Alec Surratt and his wife Donna are retiring after years of service in the mail department. They stop by the studio to share a few stories.
[Victor Kubik] This is Victor Kubik, president of the United Church of God. Our guest today are guests Alec and Donna Surratt, who have a very special day today, they have retired from fulltime work at the United Church of God, after 42 years for Alec and 30 years for Donna. We will miss them very, very much, but I thought they’d come to the studio one more time to just say hello and goodbye to our audience. Alec knows Spanish, French, and Portuguese, he gets by in those last two languages and he has been international mail supervisor, and Donna has worked with file maintenance and trainer and she has processed and trained a lot of students over the years. Welcome to Inside United .
[Alec Surratt] Thank you very much. It’s our pleasure to be here.
[Victor] Well, we have gotten to know them and have become friends with them over the years that we have worked here. They have been a couple, a married couple who have worked together, always together, and have set just a marvelous example of togetherness and unity and a real kindness to all of us. But comment about your work with International Mail. It is the lifeblood of what the church does. I mean, this is how we know who’s reading what and who’s requesting what. Tell us a little about your work.
[Alec] Starting in the mid ’60s I began to work in the Spanish department as a volunteer and then upon graduation was hired fulltime. In 1968 the Spanish edition of the magazine of the church first came into being, and we went from a few hundred subscribers on our file at that time. And then after advertising in the Spanish Reader’s Digest, which was known as Selectiones in Latin America, we received a huge response so we spent many, many months catching up. I remember that is probably the most exciting and also daunting time of my career in the Spanish work was being literally buried by thousands and thousands of responses of people wanting the Spanish magazine which was very exciting.
[Victor] So you were there from when it was very, very small to where it exploded?
[Alec] That’s true, yes. It went from basically nothing to a quarter of a million.
[Victor] Is that right?
[Alec] It was 200 or something around 240,000 that we had on file at that time.
[Victor] Well, I know that Alec has been one of our Spanish specialists, and if I’ve needed anything done in Spanish, either go to Google Translator or go to Alec to find out. It was one language that I have wanted to get to know. What other languages have you…have we had a lot of communication with?
[Alec] I would say Portuguese secondarily as far as number wise. We’re receiving multiple hundreds per week responses from Brazil in Portuguese, of course, and so that is an area of which we’ve expanded tremendously under the directorship of Mr. Jorge de Campos.
[Victor] So do requests for the Portuguese material come to you?
[Alec] They come here to Cincinnati. They are directed to either to my wife if they’re just subscription requests, and then we forward them on if they are more personal requests needing a personal relationship response, then they go on to Mr. de Campos who handles them personally by e-mail. Most of our correspondence nowadays is via email and not by handwritten form.
[Victor] What observations can you make about what we send out, what we promote, and how things come in, and where it leads? I’m sure that you have some thoughts.
[Alec] I do. Over the years, we have seen the responses of public change tremendously. Even in the U.S. When I first began to work in the department in the mid ’60s, there was a huge reading population and anything published would have a big response. That was…TV was up and going, but it didn’t have a hold on people as it appears to do now, and also, now there are other forms of media which has taken away the desire to read the printed word. And we have had to face that and to make some changes to try to reach a populous which in its majority now, I would say, is not a reading population. So we have to try to reach it in a different way and it’s been hard for some of us old-timers to…I won’t say necessarily to accept it, but to adjust to it and so we do both. My wife is more engaged in the internet response phase of it, and I still deal with the snail mail or the…
[Victor] Well, Alec, what are you going to be doing now over that you are retired, and tell us where you’re going and what your plans are for the next years?
[Alec] Well, we are planning to return to Texas which has been our home for many years prior to coming to Cincinnati. We have family there. It’ll be good to reconnect because a lot of them were growing up or have grown up in our absence, and so we want to get to be friends with the younger generation before they’re all grown and gone, as they say. And so that is one thing is just reconnecting with family. Another thing is we would like to travel a bit within Texas if nowhere else, and our goals are closer to home and a lot that we haven’t seen.
[Victor] So what do you plan to do with your lovely Mrs. Donna?
[Alec] She is the one that actually spurred me on to wanting to travel a bit. She has this goal of visiting as many of the state parks in Texas as possible. I think there’s well over a 100 so we have our work cut out for us.
[Victor] Well, Alec, tell us a little bit about the happiest moment that you’ve had with all the years you’ve been in that type of ministry of service to people. What was the moment that you would say was fulfilling, had made you happy and say “This is just really exciting work”?
[Alec] I suppose one personality would come to mind, and that really made me realize that I could learn a lot more lessons than I thought I needed to learn was the relationship I had with a gentleman who came into my life in about 1970…’69 or ‘70. He was an elderly gentleman and he came to the Feast of Tabernacles, he was from Colombia in South America. He was of American parentage. In fact, his parents were from the Cincinnati area, but in the 1880s they moved to Colombia. He had grown up basically surrounded by a Catholic society. I believe, I’m not sure, but I believe his parents or grandparents were Protestants, but I’m not certain of that.
At any rate, he became interested in the Bible and took the correspondence course and ordered all the booklets that we had available in English. He was bilingual. Anyway, this gentleman’s name was Mr. William Fly, and he used to come to Big Sandy for the feast. His wife and daughter would accompany them, and he would attend the festival in Big Sandy, in those days it was in a huge tent. And I remember the first time we met him. He was an elderly gentleman walking along the campus with his walking cane, and he was dressed in his tropical whites and his white shoes and his white hair, and so that was the first time I met him. Then he was invited up to the Spanish department because we found out he was from Colombia. And we’ve had a long talk with him and he had come because he wanted to be baptized.
And he came for two or three years and was counseled each time for baptism, and he so desperately wanted baptism and I just, “Oh, I hope he can be baptized this time.” But eventually, he was baptized after about three years of trying, and he was about the happiest individual I recall ever having met. He also met Mr. Armstrong, Mr. Herbert Armstrong, and they had a lot to discuss. They reminded me of each other. And so his stick-to-itiveness, his perseverance, his character of being determined to do what was right, to learn, to keep learning and growing, and to be baptized which was his goal…he inspired me by his almost ferocity that he was going to achieve that goal and he did. And he died in 1972 I believe, but he did succeed. He won the battle, and I would say that was the most inspiring example that affected me personally that I can remember. Just like as I remember William Fly when things get rough.
[Victor] Well, it’s interesting that you can relate that way to real people, who write letters, and who correspond or send things by internet, but when you actually see them in person and talk to them, and see their reaction, and see how they change their lives, it’s got to be very, very…
[Alec] It is. Seeing the results of what we day in, day out might do like sending literature there, and so it almost becomes just…oftentimes a boring job. When you can see the fruits of it, it’s really all worthwhile. You know it is. God’s behind it. Our minds are being open, hearts are changing, and it is really the thing to be involved in. I wouldn’t change it for anything else.
[Victor] Well, I hope to be able to see you again. I really do. Alec and Donna both, and hopefully I get to Latin area and visit there because…
[Alec] Oh, yes. Please, please come.
[Victor] We do have friends in Oklahoma City who live there. We might just slip on down to visit with you.
[Alec] Yeah, just on down the interstate.
[Victor] Well, thank you very much for being with us here today.
[Alec] Our pleasure. Thank you.
[Victor] It’s been great to see you both, and you will be held in the highest esteem by every single person here in the department. And it’s taken a long time to replace you, but I think we’ve finally got some people who could take on some of the work…
[Alec] Yes, I think you’re in good hands.
[Victor] In good hands. At first we thought we wouldn’t be able to do that because they have done such specialized work and we have just really appreciated them very deeply. Thank you for coming.
[Alec] Thank you very much. We shall miss you all.
[Victor] Okay. Thank you for joining us today on Inside United. Please come back again soon for more.