06.07.2021 – The Little Camry that Could

We spent last week on the road.  We had flown out to Washington state on Friday, and then Sunday through Thursday we helped our son Christopher, his wife Katie, and their six children with the drive from Washington to western Missouri where Christopher has begun his work as an active-duty Air Force Chaplain at Whiteman Air Force Base.

The days were not long distance-wise, about 350 miles per day, but suffice it to say, rest stops with six children ten and under are not quick ins and outs.  It was a good trip. Three cars, two children per car, and we arrived in Missouri on schedule.  Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Iowa, and Missouri.

Three years ago, we made a similar trip from Wichita, Kansas, to Ephrata, Washington via Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. A pastor’s life can be a bit nomadic.

I could tell you about the beautiful scenery, especially in the mountainous first half of the trip.  I could tell you about the joy of being with my two passengers – I got the older boys, 10 and 5 years old. I might reflect on this call God has placed in Christopher’s life. But I have been thinking about the car I drove. As on the trip from Kansas, I was assigned Christopher’s 1998 Toyota Camry.  It ran like the proverbial top. I love that car. It has served Christopher and the family well, and I assume it will continue its good work for many more years.

The Camry has a story. And I have a confession.

The confession first.  I may be guilty of a conflict of interest.

Back in 2015, a member couple of our church whose friendship is one of the great treasures of our time there, told me his parents, whose friendship is another wonderful memory, were no longer driving and would be happy to give their 1998 Camry to someone who might need a good car.  Perhaps as pastor, I might know of someone.  I thought of our parishioners, but no one came immediately to mind.  But our son Christopher did. His little Honda Civic was on its last legs, and seminary students don’t have lots of extra money to buy a replacement car.  So we drove the Camry from Philadelphia to Boston, where Christopher was a student, and the car became his. Conflict of interest?  Perhaps, and if so, guilty as charged.

Now the story of the car.  Basim and Lameece had bought it new when they lived in Northern Virginia. Basim was 85 and Lameece 81 when they made the purchase.  They did not add many miles to the odometer, and they took good care of their car.  It passed 100,000 miles in March of this year.

The story of the Camry and how it came to Christopher and how I came to drive it halfway across the country twice is also the story of its first owners.

Basim was born in Southern Turkey and Lameece in Lebanon, both in the 1920s. Basim and Lameece finished their undergraduate degrees at the American University in Beirut, and then journeyed to the United States in the early 1950s for graduate degrees (Basim a PhD in economics from Harvard, and Lameece a MSW from Columbia).  They were married in Beirut in 1956 and returned to New York where Basim held positions with the United Nations.  What rich gifts immigrants bring to our country.

In 1963, they returned to Beirut where Basim served the U.N. as its Director of the  Economic Planning Commission for Western Asia.  He retired in 1983 but stayed in Beirut until 1991 and the end of the Lebanese Civil War – hard years.  Basim and Lameece moved again to the U.S. and settled in Northern Virginia.  In 1998, they bought a new Toyota Camry which would serve them well until they gave up driving sixteen years later.  In 2014, they moved to the Philadelphia area to be near their oldest son and his family whose friendship at the church means so much to us.

Generous is only one of the many words to describe Basim and Lameece, but it is by their generosity that I came to drive the now 23-year old Camry halfway across the country.

As we crossed the Rockies and traversed the High Plains, I thought a lot about Basim and Lameece, their generosity, to be sure, but also their wisdom and graciousness, their faith and their love.

The Camry is a reminder of abiding friendships and two remarkable people.  I hope Christopher keeps the car for a long time. And, Christopher, count on me for Camry duty the next time your nomadic pastor’s life takes you to a new place.