IRBID, Jordan – A warm breeze whips sand around cars creeping down the main street of Irbid, Jordan. A man gestures to catch the attention of a carload of Americans, then lays his hand over his heart.
He knows there is only one place they can be going. It seems the whole city is mourning the death of Southern Baptist representative Cheryll Harvey.
“Even now, I can’t believe she has died,” said Eman, a young Jordanian woman, as she clutches a small cup of the bitter, Arabic coffee typically served at wakes.
Muhannad, left, and his family share memories of Southern Baptist representative Cheryll Harvey in a classroom at the center where she taught. “I loved her as a mother, and she loved me as a son,” Muhannad said. He and his wife, Doa’a, second from left, who is expecting, plan to name their baby Cheryll if it is a girl.
Eman is among dozens at the wake, shedding tears, sharing stories and paying their respects to the woman who “loved everyone and was loved by everyone.” They are crowded in the small classrooms in Irbid where Harvey taught.
“Many people loved Miss Cheryll,” Eman said, “many, many.”
Harvey, 55, from Sudan, Texas, taught English and other subjects in Jordan for 24 years. She was found stabbed to death in her apartment Sept. 4. Robbery was the apparent motive, according to police reports.
But to students, friends and colleagues gathered at the center Sept. 10, no motive will ever make sense.
“I have not been able to sleep since I heard the news,” said Muhammad, a young man Harvey tutored at his home after a problem with his legs made him unable to attend classes.
“I did not sleep, either,” said his brother Ahmad, also Harvey’s student.
“Many of us have not slept,” echoed one of Harvey’s colleagues.
They smile as they remember Harvey, they recall the many hours she spent working.
“She was the most selfless person I knew, and the busiest. I don’t know how she did all she did every day,” another colleague said. “She started this center in 2000, and from the very beginning, people came and it grew and grew. And she spent so much of her time visiting the students in their homes. People just met her and loved her immediately.”
People like Muhannad, who met Harvey on the first day the center opened. Harvey reached out to the shy, young man who rarely talked. He invited her over for Friday lunch, and she “entered the heart” of his entire family.
Harvey ate with them nearly every Friday for the past 12 years, Muhannad said.
“I loved her as a mother, and she loved me as a son,” said Muhannad, who had her listed as “Mama” in his mobile phone. “But she didn’t just love me. Anyone who asked her for help, she would help.”
For several hours, Muhannad sits at one of the classroom desks, recounting detail after detail of Harvey’s gifts to Irbid, as if he can’t get them out fast enough.
“She helped me pass college and nursing school. She sat with me and my sister one day for hours in the hot sun while my sister applied for the army. She took a friend who had cancer back and forth on the long drive to the hospital two or three times a week,” he said.
Students, friends and neighbors of Southern Baptist representative Cheryll Harvey gather to mourn Sept. 10 at the center where she taught in Irbid, Jordan. They drank bitter, Arabic coffee – customary for wakes – and shared memories of her. Harvey helped start the center and taught English there for 12 years.
Harvey’s closest friends were Jordanians. Most storeowners in the area knew her well; her dry cleaner wept when he heard of her death. And Harvey often spoke of staying in Irbid after she retired, Muhannad said.
“Everyone loved her. The children in my family would run to her and jump in her arms. She brought them chocolate, and she came over with gifts for them on all our holidays,” Muhannad said. “And we would always go to her house for Christmas and all her holidays.”
They would, and so would all her other students, plus every kid in a reasonable radius.
“One of her friends had many small children when Miss Cheryll moved to Irbid, and Miss Cheryll told them if they studied hard and passed their classes, she would take them on a trip somewhere,” Muhannad said.
Those kids took her at her word, and she kept it, Muhannad said. Now they are in high school.
“She is an angel, really. She is angel,” he said. “She is always smiling and always loving, not just my family, but many, many families. She’s a very honest worker, and she has helped me with all my life.”
Muhannad really means “all.” When he married, he took Harvey with him to meet the prospective wives and their families, an honor and role usually reserved for the son’s mother, aunt or sisters.
“She went with me to seven different girls’ families,” he said. “I loved Miss Cheryll and respected her and wanted her to approve of the woman I married.”
Now he and his wife, Doa’a, are expecting a baby. When Harvey heard the news, she exclaimed, “I’m finally going to be a grandmother,” Muhannad recounted.
“I have promised that if it is a girl, we are going to name her Cheryll.”
Muhannad’s mother, Wajcha, nods agreement.
“Cheryll was like my daughter. If she had been one of my own daughters, I couldn’t be more sad,” Wajcha said. “As much as I could possibly say she was respectable, she was more than that. Everything about her was good.”
Two days after the wake in Irbid, dozens more colleagues and friends gathered under a tent for a memorial service in Ajloun, the mountain town where Harvey taught for 12 years before moving to Irbid.
“What shall I say about this sister who left family and country to serve as a stranger for Jesus Christ among us? Her life was her school to us – the way she loved, lived and encouraged the people around her,” said a local pastor who spoke at the service. “She did it because she loved Jesus Christ.”
Another colleague agreed, telling the crowd that Harvey’s choice to leave parents, brothers and friends 24 years ago also is a testimony to her love for Jordan.
“Her body may be in Texas, but her heart is in Jordan,” he said. “She gave her life here.”
Everyone who knew Harvey will remember her for hundreds of little things, Muhannad said.
“Once she brought light to all the floors of her apartment complex – she bought light fixtures for every floor out of her own money,” he said.
She shed light in other ways, too, said Aziz, a fellow teacher.
“She understood and respected the culture, which is a big deal, to sacrifice and do that which is bizarre to you,” Aziz said. “She was a great person. The Bible says we have to be humble and simple, two things that make us believers, and she was both of those things.”
Mourners at both services left notes in a memorial book for Harvey, some in English and some in Arabic.
“She teach us not only English but how to live and how to love life,” one student wrote. “She was like a candle who burned herself to show others the light.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ava Thomas is a writer and editor in Europe for the International Mission Board.)