by Debbonnaire Kovacs
Illustration by Kim Justinen
The Far-Away Friends stories will help you understand what your Sabbath School lesson can mean for you today.--Mrs. Sox
*Some of the kids in “Far-Away Friends” are pen pals with the kids in the Joseph Anderson Donetti stories. That’s how we got to know these kids.
Solomon Nassim El-Charif was hot, sweaty, panting, and very frustrated! He jerked Sultan’s reins as he led him into the barn. Sultan threw up his head and tried to back away, his eyes wide with fear.
“You stupid horse,” Solly said angrily. “Don’t you know by now I’m not going to hurt you?” Of course, Solly knew better than to treat his horse like that. As his mother and his riding instructor kept reminding him, Sultan really didn’t know him very well yet. The horse couldn’t be completely sure what Solly would do, especially if he went around jerking reins every time he was frustrated.
So Solly took a deep breath, let it out in a sigh, and quietly petted Sultan until his eyes stopped showing fear. Then he took extra time brushing Sultan down gently before putting him into his stall for the night and filling his feed dish.
As he left the stable, Solly saw a welcome sight. His next door neighbor Susannah was coming across the yard toward him. “Hey, Solly! How’s Sultan?”
“Stupider than ever! No matter how hard I try or how many times I show him something, he just doesn’t get it.”
Susannah looked surprised. Sultan was already well trained. “Like what? What are you trying to teach him?”
“I want to enter him in the obstacle course at the county fair. So he has to learn to jump over strange-looking things, and walk across tarps, and things like that. I don’t know why he thinks everything is so terrifying!”
Susannah grinned. “Oh, you know horses. They get upset if anything isn’t the way they expect it, and then if things are too much the same, they get bored! You can’t please them. Like people, I guess!”
Solly only shrugged and kicked a stone.
“What does your riding teacher say?” Susannah asked.
“When something doesn’t work, try explaining it a different way, until you find something that does work. But I’ve run out of things to try!” Solly sighed.
Susannah pulled a dandelion seed head and twirled it as she walked beside her friend. “Maybe you’re trying to teach him too much too fast. The fair’s only two weeks away, you know. I’ve been working with my goats all summer, and Black Velvet still won’t stand the way he’s supposed to when he’s being judged. And you know if they don’t do it at home, they’ll never do it in a strange arena with a bunch of noisy people and a judge trying to examine them all over!” She laughed, but Solly didn’t.
“I know,” he said glumly. “Stupid horse. I wish I’d gotten that brown one I looked at first.”
Susannah stopped twirling her seed head, which had now lost most of its little parachutes, and stared at Solly. “You don’t mean it! Do you? You love Sultan! And he loves you, too, or at least he’s learning to.”
“Then why doesn’t he trust me?”
“He will! You haven’t had him that long. What does your mom say?”
Solly sighed. “She says when he doesn’t get something, to go back to something he knows well, so he can succeed.”
“That’s a good idea! I wonder if it would work with Black Velvet? I’m giving the money I get for him and Lucy for Sabbath School Investment offering, and the better he does at the fair, the more money he’ll bring.” She watched Solly’s downcast face. “Maybe you should enter Sultan in an event doing something he already knows well. That will help him to become your friend, and you and he will both look good.”
“I guess.” Solly was discouraged.
They heard a bell clanging across the field. “That’s my mom. Time for supper and chores,” Susannah said. “Don’t give up, Solly.”
“I won’t.” But as Solly went in to wash and change out of his riding clothes, he was still thinking about that brown horse. He was sure the brown horse would never act like a blue plastic tarp was a horse-eating monster!
At worship, Mother read the primary lesson. In the El-Charif family, they took turns studying each other’s lessons, even the grown-up one. Solly thought it was fun. Sometimes he liked Mother and Father’s lessons even better than his own.
Tonight, however, his mind was caught up in the story of Saul and how Jesus met him on the road to Damascus. What an exciting story! He wished Jesus would appear to him like that. Although without leaving him blind.
Solly’s thoughts were interrupted when his sister, Sara, exclaimed suddenly, “How stupid!”
Mother looked startled. “What is stupid?”
“Saul! Why did it take a lightning bolt to get him to listen to God?” Sara questioned.
“Well, dear, I’d rather you not call Saul stupid. But it is true that human beings are often stubborn, and make foolish choices. Do you think you’ve ever been as stubborn and foolish as Saul?”
“I know I have,” Father said, and Solly turned to look at him.
“So have I,” Mother added.
Sara grinned reluctantly. “I guess I have, sometimes. But at least God never had to throw a lightning bolt at me and make me blind for three days!”
Solly was thinking about Sultan again. Had he ever been as stubborn and foolish as his horse? Worse, he decided. He knew a lot more than a poor horse that had just moved to a new place with strange people and was being taught new things by an impatient boy. Yet, even though he knew better, Solly was sometimes just as slow to learn things as Sultan was.
“The important thing,” Father was saying, “is that God never, never gave up on Saul. He never stopped loving him. We can’t know how many different things Jesus had tried during the course of Saul’s life to make him understand. He just kept trying different things until He found one that worked.”
“Father, may I go back out to the stable after worship?”
“I believe you’d sleep with that horse if we’d let you! Why do you want to go back out at this hour?”
“I think I owe Sultan an apology,” Solly said. Then he had to explain. Once Father and Mother knew the whole story, they agreed Solly could go back out for a few minutes after prayer.
Sultan hung his long head over the stall and nuzzled Solly’s chest. “You forgive me, don’t you, boy?” Solly asked. “Tomorrow, we’ll go for a nice, easy ride around the pasture. No blue horse-eating monsters!” Sultan shook his head, and Solly laughed.