Traverse City Record-Eagle

March 30, 2013

Kindness, love transcend boundaries

Special to the Record-Eagle

---- — When Jesus (or “Isa” in Arabic) will come back to Earth, I think I know what he would look like.

My host dad, Mack Stirling, has always reminded me of the Prophet and Messenger Isa (peace be upon him). Whenever I think of Dr. Stirling, I always find myself contemplating how much he resembles the Prophet Isa (PBUH). In essence, I perceive him to be “the Jesus of my life.” His wife, Dixie Stirling, is the quintessential Christian with her loving, compassionate and forgiving heart.

I first traveled to the United States from my home in Turkmenistan in the summer of 2007 as an exchange student at Frankfort High School and quickly fell in love with the community. My curiosity, happiness and joy only increased with time.

Feeling inspired and encouraged, I returned to the same area to attend college as an international student. In Traverse City, I was lucky and fortunate enough to find a host family in the Stirlings. Without their help, I would have been unable to attend college.

I have been very blessed to have the Stirlings in my life. I can’t think of a way to truly express my gratitude and love to the most generous and considerate people I know. During the four years I lived with them, I was able to learn so much about myself, the religion of Christianity and my own religion.

As a Muslim, I believe in the second coming of Prophet Isa (PBUH). As you may have noticed, Muslims add the saying “peace be upon him” after the prophets’ names to pay them proper respect and emphasize their significance. The misconception that Muslims do not believe in Isa or his second coming is one of the very many stereotypes I have been trying to correct, at least among my American friends. Perhaps that is a reason I have this special connection with my host family. Both Muslims and Mormons have been grossly misunderstood and misrepresented in the public platform on multiple levels.

It is amazing to look back and see what I have achieved while living with the Stirlings in Traverse City. Last May, I graduated from Northwestern Michigan College with my associate degree in nursing, and I received my registered nurse licensure last July.

Needless to mention, Dr. and Mrs. Stirling’s help and support were essential in both my academic and spiritual growth. Dixie Stirling is a nurse, and proved to be such a true inspiration to me. She is a wonderful mother of four beautiful, intelligent and equally caring women, and now a proud grandmother of nine adorable grandchildren. No list can include her positive qualities and traits; but whatever attempt made at such a list must include her marvelous baking and cooking skills.

Dr. Mack Stirling is the greatest mentor I could have ever had. His motivation to always do his best, his sincere desire to help everyone and his drive to constantly learn has encouraged me to not only do my best in school, but also learn more about my own religion.

When I moved into their house in August of 2008, I was not a practicing Muslim. After living with a loving and caring Christian Mormon family for so long, I can unquestionably conclude that had it not been for the Stirlings, I would have never become a practicing Muslim. Nor would I have had the courage and inspiration to teach others about my religion.

Next year I will be graduating from Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids with my bachelor of science in nursing. I can honestly conclude that my host parents are responsible for so many of my successes in college.

I am honored to be so close with these people, who truly represent their religion, yet manage to respect and love those who are different from them. I believe they perfectly follow the message of Prophet Isa (PBUH): “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Nargilya Gasanova has one more year of college to complete. Her eventual hope is to work with Doctors Without Borders.