Ed’s first Christmas overseas left him with a precious memory he keeps tucked away in a special place in his heart. The lesson from that season in his young life was simple and powerful. The story validates the kind of man he has always been--a true Christian who has lived his life with dignity, honesty, and integrity. It also speaks to the human condition, no matter where, and the remarkable connections that sometimes appear for a brief time—a mysterious gossamer thread of camaraderie that has no explanation.
He was stationed at a United States Air Force facility in Turkey called Cigli, which is near Izmir and was established in 1952. During the late 1960s there were only a couple of hundred Americans on the base; the rest were Turkish. For whatever reason, there was an undercurrent of animosity between the two groups. Ed’s mission has always been to be more like Jesus. He vowed to treat each person with respect.
Suleiman was a civilian Turkish man who worked at the base cleaning up around the barracks. Ed says, “He was a little fellow with a scraggly mustache, old beyond his years, dressed in his baggy black pants and a short-sleeved white shirt...the same ones he always wore.”
Most of the men ignored him as if he weren’t there, but Ed always spoke when they passed in the hall. At first, Suleiman seemed a little shy and just smiled in response. Over the months they forged an unlikely friendship.
The American shared photographs of his people back home in the States. It was his belief that he had grown up in a lower middle class family, but when the Turk saw pictures of the small three-bedroom, one-bath, two-story home set on a postage stamp lot, he declared Ed’s father must live in a mansion. Suleiman and his wife and three children lived in a make-shift mud house a ways outside the military base, with no running water and no electricity.
Here’s Ed’s report of that most special holy day:
“Christmas morning happened to be a Sunday so Suleiman wasn’t scheduled to be working—consequently, he walked miles to get to the base since the bus didn’t run on weekends. I heard a knock on my door, and there stood my shivering friend with something wrapped in the ugliest paper you ever saw. He spoke better English than I did Turkish. When he handed it to me he said, ‘Merry Christmas’. It was a Spotted Spaniel ceramic dog, about six inches high. I knew it cost him money he didn’t have to spend, and it was for a celebration in which he, as a non-believer, did not participate.”
Ed said he was deeply touched by the amazing present--which had nothing to do with a cheap piece of pottery shaped like an animal.
“Two people, from different sides of the world, with different beliefs, celebrated Christmas together that day because we had become friends despite those differences.”
As the Turk’s old acquaintance from decades ago shared that cherished memory it was obvious the defining moment gave witness to him that striving to live as Christ instructed can bring the most unexpected and sweet blessings.
The former American Airman insists the best Christmas gift he ever received was in a place all the way around the world in a country called Turkey; and from a surprising source–a Muslim.
“I remember that day like it was yesterday. My friend walked miles in the bitter cold to give me something of little value, but in truth... it was priceless.”
*True story. Real names.
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