The Worth of a Soul: From Muslim to Mormon (Bookshelf eBook)(edit)
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You will be inspired by the incredible true story of Ayse Hitchins and her life of constant change. When this shy Turkish girl was only six years old, her loving father abruptly dropped her off at an expensive boarding school — out of the reach of her violent, mentally ill mother. Five years later, her family removed her from the school she had grown to think of as home. She was no longer a privileged citizen of Istanbul and had to begin a new life as an impoverished child of total strangers. When she was finally allowed to move back to the city, one more seemingly insurmountable blow was dealt to the young girl. As a young woman, Ayse’s years were shadowed by turmoil, desperate poverty, depression, and alcoholism. She abandoned her Muslim faith for atheism and Marxist philosophy and planned a future with her Nigerian fiancé — but when Ayse met a Mormon man named Ross, her path took an unexpected turn. With poignant pain and rich redemption, this unforgettable memoir describes this woman’s amazing journey from Turkey to Canada, from Muslim to Mormon, from riches to rags to riches, from adopted child to mother of an adopted child. After following Ayse through her wrenching early years, you will take heart as she seeks reconciliation in her homeland, marvel as she becomes a translator of sacred scripture into her native tongue, and rejoice as she finally raises her voice in gladness to God.
About the Authors
Ayse is a citizen of the world and recognizes no boundaries or limitations. She now lives in Canada with her family but will be returning to her native land of Turkey soon. Her life has been one giant roller coaster, from one extreme to the other, and she’s still enjoying the ride. In many ways, she has experienced enough to fill two lifetimes. Ayse loves education and has graduated from college twice with degrees in music and sociology. Ayse’s mother was adopted, so was Ayse, and she has raised an adopted child. Her favorite hobbies are her husband and her son.
Kristen Garner McKendry began writing in her teens, and her work has been published in Canada and the U.S. She received a bachelor’s degree in linguistics from Brigham Young University and has always been a voracious reader. Kristen has a strong interest in urban agriculture, sustainable living, and environmental issues. A native of Utah and mother of three, she now resides with her family in Canada.
“For thou hast been my defence and refuge in the day of my trouble.”
I was at the boarding school for five years.
The private school was a small villa, formerly a residence, in the
wealthy neighborhood of Istanbul called Levent, which has since
become the high-rise business district of the city. The school was not a
large one, with only about twenty-four students, and once I grew used
to it, it was actually very nice. The white walls seemed to make the rooms
appear bigger than they were, and the vinyl and cement floors were
cool even in the summer. There was always a subdued quiet, like in a
library. The school had a beautiful, big garden in a walled area of the
grounds where tall grass and flowers grew. I loved the daisies. It was
heavenly to sit under the trees and make a tiara out of fresh daisies.
Behind the school, there were orchards of fruit trees, and it became a
favorite pastime of mine to sit and watch the sunlight filter through the
green, gray, and yellow of the leaves. It was a peaceful garden.
But I didn’t know all of that my first night there. I only knew
my beloved father had left me with strangers. The principal took me
through the hushed hallways, past many closed doors. His stride was
longer than my dad’s, and I had to scurry to keep up.
We stopped at last in the open doorway of a small room. The room
had one small window and three sets of three-tier bunk beds stacked in
it. I was told to choose the one I wanted. I wiped my eyes and looked at
those nine beds in wonder. I’d never seen such a thing, and I was shocked
at the thought of nine people sleeping in one room all together. Who were the other eight? At home we each had a room to ourselves. I didn’t
“It’s all right, Ayse,” the principal said kindly, putting his hand on
my dark hair. “You choose the one you want.”
I saw a little tiny wooden ladder leading up to each top bunk. I
chose one of the very top ones. It appealed to me that you could go up
and down that little ladder, as if it were a fort or a tree house.
And then I noticed a small bag in the corner of the room, a bag I
recognized. I went to it and saw it held some of my clothes and things.
I supposed my father must have left it there in advance because I didn’t
remember him carrying anything with him that day. The bag was small,
the belongings few—I guess at that age, I didn’t need much anyway—
but it was good to see something familiar.
“The other children are about to have their dinner,” the principal
told me. “Come with me, and I will make sure you get something to eat.”
I wasn’t sure I could eat; I felt sick to my stomach. But I followed
him as directed.
The eating hall was larger than the other rooms, with a high ceiling
held up by great wooden beams. The children all ate at one big table, on
which were placed water jugs, glasses, and cutlery. I was intimidated,
looking at all those unfamiliar faces that turned toward us as we entered.
The children all looked to be about my age or a little older.
The principal showed me how to pick up a metal, compartmentalized
food tray and line up to get food from the kitchen staff. I hardly paid any
attention to what was served onto the tray. I was terrified I would drop
it in front of everyone and spill everything, but I managed to carry it to
the table without incident. I took the chair I was given and tried not to
look at anyone else, in spite of my curiosity. The room was surprisingly
quiet, with only the occasional clink of utensils. There was no whispering
or squirming or swinging of legs. I eventually learned that when the
teachers were present, the students were disciplined and quiet. They were
only noisy at recess, when they let all their energy out in the courtyard.
To my surprise, the principal and teachers ate with us at the big table.
The principal sat beside me, and in spite of my misery, I felt a glimmer of
comfort. With him beside me, I felt a little like a grown-up at a dinner party.
Eventually, I would come to love mealtime. We gathered together
many times a day, but of all the gatherings, mealtimes were the most special. The pleasant smell of frying food would fill the house, which
always made me feel comfortable. We could set aside the whole
world for an hour and enjoy delicious meals together as friends, like
I imagined a big, happy family would do. I could pretend briefly that
the other children were my siblings. Even today, when I smell a hot dog
and fries, my mind goes back to that school.
- * *
That evening, we children were taken to our bedrooms, nine children
in each. I felt almost as if we were sheep in a storybook, shuffling down
the hall in a herd, a small group being separated off through each door
we passed, funneled into our separate stalls. My bag held a nightgown,
and I changed quickly with the other girls, self-conscious at changing
in front of them, though no one paid any attention to me. I found the
bunk I had chosen earlier and climbed into it. I was glad there was a
metal rail to keep me from falling off because the floor looked a very
long way down. I lay there with the blanket pulled up to my chin,
feeling like a bird high up in a nest, and watched the other girls slot
themselves into their bunks without any chatter or laughter. The night
teacher, a tall, stern-looking woman, turned off the bedroom light and
said, “Go to sleep. I don’t want to hear a peep out of you.”
When you’re little and lost, you just do what you’re told to do.
I lay in that unfamiliar bed, looking up at the ceiling in the dark, so
close above me. I wasn’t used to having the ceiling so close; it was
oppressive. I could hear the other children in the room, all unknown
to me, breathing quietly. Someone coughed. It was hot, and the sheets
were stiff and unfamiliar. I knew that not ten minutes away, my father
lay in his bed, and in the room next to his, my own bed lay empty. I
began crying silently, the corner of the sheet stuffed into my mouth,
terrified that the other children might hear me.
I must have fallen asleep at some point, worn down by shock and
fear. In the morning, I was jerked awake when a woman opened our
door, snapped on the lights, and called, “Good morning! Time to wake
up.” She went out again, and I huddled and watched as the other children
climbed out of bed and began to dress. The sunlight was weak in the
window, and I knew it was very early. One of the girls noticed I wasn’t
moving and climbed up to give me a poke with her finger.
Her voice held a note of panic, and I fumbled my way awkwardly
down the ladder in alarm. Clearly something terrible was about to
happen. I found my dress and yanked it on, just as the woman returned.
She noticed right away that my bed was unmade.
“Who sleeps here?” she demanded.
I considered my options and decided I’d better respond before
someone told on me. I slowly raised my hand.
The woman eyed me a moment. She must have realized I was new
because her voice was more gentle as she explained, “Here, we make
our beds every morning.”
I couldn’t see how I could make the bed when it was three tiers up.
I was too small to reach it from the floor. The ladder only reached the
near corner, and my arms were short like the rest of me. I would have
to climb up on the bed itself.
“But how am I . . . to pull the blankets up when I have to . . . kneel
on them?” I stammered.
“I’ll show her,” offered one of the girls. She was one of the older
ones and much taller than I. She had short dark hair like mine, and her
smile was kind. I watched her climb up the ladder and make my bed.
She knelt on the mattress to tuck in the blankets on the far side, against
the wall, giving little jumps to free the blankets from her weight. Then
she stood on the ladder to finish tucking in the front side, tightly so
there were no wrinkles. I was shorter than she, and I wasn’t sure I could
learn to do it myself, but I gave her a grateful smile when she returned
to the floor. Maybe if I were very nice to her, she would do it for me
every morning. Maybe, just maybe, she would be my friend.
Satisfied, the teacher led us in a line down the hall to the dining
room for breakfast. I fell into step with the girl who had made my bed,
and I watched carefully whatever she did. I made sure to imitate her so
I did nothing wrong while I tried to figure out this new place.
At home, I had learned to be as silent as possible, trying to be
unnoticed, living under the radar. But over the next couple of days, I
watched the other children at the school, and it seemed to me that the
noisiest ones received the most attention from the teachers. Those who
volunteered answers in class were given better treatment than those who
had to be called upon. Those who spoke up in protest when things didn’t go their way seemed to get results. Even the ones who spoke up at dinner
seemed to get bigger portions of food than the others. The quiet ones,
like me, were often overlooked. I had never been a troublemaker or one
to whine or complain. At home, my dad had known pretty well what I
wanted or needed without my having to say anything. But I began to
sense that if I wanted anything at this school, I was going to need to learn
to speak up. I was going to need to learn to cry out loud.
After a week or so, I had the opportunity to try it myself. One of the
girls in my class had taken to pinching or shoving me when the teacher
wasn’t looking. When we stood in line, she pushed in front of me. She
knew I wouldn’t say anything. But one day, when she pushed me out
of the way so she could get a better look at something the teacher was
showing us, I gathered my courage and called out, “Stop that!”
The room went silent, and the teacher glared at me. I pointed at
the other girl.
“She shoved me.”
The girl looked astonished and started to deny it. But the teacher
told her firmly to move over and make room for me. To my surprise,
the girl obeyed. After that, she didn’t bother me anymore because she
knew I might shout and get her into trouble.
After a few experiments with this, I learned to raise my voice
consistently. If you were not silent, people took better care of you.
I already knew how to read and write when I started school. Dad
had always read with me as I was growing up, classics and fairy tales,
history and science, and even bits about current events from the
newspaper. I knew Dad was a highly learned individual and had several
degrees, and he had often told me how much he loved education. It
had set him apart from our neighbors, who had not received as much
schooling and held jobs that, I gathered, were not as lofty. Being able
to read and write made it easier for me when I entered the school. It
meant fewer new things to have to grapple with all at once. When all
else was unfamiliar, books were old friends I could gravitate to. In fact,
for those first few miserable weeks, books were my only friends and
comfort. Sometimes I would even smuggle them into bed with me and
sleep clutching them to me like stuffed animals.
It got easier with time and as I got to know the other children. They
were generally friendly, but none of them really stood out among the others. We didn’t have a lot of free time, so there wasn’t much opportunity
to play, but we got to know each other between classes and in the evenings.
One day at recess, one of the girls who was a few years older than I
was asked me what my parents did.
“My father is a chemical engineer,” I told her a bit proudly. I knew
this had always gotten a good reception from other people when my
father told them what he did, and I was pleased to see the other children’s
faces look suitably impressed.
“And what about your mother?” the girl asked.
“She doesn’t have a job. She stays home,” I said.
“Then why are you here?”
I blinked at her, not sure what she meant. “To learn,” I said slowly.
“No, I mean, why do you go to a boarding school? Why not go to
the day school and live at home if your mother is there?”
I wasn’t sure how to answer this, so I shrugged and said, “This place
is all right. My father wanted me to come here.”
“Well, my father is a businessman, and he is always away on trips
all over the world,” she told me. It was my turn to look impressed.
“And my mother is a flight attendant,” she went on, “so I have to go to
boarding school. There’s no one at home to take care of me.”
“Me too,” another girl confided. “My parents are always traveling,
so I had to come here.”
“Didn’t you want to come to this school?” I asked.
“Are you crazy? I wanted to go to the day school.”
“Me too,” chimed in another girl who was listening in.
“Sometimes I think this school is just a holding tank,” declared the
first girl. “They’re just entertaining us until our parents come home.”
The others nodded. I wasn’t sure what a holding tank was, but I
said nothing. It was clear though that these other children were much
like me—away from home and family against their will. With that
realization came the thought that perhaps we could become friends.
The first visiting day, Dad came to see me. I wasn’t sure what I
expected. I thought perhaps since my world had changed so much, he
would have changed too. I had the vague idea that perhaps I would be
angry with him, resentful that he had left me so abruptly, and I was
worried about this. I genuinely didn’t want to be angry with him because.
wonderful Dad, the same handsome face, the same gentleness, and the
same love in his blue eyes. I ran to him and threw my arms around his
neck, and all was right again. My worries had been groundless. He sat
beside me and talked to me as he always had, about news and things
going on in the city and about our neighbors. I soaked up the sound
of his voice like rain on dry earth. He had brought small goodies in his
pockets to surprise me with, and he kept patting my hand or putting
his arm around my shoulders as if he couldn’t believe I were real and
had to keep reassuring himself that I was there.
But our time together was too short. And the whole time he was
there, I could only think of one thing: that he could go away again at
the end of the day and I couldn’t. He would go out through that big
iron door, and I would have to stay behind. It was almost as painful as
the first day that door had clanged shut between us. Dad came to see
me every chance he got, but I missed him terribly between visits.
My mother never came to visit.
As I grew older, I realized, of course, that was why I was at the
boarding school and not at the day school. Dad wanted me at home
with him. But he didn’t want me at home with her.
- * *
One visiting day after my father had just left, one of my teachers came
to me. She was a short, round woman with critical eyes and a permanent
frown on her face. She could have been pretty if not for that frown, and
there were times I was tempted to tell her so.
“Ayse, where is your father from?” she asked.
“Istanbul,” I answered.
“He doesn’t look Turkish. He’s tall and fair and those suits he
wears—well, he looks more Eastern European.”
“That’s because his father was from Bulgaria,” I told her readily. “Before
Turkey became a republic, it was part of the Ottoman Empire, and Bulgaria
was part of the Empire too. But his father, my grandfather, emigrated here,
and Dad was born in Turkey.”
The teacher stared at me a moment, and then she said, “How do you
know about the Ottoman Empire, child? You haven’t studied that part
of history yet.”
“My father told me about it,” I replied.
“He teaches you history?”
“Yes. He told me all about how Turkey became a country. And he
taught me that Istanbul used to be called Constantinople and that it
was an important center for early Christianity. You know, the Catholic
She blinked at this. “Is—is your father Catholic?”
“No. But he reads about things and tells me.”
“Is he Muslim, then?”
“He is a spiritual man,” I said, echoing back something I had once
heard him say to another man. “But he isn’t formally religious. My
mother is, but she doesn’t always cover her head. I don’t have to cover
mine; it’s up to me to choose when I’m older.”
The teacher arched an eyebrow. “Did your father tell you that too?”
“Yes. He talks to me about a lot of things.”
“Apparently so,” she said and turned away, but I noticed on the
next visiting day that she kept glancing over at my father and me.
by melodie - reviewed on March 03, 2012
This was a well written, interesting book about the life of an admirable woman. It is fascinating to see how the Lord guides people throughout their lives to fulfill His purposes. It is interesting from a cultural perspective as well.
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