Portales couple reaches out to international students

Courtesy photo: Charlie and Martha Crane From left, Martha Crane of Portales, Ghana native Hannah Odame, Martha’s husband Charlie and Nigeria native Lola pause during a pre-graduation reception for Eastern New Mexico University international students this past spring. The Cranes have provided driving lessons, trips, Thanksgiving dinner and more for the students. Lola’s last name was unavailable.

By Argen Duncan: Freedom New Mexico

A Portales couple has gotten a taste of other cultures without leaving home while making people from other cultures feel at home.

For about 20 years, Martha and Charlie Crane have reached out to Eastern New Mexico University students and their families. The Cranes have taken the students on trips, invited them over for Thanksgiving, taught them to drive, provided conversational English classes for their spouses and more.

Mumi Zhao, a master’s student in communications, said she has known the Cranes since she came from China almost three years ago.

“Because we study abroad, we’re far from our homes, so they make us feel at home and we feel like we have a family here,” she said.

Zhao ate Thanksgiving dinner at the Cranes’ twice, and Charlie gave her rides to church her first year in Portales because she didn’t have a car.

The Cranes first started getting to know international students in the late 1980s, when Charlie volunteered to help drive a group of them to the Billy the Kid Amphitheater that was open in San Jon at the time.

Later, international students asked him about camping equipment they could borrow because they wanted to go to Ute Lake the next day. Charlie ended up driving them.

“One of those New Mexico summer storms blew in after we got off the lake,” he said. “It rained and it hailed and it blew. And we bonded.”

From there, the Cranes became regularly involved.

The Cranes have held a Thanksgiving dinner on and off for 19 years but couldn’t this year because of scheduling with family and an injury of Charlie’s. The previous two years, they’ve had around 40 people come by for lunch.

Most recently, Charlie gave driving lessons to about 10 people and attended International Club meetings. He and Martha also attended a potluck to wind up the ENMU celebration of International Week this fall.

“Part of it is to share our American culture with the students we come into contact with and welcome them into our community,” Charlie said, explaining his and Martha’s reasons. “And part of it is Christian outreach as well, to share some Christian love with them while they’re in our country and, hopefully, have the opportunity to share our faith as well.”

While he and Martha answer questions students ask, Charlie said, they don’t try to force their beliefs on anyone.

For Charlie, the most rewarding part of the experiences with international students has been the friendships and coming to a small understanding of other cultures. Martha pointed to another aspect.

“One of the most rewarding things for me is to see it pass down to our children as they reach out in ministry,” she said.

The Crane’s son and his wife work with international students on campuses in Atlanta and their daughter helped prepare teachers to go overseas as missionaries before starting her family.