A STRANGER AMONG US
Sevgi watched with mixed emotions as her two daughters stepped out of the door to walk to school. Her oldest, Ayla, was already in second grade and could speak English very well. Ayla's little sister, Handa, was starting first grade today. Even though she'd finished kindergarten, she was nervous about being in the big school with Ayla. Handa had clutched Ayla's hand tightly. Sevgi had wanted to take them the short walk to school, but little Mehmet had a fever, and she dared not either take him out into the cold, or leave him. So, Ayla had done her "big-sister" duty and promised to take Handa to her new classroom and her new teacher.
As she turned to clear the table of their breakfast of tea, white cheese, bread, and jam, she remembered fondly how back in her home country of Turkey her own mother had sent her off with her sister to primary school. She'd even studied English, but never learned to use it in a practical way. Sevgi had loved school, but her parents had insisted that she leave it after middle school. They said she was needed to help with the little ones at home.
Perhaps the real reason was that they didn't want her to be too educated, because that would definitely narrow her eligibility for marriage. At 13 she was suddenly expected to learn what her existence meant, to produce sons to carry on the family name and the Islamic faith. It had been a disappointment, but she always hoped there would be more to life. But she certainly never dreamed that she'd be living in America!
Hasan, her husband of 9 years, was a cousin from her own village. They saw one another frequently at weddings and circumcisions and had actually been able to talk together on occasion without the accusing stares of her relatives. Once girls reached 8 or 9 years of age, society was segregated between male and female. Girls had to be covered around males outside their households. This practice hopefully kept girls from becoming “damaged goods”, so the family would not be shamed. But the young people had their ways of learning about the possible marriage partners their parents would consider. They would secretly survey one another at family occasions and would make strong suggestions when the time came. But when Hasan’s father announced that they were leaving for America, Sevgi had been disappointed that Hasan was leaving. Who would her parents arrange a marriage with now?
Hasan had arrived in New York City with his family when he was 14 years old, the oldest of 4 children. His father thought his chances of betterment would come from making his fortune in America, then returning to Turkey to retire. They had stayed with relatives in Stammville where Hasan's father found a job in a factory with other Turkish men. Rents were high, but they squeezed into a one-bedroom apartment.
Hasan was placed in ESL classes. He hated the taunts and stares of the other children as he tried to communicate. He clung to the other Turkish children. But as time passed, he became able to speak, then to be quite fluent in English. He found that American boys were a lot like Turkish boys, and made some friends. He learned to daily leave his Turkish world, and enter his American one. After graduation from university, he was hired as a civil engineer in a government agency. His family began to talk about marriage. His mother was quite concerned that a proper match be found, definitely not an American woman! They would consider only those among their relatives back home. Hasan was nervous. Who would they choose? He thought about his array of cousins-there must be at least 10 eligible Turkish girls in his village just in his own family. Sevgi came to his mind. They’d been childhood friends. He asked his parents to ask for her in marriage.
His parents agreed, and negotiations began between the families. Sevgi’s parents agreed, and Sevgi herself seemed pleased. The families haggled about the dowry. Hasan returned to his village and they were married with all the cultural rituals. Very soon after the wedding, Sevgi and Hasan returned to live in his father’s home in Stammville. Hasan’s job as a civil engineer enabled them to put a mortgage on a house in the next community, Carlton.
Both Hasan and Sevgi felt great pride in their country of Turkey and in Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish republic. He'd shown the world that to be a Turk was a privilege. Because Islam permeated her life, Sevgi tried to be faithful with her prayers, and fasting the month of Ramazan. It was harder in North America when others around her weren't Muslims. Her mother, close relatives and friends were far away in her Turkish village. She often felt lonely.
Sevgi was jolted out of her daydreams by Mehmet's cries. His fever was climbing. She would have to take him to the clinic today, and she dreaded it. All of her home remedies hadn't worked. She'd have to call her friend, Aynur, to take her, and hopefully to translate. Aynur had been in Carlton longer that Sevgi, and could communicate with the personnel at the clinic for her. Thankfully, Aynur was home and willing to help.
She hurried to get ready. Her prescribed Muslim attire, a long, loose dress and headscarf, was her protection against the fearsome world of strange men outside her home. She was proclaiming that she was a god-fearing woman in contrast to the brazen decorum of godless, adulterous American women.
Then, an uncomfortable thought crossed her reverie. Her cousin, Selma, a quiet conservative girl, had been assaulted by a male relative. With the prospect of not coming to marriage as a virgin, her family tried to arrange a marriage with the young man, but he refused. She was still quietly living with her shame in her father's house. In Islam fault for any sexual impropriety was always the woman's. The family honor hinged on the purity of its women. But Selma's conservative dress and behavior hadn't protected her.
When Aynur arrived, Mehmet’s eyes had begun to look dark and sunken. His cries had turned to whimpers. They quickly drove to the clinic.
Elaine, a widow in her sixties, knew that today was the day for her annual physical. She hated having to trouble the doctor, but her son, Ted insisted that she keep the appointment. Without warning, her husband had died of a massive heart attack. Having so suddenly lost his father, Ted was especially protective of his mother. "Be sure you go," he'd told her, "I'll be calling tonight to hear about it."
"Such useless foolishness," thought Elaine. The only time she'd ever been in the hospital was to deliver her four children. Little Joe had died before his second birthday, and she'd committed him to the Lord's hands. Her three living children, Ted, Mary and Jane, were married with children of their own. Eight grandchildren broadened the family circle, and with all their problems, they were a joy.
Elaine and Sam had come to Christ as a young married couple through a Bible study on marriage in their neighborhood. They had devoured the Scriptures, and began attending a Bible teaching church in Carlton. They hadn't been perfect parents; but their children had seen Christ lived in their home. Not only had they embraced Christ but Ted, Mary and Jane were bringing their children up in the same way. Several grandchildren were already in God's family, and the two oldest had been on mission trips with their church youth groups. The Lord had been so good to her!
This morning as she was reading her Bible over breakfast, it seemed the Lord was telling her she would meet someone today. It was true, after Sam had gone home, she didn’t feel needed. But the thought that the Lord had plans for her persisted. “OK, Lord, just show me,” she prayed as she left.
Elaine arrived at the clinic just as two foreign women with a very sick child entered. She could tell by a quick glance as they passed that the child was feverish, dangerously feverish. The little one reminded her of her little Joe who’d caught a fierce virus and died in less than a day. The women stepped up to Florence, the receptionist They seemed to be having trouble talking with her. She handed them a form and the two bundled over to seats to fill it out. Elaine, who knew the receptionist, greeted her, and asked about the two ladies. Both were wearing what looked like choir robes and head scarves. The receptionist shrugged her shoulders. She certainly couldn’t understand their gibberish.
“It’s these foreigners who can’t speak English,” she complained, “If they aren’t going to learn it, they should go back home...Sorry, El, I don’t mean to be so grumpy! It’s been a zoo in here today!” Florence buzzed the doctor. “Yes... Dr. Grayson is ready for you. Go right in.”
Just as Elaine expected her visit revealed nothing serious. She was glad to have that duty fulfilled. But she couldn’t get that baby out of her mind. When she was leaving the doctor’s office, she noticed the two women talking animatedly with the receptionist.
“You must fill out these forms,” Florence was saying.
“Nut understand,” said one pointing to a line on the form,“What mean?”
The telephone rang, and another patient stood at Florence’s desk waiting. The feverish baby was wailing, and the young mother was in tears. Florence was exasperated.
“Just a moment,” Florence answered the telephone. Another patient came to the desk.
Seeing Florence swamped, Elaine stepped over to the women.
“Can I help?” she calmly asked.
The ladies, surprised, both turned to her.
“Pliz! Nut understand. Baby sick,” Aynur said. Sevgi’s teary eyes called to Elaine’s motherly heart. Sevgi seemed to recognize something she’d seen in her own mother, and decided to trust this elderly stranger.
Between gestures and Aynur’s limited English, Elaine helped fill out the forms. Gratitude shone in Aynur’s and Sevgi’s faces. Florence was glad to receive the finished form. “Ask Dr. Grayson to see them. I’ll go in with them,” whispered Elaine to Florence.
Soon the three and the sick baby were with Dr. Grayson. Sevgi let Elaine hold Mehmet while she explained to Aynur in Turkish and Aynur tried to translate into English. The doctor listened kindly, and looked at the baby. His face showed concern.
“Your baby needs to go to the hospital right away,” he said. “I’ll call and have him admitted to St. Francis’ Hospital. He must have fluids immediately.”
“Where hospital?” Aynur was as bewildered as Sevgi.
“I can take them, doctor,” said Elaine.
“That would be fine,” said the doctor, “I’ll be there in two hours to check on him. He has a severe virus and needs those fluids now.”
Aynur and Sevgi followed Elaine to the hospital. A nurse whisked little Mehmet and Sevgi away while Elaine and Aynur filled out the forms. An hour later the three were standing beside Mehmet’s bedside. He was hooked up to the IV, and was sleeping, not crying. Sevgi held his little hot hand. Elaine’s thoughts went back to her little Joe. She put her arm around Sevgi.
“Let’s pray and ask God to heal your little boy,” she said soothingly, “he’s in His big hands now.” Sevgi and Aynur looked at one another. Even though this woman was a Christian, they would accept any help offered. Sevgi and Aynur raised their palms in typical Muslim fashion, while Elaine called upon God, in Jesus name, to heal this child. Peace radiated from her being, and both the women felt the presence of Another, a kind, loving presence.
Elaine stayed until the doctor came. Mehmet’s fever began to fall as the fluids and medicines began to take effect. God was answering prayer. “He’ll only have to stay the night,” the doctor said. Sevgi and Aynur were relieved. Elaine would not leave until she knew everything was arranged. Sevgi thanked her profusely before she left, and they exchanged addresses. Elaine was surprised to realize that Sevgi lived just down the street from her.
“Pliz, visit,”Aynur translated as Sevgi explained in Turkish, “Let us see again.”
“I will, “ promised Elaine. Another family to love, she thought. What plans does God have for them, I wonder. Well, Lord, this was your appointment for today. But, Elaine wondered, how will we talk when I visit her? The job of translating and filling out the medical forms had been exhausting, but because of need and sign language, it had been accomplished. She didn’t know anything about Turks or Turkey. One thing for sure, Elaine knew she needed help, but from whom? Who did she know who could speak Turkish? Still her motherly heart was drawn to this lonely woman. Maybe if she asked her pastor, he might know someone...
Several days after Mehmet’s hospital stay, Sevgi was busy preparing for the coming holidays. They were celebrating Ramazan, when Muslims would fast during daylight, and feast in the evening. Her stomach rumbled as she prepared food during the day for the evenings festivities. In just a few days, the community fast would end with the best feast, Seker Bayrami, or Sweet Holiday. In her home village everyone encouraged each other during the fast of the daylight hours during Ramazan. Everyone was involved, and there was great solidarity. What wonderful meals were served when they broke the fast at each evening "Iftar".
At times she'd feel a thrill go through her as she participated in the unison Friday prayers at the mosque. Though she and the other women were separated by a curtain from the men, all came equally before God, not through some hierarchy as the Christians did. Her teachers had taught her that Christians believed in three gods and she had understood what they meant when she looked into churches to see pictures and statues of Mary. God was indeed great. But it was impossible to know if He would ever accept her into Heaven, no matter how much she did.
Her mind suddenly focused on Elaine, and the sense of peace Sevgi had felt as the Christian woman had prayed for her son in the hospital. When Elaine prayed she felt something strange, something she only felt around her own mother-that she was loved, really accepted--and by a perfect stranger. Sevgi’s heart yearned for that love. Could she trust this woman? Right after Ramazan, she promised herself, she would take Mehmet in the stroller and invite Elaine to have tea with her. Perhaps Aynur would come, and somehow they would talk. Because of the good deed Elaine had done for her, Sevgi was obligated to repay the kindness in hospitality.
At church on Sunday, Elaine scanned the missionary map. Did their church have any missionaries in Turkey? Pastor Martin greeted her with a hug.
“Why, Elaine, you know all those people on that wall! Is there someone missing up there?” he joked.
“Well, maybe...” mused Elaine. Then she related the incident when she’d met Sevgi in the clinic. “I’d like to visit her, but I don’t know how we’d pass the time. It was easy when she had a need. What would we talk about? Sign language only goes so far.”
The pastor smiled. Elaine was always looking for lost sheep. “Maybe I can help. There’s a missionary in the area just back from Turkey. I understand they’ll be here for a while because their children have serious medical needs. Let’s look in the office for that telephone number.”
Back in the office, they found the number. “The name is John and Sharon Jones. They’ve just rented a house in Carlton...Yes, they might be able to help.” After church, Elaine went right home and dialed the number.
“Hello, can I help you?” greeted a rather weary, but cheerful voice.
“Mrs. Jones, my name in Elaine Sampson. I go to First Covenant Church here in Carlton. My pastor gave me your name.”
“Yes, we’ve known Pastor Martin and the church for years. How can I help you,” Sharon responded. Elaine could hear the voices of children shouting and playing in the background.
“I have an interesting...er...problem...opportunity I’d like to tell you about. Will you be home this afternoon? It’s about a Turkish woman I’ve just met...” Elaine began.
“Really!!” Sharon interrupted. “I’ve heard there were some in the area! Yes, please come, my husband and I will be waiting.”
Elaine was greeted at the door by a slight, tired looking woman with a sweet smile. Four boys were playing soccer in the backyard. They’d just moved, so the house was in the sleep-able, eat-able shape of disorganization.
“Please forgive the mess. Our shipment of household goods arrived yesterday, but I found some tea and we’ve a good kitchen table,” smiled Sharon.
“And some pretty good cookies, too,” came a booming voice approaching from the kitchen, “Welcome, Mrs. Sampson.” John Jones offered his hand. John was as husky as Sharon was petite.
“Thank you. I like entertaining in my kitchen, too.” returned Elaine, and the three sat around the kitchen table. Elaine explained about meeting Sevgi, as John and Sharon listened. “We’d like to meet her family, too. But how?” They discussed it for a while.
“Why don’t I come to visit you in your home, and maybe we can walk together to Sevgi’s home. You could introduce me, and we’ll see what happens,” offered Sharon.
“Let’s try it,” agreed Elaine, “How about Wednesday?”
Seker Bayrami had ended, and Sevgi dressed herself and Mehmet for a stroll. She was vaguely thinking of going by Elaine’s house. Aynur was busy, so she couldn’t help today. How would they talk? Maybe she wouldn’t go by there today.
The sun was shining and the breeze lovely. Mehmet was his old rosy self, chuckling and chortling at the squirrels and birds. Sevgi was a bit nervous in this open, free world. As she turned the corner she saw two women on the sidewalk in front of her, walking in her direction. As they got nearer, she recognized Elaine, with a stranger beside her. Both women were chatting happily as they approached. Elaine recognized Sevgi.
“Hello, Sevgi, how nice to see you again,” said Elaine, forgetting that Sevgi couldn’t understand.
“Merhaba. Nasil siniz?” (Hello, how are you?) said the stranger. Sevgi looked at her in shock. An American that spoke Turkish!!
“My friend, Sharon,” said Elaine.
“Merhaba! Turkce nasil biliyor sunuz?” (Hello, how do you know Turkish?) Sevgi said to Sharon. The two conversed for a few seconds, when Elaine interrupted them.
“Please ask Sevgi if she would come back home with us for tea.” Sharon relayed the message.
“I should have you over for tea!” argued Sevgi, but in the end the three ladies were drinking tea, speaking English, Turkish, and gestures. Sevgi was amazed to meet another American woman like Elaine. Sharon knew Turkey and Turks! And Sevgi felt that love again. And these people were religious. Not at all like the Americans she’d met before.
“You both must come to visit me,” Sevgi said as she was preparing to leave. Sharon and Elaine smiled and said they would. As Sevgi was wheeling Mehmet homeward, she remembered that warm feeling of love. These Christian women were good people. She definitely wanted to see them again.
Elaine and Sharon were hoping that this was the beginning of a spiritual journey, not only for Sevgi, but her whole family. They began to pray together for them, and other Turkish families like them. They were sure that God had good plans for Sevgi, and her whole family, which included coming to know Him and his love.
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