Date: July 4, 2000 Publication: ST. Louis Post-Dispatch
Section: Editorial
Edition: Five Star Lift
Page: B7

IN my 20 years in America, I have traveled all over this great nation in search of the American experience, looking to understand what makes this country great. My American journey, which has taken me to 43 states, has made me a better person, more understanding, more appreciative of people and their beliefs. But my 20-year odyssey has also exposed me to many things that I didn't expect to find in America.

America is a nation of immigrants, where many people are trying to preserve their origins, to prevent becoming an anonymous ingredient in a great "melting pot." I see America as a tossed salad with different components and distinctions. The people and ideas make for a culturally, ethnically diverse salad rich in possibilities and full of promises. Wh at's missing is the best kind of homemade salad dressing: It's called love.

In America, I found that people of different races and ethnic backgrounds are often perceived through a clouded prism of traditional and stereotypical designations, which are based solely on perceptions. In America, minorities are often perceived as lazy, uneducated, dysfunctional drug addicts, criminals and welfare beneficiaries. I am troubled that Americans still hold on to these perceptions. My prayer is that sooner rather than later, we will come to realize the vanity of false distinctionsbased solely on skin color. The truth is that we are all God's children.

In my American journey, I met strangers who took me in and treated me like family. I found love compassion and acceptance in so many faces, in so many places. I discovered the true meaning of family in a small place with a big heart. In Plainview, Texas, I found the power of a small community and the warmth and concern for one another that radiates in this flat, windblown, treeless terrain of West Texas.

At the Kennedy Space Center in Titusville, Fla., visitors witness the conception of a dream, its lofty delivery, from the simple, but delicate, physics of a bird in flight to the extra-terrestrial marvel of Neil Arm strong, who took one small step for himself and a giant step for mankind. This is the best of America.

I wonder why a nation blessed with so many scientific achievements is unable to find a way to live in peace and harmony. And so I looked at the American Constitution and read some of the memorable thoughts on the ideals of freedom and equality, and I compared all these great writings with current political rhetoric. I must ask how really free and equal are those Americans who spend their days in food lines and their nights alone in chilly parks? I wonder how the richest, most powerful nationinthe world could afford to have so much misery around without feeling that something is wrong.

I am worried that America has found itself in the middle of a crossfire where hate is growing faster than love and the victims are people like you and me, innocent bystanders caught in a societal drive-by shooting. I am afraid that if America does not find a way to bring its people together, nothing will stop us from growing apart. Rep. J.C. Watts, R-Okla., captured the challenges that lay ahead for this nation when he said, "America needs to be a place where all of us feel a part of theAmerican dream. But it will not happen by dividing us into racial groups. It will no t happen by trying to turn the rich against the poor. It will not happen by asking Americans to accept what is immoral and wrong in the name of tolerance. America must find a way to put our differences aside. I am resolute that the future of America will be good if we all come to a realization that we can do more together than we can ever do apart."

THE visitor in me saw the awesome and overwhelming beauty and power of this great nation; but the student in me saw a nation of contradictions. They say this is God's own country, yet, prayers in public schools and in most public events are banned. This nation is searching for its true meaning, struggling with the disease of historical amnesia. America cannot afford to forget its Christian roots and its biblical foundation.

The challenge for all Americans is to come to grips with the fact that it's not so much where we are that matters, but in what direction we are going. This nation needs an army of believers, dedicated to ensuring that our future remains in good hands.

America, please don't allow the rain of discontent to wash your hopes and dreams away. America don't allow the unexpected showers of life to rain on your spirit of enthusiasm. There is nothing better. There is no place greater than America.