(written October 2011)

With the final ‘amen’ uttered, T. and I and the elder and his wife rose to take our leave from our hosts of the evening – our colleagues and fellow labourers J. and R. This young family joined us about two years ago and have been studiously studying Turkish, reaching out to the youth and leading  the music on Sundays.

After the summer break, this had been our first team meeting and was a good time of sharing, fellowship and planning.

The evening was noted as well for its climatic activity. Throughout the summer we see neither cloud nor experience that phenomenon of moisture falling from the sky – I believe the English word to describe this is ‘rain’. In Antakya you know autumn has come when you see clouds and then this, ah, rain stuff.

The first rain is often like the experience of someone trapped underground for a long period of time – when they come out to the light they can’t see, it is hard to focus, they are disoriented. Likewise, the first rain is often a pitiable affair. Moisture does fall, but in a lacklustre, half hearted manner that does nothing to refresh, does nothing to cleanse and often results in higher humidity and mud stains camouflaging most surfaces.

This particular evening it was not the first rain and it seemed to be at pains to demonstrate that it had remembered what ‘real rain’ was all about.

As we made our way from the apartment building to the car for the drive back home, only I had the benefit of a rain hat and a proper rain jacket and as my shoes had recently perished, I had purchased boots, that is water-proof boots, as my footwear. I feared no rain and calmly walked to the car whilst everyone else made a mad dash.

As we commenced our return journey by car we were confronted with the evidence that this particular rain, whilst not of ‘flood’ proportions, was a serious attempt to not just ‘water the earth’ but to ‘cleanse the accumulated dust and dirt’ left by the long, hot summer.

At every turn gasps and exclamations as we saw the run off overwhelming the storm drain system. At the great round-a-bout, where on the east side of the intersection a street comes down the hill, the road resembled a stream in torrent rather than a public highway.

Snug and safe in our car, wiping the accumulated condensed moisture from the inside of the windows we made our way through this amazing water world.

As we approached home, we came down our street. Now our street does not have the classic storm drain system – ours is a more basic, but yet functional system. The road bed is not convex (higher in the centre and lower at the edges) as on a traditional western street, designed to remove the water from the centre of the road and direct it to the storm grates at the side. Rather, our street is concave – lower in the middle and higher at the sides, directing all the run-off to the centre of the road where is flows merrily down the centre of the street until the next storm drain which lays across the road bed.

It works.

This night it was working well.

We drove down and turned around so we could park up close beside our home. As we completed the turning manoeuvre, we watched a large, plastic paint pail – now serving as a make-shift garbage can and placeholder to ensure our parking place is still available when we return – being carried along by the current down the centre of the road – which in itself had transformed into a swift flowing stream coursing done the middle of the street, the edges of the water drawing ever closer to the sides of the street.

Being the only one in appropriate rain gear, there was no question as to who should leap out and rescue the pail.

So, dressed in my rain hat, water-proof jacket and water-proof boots I calmly walked over to the centre of the road, and then had to scramble as the pail was making good time in the torrent.

Turning, pail in hand, I began the walk up stream to the house, confident in the knowledge that I was protected from the onslaughts of the rain and flowing water.

As I looked up the road, it was evident that all was not well. The car was only half parked and still out in the street, at an odd angle and everyone looking at it from the shelter of the eves of our home.

When I came up to the car, it was clear the left rear tyre was, well, where was it? The corner of the car was basically resting really low and the tyre was obscured by swirling water. Well, when we left that evening, in the dry, some two or three hours earlier, there was nothing for the car to become entrapped in. Yes, it is true that previously the cobbled street had been opened up in front of our house to do some work, but it was completed and all filled in. The patch was raised and hard packed, not yet re-cobbled, but a solid hard pack.

Now the centre of the street was a swirling mass of water and the car was on the right side of the street, the left side of the car in the centre and the left hand rear corner well and truly settled in.

I went up to the car, examined the turbulent waters and suggested to the elder that he try and go forward, out of the apparent hole. As he attempted to move the car forward, I tried to assist in pushing and lifting.

The tyre spun – muddy water and gravel flew up and the car settled a bit lower down – not the desired result.

The rain continued it’s relentless downpour – the raging waters churned past and the car, headlights shining forth, now pointing upwards as the back of the car is significantly lower than normal.

Neighbours begin to congregate – curious as to what the commotion is and why the car is in the middle of the street blocking any other traffic from traversing the roadway. Everyone is huddled against the front of our home as there is a over-hang which impedes some of the rain.

The problem is discussed.

We have neighbours from the immediate vicinity, and slowly, neighbours come from farther a field.

The men are keen – “What can we do?”.

It is pouring with rain. The elder’s wife who has stood in the rain for a brief moment looks drenched to the bone – wet hair plastered to her head, a sad sight. My jeans, being as they are, below my rain jacket, are completely and utterly soaked.

Much to my surprise and horror, my rain jacket has failed. My shirt and undershirt are sopping wet. My rain hat is now truly a ‘rain’ hat, it is raining on the inside.

Oh, and it is still vigorously raining.

And the men say “we can all gather around and lift and push and maybe get it out”.

This was said in the bucketing rain.

We declined.

We turn the car off, leaving the hazard lights flashing their warning to other road users.

The rain begins to taper off. A number of the neighbours, convinced that there is nothing to be done, leave, wet and dripping, to go home.

And yet, more neighbours are still arriving. Curious as to what has happened and offering whatever assistance they can.

As we stand there, I see a car about 50 meters away turning down a side road when it abruptly stops, reverses and then drives straight up to where we are. They saw the problem from a distance, changed course and immediately came and offered help… can they help push, do we need a tow… “say whatever help is required,” they say, and they will lend a helping hand without hesitation.

The rain has finally stopped.

The stream in the centre of the road has slowly but surely diminished and then, for all intents and purposes, dried up.

The road surface is now visible, the hard-packed earth that once filled the hole has been excavated by the turbulent, rushing waters and the void once opened is now the resting place for the left rear tyre. The corner of the car is resting comfortably on the road rather than suspended above it courtesy of the tyre – and the tyre, ironically, is suspended in the hole.

We remain standing on the street, watching the car… One thing is clear, the car will not go anywhere in spite of a regular flow of concerned neighbours asking if they can assist in anyway.

This speaks volumes about the nature of Turkish culture – willing to help, even in the pouring rain – without proper rain gear where the only prospect is to get drenched in the process for no return.

It also speaks volumes of the testimony that the elder and his wife have displayed in this community – being light and salt and making a difference.

In times of troubles, even minor inconveniences in life like this, the response of those living near us, declares much about how we are perceived and the strength of our testimony. It would have been simplicity itself for the neighbours to stay snug and dry in their homes – not venturing out into the downpour, in the dark.

It is the ‘bumps’ in life, when things go ‘wrong’ that declare much about our character – who we are – and how we respond declares much about what we truly believe. This then determines how we are perceived in our world which, in turn, is evidenced by the response of those around us.

Oh, the elder rang for a recovery vehicle to come and in the fullness of time the lorry arrived, gently lifted the back of the car out of the miry pit it had become ensnared in and it was set free – no damage done, partly because we resisted the offers to man-handle it out of its dilemma.

 

 

(written July 2011)

There was a time when I deeply enjoyed driving. I’ve driven across North America a number of times, driven from Belgium to Turkey and extensively in whatever country we have had the privilege of living in.

I enjoyed the driving experience, trying to provide a comfortable ride for the passengers, endeavouring to be a safe driver and enjoying the scenery – or that bits of the scenery which decorate, and surround the road where my primary focus rests.

There have been times of extended driving, hour after hour when fatigue begins to raise its weary and rather ugly head. Pressing on, battling against tiredness and maintaining the required level of alertness and diligence demanded when in control of a tonne or more of steel at high speeds on often challenging roads.

Over the years there have marathon-driving through heavily snow bound roads through the mountains of western Canada or hour upon seemingly endless hour-driving straight across the incredibly flat expanse of the prairies. We have travelled on roads that warn motorists to check fuel as there are no services for fifty miles – in plain terms that means for fifty miles the terrain is devoid of all human habitation of any description.

Of the tens of thousands of miles that I have driven, I think I can say that I have by-and-large enjoyed the experience.

However ….

The Elder’s car was due for its bi-annual vehicle inspection as required by Turkish law. The first task is a separate inspection of the LPG (Liquified Propane Gas) system by a special Engineering Office. As the elder has a 9 − 5 job, I was volunteered, to take the vehicle for this check and the actual vehicle inspection.

It is a quick task, the man comes with a sniffer device, checks the tank and then the motor, carburettor and others points in the motor well. Five minutes to get the man, five minutes to do the check and five minutes to pay the fee and get the paperwork.

Or that is what normally happens.

On this occasion he began by specifically examining the tank fitted in the back of the car. On examination he noted the manufacture date was ten years ago and by law, the tanks have a ten year life.  

It is time for the tank to be replaced.

That ended the inspection. Without that piece of paper you can not have the required vehicle inspection and hence you can not legally drive. To make matters worse, I had already made the appointment to have the vehicle inspection having not anticipated this development.

I will confess that if the legal life has ended, it probably is a good time to replace the tank – the tank may be good for a number of years more, but do you really want to risk it with a tank of compressed flammable gas?

So this five minute job required me to turn the car up the valley to the “New Small Industrial” area to one of the authorised shops where I could have the tank replaced.

Arriving at the shop, I was impressed that it looked clean and modern – gives a sense of confidence that they would know what they are doing and do a good job. After a brief discussion it was agreed to be done, however, there was still Liquified Propane Gas in the tank and it needed to be used up before they would under-take the replacement of the tank.

Seemed like a reasonable request.

So, my task was to drive the car until the tank was empty – then return for the work to be done.

I had a vehicle, fuel and the task was simply to drive. Go where you wish.

I used to enjoy driving.

Now in the heat of an Antakya summer, I headed off to the village of Altınözü about 25 kilometres from Antakya. The system showed that I was very low on LPG – the final green light was extinguished, only occasionally flashing. There really can not be much fuel left. A trip to Altınözü should be more than enough.

Or so I thought.

I drove up to the village, down to an old stone bridge that I’d been told about, but never taken the time to go and see. Stopped by the shop of one of the elders of the church in this village. He is a carpenter and was in his shop very briefly as they were installing something on site. He said if I wanted to spend some time I could visit with a fellow from the church. How do you say I am not wishing to spend time, but to burn fuel and to do so I must keep on travelling?

I found what I hoped were a set of words which would not cause offence and left the village. On the way back I turned off to the top of a mountain that looks down on Antakya. Need to burn fuel, so off I went on this wee side trip. The road isn’t in great shape, but taking my time and avoiding the worst bits I made it to the top.

Great view, but the goal is not to see a great view but to empty the LPG tank. So I returned down the mountain and made my way back to Antakya. I had travelled over 60 kilometres and still the car was running well, the LPG green light was still occasionally flickering.

What to do?

I turned the car towards the town of Reyhanlı, nestled immediately besides the Syrian border. I’m not sure what the exact meaning of Reyhanlı is, it could be “With Sweet Basil” or “With one of the Seven Doors of Heaven”. I don’t know, you feel free to decide which is the most appropriate translation of the name.

I had never been to Reyhanlı, however, having visited the local museum, I was aware that out toward Reyhanlı there are a number of Tells or ancient hills that are the remains of the towns and villages of antiquity. Many Hittite artefacts have been discovered from these Tells and my interest in all things ancient, and Hittite and old stones has meant that I’ve often wished to go to Reyhanlı and see what there is to see.  

You can read of my experience with on of these tells at: Let Me Tell You…

Now was my chance. 

Actually, I was compelled because of the need to use up the fuel. I had to do it.

And so I set off.

Now the road from Antakya to Reyhanlı is a simple two lane road with light traffic on it.  First we ran parallel to the Asi (ancient Orontes) River on the shoulder of a low hill on our right and the plain opening out on our left.  In the middle distance, before a large hill stands the Ottoman Hotel, a new five-star establishment situated in this rather remote location due to the presence of a thermal spring.

The road worked its way, meandering around the hill until we had turned to be basically travelling east. Now we were on the plain proper leaving the hills behind.

There is not a lot to see on a plain. It is flat. There is the odd tree decorating the landscape. The fields are green. And it is flat. One kilometre soon looks like the previous and the following kilometre doesn’t vary.

Then I came to some road construction. I slow down and try and avoid the worst bits. The world over, road construction is an unpleasant discovery. I had decided if it lasted too long, I would abandon the trek and turn back – the task was to burn fuel, not inflict damage upon the vehicle.

However, soon we returned to asphalt with a new duel carriageway under construction to our left. Ah, soon there is to be a divided highway to Reyhanlı – something to look forward to.

And the plain continued.  The sun shone.  It was hot.  No air conditioning!

Did I mention that it was baking hot, the wind coming in the window was sweltering, very hot. The sun, powerfully blazing in the sky causing ones eyes to rebel and try and find refuge from the intense light. Oh, and the plain although was very fertile was a simple, very plain plain (isn’t English wonderful, maybe I should describe the plain as austere – a very austere plain rather than a very plain plain).

To be honest, I was feeling bored. Here I am in a car – we no longer have our own motor vehicle, so this in itself is a treat – and I have fuel and I do not have to worry about the cost of fuel or wasting it – my goal is to use it up and I am going somewhere I’ve never been before… but I am alone, no one is with me to share the experience and, to be honest, I am feeling bored.

It could be the heat, it could be the intensity of the blazing sun, or, I guess, it could be that I don’t enjoy driving as much as I used to.

There was a sign pointing to a village off to my right, in the hills and the name included the word höyük which is Turkish for Tell… so something interesting is probably up that road. But now I’m bone weary, tired out by the endless and driving without a destination,  my task is not to go somewhere but to drive.  Indeed, if there is an interesting tell just up the road, my tasking this day did not include parking up somewhere and have a good gawk about.

Later on there is a low hill, a Tell that looks like it has been or is being excavated – possible recently as a Hittite lion has been discovered and delivered to the museum in Antakya.

The road continues its straight, unbending path –  once more crossing the Asi (Orontes) as the river heads south where it leaves the plain, enters its own valley and then forms the physical border between Turkey and Syria.

The road takes a swing to the right and the construction abruptly ceases – in the middle of field. I was gobsmacked. It started part way between the two cities and now it appeared to end in the middle of a field. There were no signs of survey or road works or of things to come…  Literally, it was ‘the end’.  No doubt it will be completed one day – but not today that was for sure.

The old, two lane road continued some more and then once again mounted the shoulder of a hill on the right hand side and began a switchback up the hillside. At the first hairpin we encountered a fence – a fence like I haven’t seen before.

This is a relatively low, maybe but no more than two metres, barbed wire fence with concrete fence posts with the upper arms leaning both ways, in and out. There was lots and lots of barbed wire. From the arms of the fence post there were rows and rows of barbed wire. There was new razor wire on the fence as well. Then I noted that there were high concrete watch towers to my left with the fence to my right – I guess I was driving down the border.

This I did not expect.

Oh, and the LPG was still powering me onwards and I had travelled another 40 odd kilometres – economical little vehicle.

I entered Reyhanlı and I saw more road construction – here was the connecting bit. The new road would not rub shoulders with the border, it would stand off, at its nearest be 200 metres or so from the physical board.  When completed the dual carriageway would take a new path up to Reyhanlı, skirting around the hill with the border fence, and remain on the plain and then rising up to the city. No longer in the border, the new road would be merely deep in the shadow of border.

I didn’t really want to ‘see’ Reyhanlı, a deeply Sunni, religious town on the border. It certainly did not look like one of the “Seven Doors to Heaven”.  

My goal, especially in the stifling heat was to run out the LPG (returning, once it was all gone on petrol – a duel fuel vehicle). So at the first convenient spot, I turned around and headed the car back towards Antakya.

I was tired of driving. I was tired of the trip. I wanted to go home. But I needed the tank to be empty, and it still bravely soldiered on, finding ever more wisps of gas to burn.

After following, not in the shadow of the boarder as the new road will be, but in the midst of the border as the old road travels, I descended to the plain, across and back to where the road construction commenced.

It was after a few more kilometres on the section of the new road, on the plain that the long awaited hiccupping of the motor as the LPG was coming in dribs and drabs.

We need the tank empty – for safety sake, so I carried on until the coughing and hiccupping came to the point where I was convinced it was real, we were truly running on fumes and I switched over to petrol.

Task completed.

But now, I still had 35 odd kilometres to drive back to Antakya.

I discoverer that I no longer enjoy driving as I once did.

I guess things change, we change. It is part of life and I suppose the cycle of life. It is God’s plan and I dare say ‘gift’ to mankind. Part of the ‘secret of contentment’ that Paul speaks of, is accepting the changes that life brings.

“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation,” (Philippians 4:12 NIV)

And so, whether driving, or not, to be content. 

 

(written January 2007)

As the aircraft descended, through those murky minutes before the sun sets completely, my attention was drawn to the grey blanket of fog that seemed to have flooded into the low-lying areas. Peering through the gathering gloom it was as if malevolent tentacles of some dark monster were advancing through the land to overwhelm and possess it. Indeed the valleys were all gone, filled with a featureless sea of grey, leaving the hills like little isolated islands, forlorn and abandoned.

Our airport was on elevated ground and we came straight in for our landing.

Not so Heathrow, one of the world’s busiest and the UKs largest airport. All domestic flights in and out had been cancelled only International flights having the priority, continued to run.

Our flight up from Turkey was uneventful – it was the first time we had flown with EasyJet – a discount airline. The ticket was incredibly cheap – £61 for the two of us to fly up from Istanbul to the UK – uh, that is not £61 each, but £61 all total! That is fantastic. DV, we will fly back with them on 26 February, the return one-way ticket costing just a shade more – but it is still only one third of the cost we used to pay.

Our youngest son and his girl friend were there to meet us – he didn’t park up, airport parking was £4 for ten minutes (hm, if he parked for an hour that would be £24 and our flight from Istanbul was £30.50 each !). So they drove around and around and we went out and met them.

As he drove us to Hemel Hempstead to pick up our car we descended from the heights and entered the fog.

This veil of fog – enough to cripple airports – spread over the bulk of England. You could see, oh, maybe 100 meters – but everything was blurry, out of focus and dark. The sky doesn’t exist – just a low grey canopy brooding above us and then descending on all sides so we were travelling in a small bubble of ‘almost visibility’.

A few days later was my annual outing to the dentist. My dentist works in a village called ‘Much Hadam’ – which isn’t near anywhere. Travelling to my appointment we sailed on in the grey sea that stubbornly resided over the land. In the countryside trees and hedge rows rise out of the fog and settle back in as we twist and turn our way to the village.

Nothing is distinct. Nothing is clear. Nothing is in focus… the edges blurred by wisps of grey as the fog moves in and out and flows around objects. It ‘feels’ morbid, sad, hopeless, pointless.

After the check-up, teeth feeling bright and clean, we head off back into the fog.

Time has ceased to have meaning. You can’t see the sun. You travel in your own isolated little fuzzy cocoon of, well, haziness and you have no indicator if it is morning, noon or night.

Time, it seems, is no more.

Every bend reveals either a grey wall or, leering out of the fog, another bend. The road continues its convoluted path – this road was clearly not laid down by the Romans, more likely by a donkey tormented by flies and driven helter-skelter across the landscape.

We plough on, sometimes in complete loneliness, sometimes other vehicles appear out of the vapours either to accompany us for a while or to make their appearance and then to disappear once again, enveloped in the ever-changing greyness leaving no trace of their existence.

As we neared Hemel Hempstead our path took us to higher ground and as we rose up, suddenly the fog vanished and a radiant blue sky and the golden globe of the sun shone round and we were in a different world – a world of colour, a world of beauty, a world of clarity, a world of vision, a world of focus and a world with time and grace and wonder.

It was great! Our spirits soared! A new and different universe was before us, our pace increased in this new-found freedom; trees crisp and clear with their leafless branches reaching up into the dazzling sky, the grass a vibrant almost radiating green and words fail to describe the glowing blueness of the sky – we flew on in confidence, in joy and delight.

Then we crested the hill and descended into the valley below where Hemel Hempstead lies, the grey arms of the waiting fog reaching out to embrace and encase us – the sun was consumed in the all pervasive dull, dreary mantle – things blurred and darkness descended and all became unclear, uncertain, unfocused and melancholy.

Occasionally I caught an ‘almost glimpse’ of the sun, now reduced to a fuzzy round orb in the swirling grey mass above us. Unclear and unsure what it was – having no effect but to remind us of what could be…. if only there was no fog… The fog drains your energy, drains your spirits, drains your soul.

Time, once again, had lost meaning – is it 3:00 in the afternoon or 9:00 at night – who knows, it all looks the same.

We long for the fog to lift and the sun to once again reign over the land.

And this experience, for me, really sums up what it is like in Turkey. People are going about their business – lives not dissimilar to our own – they marry and bury, they buy and sell, they laugh and cry, but things are dark, unclear, uncertain, unfocused, morose. Their world is dominated by an all-pervasive fog – a fog which obscures, blurs, inhibits and hinders all and in every way – it is all they have ever know; it is, for them, normal. We speak of sun, of blue sky, of colours, of clarity and focus and it is as gibberish and gobbledygook to our hearers. Their world is so different, so grey, so blurred, so depressing.

Occasionally, some may glimpse the Son, through the fog… but they do not recognise Him nor understand the beauty and warmth and colour and delight that comes in His presence.

Yes, we lived in a fog for a number of days here in the UK – but it passed. In our other ‘home’, in Turkey, a whole nation is living in a fog – a fog that has laid on their land for generations and generations, stubbornly, persistently – blurring and blinding and sapping the energy and life and hope from the people. A fog that hasn’t lifted; has never lifted historically and yet we pray that God may lift this fog so this people living in darkness may see a great Light – the Light of the world.

 

 

It is cool under the trees. Well, at least at 08:43 in the morning it is.  Temperatures at mid day are in the high 30’s, 37-38° C and the humidity is low, today it was 16% by mid day, much lower than Antakya.  At night the temperatures drop to a very pleasant, almost too cool 16° C.  In many ways it is an ideal location for the annual GÖK (Southeast Region) Family Camp.

This year, however, there are different events which have cast a shadow over our time together.

One was the unexpected passing of the leader of a fellowship in İstanbul (whilst on holiday with his wife in Greece – on the island of Chios, just off the Turkish coast). At only 48 years of age, in reasonable health, this was, for us, totally unexpected. Several, including the camp speakers will be leaving early to attend the funeral in İstanbul and then returning (missing one day – their teaching to be covered by another brother).

The other shadow is not so emotive nor so visible – noted more for its absence rather than its presence. The Southeast Fellowship of Churches is a voluntary association of the various churches in this region. As part of the function of the group, there are meetings of the leaders once a quarter to share, encourage and pray for one another and there is an annual four day retreat for the leaders of the various churches which combines teaching appropriate for people in ministry and a time to rest.

The biggest function organised, and I feel a very effective ministry, is the family camp where believers from all over the region, many from small, minuscule and isolated circumstances, come together.  For a week we worship as a large group, sit under teaching from someone outside our own fellowships and join in small group discussions after each morning session (this affords getting to know other believers from different fellowships and areas).

If you are from a fellowship of six or eight souls, it can be profoundly refreshing and eye-opening to be with two hundred believers at one time in one place. Sometimes, when the Word is taught by someone outside the fellowship it can be accepted whereas the very same truth taught by someone within the fellowship can go unheard.

I believe the Family Camp punches above its weight in ministry terms because of the intermixing of saints from all over the region.

But, now, it seems that two fellowship in the western part of the region may have decided to host their own church camps.

Now there is nothing wrong with fellowships organising and holding camps just for their fellowship.

Let me reiterate, there is nothing wrong with having your own, church-specific camp. But, if it is decided to do this ‘instead of’ joining with the saints at the Family Camp – then I perceive a potential problem.

If a church specific camp is ‘in addition to’, I see no problem, but if the parochial is esteemed exclusively over the universal,  then there will be a more limited experience, and at the same time, will be depriving us of the opportunity to get to know them and to fellowship with them – both they and we are affected, deprived of one another’s fellowship.

In any event, this year there is an absence, an empty space that they occupied in former years.

Let me be clear, it is fully correct and acceptable and they are free to come and likewise, free not to come, but there are natural consequences to the choices we make.

If they have gone the parochial route, the camp they host may well be more intimate, but, at the same time it loses the opportunity to mix with, be exposed to, to learn from, to share with a wider slice of the universal church of God.

What we do, does not just affect us… it affects all those we come in contact with – both as fellowships and as individuals; both for the good choices we make, and the bad.

No man is an island – and if that wording stumbles you, then, no individual is an island.

What I do matters. It matters to me. It matters to God. It matters to my family. It matters to the Fellowship. It matters to those I bump into in the normal thrust and parry of life.

It matters.

That which may be ‘okay’ for me, may not be beneficial for my family. That which I ‘approve of’ may cause some in the fellowship to stumble. That for which I give myself a ‘pass’, may proclaim the wrong message to my community.

It is not enough for me to consider something from my own limited and, dare I say, selfish, perspective. For example, it matters how I handle and manifest my grief at the passing of a dear friend and leader in a Turkish church, or my attitude towards Family Camp, or the wee ‘cheats’ that I allow myself with regard to my diabetic diet.

I need to consider God, first and foremost. Is that which I am deciding, pleasing to Him? Would the Lord Jesus do this? Does this advance the Kingdom of God or detract from it? and so on…

This is the essential starting point, but it does not end there.

Beyond what I think, feel and believe about some action, purchase or behaviour, I need to be cognisant of its effect on my family, the fellowship I am part of and the community in which I live.

No individual is an island.

No one acts in isolation – everything has an influence.

The greatest commandment is to love God – the second is to love your neighbour.

My natural human inclination is to love me first before the two commandments mentioned above.

Now to be balanced, I acknowledge that we do need to have a healthy self-image. We do need to like ourselves. We do need to love ourselves. Loving God and our neighbour in no wise encompasses, invites or comprises self-loathing.

Having a healthy self-image, liking ourselves, is an essential part of being a healthy and balanced individual. But this is only the beginning, not the whole. Loving ourselves is essential, but not loving ourselves exclusively – not to the detriment of those we interact with. We need a holistic, comprehensive approach, not neglecting ourselves, nor those around us, nor the fellowship we are part of nor the community we find ourselves in.

The goal, the balance, is found in loving ourselves, but in the context of the two great commandments to love God and to love our neighbour. The struggle commences when our self-love becomes the all-important, even all-consuming factor and God, family and community get the short shrift.

If we were to replace self-love with self-loathing then we cannot truly love God nor our neighbour.

What we choose, where we go, what we do, what we say, what we laugh at, what entertains us, how we spend our money, how we act and how we react are all important – it all matters. It matters to us, we, who are doing it. It matters to our families. It matters to the people we work with. It matters to the fellowship we are part of. It matters to the community.

It matters to God.

It matters.

 

 

 

Within the last fortnight two dear brothers have left this world with all its joys and frustrations and stepped into eternity.  One I did not know but others have told me how devoted, zealous and faithful to the Lord he was.  The other was the elder of  Beşiktaş church, a dear brother I did have the pleasure and honour of knowing.

At just 48 years of age, he was not old, but his aorta burst and he stepped forth from this life.  He was faithful to the Lord, diligent and an effective leader of the fellowship.  He did nothing to ‘deserve’ to die – for some reason, we often reduce these matters to whether we feel the person  ‘deserves’ or ‘doesn’t deserve’ to die.  As well as pastoring the flock, he was involved in the Christian television channel. He was the husband of one wife, loving and caring.  Was he without fault – of course not – but as one redeemed by God through Christ, he was being remade in the image of Christ.  That work is now completed – he has received his reward.

Which brings me to the title of this comment on life.  The following was first penned when we as a fellowship were under active, vocal,and vorciforious threat.  Subsequent to that the rise of the so-called Islamic  State and their hell-bent obsession with destroying and killing anything which does not fit into their narrow world view.

To live or to die….

Well, to live or to die is never the question. When we hear threats, some maybe more believable than others, what are we to think? People are trying to affect the way we live – by threatening us with death.

Okay. Fair enough.

If we think about it, then we realise it is not whether we live or die, but rather, how we live and how we die.

Everyone who can read this, is living – how you live is up to you, but you are living.

Everyone of us will die. Someone has said that this is an inescapable fact of life – no one gets out alive.

So, since we are living and since we all will die, the question really is; how will we live and how will we die.

Those who threaten us say if we do not do what they demand, they will kill us. Maybe they are sincere and fully intend to do what they say. But they can not guarantee that we will live – they can only threaten to end our life. When I first penned these thoughts, in the news there was a story of a man who went on a knifing spree in China killing 8 – eight people going about their lives, not offending or provoking this wanton violence. Yet, all eight are now dead – regardless to how they lived.

So, rather than allowing bullies and violent people determine how we live – we should live by the principles and values that are important, dear, and fundamental to our life. They can threaten and maybe succeed. But we lose the reason to live if we bow to their threats.

So, threats are made – we may ‘die’ – but we already know that one day we will die. Better to live and yes, better to die, being true to ourselves, true to our faith, true to what we proclaim, than to allow fear to dominate and dare I say, compromise our manner of living.

To do otherwise is to die even while we live.

 

(written August 2007)

The solution was simplicity itself. I couldn’t change my basic working position and I couldn’t in any way limit the amount of moisture pouring off my face nor could I abandon the task. But, to end the unceasing stream of liquid that kept streaking my glasses and at times pooling into mini-lakes on the lenses, totally obscuring my vision, the answer was uncomplicated. I simply removed my glasses – half blind is better than totally blind.

One aspect of Antakya (Antioch on the Orontes river) – which most likely was a factor in the founding of the city and its prosperity in ancient times – is an almost constant breeze that blows up the valley from the sea during the hot summer months. The trees all have a distinctive lean to the north east (on the mountain the angle of the trees caused by the wind is greater than 45°). When the temperature strays into the mid and upper 30’s (mid and upper 90’s for those who ‘feel’ in Fahrenheit), this breeze doesn’t just make it tolerable, but actually it could be described as ‘pleasant’.

The down side is the breeze doesn’t always, um, breeze.

This day it wasn’t ‘breezing,’ with the result that we felt the temperature regardless of F° or C° and we were, uh, perspiring freely.

The task itself was straightforward and unsophisticated. The Turkish elder and his family had been living in a rented flat which was built many years ago utilising sea sand. Sea sand is abundant, looks and feels like non-sea sand – but it has it’s own unique characteristic – the salt weakens concrete over time. As time passed, so the strength of the concrete erodes and this year, in addition to the constant rain of small white particles that needed to be cleaned up every day, large parts of the ceiling began falling down. This was not plaster, mind, but large chucks of concrete – the stuff of which the ceiling is made  and when it parted company with the remainder of the ceiling, the rusty reinforcement bars were left exposed – naked testament to the sickness within. It was time to move.

By God’s grace they were able to move into Antakya proper – formerly they lived in a village eight kilometres out of town. This was very close to where he works, but not close to the meeting room and the fellowship.

The new rented flat is a step of faith for them – but with their income any flat would be a step of faith.

Their new flat has just been built. For them great excitement – for me the excitement was somewhat diminished:  I know new-builds have their own teething problems and as a matter of fact, I was dealing with one of them.

Fully, freshly, newly painted the flat is; maybe not the colours you or I would choose, rather bright and in-your-face but vibrantly painted and clean nonetheless.

Er, that is to say, the walls were clean. It seems a life ‘constant’ is that some painters focus on where they are applying the paint without regard to where the paint may actually be going…. and my task was uncomplicated – sit on the floor, scrap and scrub with a view to remove, eradicate and obliterate all the spots and spatters that decorated the ceramic floor tiles.

In the past I have noted that in the odd foray into the task of covering a wall surface with some coloured emulsion that wet paint cleans up with amazingly little effort and very quickly, although I must admit that when I ‘paint’ I am loath to stop the splashing of paint in order to clean up my frequent and liberal spills. Now, as I knelt on the floor, slowly scrapping the small and not so small coloured testament to the painter, I learned two things.

The first is, for some paint types, you scrap it off and if you do not physically remove it from the floor, it will settle and re-attach itself in a new resting place.

Wonderful!

After spending hours, literally crawling around on the floor bathed in my own personal shower of perspiration I find the objects of the exercise have survived the ordeal and are happily nestled on the floor in new locations. This does not naturally nor automatically bring a smile to my face. The second time the spots scrap off easily – but again, if not physically removed, they will contentedly find a new home and from thence again taunt and defy.

The other thing that I learned, er, well, learned again, as I think I’ve had this lesson before, was the job of cleaning up from the incidental splashes  and spills is easy to do when the paint is first spilled, splattered or sprayed.  However, it becomes a huge, laborious, strenuous and massive job once some time has passed.

Additionally, wet paint cleaned up immediately, leaves no scar on the surface, but with the best will and careful attention, cleaning up the paint that had been give time to settle and bond and integrate required much more effort and sharp metal tools which left scratches, scraps and otherwise disfigure the floor.  In my diligent efforts to remove every trace of the spotted testament, much effort and strenuous labour was required and the result was somewhat marred by the inevitable scratches and blemishes that resulted.

Ah, with life’s lessons there are many applications. When preparing video, it is said you should aim to “shoot to edit”. In other words, shoot so that the material requires no editing. How many hours have I spent trying to ‘fix’ a moment of inattention, an oversight in preparation be it video or audio that isn’t what it should be. Sometimes a simple task, one that ‘should’ take five minutes has required ten hours of labour to make right – and not really be ‘right’, just ‘best as’ at the end of it all.

Ah, ah, and in my walk with the Lord to clean up the spatters, spills and sprays when I stumble and do not live up to my High Calling, or I have a ‘weakness of the flesh’, or ‘I make a mistake, or as the Bible simply describes it, I sin, well, when they are fresh they are relatively easy to deal with – although repentance never feels easy – and before permanent scars and blemishes develop.  But if I delay, let time pass, then it is much more difficult to deal with, sometimes it takes vigorous effort, sometimes it leaves scars and blemishes which live on as lasting reminders of my failings – sometimes the innocent are marred because of my failing especially when I allow them to fester.

This too, seems to be a recurring lesson for me.