Ayse Hitchins’s life has been one of abrupt changes. When she was a small child, her father dropped her off without warning at an expensive boarding school near their home in Istanbul to protect her from her mentally ill and violent mother. Five years later, Ayse’s life changed again, and she found herself living with strangers in a remote and impoverished village in southern Turkey. Her determination and stubbornness carried her through a life of loss, turmoil and abuse. She managed to attend university, where she battled homelessness and alcoholism. But the greatest change in Ayse’s life was when she met a member of the LDS church, a Canadian man working in Turkey.
As Ayse explains in her book The Worth of a Soul: From Muslim to Mormon (Covenant, 2012 [Deseret/Amazon]), “It was very clear to me from the outset that Ross was different from anyone else I knew. It was not just his nationality or career that set him apart. He didn’t smoke or drink. He didn’t use bad language. He valued my opinions and was kind and gentle, and I felt he treated me as a real, valid, beautiful person.” The contrast between him and the group of politically-aggressive Marxist students she was involved with was clear. She wanted to know what made him different.
When Ross encouraged her to take the missionary discussions, Ayse agreed. Everything she was taught seemed beautiful to her. The peacefulness and light she felt at church meetings made a great impression on her. As she relates, “The other Church members were welcoming and seemed happy to have this poor, atheistic, former Muslim in their midst.” Despite her poor knowledge of English, she was able to understand what the missionaries taught her, as if a veil lifted and she was given clarity of mind. She was especially touched by the teaching that she was a child of God, of great worth, and that Christ loved her individually enough to die for her. It was so different from anything she had experienced before in her tumultuous life. Says Ayse, “The concepts they taught me were soothing to my soul and nourishing to my heart. I took in the precepts like a starving woman grasping at bread.”
Ayse has gone on to serve on the team that translated the Book of Mormon into Turkish and is currently working on a translation of the Doctrine and Covenants. It is her hope that her work – and her story – will help strengthen others who have gone through similar challenges. “If anything I have gone through allows me to be of help to someone else, then it has all been worthwhile.”
Ayse isn’t sure how old she is. Birth records were rather loosely kept in Turkey at the time. But even though she can’t place herself in time, because of the gospel she knows where she belongs in eternity.
Ayse and her husband Ross reside in Mississauga, Ontario.