After a good, fruitful three day conference, we loaded the van with seven people and headed home.  We were taking two people to the bus station in Adana.  They would continue their journey from there.  And we were picking up one person in Adana to bring back to Antakya with us.

We headed out in bright sunshine.  However, as we made our way along the Mediterranean coast it began to cloud over.  It darkened to the degree that I swapped my sunglasses for my normal glasses.

The coast road transects many villages and towns. It may be four lane divided, but it is not a fast road.  After about 45 minutes, we reached the point where we joined the otoban.  ‘Otoban’ is what Turks call six lane divided, controlled access motorways.  Oh, and invariably, they are toll roads. But what you receive for what you pay is worth it.

We moved from a congested four-lane roadway to a six lane, high speed motorway.  And it started to rain.  Now, praise the Lord, our new van is equipped for such contingencies.  Our old van was temperamental about wiping the windscreen.  Sometimes it would.  Sometimes it wouldn’t.  And, frustratingly, sometimes it wouldn’t stop.

The windscreen wipers are ‘smart’ wipers.  And so, according to the intensity of the rain, it automatically wipes. We were entering a summer squall.  The rain starts light, just the occasional wipe of the windscreen required.  Then more intense.  The wipers automatically responded.  The squalls next stage begins.  The rain is pelting down and the wipers respond with intense, feverish thrashing.

As we are thundering down the motorway, it is harder to see the vehicles ahead of us.  One person in the van remarks they should have their running lights on.  But as we draw near we see they did, in fact, have their lights on. There was a lot of rain and a lot of road spray.

And being a squall, we passed from the intense portion into the raining portion.  From there we entered the light rain and finally, out to the opposite side of the squall.

As we arrived in Adana, turning off the motorway to find the bus garage, we entered the trailing edge of another squall.  The bulk of the squall had passed, and we were dealing with the aftermath.  It was still lightly raining, but there was standing water everywhere.  We dropped our brother and sister in the Lord at the bus station.  Then we began our unfamiliar twenty-minute journey through the streets and byways of Adana.  We had agreed to pick up another passenger.

It has been over thirty years since we lived in Adana.  This is a different city for me.  I could not find my way without the modern help of a navigation app.  The navigation app showed three paths – one of which was to carry on the road I was on.  I choose that one.

We made our way through the city, down lanes small and large.  Then we turned onto a road running parallel to a water canal filled to the brim. Now if it hadn’t been raining, nor the road awash with water it would not have been remarkable.  The canal was full to the extreme top of the canal and flowing with visible vigour. There was abundant standing water in the lane running beside the canal.  It was almost like the canal was sharing its abundance with the road.  It wasn’t.  But it felt like it.

We made good time crossing the city, working our way north.  Then we came to a key turning.  I misread the navigation and the road ahead of me.  With one turn, we were heading the wrong way.

Navigation apps are grand.  It immediately calculated how to return to the right path.  Following in obedience we were soon back on the correct road.  As we re-entered the same intersection, I made a better choice.

Soon we arrived at the designated location and were told to ‘wait’ and the person would come.  And so we waited.  It was still lightly raining.

Once we had our final passenger, we resumed our journey.  Our first task was to break free of the city and return to the motorway.  As we were departing a brother declared encouragingly, “It is very easy, just go down this road”.  Okay, it wasn’t difficult, but without the navigation app, I would have floundered.

Back on the motorway we were back to speed and heading home.  It was my plan to stop at a certain Services, about 20 kilometers out of Adana for a wee break.  It was dry until we approached the services.  Once again, we encountered the trailing skirt of a squall and drove into a light rain. 

After our pause at the services, somewhat refreshed, we began the final leg of our journey.  We were about two hours from home.

We crossed the plain to where the motorway branches.  The main arm carries on to the East and a secondary arm drops to Iskenderun and over the mountains to Antakya.  We took our turn and pressed on at speed.

However, as we drew near to the town of Dörtyol a new, dark, brooding squall lay before us.  This squall looked like it meant business.  We pressed on – it is not like we have a choice.

The light rain phase began – we sped onwards.  The moderate rain began, and we thundered on.  Then the heavy rain began obscuring the roadway, and we kept going apace.

We continued, and the rain increased in ferocity.  The automatic wipers entered their frenetic wiping phase.  No longer a sedate thumping back and forth but now a violent, feverish thrashing back and forth.  It was like a two-year-old on a sugar high after drinking coffee and an energy drink.  And traffic on the roadway was becoming difficult to discern.

I feel Turks are often energetic drivers.  But now they had slowed their driving.  Almost universally they turned on their warning lights, the four-way flashers.  It really increased their visibly.

The rain, the lack of visibility and common sense declared that one needs to slow down.  And so I, too, reduced speed.  Later, I reduced our speed again.  And, once more I slowed.

We entered the squall’s heart; the deluge part.  Time seemed to have slowed.  But, slowly, the intensity began diminishing.  Hope was born that we shall see the end of this tempest.

We gradually exited the heart of the squall and into the heavy rain portion.  Glad the obscuring rain and road spray were lifting and we could see more of the way ahead.  We pressed on.  Our emergency flashers were still on as we were not free of the squall yet. 

We crested a rise in the motorway.  As the blind side of the crest came into view, we saw a car askew, broadside in lane one.  There was light debris scattered on the road.  I briefly wondered if it was one who had powered past us in the deluge.  Even in the depths of the storm some intrepid drivers forged on.  

Unsure what was happening, and as we were still at speed, I tried not to make any sudden changes.  I passed by in lane three.  There was an intense miasma of diesel. 

The squall ended and shortly we were on bone-dry motorway.  We did not encounter any other squall on our return to Antakya.  There we dropped some passengers to transfer to another vehicle for the final leg of their journey to a nearby village.  We also dropped our passenger from Adana at their residence.

We stopped to fuel the van.  And as there was a car wash attached to the petrol station, I decided it would be worth the effort to wash the road spray off the van immediately.  I sprayed the soap on, covering everything.  Then I opened up the high-pressure hose to wash it all off…  And the grit, grime and muck remained.

I was surprised.   Normally, that combination washes the grunge off.  I rubbed the filth with my hand and that helped to removed it.  The chap at the petrol station offered to spray it down (at no charge).  He grabbed a broom and began scrubbing the van.  So I got a cloth from the vehicle and began wiping it down.  It seems there had been diesel on the road – and diesel laughs at water.  But soap, water, a broom and a cloth and we could persuade it to depart.

I wasn’t planning on hand scrubbing the van after an intense drive, but there you go.  I was much happier knowing the muck is gone.  Undoubtedly, it is easier to wash when fresh than after drying.

I have learned, that dirt, like sin, is easier to clean up immediately.  As time passes the stains and the stubbornness only increases.  I said ‘easier.’ I did not say easy.  It is easier than if I wait, whether paint, grit, grime or sin in my life.  Easier does not make it ‘easy’ but once dealt with, it is gone.  Easier is better than harder.  And ‘dealt with’ is far superior to festering.

I am a product of my culture.  Maybe I am a unique expression of that culture; I don’t know.  But for me road rules are absolute; they must be obeyed.  I know brothers and sisters who love the Lord and strive to please Him in their life and actions.  And these same God pleasing brothers and sisters flaunt, flout, stretch and ignore the traffic laws.  These laws which I find hard to cross – are mere shadows on the road for them.

Then I came to Turkey. 

Here we see two principles at work.  The first are the actual laws as formed and legislated.  The second is the actual practice on the roads of Turkey.

I noted in the early 1980s, when we first came to Turkey, this extreme dichotomy.  Then the practical rule of the road was ‘bigger vehicles’ are right and ‘little vehicles’ aren’t.  Traffic lights were considered ‘advisory’.  There were traffic policemen out and they were enforcing the actual, legal, legislated road rules.  But they were few.

Now over thirty years later, the same basic equation exists.  There remains a tension between what is done and what the laws declares.

Now for a dyed in the wool legalist like me I have a conflict.  If I drive according to the legal rules, I will be a hindrance on the road.  No one will expect what I am doing.  This is because drivers just drive.  They do this without thinking of the ‘legal requirements’.  They only change their driving habits when they are forced to.  Driving is a corporate affair – moving like a herd; everyone in the same manner..

But the majority often choose poorly. For example, if you were to reverse engineer the laws by observation, you would come to some strange conclusions.  You could conclude it is a requirement that all drivers have a mobile phone in their hands whilst driving.

Recently I was driving through the town of Erdemli.  Erdemli, means with good virtue.  As I am driving along, I note many pedestrian crossings.  They are clearly painted, signed and marked.  They have even written on the asphalt to give preference to pedestrians.  The authorities are changing Turkish driving habits.

And so, I am going along, seeing all these pedestrian crossings.  And then, just ahead, I note one with people waiting to cross.  Well, I should be part of the positive change, shouldn’t I? 

So, I brake to stop and allow the pedestrians to cross.

Then came the panicked screeching of tyres as the small lorry behind me struggles to stop before we kiss.  He never, in a million years, expected me to stop ‘for pedestrians’!

And the poor pedestrians; they want to cross the street, and one lane has stopped – but the other? Who knows?

The driver of the lorry catches up with me and inquires why I had stopped.  I explained there was a pedestrian crossing. He expounded, with energetic and broad hand gestures, “this is the roadway, the roadway….” To him, vehicles have an absolute and unquestionable priority.

So, the dichotomy remains.  Do you drive according to the rules – and be an active hazard on the roads?  Do you, keep to the rules and cease to be predictable by other road users?  Or, do you drive ‘with the flow’?  Do you join the herd?

The final stretch to our destination was a built up area.  It may be towns and villages or just a build up of structures along the road.  Anyway, what is the speed limit?  And, does anyone care?  To be predictable, I moved with the flow of traffic.  I drove at a rate not faster than the rest, nor slower.  

Was my speed technically at the correct level?  The inner legalist within me declares “nay“.  But it was safe and predictable. 

What should my response to the new pedestrian road crossings be?  Well, it is a good change.  I want to support this positive development.  Besides, I spend a lot of my time as a pedestrian. 

Therefore, as I drive, wisdom would have me look further ahead.  And when I see waiting people, to slow gradually to a stop.

Ultimately, I want to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.

Hmm.. that was ‘interesting’ and totally ‘unexpected’.

We were on the way out to recommence our food distribution to the Syrian refugee field workers.  On the way, we had a short discussion about English.  I was clarifying the meaning of the common English word ‘sure’.  One example I gave was “I’m sure this is right.”  And someone raised a counter point about the word ‘positive’.  Again, an illustration like: “I am positive I left it right here” was given.

Routine traffic stops are common in Turkey.  They do not stop every vehicle – there is often a winnowing, a selecting of whom to stop.  There are two kinds of traffic stops. The first is to issue fines for offences committed (speeding).  The other kind is a routine stop – checking for various things.

This was a routine stop and all the officer wanted was to see my driver’s licence.  This was not an unreasonable request.  And for me, there was no problem because I always have my driver’s licence with me.  Of this I was sure.  In fact, I was downright positive my license lives in my wallet.  This is a product of my upbringing.  I learned you MUST always have your driver’s license when you drive.

So, I had absolutely no qualms when I reached for my wallet….

Now, regardless of qualms or no qualms, I confidently reached for my wallet.  No matter how thoroughly and diligently I searched, I did not find my driver’s license!

In Turkey, this is an undisputed offence. There is no point in declaring: “It is my other trousers, I forgot it at home or whatever.”  All such statements are pointless and utterly meaningless.  

The officer could have hit me with a 4,000 fine AND having to appear in court (!)The fine would have been bad.  Appearing in court would have been very disruptive and frankly unappealing.

And, he could have written me up for not having a notarised translation of my license.  Thankfully, he didn’t make either of those two choices.

He wrote me up for not having my license to present.  T, always going the extra mile, had taken a photograph of her and my license.  We showed this to the traffic officer on her phone.  Thankfully, he accepted it as proof I have a license to drive. This was a gift.  For how could he know if I possess a license?   

But then it was in English, hence the requirement to have a notarised, translated copy.  He asked for my father’s name, a key Turkish requirement.  And asked where it was written on my license.  Well…. It isn’t

The upshot is he wrote the ticket with this photograph of my license. My offense: not having my driver’s license to show when required.

So, having earned a new piece of paper requiring a payment, we carried on to our food distribution. And, I continued to drive. The officer stated there was a risk of another fine. He felt any reasonable traffic officer would not write a second ticket.

All this was unintended….  I was sure it was in my wallet.  Indeed, I was positive.  But now, I had no inkling to its location.  I never move it about nor take it out. Nothing, I do nothing clever with it. It belongs in my wallet, and my wallet belongs on me. So, whenever I am called upon to drive, I have my driver’s license.

Needless to say, we did not find it where I expected it to be.

Oh, on returning home, not encountering any more traffic stops, we found my driver’s license.  The only conceivable place to look was my English wallet.  And true enough, there we found it.  When we arrived back to Turkey, it never made the transfer over.  Yani, I’ve been driving without a license for nigh on three months (!).  God is Gracious!

Interestingly, previously and for a few days I have been ‘feeling’ that I should get my license translated and notarised…. But I did not follow through.  If I had, this whole episode would not have happened.  Except what would have been a simple meet and greet with the traffic officer.

Anyway, it was a worthwhile – and tiring – day with the refugees.  We went to an encampment we have named Isken 1 which is teeming with children.  There I spent the time holding hands with the children, walking about, sometimes in a great circle.  Over the years we have built up relationships with umpteen children.

We are scheduled to go to the Syrian refugee children on Thursday, the second day after this incident.  Happily we have found my license and AND we will get it translated and notarised before we go. One fine is one too many for me.

I think the year was 2006, and we were in the ‘pearl of the Aegean’, the city of Izmir. T and I travelled and stayed in the city for two-weeks every month for over a year.

When there, we stayed with our friends and coworkers.  They lived in an area of Izmir called Balçova, a place noted for its hot springs.  In this area the thermal water is so abundant that they use thermal hot water to heat the homes and apartment buildings.

This, I found to be magnificent, free heating and free hot water.  At the same time I found this to be quite terrifying that the conditions to heat the water were so close, so very, unnaturally near; in fact, just under our feet.  Still, one advantage of staying there was the ability to visit the thermal springs.  It was a real treat to indulge and relax in the natural hot water.

Izmir, was in ancient times known as Smyrna.  It was then a thoroughly cosmopolitan city.  It still is today whilst at the same time is also a typical Turkish city.  And so it was not surprising that many signs in the hot springs were bi-lingual, Turkish and English.

Once, as I was passing through the lobby, my eyes fell on a rather large notice.  Typically, the English drew me.  I read that “parents are liable from their children”.  I must admit this tickled my funny bone.  I snickered to myself over the obvious error.  My assumption being it was supposed to be ‘for’ in ‘for their children’ but had been misspelt as ‘from’.   No doubt the sign writer did not know English and so this error silently passed by.

Feeling smug, I then turned my attention to the original Turkish.  I confess, reading the Turkish surprised me.  The Turkish states that “Veliler çocuklardan sorumlu”.  Let me explain.  Turkish is a suffix based language.  This means suffixes are added on to words, and so, if we translate this literally it is: “parents children-from responsible [are]”.

This straight away brought two things to my attention.  The first is the method which shows the relationship in the Turkish language and according to Turkish syntax is using the suffix ‘den/dan’.  This we typically translate into English as ‘from’.  The dilemma isn’t Turkish but our translation of the suffix which is most often, but crucially, not always accurately rendered as ‘from’.  Another thing that stuck me was I would constantly translate wrongly as I would eschew ‘from’ and consistently use ‘for’.  The Turkish for ‘for’ is ‘için’ which is not a suffix but a separate word.

Oph!  I completed the rapid descent from smugness to chagrin.  One moment I felt superior, and the next embarrassment.  I again realised that my Turkish is full of English-inspired errors.  I was reminded my Turkish reflects English forms and English syntax.  These I subconsciously wield to create my own, personal form of Turkish.

I giggled when I read the English.  That was wrong.  If, in like fashion, Turks chuckled at my linguistic faux pas, they would be justified.  But there is a problem.

We have lived amongst Turks for thirty-five plus years.  In that time I’ve never witnessed or overheard them mocking, laughing, ridiculing or making fun of foreigners’ verbal blunders.  I have heard of many foreigners’ gaffes.   Some of which are funny – er, am I doing the same thing again?  But, I’ve never heard them from the Turks.

It seems making a mockery of someones struggles in a second language is more the forte of foreigners.  I have found the Turks to be genuinely gracious.  Turks strive to understand what the foreigner is trying to communicate.  Full stop.  They do not take the mickey, nor take pleasure at the expense of the foreigner.  Here the foreigner can take a lesson from the Turks.

Oh, as for the grammar lesson… it is only this year I’m applying it to my Turkish.  In guess I’m a slow learner.

To tell the truth, I do not travel well.  Rather than enjoying the travel experience, for me, it is more the ‘price you pay’ to arrive at your destination.

Our trip down from the UK via a Turkish budget airline was uneventful.  However, once landed, we pass through passport control and retrieved our baggage, the official bit of travelling is done.  Then the question of how to get from the airport to our accommodation for the night I could put off no longer.

Of all the various means before us, being met by friends, taking the city bus, the airport service bus or a taxi to our destination, choosing was difficult.  The city bus runs an express service to the centre of Kadıköy which is near, but not actually that close to our destination.  The Airport Service which is more direct than the city bus, but also does not go genuinely close to our goal.  Taxis go the most direct and quickest route, but this is offset by the cost.  Maybe it was the time of day, the darkness or just being tired… we opted for a taxi.

We bundled into the conveyance, I got in beside the driver and we headed off.  Unlike in London where Black cab drivers must pass the “Knowledge”, here taxi drivers rarely know exactly where you want to go but will figure it out along the way.
  Our driver first opted to avoid the E5 dual carriageway as it would be the definitive illustration of congested traffic.  I observed that as the plane landed and we crossed the E5, it was a panorama of traffic, standing still or creeping along.  I did not object to his choice.

From the airport we joined the TEM motorway, which is a road I know and would have used if I were driving.  However, our driver, feeling that traffic would be too much, opted instead to turn onto a new motorway which goes to the new third bridge over the Bosphorus.  This bridge is on the coast of the Black sea, quite a ways north of where we were and where we intended to go.

I bowed to local knowledge and raised no objections.  So we departed the road I knew and headed into terra incognito.

Mind you, I am curious regarding the new bridge and the new motorways connecting it….  I wasn’t wanting to cross back into Europe on our first night in….  This was especially true as our friend’s home is on the Asian side of the city, the same side as the airport and the motorway we were travelling on.

The driver was correct, traffic was light.  He was flying along.  I must admit I was feeling like we were being driven by a descendant of Jehu the prophet.

Our direction of travel was north, north-west.  Our friends live basically westward.  Hence, we are travelling in a negative direction, and for every kilometre north there will be a corresponding kilometre south.  I am not worried.  I trust the driver.  But… but… we are going out of our way, and at great speed….

I admit to enjoying the forested hills and travelling over impressive concrete via-ducts.  There is something impressive about being transported high over valleys.  Then I spot a motorway sign showing an exit for Umraniye.  Now, for me Umraniye is meaningless save that is where we could turn south, south-west and be really heading towards our goal.

Our driver is making excellent time, racing along in lane four – the furthest from the exit.  The first exit sign has come and gone, and still he continues thundering down lane four, traffic occupying the three lanes to our right.
Now, honestly, I am quietly concerned.  I really, really want to see the third bridge, but NOT tonight.  I keep quiet… either your trust your driver or you do not….

The exit is nigh, and dare I say at the last moment, the driver begins to ‘power over’ to the exit.  Room or no room, cars and such, are all immaterial, he is shooting for the exit…. Which we duly take.

This new road is also a sparsely utilised eight lane motorway.  With the road wide open, our driver speeds up and we take up our position, once again, in lane four.  I am much happier in myself as we are now heading directly towards our goal.  But, naturally, as we draw near Umraniye area, the traffic increases immensely.

Soon we are in a long, never-ending parking lot like experience.  Traffic, that is standing traffic, is everywhere.  The dual carriageway is no longer eight lane but six; we have road markings for three lanes, but we have four lanes of traffic jostling for position and advancement.

We are near the high hill called “Çamlıca”.  Near the top the Turkish state has built a brand new massive mosque which dominates the skyline and is visible from many miles away.  It is a glorious testament to power and influence of the government – just like the grandiose buildings that grace so many cities in the UK.  Those impressive stone edifices built during the time of the British Empire and are a lasting testament to the power and wealth of that era.

The city of Istanbul is likewise graced with many extraordinary edifices which the Ottoman Empire erected over the course of 600 plus years.  They stand as a clear and lasting testament to the power and might of that immense empire.

This latest mosque is on that scale.  But it speaks not of the past but the current state of the Republic of Turkey.
Traffic being what it was, we had ample time to appreciate the massive complex.

IMG_0327In contrast, on the back side of the hill and nearer the summit, a massive concrete pillar soars into the sky.  Still under construction, it is to be a new communications tower. The goal is to replace the rather ugly cluster of communication and television towers on top of Çamlıca, moving them to the top of the new tower.  That will be a marked improvement.

However, the tower, in its current unfinished state, looks like a unimaginative phallic symbol thrust impossibly high into the sky.   Standing without the communication rigs secured to the pinnacle nor the viewing platforms and restaurants completed, it is merely the carcass upon which the tower will be built. Yet, when it is finished, it will be a wonder to behold, soaring 365.5 metres and this from on top of a hill.  It will the tallest building and a landmark in Istanbul.

This dual carriageway, thronged with crawling traffic goes under the skirt of this hill through a tunnel.  On emerging from the tunnel, the overhead signs declare a division in the roadway;  straight ahead to Üsküdar, our destination, or right to the second bridge and Europe.  Traffic is inching along towards Üsküdar; I am happy-ish.  At the least, we are travelling toward our goal.

Our driver manoeuvres, with difficulty, to the right.  This is the exit that goes, according to the overhead sign, and to the best of my knowledge where I do NOT want to go.  I have absolutely no desire to go over the second bridge – none.

Traffic is not moving, it is stop and go with the emphasis on stop.  As I observed, our driver has, with difficulty, left the Üsküdar bound lanes and now we are estranged from them, from the lanes going where I want to go…. And by separated I mean with a substantial barrier – there can be no repentance now.

Either you trust the driver or you do not…  I sat silently.  Inside I was in a roiling turmoil.

We slowly crawl along to a road jutting off to the right – well it couldn’t go left could it, as that is where the standing traffic is.  Our driver, with purpose and direction, turns on to this road and leaves the masses behind.  The road is much narrower, only a two lane passage.  But, there are far fewer who are using it, so our speed has increased immediately.
Down we fly, following the meandering path of this residential street.  We come to a sharp turn and it is an acute turn up the hill.  We take that and are shortly going over top of the motorway that is going to the second bridge.  This driver knows his stuff.

We turn right and I am surprised at the good time we are making considering the time of day.  We are now in Üsküdar proper and heading towards the banks of the Bosphoros.  The road crested the summit, and we plunged down the narrow road towards the shore below.  We come to a ‘Y’ junction and the driver, decisively and with purpose takes the left arm.

Now travelling on a steep, narrow, cobbled road there is just enough room to pass the cars parked on one side.  Down we go, the road turns to the left sharply down until we come to a sign strategically placed across the road declaring the road closed.  There is nothing for it.  With absolutely no room to turn around, the only action is to reverse back up whence we came.  I am glad I was not driving.

Now the driver took this in his stride.  He did not throw a wobbly, nor curse the city council nor any other emotional diatribe.  He put the taxi in reverse and cautiously reversed back up the hill between the parked cars, the edge of the road and back to the curve.

Well, before we got there, another vehicle came down the same, narrow, cobblestone passage.  The descending vehicle came to where we were.  Naturally we stopped.
After some mutual stopped-ness, our driver energetically gestured to the descended one to reverse up the hill.
He did.  We did.

Finally, we arrived back at the ‘Y’ junction and this time took the right arm, quickly descending the last bit of the hill.  Once on the sea-side road we passed by the end of the road we had attempted.  The workers had not yet laid the final stretch of cobblers, the road was impassible.  Added to this was a massive pile of sand blocking the exit.

We travelled along the side of the Bosphoros coming to the major square of Üsküdar.  The city council has redesigned this square many times over the years we lived there.  Once again they are redeveloping it…  the last time for a long while I hope.

Whatever they have done, traffic was manageable, and we made it through the maze expeditiously.  There is a one-way road at the bottom of the hill to the south.  Sometimes it is a one-way up and sometimes it is a one-way down.  It too has changed many times over the years.  On that day it was a one-way up, exactly what we needed.  Up we went.

Then travelling up Doğancılar street, we passed all the roads to the left which are all posted ‘Do Not Enter’.  Then we come to the one we want, a one-way, and going our way.

We power up the road, over the summit down part way on the other side to our destination.  We have arrived.

Mind you, going this way and that, up, down and back, it all has a cost.  It came to ₺150 which is a lot of money.   Shocked me it did. Works out to about £25 or $37 USD.

Through it all, we were at the mercy of a complete stranger.  We had to trust him.  We had to have faith he would convey us to our stated destination.  We encountered difficulties, struggles, barriers, and we were not driving.  It very much affected us, but it was not ours to solve.  We were to sit there and let the driver handle and sort it.  He did.

For me, this speaks of the Christian walk.  We must trust and have faith in God.  Whatever the barriers, struggles or troubles, letting Him sort it and carry us on to our destination.  Importantly, He is not a stranger, He is not ‘sorting it as he goes along’ like our driver.  He never makes a misstep nor takes a wrong turn.

Ultimately, at the end of the day, either I trust the driver, or not…

Today, 18 December, 2017, we returned, once again, to ‘the Grove’, this most challenging of the ad-hoc Syrian refugee field worker encampments that we visit. On this expedition, we endeavoured to be ‘smarter’ than in the past and to try and hopefully, to avoid some of the most egregious problems we have previously encountered.

Indeed, this is the only encampment where we have experienced the theft of a bag of foodstuffs off the back of the lorry.

As this occurred whilst the lorry was reversing and to hinder a repetition of that theft, on this outing, we arranged that I would be reversing the van and the lorry would be set up to drive straight off at the conclusion of our time here. The lorry would do no reversing in this encampment.

Additionally, we normally travel past this encampment on our way to a more distant encampment, and visit this encampment on our return, they know we are coming and they are ready for us… maybe too ready.

We felt that denying them this advanced notice may make the encampment more manageable. Therefore, we drove the back way, a much longer route, to the furthest encampment. On completion of that encampment we just arrived at ‘the Grove’ with no forewarning.

‘The Grove’ is also the encampment where we have tried, and sadly, failed to fully distribute the special treats that have been provided for the children.

However, we are still endeavouring to bless the children and give them these special treats. As the former method had consistently floundered on the rocks of this tumultuous encampment, this time we introduced a new method – just for them. Here we would include the special treats bundled together with, and at the same time, as we provided foodstuffs, pads and where appropriate, nappies and milk. This is not as nice a method, and you can never be certain that the children will actually get the treats – the mums very well may consume the treats themselves, or they may favour one child over another.

Applying this special method, just for this encampment, we strove to ensure that every child on the system had their treat given with the foodstuffs. A side benefit of this method here was the Team was not besieged by an unruly mob or, at times, nearly rabid rabble of children. Oh, and additionally there were no attempts by the children to gain forced entry to the vehicle with a view of pillaging the store of treats.

As we seek to serve this particular encampment, we try to work with the realities on the ground and still accomplish our goals.

Whilst we were processing the various inhabitants from one side of our ‘working zone’, I noted two wee boys, on the opposite side. Both lads were under six years of age. The one boy, slightly taller, suddenly grappled with the other in an obvious attempt to simply inflict pain. This was not rough-housing, nor play fighting, he was going for blood. He was squeezing, punching and twisting to make as much pain for the other child as he physically could.

Before I could intervene, they broke off their clinch. Not a sound was emitted by either.

However, after I turned my back, the victim of the earlier encounter, the smaller boy who had been assaulted, turned and forcefully grabbed his former assailant by the head and drove him vigorously, face first towards the side of the van. Before I knew what was happening, there was the sound of the impact of his face coming into a forceful encounter with the van.

Once again no sound was forthcoming and they broke off their hostilities and scattered.

This really is a very dark, a very sad encampment. Harshness, casual violence, shouting, thrusting, jockeying, striving, grasping for advancement is the norm within this gathering of souls.

And it is in this encampment where a young bride whom we encountered a year previously – she married at 14 years of age – still a child herself, now resides. It is in this harsh and unwelcoming encampment that she dwells with her equally young husband and their baby girl. One of the members of our American team was touched by her plight and purchased some baby things for her and her child. The American, herself, a pregnant mum, wanted to help her and to ‘visit with her’ – the only impediment being she speaks no Arabic and the wee child-bride-new mum speaks no English.

Nevertheless, they spent the majority of the time we were in this encampment, ‘visiting’. Sometimes it is remarkable the degree of communication that can transpire in spite of lacking a common language.

At the end of the day, if any place needs to see light, needs to be exposed to a better way, needs to see love and grace and patience and perseverance, it is this place.

Twice a year is carrot season, the spring and winter. This photo is from the spring harvest.

Many of the inhabitants were away in the fields working – this is the season for pulling carrots from the muddy soil – and so on arrival we were not confronted with as large a mob as on our previous encounter. Also, neither of the two, rather problematic, rapacious gang-masters were present. And so on this occasion, our distribution was a bit more manageable and a little less chaotic.

Mind you, the formidable ladies still seemed to think the most effective means to communicate with us, even those of us who speak no Arabic, was to shout emphatically at us – in Arabic – vigorously gesturing all the while.

Nope… absolutely no comprehension on our part.

When we thought we were done… we were not rushing to leave, we wanted to make sure we saw all who were to be seen, but, quietly we were thankful that it seemed to be finished…

… a minibus flew up and skidded to an abrupt halt near our vehicles positioned at the entrance to this encampment… it was transporting some of the missing inhabitants from the fields where they were labouring….

It is known that on our arrival to an encampment we will leave the provision with an immediate member of the ‘registered’ family – but if there is no one from the family present, we leave nothing.

And so, on the arrival of these late-comers, the work carried on…

When, finally, we had worked our way through these belated individuals, we were confronted with a small gaggle of various ones who were presenting to be registered and to receive some foodstuffs.

It has been our experience over the course of the three years we have been engaged in this activity, that at the end of our time at an encampment, that the chancers, the charlatans, the liars come out – and oh, mixed up amongst them can be bonafide late-comers or honestly unregistered new-comers.

Within this cohort was one individual we had dealt with on our previous encounter. Nothing had changed in his circumstance, and no, we were not about to give him anything. On our previous encounter it was determined that whilst he is living alone, and he waits for his family to join him – which he believes will happen at some time in the future, he is, in the meantime, eating from the kitchen of a relative, and on checking the number of people in that family, they were already in possession of the extra needed to feed him. Nevertheless, he keeps trying it on…

Then there were others who presented, but claim they do not have any ID. This is possible – just. But the whole picture taken together, it was unconvincing to me at least.

They were presenting in this context of misrepresentation, dubious presentations, and these two, who were claiming to be four individuals staying together, but there were only two before us, and they were young men with no ID – Turkish or Syrian.

Again, I was feeling unconvinced

The lack of any ID is hard to accept in this part of the world where everyone has some form of ID – with the very rare exceptions of those who have just fled a disaster. These young men were claiming not to have Turkish ID, fully understandable, but they must surely have their ever-essential Syrian ID.

Grace would have even to give them a bag of foodstuffs – but, unfortunately, I was not feeling very gracious at that point in time.

At a different encampment, or earlier in our time there, I very well may have been more gracious in my response….

Methinks, there be a lesson in here for me… grace over all…

We departed…

From ‘the Grove’ we made our way over to an encampment we have named ‘Isken-1’.

This encampment also looks to be wintering in the fields like ‘the Grove’.

But this is a very different encampment.

There are 185 people registered in this encampment with 59 children between two and ten years of age and 36 babies – which means that fully half the encampment is under ten years of age.

On our arrival, down the poor field road, the sun was pleasantly shining. Vibrant, young, green grass has grown among the multitude of stones in the fields beside the encampment. This vista provided a delightfully rich, captivating and verdant background. The weather was warm. But, most importantly, these Syrian refugee field workers are very different in attitude and behaviour to those in ‘the Grove’.

Here they stand around, in a pleasant cluster, in a non-threatening, patient manner, waiting their turn. There is no shouting, gesticulating, shoving, intimidation or ruckus behaviour by demanding adults crowding in on the zone where the team is working.

The children are, well, everywhere. They are, by and large, clean and clean-conscious. There are no adults driving the children back with sticks – so unlike ‘the Grove’.

The children are friendly and cleaner than you would expect for people living without adequate washing facilities.

I moved away from the vehicles and the crowd and began tossing the children up in the air. They loved it. A small cluster gathered around me asking for ‘their turn’.

Then two young men came towards us, animatedly speaking and gesturing at us in Arabic, which I do not understand. But one word they kept repeating was ‘haram’ which is the same in Arabic and Turkish meaning ‘sinful’, ‘forbidden’,‘unlawful’.

I thought, is it ‘haram’ to toss children in the air? Am I doing something offensive? Am I, inadvertently, doing something wrong?

I speak Turkish. They speak Arabic.

But, with their descriptive chatter, and hand gestures, I began to get an inclination of what they were saying.

I called our bi-lingual minder over and asked him to enlighten me.

It was just as I was beginning to suss out. They were concerned that I, a white beard, an older gentleman, was tossing children in the air… a vigorous and demanding action. They felt and feared that I may do myself an injury in the effort. It was, in their view, haram’ for the children to be asking to be so entertained and played with.

They were merely concerned for the ‘old man’.

Later in the distribution and this was the last encampment of the day, actually of the year… the next distribution is planned for 2 January 2018, I mounted the lorry and moved a number of bags from the front to the back of the lorry to be ready for distribution.

A couple of the children were by the lorry, and I lifted them up into the lorry – they really enjoyed being inside the ‘forbidden zone’.

As I was moving the bags, they too, spontaneously begin moving the bags… mind you the bags are disproportionately large and heavy for them to move, but with all their effort, they would tug, pull and cajole the bags towards the back of the lorry.

They were being helpful, without being asked.

When it came time to alight from the lorry, I called them, in Turkish, I do not know Arabic and they, in truth, do not know Turkish, but they understood. They came and were happy to be lifted down – out of the desired, prized location. No resistance, no demanding to remain there, they quickly and happily acquiesced to my request.

Later, when it came time to move the rest of the bags to the back of the lorry, a young Syrian refugee mounted the lorry and shifted all the remaining bags forward. No one asked him to, he saw the need, and jumped in to do it.

He was being helpful. There was nothing extra in it for him.

This is so unlike ‘the Grove’.

In ‘the Grove’, the van is always locked and there is no way we could trust anyone up on the lorry. Sometimes the young lads have offered to assist… but always and obviously with an eye some the reward they expected to gain for doing so…

Here in ‘Isken-1’ the van remains unlocked and help is welcomed in the lorry.

Two children were holding my hands, and we were walking beside the lorry. There was some mud to one side, and the person on my left accidentally stepped in the mud. Her sandal and toes were soiled with mud.

She immediately stopped, got a piece of paper and commenced throughly cleaning her footwear, and then her toes. She is aware and striving to be clean.

So unlike ‘the Grove’.

In the end, some people came who ‘used to be in a nearby encampment’ (we called it ‘Isken-2’). That encampment is no more – the inhabitants have either moved to ‘Isken-1’ or the relatively nearby town of Kirikhan.

It became clear that these late comers are no longer living in the fields, but have come from Kirikhan, and we do not provide for those who are not living in the fields.

In any event, the last bag came off the lorry, so there was no more to give. They didn’t press, which is also an established tell of those who are ‘trying it on’.

We still had some ten or so litres of milk left on the lorry. Normally we would return them to Antakya, and take them out on the next run.

But here, I grabbed the box and gave a litre of milk to each small child I saw until they were gone.

It was a good day. The team will carry on the work in the new year, but it was our last day before we return for our annual sojourn in the United Kingdom.

It was a good mix of encampments.

And, once again, some more lessons for me to learn had come to the fore.

Truly it was a good contrast between the two encampments; one, which you naturally want to help and enjoy, and one, you realise is the neediest of them all and we really need to prioritise and spend time there being loving, caring, gracious, serving, patient, understanding and always being true to who we are in Christ and allowing Him to shine forth in us.

December 2017

Winter, and by that, I mean an Antakian winter, has arrived.

There is no snow in the valley – very rarely is there snow in the valley. The Amanos mountains have had a dusting of snow on the upper reaches as has the impressive, soaring pinnacle of Kel Dağı (Turkish), Jebel Aqra (Arabic), Mount Casius (ancient). This limestone mountain rises 1,717 metres out of the sea near the mouth of the Asi river (Turkish) or Orontes river (ancient) on the Turkish-Syrian border. It is the dominant feature, being the highest mountain in the area. It too had been liberally dusted with snow. However, all this dusting of snow has since receded and vanished, but there still remains a distinct chill in the air.

An Antiochean winter is, thankfully, absent ice and a driving artic wind common in Europe and North America. Here we do not entertain the extremes of winter weather that are the norm there. Consequently, you may be tempted to think that winter here is rather pleasant.

I suppose, comparatively speaking, it is. But, we do not live ‘comparatively speaking’. The heating systems and the degree of insulation employed in the buildings is only a fraction of what is taken for granted in chillier climes. Hence the homes are cold, draughty, damp and oft-times miserable, resulting in an unbalanced mix of hot spots, too hot spots, cold spots and damp, dank mouldy spots.

Consequently, even for us city-dwellers, when the humidity is high, the cold becomes a penetrating, biting, piecing damp chill. The daily temperatures are only just above, or, on occasion, just below 0ºc… but to the ill-prepared, it is more than sufficient to cause hypothermia.

Slowly, natural gas is being rolled-out in the city, having arrived just a few years ago. Hence, it has only been in the last two or three years that people are converting from coal fired central heat boilers in the apartment buildings or the coal/wood/crushed and pressed olive pips that has traditionally fuelled stoves to heat homes and shops. This slow shift will aid in cleaning the air… but not everyone can change to natural gas and not everyone wants to.

The inescapable, natural consequence of heating with coal, and usually a rather poor grade of coal, is the oppressive, heavy, haze of choking, foul coal smoke which engulfs and smothers the hapless inhabitants. Often the stove pipes empty straight into the streets, the smoke rising no higher and settles in and flows down the streets in a thick, gagging fog.

Having said all that, city living is still a veritable ‘heaven’ compared to the conditions that the Syrian refugee field workers, living in their crude shelters of tarpaulin stretched over frames and pitched in barren fields, must endure. There the damp, the rain, the low brooding clouds, the wind and the inescapable mud means that winter is a profoundly difficult, health threatening, utterly miserable time. In poorly located encampments, the damp rises up directly within the shelters, seeps in at the edges, condensation pouring down the inside walls and dripping off the tarpaulin ceiling and results in an unhealthy environment more suited to frogs and mould than human beings.

For the human residents, better the heat, insects, creepy-crawlies, snakes, the ever present wind and the unrelenting back-breaking labour under the unforgiving scorching summer sun.

Well, let’s be frank, both are bad, but winter is worse.

This year a brother from Istanbul came and joined with us on one of our distributions. When he saw the state of the footwear of the children, those who were wearing any footwear at all, he saw that they were wearing sandals, flip-flops or undersized shoes with their feet hanging off the back side.

Photo from a bit earlier in the year, but please note their footwear…

All the footwear was in tatters. Some were wearing socks, many were not. Not a few of the children were barefoot.

But, winter has arrived. It has not drawn nigh, it is not at the door, it has truly come… things will continue as they are, getting worse in the depths of winter before the hope of spring dawns several months away.

I am wearing proper shoes, with proper socks, and I still feel the cold. Too many of these children are barefoot and the rest are in sandals, flip-flops or slip-ons.

Most are living in desolate fields, and when it rains, the inescapable mud is literally everywhere, and after the rains have passed, there remains puddles and the low spots where the water has accumulated it is extremely reticent to seep away.

Our visiting brother was touched by the love and compassion of God and on his return to his home, made inquiries and spoke with various ones and the Lord touched someone to provide the funds that would enable us to purchase winter footwear for the children. This was not a trivial act, can you imagine the cost of boots and socks for 299 children (under ten years of age)?

We went out and sourced acceptable quality footwear, in a variety of sizes to outfit the children, always striving to get the right balance of cost to value.

And so, recently, the Team did the first distribution of winter boots and socks – because of the slow nature of the task and the number of children and the diverse encampments, we calculated it would take at least three trips to the refugees to be able to get to everyone.

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The team went out to two of the largest encampments and fitted the boots; it was very slow going as you must fit the boots to each and every child to ensure a proper fit. And they are children… not always the easiest to organise and fit socks and boots onto…

In the course of fitting the boots, it became apparent that of the children who did have socks, that the socks were found to be sopping wet and ice cold. The children’s feet felt chilled to the bone.

The project was to provide two pairs of socks and a pair of new, water-proof boots for each child.

Now, as a general principle, when we go out to interact with the children, to play with them and such, we, normally do not inform the Social Assistance Department. It is our understanding that when we are engaged in some form of distribution, that we are constrained to contact them.

As we were ‘distributing’ boots, we informed them and they wanted to send a ‘minder’ along with us to monitor and, well, vet what we are doing.

The next ‘boot’ distribution was on a Thursday and the next encampment on the list to be visited was place we have named: Ağaçlık, that is ‘the Grove’. This has proven to be the most difficult, most challenging encampment we go to. For a detailed picture of this particular encampment, I recommend a blog describing this encampment – it can be read here.

Because of the difficult nature of this encampment, I, who normally do not go on these Thursday trips, offered to come along and assist. I felt, especially with this challenging encampment, that the more helpers the better.

E. loaded the van with a good selection of various sizes of boots and socks and then travelled an hour up the valley to our rendezvous location. There we picked up our minder – who turned out to be someone new.

This new minder seemed like a pleasant enough character. He is clean-cut, well shaved, well dressed, in his late twenties or early thirties. He is polite and easy to get along with.

We drove out to ‘the Grove’ encampment and I backed right into the encampment which recently I have been refraining from doing.

True Confession Time: I backed in, so vehicle would be near and our departure would be least encumbered, straight forward and, well, quick.

This encampment has nearly doubled in size as two gang-masters, who are brothers, have brought their separate Syrian refugee field workers together to winter on this bleak, rock strewn, isolated rise in the fields.

Our plan of action here was different than any of the other encampments where we have distributed boots and, to be frank, the people are easier to work with. Rather than have the people come to the van, and to fit and distribute there, here we felt the only way to control the process was to go from shelter to shelter and size and fit the boots at each shelter. This was inherently inefficient as we would go to a shelter, determine the boot sizes, and then someone would go to the van, collect the boots and socks, return, and when some boots did not fit, return to get the new size.

But, on the positive side, we would be dealing with one shelter – okay, sometimes two shelters – at a time, we would validate who belonged in the shelter and then fit the boots there and then.

Additionally, we also brought face paints with us to decorate each child after they have received their boots, fun for the children – and to identify to us those who had already received their boots; I did say this was a difficult encampment.

And yes, sadly, we did have some small children coming for boots (pushed along by their mums, who strove to remain out of sight, – the children themselves are innocent) and who, on examination, had the mark on their hands!

We divided ourselves into three separate entities. Two groups would go to the shelters, ensure we had just the inhabitants of the shelter and then we would collect the appropriate boots and socks from the van and fit them on the children. The third entity was charged with staying by the van, expediting our collection of boots and socks of various sizes and, regrettably, he was also charged with guarding the contents of the van.

Of the two groups going from shelter to shelter, one was led by our interpreter and the other, by E. In E’s group was our minder, who is also a bi-lingual, Turkish/Arabic speaker. He became our defacto interpreter for this group.

Throughout the time we were in the encampment, we would have men, women, teenagers coming and asking us for footwear also, as, alas, they too have very real needs. However, all we had was for the children. Some of the ladies were petite enough that, physically, they could have worn our largest child sized boots. However, the funds were given to provide for the children, and if you give to one adult, the rest will demand that we provide for them…

Whilst we are in the encampment, the sky was cloudless and the sun was brightly, warmly shining. The air was absolutely crystal clear – I mean really, really, unusually, spectacularly clear. And, for the first time at this distance, for me at least, I could see the dramatically tall mountain, Kel Dağı, down at the coasts, some 70+ kilometres away. Truly amazing!

It was a glorious day – a day when you are naturally inclined to smile.

But when my eyes shifted from the view, the sky, down to the encampment surrounding me, bathed as it was in the soft, pleasant sunlight of winter, there were puddles and inescapable mud was everywhere. The low spots were boggy. Some make-shift kitchens had active puddles inside.

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The ground was firm enough to walk on, but, I had to be careful as it was very slippery – a thin film of red mud lay on the surface everywhere. Simply walking across the encampment was fraught with danger as, without a moments notice, my feet could slip and slide beneath me.

My shoes and the bottom of my trousers were well muddied just from our short time in the encampment. You can imagine the state of those, especially the children who abide there, 24/7.

On completion of that encampment it was evident that God delights in answering prayer as we and many had interceded for our time in this particular encampment and it actually had gone quite well,. For comparison with our earlier encounter with this encampment, please refer this blog, click here.

This time, there was no shouting, no oppressive demanding, no tumult, no intimidation, no swarming mass, no mob of besieging children; truly it wasn’t too bad at all.

The smile on my face when we arrived, in the sun, enjoying the clear air and the amazing vistas before me, was still on my face as we climbed in the van and departed.

And, on our departure, as we still had a good number of boots left, not all sizes, but, an adequate number, we headed to a smaller encampment to carry on.

At this encampment we can be a bit more relaxed. The gang-master and his wife came out and they are trust-worthy and are always a delight to see. As they often do, they offered those of us who desired it, strong Turkish coffee served in a wee demitasse. A powerful pick-me-up and sometimes, when it is really strong, a kick-me-up.

We enjoy this particular encampment. We call it the ‘White House’ as the gang-master lives in this small village in a ‘white house’. He has arranged accommodation for his Syrian refugee field labourers here in the village. Mind you, they are living in old buildings, abandoned buildings, lean-tos and such – but better than a squalid tent in a barren field.

Also, the gang-master has a clean, easily accessible, Turkish style toilet, a wash basin with soap and, as I mentioned, they often give us Turkish tea or Turkish coffee. In all the other encampments there are no clean facilities where one can relieve oneself.

Here we were distributing the boots when someone thanked E for what we were doing, and E, rightly, corrected them, and explained that these boots are not coming from us, but from ‘Christians’ and ‘churches’ around the world….

…. and immediately our minder forcefully interjected “you can not say ‘churches’”…

E promptly, forcefully, but nicely, informed him that we do and we will…

He said, in that case stop what you are doing – you must stop the distribution – you cannot continue!”

Strange, strange, strange… methinks… we are providing needed essentials, we are not requiring people to listen to us, nor are we declaring their very real need for a Saviour, nor do we have a banner declaring we are Christians and representing Churches and the Lord Jesus Christ, nor is there a large cross painted on the vehicle or hanging from our necks, nor emblazoned on the back of our jackets, nor do we make a point to loudly, in your face, declare the truth that they all need to hear… nor do we engage in any polemics… we do not rail against the corruption, immorality, nor the actions and activities that have caused the grief of the refugees nor the source of all this darkness. We say nothing detrimental or negative.

We are called to ‘be light’, to ‘be salt’. Indeed, we are living testimonies. We are God’s Light in this a most dark area. Indeed, our God-given love and God-driven service to those who are not of our faith, is a powerful declaration to all – and, yes, by and large, they all know we are Christians.

But, if in conversation, we mention “church” or “Christian”, well, for the minder, a red line has been well and truly crossed, we have gone beyond the pale, we must be stopped!

It is not so much the minder himself, he is a man under authority. He has been expressly and clearly instructed, by his superior, to not allow us to speak in or of the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, nor to say that we are Christians and that Churches are involved. Never mind that churches are not required to assist and yet have free-will helped these strangers of a different faith.

At our minder’s imperative that we ‘cease and desist’, we began to attempt a dialogue with him. He immediately began by declaring that the Church is the active enemy, and that all the problems in the Middle East come from the United States – and herein is the rub, for many in this part of the world, the United States and the Church are seen as one.

Now, my mind, which attempts to be logical, has trouble squaring the circle whereby Muslims killing Muslims in this part of the world is the work of the U.S. …

But he was convinced.

He retorted:

“Who,” he asked, “is paying the money?”

Who is ‘pulling the strings’?”

Who is master-minding, organising and orchestrating it all?”

It has been my repeated experience that for far too many people living in this part of the world, the clear answer to all these questions is the United States.

As it really is not possible to dialogue with an ideologue… there really is no common reference point, there is no established base line for a frank discussion… the only recourse was to ring the minder’s boss.

This E promptly did…

The boss was adamantly of the opinion that we can not and must not, say we are ‘Christians’ or that the aid is coming from ‘churches’. For him, and as he is the head of his department, for his department, this is flatly unacceptable.

He went so far as to directly and openly say to E, “If you do not want these people to go without boots and if you do not want them to go hungry, then do not say you are from a church”.

Bizarrely, he seems to be extremely content for these impoverished people, these suffering refugees, these hapless individuals sheltering in barren fields, these people of the same faith as himself – his co-religioniststo go without boots and to go hungry rather than to have them receive aid and, from time to time, directly, hear us say the most frightening of words: “Christian” and “church”.

Unbelievable.

Remarkable.

What, in the world, is he so, instinctively, afraid of?

What does he expect to happen through the utterance of these two words?

E informed him that we have, are, and we will continue to declare from whence this assistance is coming. She pointedly said to do otherwise would be dishonest, to lie, the aid is not coming from us, by our hands at the end of the process maybe, but, she pointed out, we are Christians, motivated by the Love of God and the source the provision comes from Christians and Churches in other countries.

She declared we are called to be honest. We are called to ‘speak the Truth in love’.

Additionally, again addressing our part, we are called to love our neighbour, and currently our neighbours are these Syrian refugee field labourers – of an alien faith. So we take the provisions, that God has provided via Christians and Churches, and go out to where these people are living to ‘love our neighbour’.

And that is how it was left: he said his bit and we said ours.

He said categorically, “Do not say,” and we replied categorically, “We shall say.”

Where this tale shall end, we do not know… but we shall continue to be, to do and to say as we have… until we no longer are able…

Strangely, he had requested, and we provided some of the boots we had, for his department to distribute to the needy Syrians in the local town. And, in the past, he has requested and received some food-stuffs to distribute in the town to Syrian refugees.

It is noteworthy, and rather remarkable to me, that he seems to be happy to receive aid from Christians and from Churches, but not for the Syrians to hear from whence this aid arises. He knows. We declare it to him… repeatedly…

Again, I am gob-smacked…

…Why is he so, profoundly, viscerally sensitive to two mere words?

It must also be kept in mind that this is nor just ‘his’, but his attitude is indicative of the greater ‘fear’ and the greater negative and hostile attitude towards Christians in this land of the Bible by the vast majority of citizens living in this country.

Some encampments of Syrian refugee field workers, cease-to-be, they close up shop and disappear in the wet, windy and bleak months of winter.

Good for them.

Living in the fields in winter is not a desirable nor attractive proposition. Life is hard and miserable in summer, and just plain deplorable in winter.

We have been encouraged when we go to provide some assistance to an encampment to find a barren field with just the debris, cast-offs and the detritus left by human habitation that proclaims that there was once an encampment there – but the encampment is no more. They have moved on and maybe, just maybe, to some better place, or, we must confess, sadly, it may be to an equally bleak site somewhere.

This day was our last visit to just such a place. There remains but a few families living in some farm buildings which means that those few remaining will enjoy relatively good accommodation. The main encampment is barren and deserted – workers will return in the spring when field work will again be plentiful.

Those who are remaining in this location, by and large, are dry, secure and have proper sanitation. When there is work, they will work.

However, these remaining Syrian refugee field workers, in spite of the benefits they have, will still be in need. On this, our last trip up the long and prone to being reduced to a hopeless quagmire of a track, our goal was to provide some assistance and to collect their phone numbers. For the remainder of the winter months, we will ring them and then draw nigh to their location – to the closest point where the roadway is sound. They will come to us – farm equipment will happily power through where road vehicles will become well and truly mired.

From there we made our way to the encampment we have named ‘the Grove’ due to the small stand of trees across the road from the encampment; there are no trees or bushes of any description within the actual encampment; it is rather barren.

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This encampment is situated on some high ground. I would not call it a hill, it is just a simple piece of higher ground. It is rocky and would be impossible to farm in its current state. The rocks in this region are large; I mean they are literally gargantuan – they can only be removed with large excavators. The majority of the rocks are buried in the ground, sometimes their heads, sometimes just their shoulders protruding from the soil. Shelters, as best as one can, must be placed around these boulders as they can not be shifted.

On the plus side, this higher, slightly lifted up location, at the very least, will not become a bog in the incessant rains of winter.

And, sadly, it appears that this encampment will be remaining in this remote location over the dark, damp days of winter. The prospects of living in rude shelters, exposed to the wind and rain through the long, dismal days of winter is truly appalling.

The headman in this encampment is from the area in eastern Turkey near the city of Urfa. He is a bilingual Turkish / Arabic speaker and his life occupation has always been a ‘field worker’. He is the headman in this encampment because he is the ‘gang-master’ and the residents of this encampment are his work force.

As the gang-master, he organises the field labour and provides a modicum of the essentials for the workers – it was up to him to find and arrange a place for the workers to pitch their shelters. He also will provide some source of water (often it can simply be a water bowser as in this encampment). I would say in most, not all, but most encampments, the gang-master will arrange a degree of electricity (most often illegally sourced by attaching wires to the passing electrical cables).

The electricity that may be supplied is not properly established. Most frequently you observe wires running over the floor, lying on and through the dirt and puddles. There is no fuse box or circuit breaker. Wires can be spliced together and protected from the elements and curious children with whatever tape-like material is to hand, even sellotape. I suppose if the wires get too hot and burn up, then that will function as a rudimentary fuse… of sorts…

It is up to the residents in the encampment to construct simple out-houses and some kind of structure to bathe in. The bathing structure will have a dirt floor as everything else has, but the tarpaulin will be stretched around and over to afford a degree of privacy to have a rudimentary sponge bath. For the winter months, they also manufacture some primitive shelters to act as kitchens.

IMG_3114We arrived at the Grove, and, as I have been doing recently, I did not drive into the encampment proper, but rather chose to stay on the roadway. The road at the entrance is wide enough for us to set up on the far side, and traffic – traffic is rather infrequent on this passageway – can easily pass by on the remaining side. The residents of the encampment come and stand in the road, hence not in the mud, for the distribution.

The lorry reversed up to the van and hence the vehicles were back to back. This created a separated area for the team to work in. This space together in concert with the simple barriers we bring with us, forms a division between those who are waiting to receive some assistance and the team who are organising and distributing the provision.

Separate from the regular food-stuffs distribution and as the result of some special gifts being provided, we have been enabled to give the children some milk or fruit drinks and a sweet snack.

We have been doing this at each encampment.

But this encampment is different.

This encampment is fundamentally and dramatically different.

The gang-master in this encampment tends to be an ill-tempered, peevish, quarrelsome individual. We witnessed at an earlier time, in a different location, this gang-master physically assaulting a man who he thought needed being put in his place. In all the time we have been engaged in this work, this was the one time where we have observed a fight, a brawl between two men.

This gang-master can be pleasant, but he can be bellicose, petty and, well, short-tempered and grouchy.

It must be said, he is not short-tempered or grouchy toward us; with us he tends to try to manipulate and use us, he tries to get more for himself and his greater family – oh, and also for his Syrian refugee field workers. He is not above lying to our faces, or saying that someone is no longer in the encampment, when they are still in residence. It appears he has done this in the past in order to deprive them of the assistance.

However, it must be remembered that the gang-master is the gate-keeper of the encampment. If we do not make an effort to work with him, he may deny us access to his encampment and the Syria refugee field workers in that encampment; he can be petty, and then it will be the adults, the children and the babies who will suffer…

Today this most bellicose and quarrelsome of gang-masters, was present along with his brother, also a gang-master, and it would appear that they have brought their two different groups of workers together, to this one location, to winter there together.

Sometimes brothers can be very different, but in this case, it is glaringly obvious that they are two peas in a pod. They resemble each other in their looks and mannerisms. And it seems, they resemble each other in temperament. It is apparent they have had hard lives, and the scars on their bodies and more importantly on their personalities is patently evident. Of all the people in the encampment, that is, 197 individuals of which there are 65 children under ten and 18 babies, they were the only two who walked about with sticks, functioning as truncheons, in their hands.

In the past they have brought their separate groups of Syrian refugee field workers together to winter together in one place. In fact, when they this did this a few years ago, at one location, it was felt by the local Turkish village that they were too close to the village and they were rejected and ejected – the villagers required them to relocate.

Yes, the Muslim villagers told the Muslim gang-masters, and the Muslim refugees to depart.

Their current location, situated on some higher ground, is at a distance from any other habitation… so the chances of this happening again are diminished.

I took a quick tour of the encampment, and there are many more people and shelters there than before – indeed it is self-apparent that the other brother has brought his Syrian refugee work force to winter here. This location is now roughly twice the size it was previously.

In the course of my walking tour, I also noted the gang-masters’ shelters. Yes, the gang-masters frequently live in the encampment with their charges.

IMG_3341I immediately recognised the gang-master’s shelters as they had liberally spread fresh, clean, large stone gravel under and around their shelters. No mud for them. The rain can drain nicely away and their shelter will be dry within. I even noted that they had placed wooden pallets inside their shelters, raising them off the floor and providing a healthier environment to pass the winter months.

IMG_3346Not so the other shelters surrounding theirs. They are pitched on the raw earth, hence dampness within the shelters is guaranteed.

As I mentioned, previously, this encampment, that is both the gang-master and the residents, had proven to be a bit of a challenge. We especially encountered difficulties when we attempted to have some activities with the children.

The Team have been going out once a week and playing with the children, organised games, painting, fun things for children that have experienced precious few ‘fun things’. We have provide milk and something to eat as well.

For most encampments this has been a very positive, pleasant experience.

Sadly, even I have noticed that the children in this encampment are all exceptionally filthy. In all of the encampments, all the children are dirty. This is not surprising after all, as there is no proper washing facilities in any of the encampments. But here, in this one, they were dirty to the extreme; clothes, hair, arms, hands, faces were all grimy beyond measure.

Today, as we set about our planned provision of assistance, we also made ready to give the children the special juice boxes together with a sweet treat.

IMG_3336Now, as we do at other encampments, we attempted to line the children up to receive the juice boxes and sweet treat.

In all the other encampments, once the line is established, we begin at the head of the line, and the line slowly advances towards us and all receive their portion in good time and all are happy; no one is left out, no one has extra.

Here, the children, and not a few aggressive mums with babes in their arms, seemed content to line up in a semblance of a line…

…that is until…

….until the juice boxes and sweets came forth.

Then the nicely formed line instantly dissolved, it disintegrated and all broke free and set siege to the two hapless young foreigners whose only crime was to be the ones holding the prize, the juice boxes and treats.

They were surrounded and besieged – children and some quite demanding, aggressive mums – with a thicket of out stretched arms coming at them from all angles accompanied by a cacophony of cries to give to me, to me, to me and the insistent, pleading, whining of the mums. All the while other hands were striving to snatch and steal their prizes from the boxes in the embrace of the foreigners…

The two young people were immediately overwhelmed and forced back four or five metres to the side of the lorry where they abandoned the task as impossible to do in an orderly, organised and fair way. The box of chocolate bars was desperately cast up onto the lorry, the box of juice boxes was pirated safely away.

In advance, I knew it would be difficult to give the juice boxes and sweets to the children in this encampment.

The previous time we attempted to do this, it was bad, not as bad as this, but it was bad. It, too, had ended in a premature cessation of distribution of juice boxes and sweets to the children as the swarm of children was rapidly descending into an unruly, riotous mob.

True confession time: on the last visit, I was attempting to distribute the juice boxes after the main attempt had failed, and my phone rang, it was the wife of our interpreter. Whilst I was suitably distracted, one determined little chap reached up and tore a juice box from within the box that I was holding protectively in my grasp… needless to say, being engaged on the phone, I was caught unawares and I automatically responded in an instinctive, natural, way and I immediately relieved the young thief of the pilfered juice box.

I was angry.

What can I say?

There was and is no excuse for my response!

I really felt bad for the wife of the interpreter who I was speaking with, when suddenly there was a loud exclamation and my attention became solely focused on dealing with my small thief. I felt bad for the lady on the phone, but, I confess, I did not feel bad for the young lad who had his prize in his hand only to have it forcibly snatched from his grasp.

Now to compound my un-Godly response, I made matters worse as later on, when I was able to achieve a more orderly distribution, that is, ‘orderly for this encampment’, of the juice boxes and sweets, and he presented himself to receive something, I specifically, knowingly, and on purpose, looked him in the eye and did NOT give him any.

This was my so-called ‘just’ response to his unsuccessful grasping theft. I am ashamed as I recount this event.

Where is Grace?

Where is forgiveness?

Where is compassion?

Where is love?

Where is a modicum of understanding of the situation he finds himself cast in?

Where indeed…

After the fact, I felt stricken in spirit for my callous and so-called ‘righteous’ response – the response of justice and law…fully ignoring grace, love and compassion.

And for me, as one who was fully undeserving of the Grace of God, the Love of God, the Mercy of God, I, who have ‘tasted and seen that the Lord is good’ to react in this way is a travesty of all that God has done for me – far more selfish and undeserving than that young lad had exhibited.

Again, my response and actions were far more selfish and undeserving than that young lad had exhibited.

He was desperate. He is actively living in truly appalling conditions of deprivation, hunger and suffering… and what is my excuse?

That was on our previous visit, this time I was determined not to make the same error. Mistakes are made, but, we can learn from them.

And this time it was far, far worse than the previous, difficult and contrary time.

Seeing the failure of the two young people to execute the distribution of the ‘special juice boxes and sweet treats’ for the children, I, once again, waded in to the fray, grabbing the juice boxes from the shaken young man. I was determined to effect some kind of distribution – gracious distribution – in spite of their rambunctious and riotous behaviour.

I forged into the teeming mass of the dirty, the neglected, the desperate children. Arms were vigorously, aggressively thrust up at me from all angles, voices cried out to gain my attention, the box in my arms was under constant, determined assault and I attempted to execute a gracious form of distribution.

As I was giving the juice boxes, I was aiming to prioritise the wee ones, the small, the weak, the ones unable to overcome their neighbour – and then I witnessed a larger child wrench the juice box from the grasp of the smaller child, I promptly wrenched it back and gave it to the smaller child – and then I gave the offender, the selfish bully, a juice box.

Why? Because of Grace, that is the unmerited, unearned, undeserved favour or blessing. Did he deserve it? No – but to get what you deserve is ‘justice’, not ‘grace’.

Scripture does not say in vain, love your enemies, bless them, do good to them… it does not make this conditional on their repentance or a change in their behaviour.

If your ‘enemy’ is thirsty, give him drink, if hungry, feed him.

It is rather straight forward and it is not difficult to understand. Sometimes we declare it difficult to do, but it is not difficult to understand – and these are the words of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The children (and a few aggressive mums) behaved as a rapacious horde of barbarians intent on taking and plundering and we strove to give them something to drink and something, special even, to eat.

In the course of this mini-distribution, I recognised my little thief from the previous time, still behaving as is his wont, as he has been taught and trained by all those around him, and I deliberately looked him in the eye, a look of recognition, and gave him a juice box.

There was one point where I bellowed. Oh, and I can be quite loud.

Regrettably, I have observed that more often than not, I can come across as angry, cross, upset. Truly, I am not, nor is it my intention. Actually, it is the furthest thing from my actually feelings. But, alas, it is how I am commonly perceived.

Nevertheless, in this situation I bellowed, knowingly. I was not upset. I was not angry. I was not frustrated.

What did I bellow?

Well, it was a bellow, a “AAAahhaHHHaa” like sound… they do not know English or Turkish, and I do not know Arabic, and my intention was to make a distraction in the raging mayhem.

There was an immediate, short-lived, positive effect in that they slowed down their physical assault on me. I was able to continue in my distribution.

But, soon, it was more than I could sustain and I had to bring it to a premature close. The aggressive ones were coming again and again, demanding, pleading, stretching forth their arms or attempting to snatch from the box in my embrace.

Some of the children received juice boxes and sweets, and many did not and some possessed more than their share.

Maybe next time we need to have several people doing the distribution, and dividing the horde – that way more, and more of the most vulnerable, will receive a wee blessing. Or, maybe, we should endeavour to include it with the food-stuffs, as part of the regular distribution.

Back at the van there were children who came and persistently begged, wheedled, connived and otherwise tried to gain possession of the treats.

Some of the children tried to force open the locked window in the van to gain possession of the treats. They were discouraged from this activity on several occasions. Finally I posted one of our foreign helpers to simply stand before the door to bring an end to these assaults on the vehicle.

This was proving to be a very difficult distribution, especially as we were dealing with a less than trustworthy gang-master, and the corporate conniving, lying, cheating, and grasping adults of the encampment only compounded matters.

Consequently, the distribution was taking a disproportionate amount of time and, with the passage of time, the door minder left his post by the vehicle.

The ever diligent and watchful children immediately launched another attempt on the window. They were able to force it fully open… and caused some damage in the process… for it was locked shut.

However, even opening the window did not put the prize within their grasp.

Once again I returned, and on my coming, the guilty parties became conspicuous by their absence and I was able to get the window shut.

In addition to those intent on assaulting the window, there was one little one who was conniving to get a juice box and sweet. Rather than getting angry, I would pick them up and cart them away from the distribution area, as you would your own child or more like your own grandchild where you indulge them and smile and have them smile as you truck them away.

More than juice boxes and sweets these children are yearning for some attention. They will take attention in any form, a shout, a slap, a smack with a stick, but of course, positive, non-violent attention is the pearl of great price.

I’m not about to beat anyone, nor shout at them in anger (been there, done that, repented) nor threaten physical violence upon them. I will scoop them up and in a positive manner, remove them from the immediate area.

So, now this wee one, trying to finagle a juice box or sweet, had a new game. They would come, I would pick them up, swing them happily about, and cart them away. Sometimes they would beat me back to the distribution area to start the process all over again.

Being in close proximity means there is a danger of head lice being transmitted – but they are more valuable and special than the danger and inconvenience of head lice.

The distribution at this encampment was not a pleasant experience for any in the team.

And on our departure, after fully completing our distribution (everyone receiving their allotted portion), one lady ran up to the reversing lorry, grabbed a bag of food-stuffs, and hoisted the bag, about ten kilos of basic food stuffs, out of the back, and made off with it. Our minder, from the local Social Assistance Department, was there, helping the lorry driver reverse and he tried to prevent her – to no avail.

In my experience, this has NEVER happened at any of the other encampments we have gone to over the course of the three years we have been going out among the fields to assist these refugees.

As we put this encampment firmly in the rear-view mirror, there was a general feeling of relief and also a palpable degree of exasperation…

It was striking that even our lorry driver, who acts and strives to a ‘part of the team’ – on that day he even joined our prayer time before headed out for the day – was of the opinion that we should ‘zero’ the whole encampment. ‘Zero’ is what we do when we make someone ‘inactive’ – historically this has always been due to their moving away.

And so an emotional, natural response would be to ‘zero’ the whole encampment due to their manner of behaviour, their lying, their cheating, their aggressive attitude, their demanding actions and the general, casual violence from the gang-master downwards to the smallest child.

It is a natural, human response to feel that “they are not worthy”.

We can easily compare them to other encampments where, for example, on the very same day, something fell from the vehicle and a child standing nearby swooped in to scoop it up and return it to its rightful place in the vehicle – he was striving to assist and help us. And again, on the same day, a young child was offered a juice box and they responded by saying they had already received theirs and went on their way.

It is very easy, very natural, to conclude that this encampment has declare themselves a pariah encampment – justifiably worthy to be avoided.

It would be so easy to declare that this particular encampment is too difficult, too hard to try and provide anything to them because of their contrary, aggressive, grasping behaviour. Indeed, as we go from encampment to encampment, if anyone will lie, and it can happen in other places, but it will definitely happen here; if anyone will attempt to present twice for provision, which can happen in other encampments, it will happen here, and, as we witnessed, if someone will steal out of the lorry, this simply has not happened in any other encampment, but it has happened here. Indeed, I think is is fair to say that if we looked, we could find another encampment which would be far easier to work with.

The natural, earned and deserved response, is to write off this difficult and contrary encampment – to ‘zero’ them, to leave them to their own devices, to avoid them like the plague, to treat them as the pariah they declare themselves to be…

That is the natural, human response, and what is the appropriate response from God’s perspective?

Let us recall that the world was at total, absolute enmity with God.

We, everyone, each of us, were going our own individual ways.

We declared, that is each and everyone of us, declared ourselves to be as ‘god’ in our lives – that is, the final authority in our lives. We lived according to our thoughts, our plans, our desires and our passions. We purported to be masters of our own fate, living, planning, executing, solving problems according to our own understanding and desires. The last word in our lives was from ourselves, our desires, our will – that which we determined.

And today our world is filled with sexual harassment (and worse), warring, killing, maiming, hurting, enslaving, cheating, abusing, using, harming, boasting, strutting and all the while mankind is making like all is well in our world.

We, each and every one of us, deserved and earned the right to reap that which we had so plentifully sowed.

God was under absolutely no compulsion to intervene.

God was not forced to make a way of ‘salvation’ and to offer it to any who would desire it.

God was not required to make a provision to enable undeserving man a way, a means to renew and re-establish a relationship with Almighty God – but He did.

But He did

He, by an act of His free will, expressed His Love, His Mercy and His Grace and provided for us that, which we did not, by any definition, remotely deserve.

God Almighty did this whist we were active enemies of God, being proud, arrogant, going our own ways with no thought nor regard for the Creator God, while we were in this state, God sent His one and only Son into the world that through Him we might have Life and Life to the full.

And, as those who have received this free gift of life, even eternal life in Christ, those who have been reconciled to God through the finished work alone of the Lord Jesus Christ, we have now been given the ministry of reconciliation, whereby we call our fellow man to be reconciled to God, and as scripture says, we are called to make our calling sure, and to be productive in our knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ; we are exhorted to put behind us the ‘old man’ and ‘its natural responses’ and to be re-made into the image of Christ, reflecting God’s values and God’s Love, God’s Grace, God’s Mercy and the Character of God in our lives.

Therefore, what then, can be our response to this rather contrary and difficult encampment, this encampment which will, naturally, experience rejection and be reviled by all in the world?

What, then, can be our response to these lying, cheating, demanding, ungrateful, conniving, violent people?

I can hear some voices articulating that, “Surely they must learn the consequences of their actions – how else will they learn and change…”

In other words, just like God left us to our fate, to the natural consequences of our actions that we might learn and change….

Except He didn’t!

He intervened, and He Himself established an example, sending His only Son, Jesus, who came teaching and then by sacrificing Himself, He completed and made a way that we may be fully reconciled with God. Through the Lord Jesus Christ, we, fallen, sinful, rebelling, proud and arrogant mankind may know God, learn directly from God and receive the Power of God to enable us to overcome temptation and sin in our lives, empowering us to live good, productive, clean, wholesome, pure, honest, lives with integrity.

Jesus, the Son of God, sacrificed Himself that we might live – and He calls us to follow Him, to be like Him, and, yes, to sacrifice ourselves that others might live…

I am convinced that this encampment should take the Number One place in our hearts – not because the people are so pleasant and such a delight to assist, not because they are a pleasure to be about, but, truly, because they, more than all the others, need to see the Love of God, the Grace of God, the Mercy of God lived out among them.

And how will they see and experience this?

God has called each one of us, He has given to each and every one of His children the ministry of Reconciliation. In fact the Lord Jesus Christ has declared that each and every one of His children are Light and Salt in this world.

People – and the people in this encampment – will only see the revelation of God, if we go, if we love, if we serve, if we forgive, if we are gracious, if we are compassionate, if we are patient, if we persevere, if we are kind and if we come back again and again and again… and give them that which they do not deserve.

Just as God has done in each and everyone of our lives to call us and bring us from our darkness to His light, from death to life, from slavery to my passions and desires to full freedom, so we need to be available to do the same for those we encounter.

I feel that this encampment needs to be our Number One encampment because of all the encampments we serve, they need the message, the testimony, that Almighty God loves the world, the whole world, including them and He has done all that is required that mankind, each and every one of us, regardless of who we are or what we have done, can know Him.

It is my conviction that this encampment needs to be our Number One because of all the encampments we serve, their need is the greatest.

All the encampments have a shared need of physical assistance.

All the encampments have a shared need to see and to know the Love of God.

All the encampments have the same needs; they are shared among them all.

But of all the encampments we serve,

this encampment is the darkest,

it is the dirtiest,

it has the most violence against the weakest members of their own encampment.

The only hope for them is the Good News.

The only hope for them is to know God.

The only hope for them is for them to taste and see that God is good.

The only hope for them is to receive the Grace of God, the unmerited, unearned, undeserved favour of God.

How will they know any of this if we, His children, write them off and avoid them as the plague, rejecting them, as they clearly deserve to be rejected, and if we abandon them to their chosen path and their chosen fate…

God didn’t do this with us…

….what, then, shall we do….