana or Guatemala might bump into each other. Nairobi and Thailand folks were equally welcome. 

Eventually Avis and Ray became very active in a Foreign Student Exchange Program.
 In 1966, when their daughter started her senior year in high school, a Turkish boy, by the name of Suleymon, was living in their town as the exchange student. But sadly, his placement did not work out. He had been living with a family that misunderstood the purpose of the program.   They had been trying to convert him to Christianity. Suleymon was a good Muslim and started becoming very homesick.
He wanted to go home. 

But the people who ran the exchange program persuaded Suleymon to try one other home before he went back to Turkey. And thus, he came to live with Ray and Avis. 

Now, this situation could have been fraught with problems. Avis was a devote Christian herself, and Ray was, well, shall we say, a bit unorthodox in his behavior. 
But to everyone's surprize, the match was a good one.

 Avis and Suleymon loved to spend long hours with each other comparing their religions. Neither one of them tried to convert the other, but rather they shared a deeply held conviction that their differences were only on the surface.
And Ray loved to take Suleymon to Native American Tribal dances and race car meets. He taught Suleymon all sorts of American Phrases, such as "Bottom man on the Totem Pole" and "Getting caught with your pants down". 

At the end of the year, Suleymon left Avis and Ray tearfully (on both sides) and went home feeling quite good about America and its people. 

That was not a good year for pro-American sympathies in Turkey. When Suleymon applied to the Middle East University, he was almost turned down because of his pro- American leanings.
Later that year, the anti-American riots closed down the University and Suleymon found himself in the position of needing to get out of town, fast.  It was not safe for him to be in his own country. 
Ray and Avis had kept in touch with Suleymon, so they knew what was going on. They quickly put things into motion so that they could adopt Suleymon legally, and thus get him out of the country.
So Suleymon came back to the United States, enrolled in college, met a wonderful Mexican American woman, married and started a new life.
Ray and Avis even helped to finance Suleymon and his wife's college, with one provision, that someday, they too would help someone get an education.

This was not to be a problem.  Suleymon and his new wife shared some very important values. They believed in Family and they believed in Education. Even as they began raising their own family, they helped out brothers, sisters, cousins.
A sister from Mexico would come and live with them while she got her degree in teaching, then a cousin from Turkey would live with them as he got his doctorite. One person after another would live with them and Suleymon and his wife helped as much as they could to pay for the education of family members who would then return to their countries and help their own people. 

When the earthquake hit Turkey, some of the doctors and nurses were folks who had been educated in the U.S. and had been helped by Suleymon and his wife. 

As I watched the devastation in Turkey, I prayed for the folks who lost so much.
As I watched the teams of doctors and nurses, I could not tell which ones were friends and family of Suleymon, but I know they were there.
And they made a difference. 

We are all brothers and sisters in a very real sense.
We have family in New Zeeland and Kenya, Canada and Iran, Nepal and Brazil. Our religion, race, and country make no difference to the fact of our basic humanity. The world has become too small and crowded a place for us turn our backs on one another.

 Ray and Avis have been dead for over thirty years, but the hand of friendship that they held out to Suleymon, still goes on. The good deed has multiplied and spread around the world.

 May our good deeds do the same. 

So Be It.


1 comment:

  1. Wow what an awesome story! I've not had as much experience with other cultures as Ray and Avis but I have had some and have ALWAYS found that we have more in common than not. And it's so fun to learn about new cultures anyway.