(written August 2006)

T. mused to herself, “How much do you genuinely need to live? How many belongings do you ‘really’ need?” As she began packing for our month in Antakya (that is Antioch on the Orontes River in the Bible), she thought about this : “Do I really need to pack 8 shirts?”

She paused and considered, “That’s what I normally pack, one a day for a week and one to wear when the other 7 are in the being washed. But it’s HOT in Antakya, and I know from our experience living in Selçuk for a year that clothes dry quickly. And how many skirts can I wear at once? Surely three is enough, one to wear, one to wash and one for ’emergencies’.”

She carries on, “Once we have arrived in Antakya, I wonder, do we really need more than two plates? We are two people. Isn’t one pot and a frying pan enough?”

And so her thoughts were occupied with the practical and essential aspects and ramifications of our proposed time in Antakya.

We arrived on the third day of our travels from Istanbul, passing over mountain passes, through evergreen forests, across high mountain plateaus and along the side of a huge salt lake. The final day included a trip up over the coastal mountains from Iskenderun (Alexandria) founded in 333 BC by Alexander the Great, and then from a dizzying height, carefully following the road as it snakes down from the high pass into the distant valley floor below. In ancient times part of the valley was a shallow lake where the Seleucid Kings kept their war elephants. Today it is a fertile green plain.

Once the descent was made we turned basically south towards Antakya, going down the valley to the modern/ancient city. The arrangements were for us to make our way directly to the Church which is to be our home for our visit in Antakya.

Thing is, I’ve been to the church twice in the last year and always as a passenger, never driving there. So, I decided to work from known landmarks, I headed off for the road that leads to the cave grotto which is said to be where the early believers first gathered and from whence Paul and Barnabas were commissioned to the Lord’s work and where Paul and Peter had their confrontation (the church most probably meet in homes in the very early days, rather than a cave… But ‘it is said’…). The road I am heading for is at the base of the mountain; thankfully I can the mountain, the base is evident, so it was a landmark I felt I could work from.

Once there, we headed deeper into the town on a narrow, busy road called in Turkish ‘Salvation street’, paralleling the mountain to a point where all seemed right to me and we turned right into a more dense part of the old city. Down this street, and by the Grace of God we found the incredibly narrow street that leads into the warren of medieval lanes that comprise the old quarter full of stone houses, courtyards and our destination – the church. Turning up the constricted lane, I was glad we have both a small and an old car. We drove up a hundred meters or so and parked outside the church.

Now, as this is an old area of town you basically have walls of either one or two stories high with single solid steel doors marking the entrance. We clamoured out of the car, drenched in sweat from our travels and stepped through the open steel door to the church.

Now when I say church please understand that as I use this word in the sense that the Church is made up of people and is not tied to any geographical point or structure or, any peculiar architectural design.  The building would not ‘look’ like a typical church to anyone.

In actual fact, as far as the structure is concerned, when we passed through the steel door, we arrived at an old stone ‘house’. It is this rented stone build courtyard house where the church now gathers.

Immediately across the threshold of the steel door to the street, you are in a dressed stone flagged courtyard. To the left is a old stone wing with six high windows crowned with simple stone arches. Two wooden doors one of which is used as a window the other as a door as that wing has been converted into the meeting room for the Church.

It looks wonderful.

On the right is the opposite wing also of stone, but not handsome dressed stone as the meeting room, but more prosaic, simple field stone walls, plastered over and painted off-white. This wing comprises two rooms, a narrow kitchen and a loo.

The first room is for our exclusive use while we are staying here and is our bedroom and my workroom (editing on the film “Joni” continues whilst here). The second room is for the young people to use. The kitchen is basic but sufficient (this is a man writing). The loo is a long narrow room with an ala franka toilet (uh, European/North American style) and an electric shower with the shower head on the wall – it’s a wet room. All rooms open on to the courtyard and so to go from room to room requires a side trip to the courtyard.

Mind you, it is a dressed stone flagged courtyard so it is a nice trip. Maybe not so nice at two in the morning if you must make a nocturnal call and I am told that in winter, in the rain it is even less appealing.

This was to be home for the next month. We are here for a number of reasons: to continue with video editing projects, specifically, the cleaning and renewal of the film Joni, to assist the local fellowship in any way we can whilst we are here and to test the waters to see if the Lord may be leading us to relocate here.

So, as T. faces the practical implications of living in a very old, very small, stone house, I enjoy the beauty, the history, the charm and delights of a stone courtyard house.

Although this is about as far south in Turkey as we have ever been and probably as far south as we can go, and the days are hot, the evenings and nights are remarkably cool. I, for one, not being one who ‘enjoys’ the heat, have been able to work, albeit with a fan blowing on me, during the heat of the day. T. is finding the heat quite unpleasant.

Ah…whilst writing this I am interrupted by the ringing of the bells of the local Orthodox church, not a sound you will hear in most of Turkey. So I must break off now and continue in what the Lord has put in our hands to do… I’m editing, T. is washing clothes by hand and foot.

We, like you press on ‘continuing in what the Lord has given us to do’. Sometimes it isn’t very exciting, nor glamorous, nor great in the eyes of the world but if it is what the Lord has given us, then there is nothing more important for us to be involved in.

(written July 2003)

Things hadn’t gone exactly to plan – but then even the best of plans can sometimes go awry. It was departure day, the flight leaving at 7:25 in the morning required us to be at the airport at 5:25.

We weren’t.

Naïvely, I thought that the queue for our flight would be well finished and we would move through check-in rather quickly. We entered the check-in hall to be greeting by a massive queue, not just for our flight, but one long queue feeding a whole host of flights. There were over 150 people in the snake queue – for every meter forward you advance, you must travel ten or fifteen meters laterally.

What to do, we joined the queue.

Now there wasn’t much time to complete check-in, security clearance and get to the gate, but the only course open to us was to stand in the queue and watch time tick by…

Then the announcement, “Those going to Istanbul proceed to the late check-in desks, 58 and 59.”  So we withdrew from the main queue and hastily made our way over to the late check-in desks. Now I had a choice, 58 or 59.

I chose 59.

Only later did I learn that 58 was moving four times faster than 59. People who queued after us were long gone whilst we patiently crawled forward in our queue.

At last to the head and with check-in procedures accomplished we turned and headed directly to security. Things were looking up. Up the stairs to security to be greeted by another snake style queue about 80 people long. We joined the back of the queue and slowly, slowly we advanced to the head. At the head of the queue the man said we were allowed only one piece of carry on past that point. To this I readily agreed. According to the airline we could have one carry on and a camera or computer.

This we had, one computer and one piece of hand luggage each. He then informed me that that may be what the airline allows in the air plane, but the airport only allows ONE piece ONLY past that point. hmmm.

There was no point in arguing. Besides there was a queue of eighty odd people wishing us out of the way so they could continue. So, there was nothing for it but to go back to check in and check in our hand luggage. So downstairs and back we trekked. Joined a short queue and were soon back where we started at the late check in desk.

The girl took the bags, and then had to charge us £10 each for the extra baggage. To pay for this meant a trip to Customer Services – a short queue of 8 individuals.

I joined the queue.

However, it was a queue that was stuck – not moving. I looked at the clock and we had twenty minutes to pay for the extra bags, pass through security and get to the gate. Boarding would soon be commencing and here I was at the back of a non-moving queue.

The good English people of the queue made allowance for me and invited me to the head of the queue – which I gratefully did. I paid my money, got my receipt and back to check-in to show it to the lady. That done, back to security.

When we arrived at the top of the stairs the sight that greeted us was not a queue of eighty odd people as last time, now it was 100’ish frazzled travellers, or maybe more accurately put ‘would-be travellers’ trying to advance to security and finally to their gate. The cause?  Now, instead of two people checking people through, there was only one.

What to do, be calm, rest in the Lord, take our place in the queue and move through the process….

Which we did.

Finally the head of the queue – one carry on each, no problem, through the doors to see one more snake queue with in excess of 150 people slowly making their way through to the next stage of security.

Now it looks utterly hopeless. The queue is massive. And we are at the back end of it.  It seems our baggage, all checked through, may be making this journey without us.  What to do but rest in the Lord, be patient and do what was in our hands to do – wait in the queue.

Slowly, slowly, back and forth we travelled and progressed forward in the room. Only two more switch-backs to negotiate and then we can go through the security check, when we see two personnel checking boarding passes. We call out “Istanbul” and they, checking the boarding pass, moved us immediately to the queue going through the door.

Good – but already I know it is ‘too little, too late’.

Through the final security check. The overhead screen shows we need to be at Gate 18 and it is boarding.  Not “go to Gate 18”, but we needed to “BE” at Gate 18.

No time for a tea, no time to get a newspaper, off we head towards the gate walking as quickly as we can.

It is a distance – time is not short; it is gone. I start the “old man” run – you know, not the athletic, virile sprint of a young man, but short running steps, of a huffing and puffing mid-aged gentlemen.  My thought was, if I can make the gate, if they are still there, I can hold it until T. can catch me up. So I jog-run on.

T. has joined me in this little exercise – and a good thing too. I was heading down the indeterminable corridors when I hear T. say “Where is Gate 18?”.

Where indeed, the overhead sign only points to 1 – 17.

I had inadvertently jogged passed 18, it was a side door, with stairs downstairs. So, together we clamour down the stairs and over to Gate 18 – here there is no queue but there are two Airline employees still there. They look at us and ask if we were the Munros – I guess they were waiting for us, the aircraft is still there. We proceeded through the door, across the tarmac and up the stairs to the waiting aircraft.

The plane was full, no two seats left together anywhere, so I sat further back on the right, T. a bit ahead on the left. I sat down, looked at my watch and it was 7:35 – the plane was supposed to leave ten minutes earlier. I praised the Lord and settled in for the flight.

I glanced out of the window to see a truck piled high with baggage trundling across the tarmac – except he stopped and was picking up some bags which had fallen off – he lugged them to the truck, threw one up, which promptly fell back down again and my thoughts turned to my “carry on” which was now “hold luggage” and I always carry my camera in my carry on – except this time……

On arrival, which was on-time, we rejoiced that through it all, all our bags had made it as well – including our “carry on” which at the last minute had became hold baggage.  Praise the Lord.

It was good experience – life often does not go to plan (actually rarely goes completely to plan) – and patience and calmness in the face of circumstances we can not control or change is essential. This is where our faith becomes real. This is where we can let our light shine. The natural reaction is to panic, to be frustrated, to be anxious, to fret, to worry, to become agitated, to ‘vent our spleen’ at ‘jobs-worth’ (or so we can assume) and the bureaucratic nature of human relations and to wallow in the mire of despair or be overwhelmed in slough of stress.

But, it is just for times such as this that God’s Grace is sufficient – we can go through the storm, aware of what is happening, but not being overcome by it; but show forth His Grace and Power in our feeble and weak vessel.

A queue at an airport is hardly a “storm” I know – a mere triviality of life – but it is in the mere trivialities of life that opportunities arise to allow the Grace of God to live in us and for us to be different from those around us – then we are light; then we are salt; then we are a peculiar people; and when we face the “real storms” of life we are prepared by the minor and mundane things to face it.

On our return I had need to go the the bank. They have a queueing system – take a number wait your turn. Sounds promising. I took my number – but the system was calling numbers from different series. I had 726 – but they were calling 484, then 2005, then 3517 and 010. Impossible to see the logic behind it. Obviously there is a logic behind it – but it is not apparent nor intuitive to me – nor to the irate, upset and vocal fellow-queuers. People who come after me are seen before me. An hour and a half tick by before my number comes up – but come up it did in the fullness of time . Another mundane opportunity in life to let His Grace keep my heart, be at rest and in peace and smile and be different…

(written September 2004)

The journey started as so many do, with one form of transport to take us to another form of transport to be able to go where we want to go.… We took one of the small motor-ferries to cross the Bosphorus to the wee port of Kabataş where we would board the much larger ferry that would, well, ferry us to our destination.

On arrival, the ferry disgorged its cargo of day-trippers like us, except I suspect, they had an idea of what they were doing and how to go about doing it. I can’t confess to knowing what or how to do what we were doing.

It was our first ever foray to the Princess Islands, a string of islands nested under the wing of Istanbul in the sparkling azure waters of the Sea of Marmara. The next major earthquake, I mused, is to occur on a fault somewhere under these islands with the projected epicentre somewhere near where we were. Well, so they say.

Oh, and they say and sometime within the next 30 years.

The only motorised transport that is available on “Big Island”, the largest of the Princes Islands, is motor boats as private cars, buses, shared taxis and taxis are all banned. The only other main form of transport on the island, and not motorised, were horse drawn carriage. It makes for a gentle, quaint and quiet environment – quite desirable and compelling.

But on this day we were on a quest of a different sort. Y. had expressed his wish for the day “All I want is a nice beach”. Fair enough desire. Reasonable goal. The sign at the small motor boat tied up at the quay declared that it’s destination was a beach – the boat ride was free, but there was an entrance fee for the beach which included the lounge chairs, umbrella and showers. The fee was negotiable – and yes, sight unseen. This means we pay whatever I can barter the price down to – how would I have a remote clue as to the “going rate”?

So I barter and haggle trying to find an agreeable sum that will be in the right ball park – not too high and we feel ripped off, not too low and we are left standing on the quayside. Ah.

The price agreed, we boarded the boat, reclining in the aft section – and wait. It is a lovely day, the island rising before us, the stretch of Istanbul across the water filling our horizon. The gentle slap of the waves against the side of the boat creates a soothing sensation so we are not too bothered by the opportunity to exercise gracious patience in the face of circumstances not quite of our choosing.

Then, we’re off….

The boat heads off, we do not know where – we’ve never been here before – and it ploughs it’s way through the sea, doggedly, reluctantly it seems, around the island. Gradually the town clinging to the edge of the island falls aft of us as we make our way around the island sailing sou’ sou’west. The sea is quite calm and there is very little rocking motion. The island slowly passes off the port side as we are – uh, serenaded, by the dulcet throbs of the marine diesel chugging away beneath our feet.

As we progress ’round the island I note with growing concern the lack of “beaches”. The rocks tend to plunge down rather abruptly into the sea offering rather picturesque bays but frightfully few beaches. My son reiterates his simple desire for a plain beach. I know we are going to a beach – but I begin to wonder… the word that I am translating as “beach”, Turkish “plaj” – well, maybe….

We round the corner and the boat noses into a broad bay, swinging by large fishing trawlers at anchor and sailing past some rather expensive looking pleasure craft. I note with interest two things. A large boat, larger than the one we are on, a passenger boat, which is moored and people are swimming off the deck. The second thing I note, is the final destination of our boat. I see umbrellas. I see lounge chairs. I see a restaurant. I see a place to dock the boat. I see water. What I do not see is “sand”. The lounge chairs are on a concrete pad, which comes to the water and ends in a concrete wall.

Now it never occurred to me to ask the chap I had so patiently negotiated our entrance fee with, if the “plaj” had sand. I “assumed” that beach means sand – not a place to swim with shore facilities to lie in the sun or shade according to ones tastes.

This was a “beach” but of the “sand-less” variety. Words can mean one thing to one person, and carry a different meaning to another.

Likewise, as we seek to communicate Good News, we must be aware that words may mean one thing to me and another to our hearers… if something as simple and mundane as “beach” can be misconstrued, then how much more carefully need we be when the subject is the Good News.

(written March 2006)

It had to be done.  And no one else could do it.

I was thankful that the bitterly cold wind that had spent the previous four days howling down the Bosphorous has been replaced by still sunny skies. Albeit still cool – I was no longer feeling smitten by stinging arrows of ice flung from the whirlwind of northern fury. And to think, growing up in Canada doing daily battle with the winter elements was once normal and not at all noteworthy. I guess I’m getting soft in my old age.

I gathered up what I thought was required, descended the stairs and turned left out the front door of our building. At the end of the street, I turned left again and up over the ridge and began the descent down the rather steep cobbled street. We call this the “Post Office hill” because the Post Office is at the bottom of the hill. Makes a handy landmark for people coming to our flat, although the hill is so steep as to discourage all but the truly dedicated from making the ascent.

As I neared the bottom of the hill I could hear the sounds of construction –or maybe more to the point, destruction. The Post Office was gone. Well, the function of the Post Office was gone, the building was still there, now filled with the sounds of jack hammers and workers bashing and thumping and carrying on the task of removal and demolition before beginning the restructure and renewal. Don’t know what it will be, but it will most likely look very nice when it is done.

I wonder where the Post Office has gone to…. oh well, that is not where I was heading. The task for this afternoon is far more daunting than a mere trip to the Post Office.

I turned right past the former Post Office, a bit furtively, for as I went by, the crashing bits of debris were falling against the glass of the main window. At any moment I expected the glass to give way in an avalanche of glass and broken bits of masonry  inundating the street and entrapping any unfortunate who at the moment would be attempting to cross in front. Thankfully, now was not the time, although I dare say it was not far off.

Up to the corner, first door on the right, up some narrow stairs, nicely finished in marble and into the office of the Noter (Notary Public), a crowded, grimy little room. The ceiling seemed low and the room was full of people sitting on chairs waiting and groups of people clustered at a long high table. On the opposite side of the table, ladies at computers and typewriters were preparing a vast range of documents. Almost everything, it seems, requires something to be notarized.

“Where do I start?”
“Where is the end of the queue?”
“Is there a queue?”
“What do I do?”

Aghh… is my feeling.

I move to the table and wait near one of the ladies. People leave, people come, some move in front of me. I really don’t know how this works….

Finally a lady bellows “next in line…”

“Uh, what line?” I query. She looks disdainfully at me.

But as there wasn’t a rush of people to the spot in front of her, I moved over.

She ordered her papers on her desk and did other tasks for which I couldn’t determine any function and then she finally turned to me….

“I need to make a Power of Attorney,” I began, holding out the sample I had brought with me…

She snatched the paper from my hand, glanced at it and barked, “”Are you giving the Power of Attorney, or the company?””

“Me…” spoken hesitantly as the question seemed rather pointless – how could the company be giving me a Power of Attorney – but my hesitation was enough… and there quickly following a barrage of questions in abrupt succession ending with a demand to see my ID.

Well, that did it. A foreign passport – no, no, no, this was not going to do. I would need it translated (by an official Translator, and no doubt notarized) before I could progress this any further.

“Go see the lady over there” she said, gesturing towards a rather large cluster of people. Somewhere beyond the hunched shoulders of middle aged men, there must be somebody who would be able to shed light on my dilemma.

My heart sank as I made my way towards the knot of men, and not really knowing who it was that I was supposed to talk to. I stuffed my papers back in my pocket and slunk out the door and down the narrow stairs to the peace and tranquility of the street.

Peace and tranquility of the street ?!?

Back I passed by the former Post Office, bits of debris continuously raining down, clattering against the glass,– any time now it will explode outwards I thought.  In the next block was another Noter. You know the old saying, “If at first you don’t succeed, go to a different Noter” or something like that.

I made my way gingerly up the stairs and into a room quite similar to the previous one. Clusters of people, chairs full of people, the sounds of fingers flying on keyboards. Mind you, no smoke – it seems that most official offices are smoke-free now. That’s nice.

Still I didn’t know where to start, so I shuffled up to the desk and the lady looked up, I said what I wanted and showed her my dreaded foreign passport, gasp.

She said, “”Go talk to the lady in the corner.””

Now, I didn’t know who that was, but there were only two ladies in the corner, so I had a 50-50 chance. I got it right on the second try.

She asked if I had a Residence Permit to which I replied I did, and she said that I could do the Power of Attorney with that (and no need to get my passport officially translated and notarized).

Great !

Except I didn’t leave the house with my residence permit. So, thanking her, I left the office and made my way back up the hill to the flat, back up to the top of the building (no lift in case you are wondering), picked up the residence permit and back down the hill to the Noter.

Well, my doctor told I needed more exercise.

She took the papers, told me sit down – which I would have done if there had been any empty chairs. So I leaned against the wall and commenced the main occupation of people in a Notary Public’s office, –waiting.

And I had ample opportunity to practice the art of waiting. After a while a chair came free, so that eased the task somewhat.

“Should have brought a book” I mused. Could have written a book.

In the end, the crowds lessened, and then the lady held out my papers (when did she do my paperwork?). Then she told me to go to one of the ladies behind the desk who would now commence to do it. My task far from being finished, was just now beginning.

I had a sample Power of Attorney, with just one change, a date. She looked at it,– it was rather long. And then she took a pair of scissors and cut the offending date out. She then photocopied the page, put the photocopied page in a typewriter and typed in the new date.

Much faster and easier than retyping the whole thing out.

Filled in, off to the Notary Public himself, well, after waiting a bit. He signed the front. Turned the paper over read the text and then asked to see my ID. He knew enough that my English given name is more often than not abbreviated from the long to the short form, and so had to make sure it was done legally and correctly. Alas, I was given only the short form at birth, so my short form given name was accepted.

With that confirmed, he signed again and gave me the papers. Off to the lady I started with, who did something or other, then to the last lady to whom I paid the fee.

Half a day, and one aspect of trying to import our boxes of “keepsakes” into the country done, and yet the task barely begun.

Next week promises to be equally exciting. Monday we are off to the main Police building in Istanbul and begin the process of applying for an extension of our residence permit AND then I need to take the Power of Attorney, done today, to the agent who is importing our boxes.

Things change, – activities come and go, –the Post Office moves (but the function of Post Office carries on – somewhere),– tasks have to be done; some are pleasant, some are not. But in it all and through it all and in spite of it all, our God remains our faithful solid rock; come what may, all changes notwithstanding; He is our solace, source and shield – in all we do.

(written November 2003)

My eyes focused slowly on the hand stretched out towards me. The chap was speaking, and I was hearing him, but I wasn’t really listening. My attention was drawn to his outstretched hand and the object he was giving me.

“This was not what we had agreed,” was the one thought that kept recycling around my mind like an endless video loop. I tuned in to what he was saying, “You go right out of this building, to the first street, turn right again and go down the hill and there it is…. ”

“So, older brother, that is where the van is,” he finished. The plan had been that he was going to bring the van which we were borrowing,
over to the Asian side of the city, where we live. Then another brother and I would drive to Bursa to meet some believers and do some research. I liked that plan as I would not have to drive in Istanbul – that ancient mega city with roads laid down two thousand five hundred years ago.

I had not planned to drive in Istanbul. I was not prepared. I had bought an A-Z street map of the city the day before.

It was at home.

Of course it was. I had no plan to drive anywhere when I went to this meeting on the European side of the city. I was not ready. I had no clue as to how I would get from where I was to where we live. The last time I drove on that side of the city was back in 1981.  – I couldn’t remember a whole lot from then. I was not prepared emotionally to take charge of a borrowed van and head into Istanbul rush-hour traffic, on a wet overcast day as it was getting dark and feel my way across the city, across the Bosphorus to the appropriate road that went to my area and finally to our flat.

I asked “What is the licence plate of the van?”. It had been several years since I had seen the van – maybe he had changed it for a new one. “The number is 34, MB and something else,” he replied.

Ah, that is a big help – all cars in Istanbul city AND province begin with 34 – so the vehicle I am looking for is one of hundreds of thousands, nay millions, this is a mega city. The second letters, ‘MB’ – well, all foreigners’ cars have “MB” for the letters. This narrows it some, but it is still fairly general. The last numbers, the ones that would make it all clear – well, he couldn’t remember them.

So, with fear and trepidation, I took the key from his hand, smiled a thin smile of acceptance and made my way for the door, and the turn, and the next turn, and the descent and the search for the van.

Lord help!

“He hasn’t bought a new van,” I almost shouted with joy. I recognised the vehicle. Indeed the licence plate did start with ‘34 MB’ and I can’t remember the rest.

Now, how do I go from where I am to where I need to be? It is getting dark. The bridge will be chock-a-block and I don’t know how to get to the bridge from where I am nor once across the bridge how to get to the road that I knew as the ‘E5’.  Road signs would not aid as I understand that in the Intervening years the E5 has been christened with a new name.

Then I thought, “There is a car ferry near here which goes to the other side.” I asked, got directions, found myself in the midst of road construction, made the turns, left, right, bump up and down, to the lights and behold I can turn the way I want to!

I’m a happy man.

One more turn and there is the ferry terminal on the other side of the road – with a massive concrete barrier designed specifically to keep me from my desired destination. I drive past the ferry terminal going absolutely the wrong way and there is no place to stop or turn – just onwards…

But there was a place to turn around and soon I found myself heading back towards the terminal, and now on the correct side of the road.  Finally I drive into the terminal, past the man in the booth that sells tickets and I parked up, waiting for the next ferry.

“Ah, this is the way to cross the Bosphorus,” I thought, sitting at the steering wheel as we sailed sublimely across the dark waters of this international waterway, the ferry gently rolling with the waves.  Ferries to the right, ferries to the left and ocean-going ships ploughing through the middle.  For me there is no stress, no strain and what a view.

Fantastic.

We arrived and are frenetically piling off the ferry. “But where am I?” is the one thought swimming through my mind as I turn right – well I ‘know’ that left is wrong. Down a road, through some more construction and onto a four lane divided road – the road once identified as the E5.

Wonderful.

In my heart, a truly heartfelt prayer of thanksgiving, “Thank you Lord”.

I’m on the road that I know, albeit twenty-odd years ago.

Down the E5, I  turn at the turning for the area of town known as Bostanci. Down to the right, past the ‘Luna Parka’ (children’s fun fair), take a left, go until you see the pedestrian overpass, take a right, past the mosque, another right, immediate left and I’m home!

Another heartfelt “Praise the Lord.”

Didn’t want to do this. I wasn’t excited about it. I, didn’t know the way. And yet it had to be done. By God’s Grace, it was done.

There are many, many things, in life that are new, that don’t go according to ‘plan’. Often we don’t know the way forward, sometimes feeling intimidated, sometimes apprehensive. New things that ‘must be done’ – things we may not feel prepared for.

We step out in faith, not knowing the way, and yet trusting our Sovereign God will ‘show the way’ and bring us safely to our destination we press on.

(written January 2004)

I crack open the window and feel the immediate force of the cold wind as it attempts to force the window fully open. I lean forward, straining to see through the slats of the shutters making out ghostly white images, indistinct and clouded by the overpowering darkness and the fresh blanket of snow. There is no movement other than that caused by the violent gusts of wind – no light just a pervading darkness in every direction.  It is after sun set, it is snowing, and the electricity supply has failed.

I push the window shut and turn into the pitch darkness of the house, moving carefully towards the stairs. Our home consists of two floors, the main floor with the living room, bathroom, spare bedroom and kitchen. The lower floor with a toilet, bedroom and work room. As I move towards he stairs the light of the candle that we have placed in the lower hall shines brightly before me, making things clear and distinct, I am able to tell steps from shadows and I move forward with greater confidence.

It is amazing how much light a single candle can give. The tiny flame on top of a slender tube of wax shines and fills the corridor in an amazing abundance of light – providing safety in negotiating the stairs and the curve at the bottom and bringing cheer and brightening the heart with its glow. We have positioned candles in the hall, toilet and work room, three small seas of light in the winter darkness.

As is often the case in our modern world, the house slowly chills with the absence of the central heat system which is lying still due to the deficiency of electricity – silent and still.   The phone ceases to work and the computer, well the lap top will work as long as the battery lasts. There is no danger. We will not freeze to death – there is snow, but it is not that cold and these houses are like modern caves against the elements. This represents minor discomfort, certainly, but no more.

This small candle beside me, providing me light and comfort and reassurance as I type these few words reminds me of something that happened just a few days ago.

T. and I had just returned from the UK, rejoicing in the Lord for the completion of the sale of our house – and as our journey was nearing an end, we were looking forward to getting “home”. We took the service bus from the airport to the sea bus terminal. There was quite a walk from where the service bus dropped us and the sea bus and this walk was made more difficult as we had made a small, but significant error.

When travelling your life is reduced to 23 kilos each, and weight seems to be the most important issue, and it is an important issue, but it is also important to remember that we have only two hands each and the total number of bags must be no more than four.

We had five.

Now it wouldn’t have been too much of a problem – manageable, but a new bag, a gift we received in the UK, suffered in its maiden flight and all the wheels had been torn off the bag – it was large, it was heavy and now it would have to be carried and not dragged.

By the time we reached the sea bus I wasn’t going to lug the luggage one foot or centimetre further than I had to, so, once on board we collapsed in the nearest seats – at the front of the boat. There was but one row of seats facing the back the remainder all faced forward. As I sat there, looking towards the back of the boat, before me sat some two or three hundred fellow passengers. Some were reading, others in discussion, the obligatory individuals chatting loudly away on their mobile telephones, others taking the opportunity to catch a few winks of sleep and still others staring into space. Two or three hundred people just like you and me. They have fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, they work, or go to school, they have dreams, fears, problems, struggles, aspirations, encouragements and discouragements – just like you and me. People who laugh at funny things and cry at sad. People who want to have a full and happy life. People who face the same, everyday problems of life that you and I face.

But what struck me as I sat in my seat, surrounded with the lugged luggage, catching my breath and feeling new muscles speaking out against the journey so far, the thing that struck me as my eyes raised from my petty complaints and bags to the faces of the people before me, was these people have never heard the Good News of “abundant life”, of “new life”, of “being reconciled with God”, of “knowing Him”.

They are doing their best to live their lives, but they have never had a single opportunity to hear and understand all that is, in Christ. This is what it is all about. Giving this lovely people, with their dreams and aspirations, disappointments and discouragements their first opportunity to hear the good news. Currently, it is said, there are somewhere between 1,000 and 3,000 Muslim background believers in the whole country (this number was accurate when written in 2004 – today in 2015, the number is considered to be between 4,000 and 5,000).

My little candle makes all the difference in the house. Without it, I would stumble, even though I know the house well. Without it I would have difficulty with the basic tasks of life  that must be done. Without it there is very little I could do – and that which I may attempt to do would be difficult and fraught with hidden dangers. My simple little candle makes a fantastic difference in this great darkness.

So, we, feeling feeble, unworthy and insufficient to the task can be a “little candle” shining in darkness. Likewise, you, wherever you are, in whatever situation you find yourself, whether you feel great or small, can be that “little candle” in the darkness you find yourself in.

Our task simply is to let our little light shine.

(written February 2005)

The sweet breath of spring swept down from the clear blue sky filling every nook and cranny with a refreshing taste of better weather to come. Storm clouds can be erased from our thoughts when the sun shines bright and the sky reigns clear. Our spirits soar and people smile  – the hint of spring works wonders.

On Sunday we left our flat in Üsküdar, İstanbul, as normal and made our way down the hill. Our flat is on the top floor of a building, at the top of a hill – every time you go anywhere, guaranteed exercise. Now when we arrived at the bottom of the hill we prepared to enter the maze. Not a maze in the British sense; a horticultural marvel where one can spend pleasant hours meandering up and down green alleyways seeking the centre or even a way out. No, our maze is the result of the construction of an Underground station or Metro station in the main square of Üsküdar – all part of a plan to join the Asian side of the city with the European side with a subway system deep under the Bosphorus Strait.

Sounds great!

But before the bulldozers come and, er, bulldoze, the archaeologists have to dig and see if there is anything of value under the surface.  In Istanbul it is not possible, I think, to dig anywhere and not find something. Üsküdar is around 2,500 years old – or older; probably the biggest historical event was the final victory of Constantine over his last opponent in the hills above the city.

Üsküdar is decorated with many fine imperial buildings from the time of the Ottoman Empire, so the site of the station and the projected path of the tube are all subject to the scrutiny of the archaeologists.

And so the square is fenced off; as is the central median of the road running beside the Bosphorus; as is the pedestrian pavement running between the road and the shore; as is half the main bus station; as are most places where we used to walk. Now, we can’t go on many of the old ways; not only is there construction hoarding blocking the pedestrian path, but there are signs, symbol signs as well as written signs saying “Do Not Walk Here” – with both types of signs, ignorance can not be claimed as an excuse.

So we dive into our Maze and search for a way to the other side and the ferry quay. We dodge this way and that, make our way down this side street, across to the square, round the corner, down the side, across two – no it’s three – no it’s four lanes of traffic and we arrive at the quayside.

In a few minutes we are on the ferry, across the Bosphorus and shortly we arrive at the church building and find our places in the meeting room. The room is filling fast and there is a sense of anticipation and excitement in the air. The main meeting room was extended in the autumn and it is filled to capacity – I sense the need for another extension to the building.

A Turkish brother opened with a good exhortation, and after prayer, began a time of singing worship. Our combined voices filled the room as with a sweet perfume, flooding every corner and permeating every aspect.  Interspersed between the songs people lifted their voices in prayer to the Lord.

Finally four people were invited to the front. These who had decided and committed to follow the Lord were now prepared to follow Him in the waters of Baptism. They came forward, three males and a female; one was a foreigner, the others Turkish.

In these days when believers and missionaries and churches seem to be the object of disproportionate interest and media hype; in these days of negative, strident TV programmes, newspaper and magazine articles; in these days where one who for thirteen years was called “brother”, who was numbered amongst us, who read the Word of God and studied it, who preached and shared and now deny openly the Faith, deny the Lord and deny the Body of Christ – this publicly and repeatedly; it seemed amazing that in the midst of all this, four would at this time, in this place, declare their Faith, declare their allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ, declare that “for me to live is Christ”.

The sweet breath of spring swept down from the clear blue sky filling every nook and cranny with a refreshing taste of better weather to come.

That morning in the meeting, clear testimony was given, and then, one by one, the four entered the waters of Baptism. This was not merely entering a tank dry and coming wet, this was a powerful proclamation of commitment to Him who is over all and this, in spite of all that is happening in the country.

When the four returned from drying off, they again took their place in front. Now, one by one, many of the gathered saints rose to read from the Word and encourage them.  Again and again through words, scriptures and prayer they were committed to God and the recurring theme was “now you will be tested” and “the enemy of our souls will attack.”

Not nice sounding words. Not pleasant thoughts. But very real and very practical and here, very normal. They will face testing – not might, not maybe, not possibly, they will face testing.

Day by day, when I encounter a newspaper rack, I am confronted with headlines continuing in the current trend, decrying missionaries and not alleging but declaring without proof or evidence, the missionaries’ perceived  devious, insidious, political aims. Week by week we see programmes on TV where missionaries and their suspected activities are discussed – often with local believers called upon to represent the Christian side, I am reminded that the winter storms have not yet passed.

But, there is the sweet breath of spring; encouraging events are happening, people following on with the Lord in the face of general, vociferous opposition, Turkish believers giving good testimony on the TV programmes, the Christian magazine that was recently published giving voice to the Christians.

As winter comes nearer to an end, the sweet fragrance of the coming spring encourages us, our hearts cry is for a spiritual ‘spring’ in Turkey.

(written July 2006)

“Yr Wyddgrug”. The sign flashed by the window quickly, but my mind reeled in the attempt to find sounds to go with what my eyes saw.

This sign, seemed to be the antithesis of Turkish which is a wonderfully phonetic language, the letters holding single values in all instances and hence anyone who learns the individual letter sounds can “pronounce” words intelligibly so that a Turk can understand, whilst at the same time the speaker may not understand what they are saying.

Ah, but this was not Turkish – and for me it was a mind befuddling collection of consonants occasionally interrupted by a stray vowel.  My mind went blank, my tongue went limp – I hadn’t the vaguest idea on what sounds I should produce based on the characters before my eyes.

T., however, is much better at spelling and sounding out words than I am. I fall at the lowest of hurdles, but she sails on, pronouncing words she has never seen with an ease and grace that is a beauty to behold. Whilst I fumble around squeaking and squawking she lets the new words roll off her tongue clearing up, for me, the mystery of how to say the new word. She is great.

But now she had met her match. It is not saying much when I say “I have no idea how to say….”. That is kind of my normal, default setting. But for T. to be stumped by a new constellation of, well, consonants, now that is saying something.

“Hebryngwr” another sign swung into view. My mouth puzzled over what it would do with an ‘ngwr’ – still don’t know. T. was likewise rendered speechless.

Good word – no doubt. Full of meaning – I’m sure. But not for us.

“Ffyrdd drwodd” – double ffs and double dds; I’m at sea here – lost…

“Dim marciau ffordd” – normally an over abundance of consonants, tightly grouped together leaving me vainly groping in the dark for the sounds to link those little guys together, and now we have vowels, a whole torrent of them, like someone reciting the vowels, ‘iau’ – ‘iau’ what am I going to do with that?

I know…. sit in silence.

T. too.

Now let me be clear, there is nothing wrong with the signs.  And I must emphasis that there is nothing wrong with the language.  But we, lacking even the most rudimentary understanding of the Welsh language, were totally bereft of what the signs meant and the good directions and important warnings they provided.  We lacked the knowledge, the tools, the training necessary to benefit from the signs posted at the side of the road.  A six year Welsh child would be better than us.

All was not lost – the signs were bi-lingual – unlike us.

Ultimately the directions were received and the warnings heeded. But to appreciate the beauty of the Welsh language and the delightful sounds and nuance of the language, the translation into English doesn’t aid one bit. The meaning is there, the beauty is lost. The understanding has come, but the allure, the attraction, the grace of the language is veiled and hidden from our view.

Okay, we understood the translation, but we lost so much in the process, yes, even the renderings of simple road signs.

And so, here in this land of Turkey, the goal is not to present something veiled and hard to understand, translated from a foreign and confusing tongue, but to see native born men and women expressing fully in the Turkish language, with natural, local idiom and speech the wonders and beauty of God. The message is of eternal importance, touching the mind, the heart and the soul of every believer – and for the Turks, that means in Turkish….

If, in the Grace of the LORD, we have opportunity to once again travel in the beautiful Welsh countryside, I would first like to learn, at least some of the rudiments of the Welsh language, to taste some of the sweetness of the language, to dip, even a wee bit into the well of that ancient tongue.

(written October 2006)

He looked across at me, leaned forward and asked “Why did you tell us that?”

You know, when he asked me that question, I had to lean back and ask myself, “Why DID I tell them that?”

In the background the women of the house busied themselves around the outdoor (tandoor) oven, made ‘inferno hot’ with dry twigs and special dried plants that burn hot and fast. Baking bread in these ovens requires a skill and dexterity that brooks no inattention nor accidents – after heating the oven, the ladies put their arms into the mouth of the baking hot chamber and slap the dough onto the interior rounded sides of the chamber. The job is so intense – and in the summer, so hot, that they try to produce enough bread for a week to ten days. Great idea, but it means labouring around and in the oven for a long period of time.

I was glad to be sitting in the shade of the olive trees, sipping Turkish tea from delicate tulip shaped clear glasses and engaging in conversation with the people we had come to see.

But I was troubled, deeply disturbed and profoundly moved – hence I recounted my recent experience to these people – not so much for them to comment on, or provide an answer, but I was sharing my difficulty in coming to terms with the experience and understanding how I, as a believer, should respond to it. For days since it happened it was constantly in my thoughts, rolling around, banging into other things I thought of and dominating my waking moments.

The spectre of a verse kept trying to burst upon my thoughts – you know the feeling, you ‘know’ the verse, but can’t recall it word for word – and I was having trouble finding it.

*****

Our ‘home’ in Antakya (‘Antioch on the Orontes’ in the Bible), for the month we were to be here, was basic.  We had a fridge, stove and shower and hence all the basics – and so we were well catered for.  But it was basic, simple.  It was an old style courtyard house where all the rooms open on to a central courtyard. To get anywhere from anywhere meant you had to go into the courtyard (the courtyard is walled and so private, but open to the sky).

It was also hot. The courtyard had once been home to a large lemon tree which shaded the bulk of the courtyard shielding the flag stone from the intense summer sun.  But one day a relative of the landlord came and trimmed some of the excessive growth of the tree, and according to the landlord, “The tree was offended” with what had happened and consequently dried up and died. In any event, the tree was no more and left a large expanse of stone flagging exposed to the summer sun.

Now, the courtyard is still very picturesque and attractive, but minus the large lemon tree, at high noon becomes a solar powered stone oven. Hot.

We were in Antakya, in August, to see if the heat would be debilitating or something that we could physically cope with. I know we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us, but there are times and places when the Lord speaks to us through the physical environment around us.

In spite of the heat, I was able to work on a video project I had brought with us and we were able to complete the cleaning and preparation to release the video ‘Joni’. This is the powerful story of a young woman paralysed in a diving accident and her struggle not only to come to grips with her new ‘life’ but to overcome her circumstances.

In addition to the video work, we were in Antakya to serve the Church in any way we could. As the elder’s wife and a Korean worker wanted to do some visits in a nearby city, we gladly provided the transport and the ‘elderly presence’.

We left on a Saturday morning with two visits planned. It takes the best part of an hour to drive up the broad valley to the point where the road begins the tortuous, winding, twisting path up the mountain towards the high pass – known in the Bible as the ‘Syrian Gates’.

The road is in good nick, but no matter how well the road is paved, a hairpin curve high up a mountain is a hairpin curve. It is a long way up. Currently the road is a composed of a downward lane, upward lane and a shared passing lane in the middle. It works, but it can be nerve-racking at times.  A construction project is well advanced to provide a four lane divided roadway up and over the pass. But a four lane divided hairpin curve is still a tight mountainside curve that allows for no errors.

We crossed the summit of the pass and as we descended the city of Iskenderun (ancient Alexandria) spread out before us. This city, one of many named after its founder Alexander the Great, is mute testimony to the rich and varied history of this region.

Our first visit of the day is the result of a contact via the Internet. Sounded promising, but it quickly became clear that the folks we were visiting have created their own, personal version of faith, taking the bits they liked from Islam and adding their own customised bits. They were not open to hear the Good News, seeming quite content to work out their salvation according to their own desires and wishes. Many of the things they said and objections they raised were the old standard opinions and ideas concerning our Faith.

However the Lord had brought several other people to that house on this occasion and it was clear that one of the guests, a teenage girl, was more open, had sincere questions and seemed willing to listen as well as to speak. So we shared with her and trust the Lord that the seeds sown in that young heart will bear fruit. I happily made two trips back to the car to get books to give to those present.

On our departure we asked directions to the place where our second visit of the day would be. They looked at one another and gave directions, but they seemed uncomfortable. They asked why we wanted to go.

“We have another family we wish to visit”.

OK, but then they said that that particular part of town was not very desirable, it was actually quite poor, more crime and they wouldn’t recommend we go. They were quite explicit about that, saying that they would not go there. Nevertheless they gave directions and off we went.

Now the directions for the first part of the journey were quite clear, but as we went further and further it became harder to correctly interpret what we remembered of the directions. After travelling quite a ways it became clear that it was time to stop and ask directions.

Now it has been noted that many men, not all, but many, are somewhat reticent to stop and ask directions. A good friend of mine (male) is always quoting the Turkish proverb, “By repeated queries, you will find Baghdad”.  But I am not like my friend; I am like the ‘many men’ who are somewhat reluctant to ask directions. But I was vastly out-numbered in the car, three ladies to one man, and it was clear that we had ‘driven off the map’ as far as the directions we had been given, so I pulled over and directions were sought.

Hmm, it seemed that we had driven past the area of town we were seeking and were indeed heading in the wrong direction. Then the debate, there is always a debate when you ask for directions, and there always a debate if more than one person is being queried as to how best to get to where we were going – we had both causes for an animated debate.

It seemed the best idea was not to go back the way we came and seek our missed turning, but to go off in a totally new direction – with the caveat that once we had ‘gone for a ways’, to ask more directions.

Now me, I would have preferred to take what little knowledge we had, i.e.: the road we just came on and use that as a basis to find our destination. But we had asked for directions and the directions were to head off at a right angle to the way we had come and proceed ‘up that road until it curves left and you turn right’. Okay…..

So off we went, bumping and bouncing along, following the twists and turns of the road for an indeterminate time. After a while it became clear to the majority in the car that it was time to ask for more directions.

Now the next chap we asked was a mini-bus driver. He knows his stuff and can get where he needs to go with no problem. But we are in an area where there are precious few street signs, can he successfully communicate to us what we have to do to get where we are going?

So, after a description of curves, turns, bridges not crossed and other vague and somewhat obscure instructions we headed off – continuing up the road we were on.

Things went well until we came to the bridge. Now I thought we all agreed that we weren’t to cross the bridge – but even on this we were not 100% agreed. The question was, “Do we turn right or left?” Some were for left. One, I think suggested we cross the bridge and then turn and I was for turning right. As a minority of ‘one’ said right, and as I had the steering wheel in my hands, I turned right.

Immediately there was an unanimous opinion among the majority that it was time to ask for directions once again. We proceeded along until we found our next sacrificial lamb, pulled up and made our inquiries.

As is the case most often when I have succumbed to the temptation to ask directions, this person really didn’t know the place where we were going to.  At least they were honest about not knowing and hence refrained from giving directions based upon a desire to help rather than on actually knowing where to send us.

No help there.

Now the majority debated what the next move should be, go on, go back, find another person to question, cross the bridge… While they engaged in the debate, I drove on in the direction I had chosen.

The houses fell away and there was a fence on one side and a field, and on the other side, a fence and a great man-made chasm for a motorway.

We proceeded between the two fences.

The murmurings from the back were not content nor encouraged. Finally houses came into view and as we entered this part of town the first business was to ‘ask directions’. This was not an option. The majority had spoken.

We stopped outside a house and the people were very helpful. The area of town we sought – well, we were in it. The street we sought, well, it was ahead on the right. We headed off full of confidence and encouraged.

We found the street and turned on it. I am not driving fast, proceeding down the road as the elders wife is looking for the house address. I pass an overgrown empty lot heading towards some more houses when a voice calls out from the back seat asking me to back up. I backed up and it became clear that our destination was this overgrown empty lot.

I parked up, and in accordance with the fervent recommendations from our last visit, locked the car.

We went up a little path between the wild bushes and a simple cinder-block structure came into view. The loo was a ‘long drop’ near the road. In front of the cinder-block structure – I hesitate calling it a house for although it is being used as a house, a house it is not – in any event, in front of this structure was a concrete slab that formed a kind of patio space.

The family came out to greet us, husband, wife and daughter.  After handshakes and kissing cheeks we assembled on the concrete space and plastic chairs were found for most of us to sit on, the family reserving the stool and other simple items for themselves to perch on. After another round of asking after each other’s health and again being welcomed we began chatting together. Slowly, slowly their situation began to unfold before us.

He suffers from ‘Akdeniz Anemisi’ or Thalassemia (a hereditary disorder of the blood causing anaemia). This inherited disorder means it is very difficult for him to find or keep work. Added to this is the fact that, like too many other people, he has no trade nor profession and just a basic education.

His wife is a quiet soul who has done cleaning and other manual jobs to be the family income. Their daughter looks about nine, but in reality is 12, also has Thalassemia and problems with her spleen and osteoporosis.

For reasons which were not clear to me, they have been abandoned by their greater family. They are truly alone – before abiding in this cinder-block structure, they were living in a field shrine.  These structures are Shi’ite shrines where people to go to pray, burn incense or make sacrifices – generally it contains a grave of a ‘saint’ or ‘holy man’ – sometimes even ‘Christian Holy men’.   These shrines are dotted all over this region where there is a high number of Shi’ites – the shrines can be in fields, mountains, in towns and cities.  For over a year this family had no place to stay, except in a shrine, with the grave of the Saint, receiving aid from those who came to pray. They had no water, electricity or sanitary provision but they had no other place to stay. Now they had upgraded to this cinder-block structure, which, at least, didn’t contain a  grave.

As we chat my attention is drawn to the small flock of cats around the structure. I comment on the cats and they cheerfully tell me that the cats are nice to have around as they keep the snakes away. They are not pets, and they do not feed them, but they are guard cats, to ward off snakes!

As part of traditional Turkish hospitality, the time has come to offer us, the ‘guests’, some fruit. An old plastic patio type table is extracted from the part of the cinder-block structure that serves as a make-shift kitchen and is brought out to where we are sitting. Shortly thereafter plates of fruit are placed before us. The fruit comes from local trees, vines and neighbours. I feel humbled by their generosity in the face of abject poverty and I have to force myself to overcome my deep reticence in eating what little food they have. T., feeling the same and knowing my thoughts, splits an apple with me and we slowly consume that and give our thanks to our hosts.

It is almost school time but the daughter will not be starting school. She is bright, very intelligent indeed, but her health is a hindrance. The family are so poor that they qualify for free State medical treatment. The doctors want to do some tests to see if she can be helped with an operation. So they will be going to a hospital in Adana, a two hour bus journey away and if she needs an operation, and if so the operation  would be in Ankara, the Capitol about eight hours by coach. The test is in the week school commences. Maybe after that she can go to school. She wants to.

The medical care is covered by the State, but the travel to the hospital and other expenses are not. I hear not a word of complaint or despair.

The cinder-block structure is roofed with corrugated iron. In summer an intense solar oven – in winter an impossible-to-heat ice-box. They are not renting the structure – they are living in it. They have no rights. At any time the owners can come and move them off the land. The property is an inheritance and the beneficiaries can not agree what to do with it and in this confusion the family have been able to live on the land.

Let me be clear they are NOT one of the beneficiaries. When the owners of the property sort out their problems and decide what they want to do with the land, the family will have to move on.

After fruit comes drinks. Thankfully we had brought some soft drinks with us. After drinks comes food. At this we draw the line. We really do not want anything to eat.

The man of the house and the daughter have made a profession of faith. The wife has not. In such abject poverty and hopelessness is their faith real or are they reaching out for any help they can get? The Lord knows.

This I know: at no point did they ask for help, nor did they parade their need, nor did they hint or suggest how one might be able to assist. They never spoke of need nor despair nor helplessness, nor hopelessness….. Their clothes were clean and they smiled and their demeanour was sweet and pleasant.

We had a good conversation, they executed their duties as Turkish hosts very well…

At the end of the visit we prayed with them…..

*****

The shadow of the verse that was going through my mind comes from I John. I found it. It says “But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the Love of God abide in him?” (NKJV).

Life, in practice, is not simple. I wrestled with what I saw. I wrestled with what my response should be. I have ‘this world’s goods’. I had ‘seen’ with my own eyes, not been told, not been manipulated, not been convinced – no, I had ‘seen’ with my own eyes a family in need.

But how can one help? If I reach into my pocket and pull out some cash and thrust it into his hands – what would be the result? Would he understand it comes from God who is greater than us all, or would he see me as a ‘rich foreigner’ and the ‘source of aid’. What of the Chinese proverb “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”?

It was this experience that I recounted outside the outdoor oven at the beginning of this story. This experience was the ‘that’ when the man leaned forward and asked me, “Why did you tell us that?”

One of the people listening to my account responded by telling a long story how a chap had come to their fellowship, said the bailiff was coming to take all their families household goods and could the saints help. They did help, and never saw him again. It seemed to me he was saying, “Yes, we should help, but, unfortunately because of the liars and charlatans in the world, we can’t.” That may not have been his message, but that is what I felt he was saying.

The other chap, the fellow we were actually visiting, is the elder of a church in this village outside of Antakya. He began by saying that the bulk of the people in the Assembly were day workers. They go out at the start of the day, find a manual day job, work and are paid. They are living on something between 300 YTL and 350 YTL a month (and no guarantee that they will find work on any particular day).

Let me translate that into currencies you may find easier to understand: 300 YTL = $228 CDN, $201 USD or £108 GBP; 350 YTL = $266 CDN, $235 USD or £126 GBP a month – as per the exchange rate in 2006. If you asked me if it were possible to live on such an income in Turkey, even rural Turkey, I would say no. Knowing the cost of living, it is remarkable to me that people are actually ‘living’ on that kind of an income.

His point was the bulk of the people in the Assembly are living in poverty and hence are no better off than the situation I had described.

*****

On our return to Istanbul, I asked to see the elder at our Assembly. The Lord also arranged it so another brother whom  I esteem was there and we discussed this whole question of how can we help those in need.

It became abundantly clear that it is not a new question nor an easy question to answer. The elder lowered his head and with sadness spoke of gifts that resulted in more harm and no good. (note: not more harm than good, but too often more harm and ‘no’ good)

The elder shared this from James: “If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:15-17 NKJV)

Basically he said it came down to the most basic ‘needs’ – food and warmth (clothing) that we should respond without concern – everything else requires wisdom and care. He added that it is clear from experience, where possible, if the need is material, to give the material that is required, not money (if the need is food, then giving food, if shoes, then giving shoes – rather than money).

We also discussed how it was important that people who are helped do not see the human agent – those who God uses to meet a need. That they would seek the Lord to meet their need and when it is met, rejoice and give thanks to the Lord.

The conclusion of our discussion was we must respond to the promptings of God when we see needs – but in Turkey we must be very careful, we need wisdom to respond in a way that is truly honouring to the Lord – to be partners with Him in the Good Works that He has prepared for us to do.

Maybe you are wondering, “Why did you tell this story?” here.

Well, this time I know why I have recounted this experience.

It is to share some of my struggle in this area of life.

I have been deeply moved and shaken by these events. God has given me of this world’s goods. I have far more than 350 YTL to live on in a month. I have no outstanding ‘basic’ need. I am well fed, well clothed, and with good housing. But as the elder shared, any giving, any assistance, any help, needs to encourage the saints in their walk with the Lord and understanding of His love and His ability to provide for them.

Any action that any of us may engage in must do good and not harm my brothers and sisters in the Lord. As God has liberally blessed and provided for us, so too we need to emulate Him and be liberally generous to those we meet, especially those whose basic needs we see.

(written January 2005)

T. gazed out the window at a sunny Sunday morning, the opposite shore of the Bosphorus Strait glistening in the early morning light.

However, when it was time to leave for the morning meeting the clouds had descended and were now on the ground, a strong north wind was howling down the Strait and the snow, yes, snow, was driving horizontally past the window. We bundled up in gloves, hats, scarves, coats and umbrella. The umbrella was not something T. would have normally used, but she thought it would help keep some of the snow off her.

The crunch of snow – there must have been six or seven centimetres accumulation in that short time between our earlier appreciation of the Bosphorus and our departure, was an unfamiliar experience. The good thing was there was little to no traffic – all sensible people were warm and cosy inside.

By the time we arrived at the ferry terminal my glasses where covered over in wet snow. I couldn’t see. T., with her umbrella held like a shield in front of her, was only marginally drier.  My front was covered in snow from head to toe; of course, I had no snow on my back. We went to the ferry terminal to find that although there was a ferry at the quayside, the ferries were not running.  Why?  Due to the weather.

These great big massive ships, with the capacity to 5500 – 700 passengers were safely tucked up to the quay, draped in snow. So we moved to the next quay where the little motorboats with a capacity of 100 – 250 passengers ply the same route – these were running. I thought it strange – the large ferries were not running because of the bad weather, but the little motor boats ply on… We bought our ticket and boarded for the short hop across the Strait.  The boat was not crowded, again, sensible people were still tucked up in their beds, or observing the weather from the comfort of a soft chair, gazing out of the window with a hot cup of tea in their hands.

At the Assembly we found some people there, but the foul weather was going to have an impact and the number of those who would be able to make it in, would be diminished. At first I thought that was a shame as we had a guest speaker from Scotland sharing in the morning meeting.

The meeting would be starting late, so we had a nice warm cup of tea to take the chill, that we had collected on our journey, off.

Before the meeting, many of the saints gather for prayer in the meeting room. By the end of the prayer time, we were running about half an hour later than usual. As we got up to get ready for the meeting, we saw a group of people at the back of the room – they had been there about five minutes and had waited until the prayer time was done.

A short, stout man was standing about two meters in front of the other visitors. The prayer meeting had broken up and people were scattered all around the room. The stout man began talking, his deep baritone voice filled the room. The tone was direct, forceful, not friendly and as he talked the edge in his voice became more hostile.

My Turkish impeded my understanding of all of what he was saying, but I could tell it was unpleasant and the repeated statement that he was prepared to give his life and take life made it clear that he was making a most serious threat.

He spoke. He made his statement. He made his threat. He then gathered the others, his family it transpired, and departed.

It seems he feels he is owed money from the church and he is threatening people with death if he doesn’t get what he feels he deserves.

He struck me as one who was not cohabitating in the same reality as me, as one who had lost touch with common reality and is living in a reality of his own creation – or one who has been or is being influenced by demons. Either way you cut it, not a pleasant situation.

This fellow was once part of the fellowship; once broke bread with the saints, once taught from the Word, once carried responsibilities in the fellowship. Now he is threatening people and is reportedly part of an Islamic extremist sect.

The guest speaker who shared a bit later in the morning did not know what was going to transpire on the day – But God did. The word he gave was extremely appropriate to the events of the day and drew our focus back to real Reality and He who is our Lord and why we are here.

The snow too, was a blessing, as the witnesses to the event were fewer than would have been expected had there been no snow and had his statement been made during the actual meeting.  The snow was also a barrier to any visitors who would be enquiring as to what we believe being present – such a scene could have been a stumbling block to them.

There is a Spiritual Battle going on. It is serious. People have received death threats from credible sources. The Church is being shaken. But God….

But God is sovereign. But God is not taken by surprise. But God is with us “until the end of this age”. God knew the man would come, and God knew his words would have an impact. He could have stopped the man from coming, but didn’t. He prepared the guest speaker, who was completely ignorant of the man, his history and the fact that he would come and make threatening demands. And so Sovereign God encouraged us with a word from a man who was outside the situation.

But God…..