While international headlines focus on ongoing unrest in the Middle East, a pioneer of biblically responsible investing has deep family ties to the region. Timothy Plan founder Art Ally's father, in fact, shaped his son's upbringing and his outlook on life, family, business and more.
"Art Sr." was an immigrant born in Liftaya in the district of Homs, the third largest population area in the Syrian Arab Republic. Located about 100 miles northwest of Damascus, Homs has a rich history. Its ancient cities were subject to several conquerors, from the Romans to the Ottomans. The Bible documents that Solomon captured it and built several cities there (2 Chr. 8:3-6).
As a boy, Art Sr. tended camels for the family during the Turkish occupation in the early 20th century. His father, Rashid, seeking to avoid being drafted into the Turkish army during World War I, arranged passage to the United States. "That was when people were proud to come to America," his son, Art, points out. "And become Americans."
Rashid was inducted into the U.S. Army in 1917 and was discharged in 1918. Because of his service, he was granted American citizenship.
After his wife died, he later remarried in America. In 1926, Rashid and his two sons (Ali and Hamuda) set sail from Cherbourg, France, to the United States to live with his American family. On the Ellis Island records, Rashid was listed as being a Semitic Arab from Palestine, as were his sons. Art Sr. (Ali) could not speak or understand English. When he came to America around the age of 15, he was placed in the fourth grade. Easily the oldest in his class, he was humiliated to have to sit at a desk much too small for him.
Art Sr. had a hard time due to the language barrier, and so he quit school in the sixth grade. Although he was never a practicing Muslim, he believed the only "real" religion came from the Quran, which had been—and still is—the dominant text of the Islamic region where he grew up.
Still dealing with the language barrier and barely having three years of schooling, Art Sr. managed to find work and even marry his wife, Virginia. He worked for a bakery and made about $15 a month. The struggles they faced and overcame were steep.
Art Ally was born in 1942, the middle child of five. He was raised by his mom and dad in a three-bedroom home in a western suburb of Cleveland on eight acres of land. The family had horses, a cow and chickens. "We lived on eggs," Art said. As a boy, Art helped farm, milk the cow and clean the barn stalls. "I went to school smelling like a cow barn," he explained. Those modest beginnings and that work ethic helped shape Art's outlook on business and responsible investing.
But, after he gave his life to Christ, Art saw a much higher reason for striving to be successful in business and life—pleasing God.
Although they worked hard, the Ally family spent lots of quality time together, playing all sorts of games, including baseball. "We created a baseball field on the farm and even built a backstop for it. My older brother picked fights for me with his friends' younger brothers. We rode our bicycles all over town without worrying about getting attacked. It was a good, wholesome time and place to grow up. I grew up in a great home," Art recalls.
"We had strict values," he continued. "Behave or you're in trouble. Well, I got in a bit of trouble every now and then. My dad worked nights, so we ran a little wild at times. But we'd be home by 6 p.m. for dinner. It was a safe community and had a small-town feel. We never even locked our doors. People had basic values. At that time, the church was respected, not maligned as it is today. However, we still looked at churchgoers as a bunch of hypocrites. They'd go on Sunday, dress up in their Sunday best, but live like hellions the rest of the week. Watching them, we had Mahatma Gandhi's view, who said he'd consider being a Christian—if he ever met one."
Art was like most teenagers, though he did excel in school and had a keen love for mathematics, especially when it came to numbers. He often referred to this as "understanding the nature of numbers in the universe." Obviously, his love of numbers would play a huge part in his successful career.
One of the most amazing experiences in Art's life was when he and his older brother Ted joined forces in 1979 to take their father Art Sr. back to the Middle East, and specifically to Palestine, now Israel, after he had been gone for 53 years. He had not been back since leaving with his father for the United States when he was 14.
Art's wife, Bonnie, and Ted's wife were along, too. "We arrived at the Tel Aviv airport, and 10 family members were standing there with tears in their eyes—my dad had finally come home. We stayed with his family in Ramallah, where people lined up to see him every day. They had walked miles to see him and his sons."
(Excerpted from Invested with Purpose, a 2019 book by Robert Knight and Art Ally detailing the Timothy Plan story. Knight is a writer for Timothy Partners, Ltd. He is a regular weekly columnist for The Washington Times, Townhall.com, OneNewsNow and others. His latest book is A Nation Worth Fighting For: 10 Steps to Restore Freedom.)
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