(written April 2006)

White eyes stared back at me from a red face – quiet testament that I was wearing sunglasses all day. Although red, my face did not feel burnt, but my white eyes sockets looked like something out of a sci-fi adventure. T. was likewise endowed with this new reddish-pink colouring, but without the white eyes – much better.

It is not easy to get to this state of affairs. It takes hours of diligent effort. For us the day began early, the plan was to leave the house at 8:30 in the morning. Somewhere in the vicinity of that time we descended the five floors from the flat to the Volkswagen Transporter – a vehicle equipped with 12 or 13 seats.

The challenge was immediately apparent – there were more than that number of people waiting, nigh on to twice the number. We also had all the things needed, bibles, song books, bar-b-q, charcoal, meat, guitar, saz, the list went on. And a tribe of people – a mixed bag of young people, older folks, and children, a swarm of children.

As we waited by the van, more people came, then some people who had come and gone, returned with enough bread to feed a small army – and this mountain of bread would also have to find a place in the van.

You know, when you sit on a bench seat, if one leans forward and the next leans back you can get more people on the seat than if you all sat back. Additionally if you put children on your lap and sit people in the passage way, and any other open spot you can get near on twenty people in a van. The remaining people were to walk towards our destination with another vehicle tasked to return and pick them up.

And we were off. T. was somewhere in the back squeezed in with some ladies. I, up front, sharing a seat with a gentleman. We actually didn’t know where we were going – but we were off to link up with another vehicle whose driver did know the way – reportedly.

So loaded to capacity or so, we wound our way through the streets of Diyarbakir and on to a divided road heading out of town, down into the Tigris river valley. We joined up with the car in the ‘know’ and followed them down into the bottom of the valley, across the Tigris and onward.

Then there was a break in the divided the roadway and the car made a U-turn and headed back from whence we came.

hmmm

Returning along the same road we approached the bridge over the river – ah, the joy of being in the front seat, unlike T. lost in the jumble of humanity in the back, I could see where we were going – or in this case, where we had come from.

Just before the bridge the car veered off the road onto a secondary gravel road – or at least it had pretensions to being a secondary gravel road. We pulled along side our guide car and were told to go exactly 5 kilometers and then to turn off to the left down a simple farm trackway.

Abandoned by the car ‘in the know’, we set off on this almost secondary gravel road that had seen the worst of the winter, and the spring repairs although possibly begun, were not yet completed. We sailed along, slowing over the bigger bumps, weaving around extended ruts and making our way down the 5 kilometer stretch.

We came to a little village. Little it might be, but it had a mosque – the speakers on the minaret were sputtered sporadic bursts of noise. We stopped. We had a container, now was the time to fill it full of water. So off went the driver and another person to the mosque to fill the container up. While we waited the minaret continued it barrage of indistinguishable noises.  In the interlude, whilst waiting for the water party to return, slowly people began to emerge from the scrum in the van, seeking relief or maybe just air. When the water party returned, everyone piled back in and we continued our quest to the end of the 5 kilometer stretch.

As we approached the 5 kilometer point, we descended a gentle grade towards an even smaller collection of buildings, I refrain from calling this a village. The grade had seen the worst of the winter and was reduced to a tortured single track. At the bottom, before the road turned up through the collection of buildings we had to slow to negotiate some serious disturbances in the surface of the road. Finally we moved up the grade, made the 5 kilometer mark and there, to our left was a simple field trackway.

A field trackway is the most basic of roads – if you can apply the word ‘road’ even in the broadest sense of the word to this kind of way. The one encouraging thing for me was the evidence that a car had recently passed down the trackway. This gave me hope that a car could successfully complete the course, and that it was the correct trackway.
We headed off down the trackway, not at a great speed. The surface was, for the most part not muddy, which was good – except for the parts where it was muddy. Muddy means slippery. Muddy means control is not automatically given, you have to fight for it. There were a few muddy places.

Of course a trackway is nothing if you don’t have a gully running along side of it. You know the kind of gully, dirt sides that could crumble or give way with the slightest provocation. It wasn’t massively deep, maybe two meters – but deep enough that I didn’t want an intimate introduction to it.

The trackway wasn’t long by kilometer standards, but since I didn’t know where we were going, and although the surface was generally good, it was decorated with the odd muddy bit and the gully was our constant companion….the up shot… it was long enough.

When we arrived at the end of the trackway we could turn either to the left or the right along the flood plain of the Tigris. We turned left, went a bit and stopped. It felt like we stopped because we had lost the will to go on – it didn’t feel like “we have arrived”.

We piled out of the van, and piled out, and piled out. Cramped limbs were exercised and we stood in a clump around the van not sure what the next step was or where we were to go.

Finally a couple of young people emerged from the brush and indicated that we should make our way there. Everyone took something from the van, meat, bread, guitar, saz, bar-b-q, water, bread and we headed off into the brush, not really sure where we were heading, or even if there was a path.

The flood plain is covered with sturdy shrubs and trees that can withstand the power of the river in flood. Being the first week of April, the trees were just budding, but even so, providing a welcome shade canopy. The flood plain was not flat however, it was broken up by piles of gravel, mostly grassed over. these piles ranged from a couple of meters to 6 meters in height, some times singly, some times lumped together forming ridges or ranges.

It was up and over one of these lumps that the stream of people from the van were, well, streaming. It is not always easy, whilst carrying a burden to negotiate even a single modest gravel hill, but young and old alike we successfully completed the maneuver and on the other side an appropriate spot had been chosen under a large budding tree.

The ground was thickly covered in grass, which was beautiful to look at, but a bit damp to sit upon. Blankets and carpets had been brought for this very reason and were soon spread out on the ground providing a spacious and dry place for all and sundry to rest.

When we had all arrived, the place was put in order – but I could not see the river. I headed off in the direction of the Tigris. As I neared the edge, there were no more trees, just the shrubs – study, wiry shrubs of sufficient height that I could still not see the river.

Finally I made my way to the edge and there was the mighty Tigris, vigorously flowing from the right down to the left, something like 40 meters in width, the bulk rolling and streaming belaying the speed and strength of the river, as the water laden with the detritus of winter whisked past my vantage point on its long journey to the sea.

So, I thought, within these frigid, swirling waters a young man from the fellowship would be baptized.

I made my way back to the group and we removed our shoes and took our places on the blankets and carpets. There 50 odd people assembled when one of the elders began with a passage from the Psalms and then, accompanied by guitar, saz and darbuka we began singing various Turkish hymns to the Lord.

Being in the open air, I expected the sound to evaporate into the air – but instead the combined voices merged together filling the space, as if the acoustic of the place were designed to amplify and resonate the sounds into a full-bodied, rich offering to the Lord and at the same time refreshing and encouraging the saints.

At times the the songs included two parts with the ladies singing an echo – the sound was so rich and full, it was like twice the number of people singing.

After singing interspersed with prayer and verses the speaker rose to speak.  Speaking from Mathew 13 dwelling on the parables focusing on the ‘seed’ – both teaching and a challenge for the saints.

Then we all trooped to the edge of the Tigris, the young man gave his testimony whilst standing in the swirling waters of the Tigris. Then the two elders of the assembly entered waters, awkwardly tottering as the bottom was rocky, the water somewhat less than warm and the current pulling at them as they moved into deeper water. Once at a suitable depth, he was asked the questions and with clear answers declared his identification with the death of Christ and the Resurrection.

They then brought him down into the waters, and the cloudy waters of the Tigris swirled over him and dragged his body downstream. He rose out of the water, a testimony of the power of God to save fallen man. The saints gathered at the shore rejoiced with him and burst in song.

Following this we returned for the celebration picnic. The bar-b-qs were set up and the work of the day began. The meat was forced on the skewers and two men parked behind the bar-b-qs began cooking up the mountain of meat. The ladies took a massive pile of vegetables and reduced it down into a mountain of salad.

The moment arrived, the salad piled on a large tray, the meat covered in bread was heaped in two large metal trays. One meat tray was brought and placed at my feet – the other at the feet of the speaker. We laughed and joked that that was two people fed. Then the trays were brought beside the server sitting to my left.

After a prayer of thanksgiving, a swarm of children descended on the waiting food, thrusting their empty plates forward. There were little people everywhere, plates at the ends of eager arms, the servers grabbing a handful of meat, a handful of salad and dumping them on the plates. The children were concerned solely with filling their plates, getting some bread. They were less concerned with where they were standing or where they feet were going. I could see, thankfully only in my minds eye, some child stepping in the second tray of meat. it didn’t happen, but almost, almost….

Finally all the children had full plates and it was the turn of the adults. A steady flow of adults flocked up with empty plates and retreated with plates laden with bar-b-q’ed chicken, salad and a piece of bread torn from the long flat bread brought from the city.

There was still meat. There was still salad. There was still bread. Unfortunately for us, it seemed we had run out of plates.

Now as a diabetic I had been pushing the envelope of what I can endure and how long I can go without some sustinance. I don’t want to inconvenience people nor make a fuss. It had been a long time since breakfast – a very long time. I wasn’t doing terribly well. And there were no more plates.

But it wasn’t just T. and I, the speaker had been distracted with talking with various individuals and he, too, was left plate-less. Suddenly a flurry of activity and more plates were found, promptly laden with a generous portion of meat, salad and bread.

It was not only full of flavour, but it was like a glass of cold water on a hot summers day; it made an immediate impact on my low-sugar blood.

After our meal in the shade of the budding tree, the young people went off to play a game of dodge ball, others to play with Frisbees and still others went for gentle walks among the trees and shrubs.

T. had spent most of the day sitting on one of the three chairs – her hip not giving permission to sit on the carpets or blankets on the ground. I went off on a quiet walk by the Tigris, pondering many things that had been troubling my mind.

After this time of gentle activity, we began to gather together, the little groupings of twos and threes that have been chatting together slowly coalesced together to form a large group.

As a group we chatted a bit, then an Armenian girl whose family had migrated to Canada – and later had returned to Turkey – sang a song in Armenian. Then a chap sang a song in Zaza. Then more singing, the saz and darbuka contributing their parts.

Then the hymn books were called for, and we began singing hymns, but as we were only using the saz, hymns most appropriate to the saz were being selected. Unfortunately I didn’t receive a hymn book, so was limited to more a listener than a singer.

As more people joined in, more books were distributed and I was a recipient of one of these – promoted from listener to participant. The songs were being suggested at such a rate that people were not suggested the next song to sing, but the one after the one after the one we are about to sing. Great!

As the day was drawing to a close, we sang the last song, then a general clean up of the area – all our trash was going back with us. Then we, each carrying something, trooped back to the cars – now we knew the way, now there was a path. Vehicles were re-packed, this time T. was squeezed in the same vehicle we came in and I was given a bit of a space on another vehicle for the return journey.

I can’t say much about our return journey being in a much less advantaged place on the return leg as on the out-bound leg. But I know it involved the trackway with its muddy points of interest and the road that aspires to be a secondary gravel road.

Hence, red face, and white eyes for me, and pink/red face and arms for T. But more lasting and more important there were two visitors on the day – one who had travelled five hours from Gaziantep. He had read the New Testament and seemed to have a good grasp of the essentials. He warmly participated in the various activities, singing the hymns and listening intently to the sharing. At the end of the day he said if he had known it was going to be like, he would have brought his wife. He was very positively impressed with this day in the life of the Church. The other chap had travelled a less distance, hadn’t read any of the New Testament and was looking, most likely for work. Nevertheless, regardless of what brought him into our midst, he too had a double dose, a extremely full day with Christians who love one another and love the Lord.

(written March 2008)

There is that moment, when the knowledge descends upon you, relentless and final. The deed has been done, there is no repentance. Not a feeling of foreboding but rather that stark and brutal realisation that ‘it has happened’ and you can not undo it.

My mind immediately rehearsed all the actions of the past few minutes and then stretched to all the alternative solutions to undo what was done.

The act was final. Obvious solutions – none.

Here we were, barely back in Turkey, a mere few days, beginning the process of settling in to the flat, and had just left for Church. We stood there, outside our front door, me bent over, trying futilely to turn my key in the lock, knowing full well it was impossible – there was another key on the opposite side barring any movement. I could neither fully lock the door nor, on our return from Church, unlock the door, which was more the point.

A Turkish flat generally equals to one door. True we do have two doors on the terrace, but I know they are locked (they always are) and the front door has a key in the lock (bad habit, yes I know – I really do know that now).

What to do?

No simple solution.

Actually, no solution whatsoever came to mind.

Nothing for it but to lock the top lock, and leave the door and the problem and go to church.

Which we did.

By the time the meeting was over, I had an idea. Overhead transparencies. When in Diyarbakır we experienced a similar, uh, event.

We were staying with some friends, and as we all left the flat, the door was closed – but the keys, er, all the keys, were still in the flat. Oh, I should mention, our hosts were not the ones who shut the door – some lessons, it seems, are slowly learned.

One door, all the keys inside. What to do?

Well, the building has a “doorman” cum “cleaner” and as I was about to learn, cum “door opener”.

After we explained the problem, he went and got an x-ray – I assume an old one they didn’t need any more and he met us at the door. He slipped the stiff x-ray film between the metal door frame and the metal door, wiggled it into place, and shuffled and banged and shook the door and it popped open.

I had visions, or at least hope, of being able to do the same with my improvised x-ray (three sheets of acetates). My friend also had an idea of getting a wire and pushing the key out of the lock so we could use the key normally. So, with two strategies in mind, it was with more hope that we, after church, strode down to the quayside and boarded the ferry that would take us back across the Bosphorous Strait and home.

On disembarking, we made our way through the crowds, around the construction site for the new Underground system that will stretch beneath the placid waters of the Bosphorous and up the hill to our flat.

At the door we immediately prepared our copper wire and threaded it carefully into the lock. At about the depth of a key it hit a firm surface. That must be, or at least, could be, the offending key. I push and prod and wiggle the wire this way and that. Being copper, it bends rather smartly. However, as a forceful probe, it bends far too smartly.

We try one end of the wire and then the other and then both ends at the same time. I can not discern the slightest movement or advancement. If the firm surface we have encountered is the key, we have been unable to persuade it to budge.

Time for plan “B”.

I took the first sheet of acetate and started wiggling it about and it felt like it made the turn and found the mark. I was able to move it down to where the lock was. No effect – but I wasn’t done yet.
The second and third sheets of acetate followed the first and made a laminate-like body of three sheets prized between metal frame and metal door.

This door was tighter than the one in Diyarbakır and there wasn’t much slack to allow it move.

I huffed and I puffed, pulled, pushed, banged and generally made my face go red and the door rattle. There was no discernible effect on the locked door.

The wire didn’t work. The x-ray look-alike, three sheets of acetate, didn’t work. Time for plan “C”.

Oh yes, we had a plan “C”.

My friend had told me about plan “C” but we had tried everything else first because plan “C” meant getting a locksmith to come to the flat and do the business – for a fee. We were trying to avoid paying a fee needlessly.

Now if we had been in the UK, Canada or the US, it might have been difficult to find a locksmith on a Sunday, or to encourage him to come out to the flat. And if this had been the UK, Canada or the US, there would have been a formidable charge for a Sunday call-out.

But this is not the UK, Canada or the US.

A man was quickly found, and the fee he would charge is the cost for doing the task as on any other day of the week. He was simply glad for the work.

My friend had volunteered to collect the locksmith and so T and I were waiting at the top of the stairs as they made their way slowly to the summit.

The locksmith got right down to work, extracted a special implement, slipped it between frame and door and the lock snapped and the door rocked open a wee bit and then returned to it’s start position.

He tried again – to the same effect. He would do his ‘thing’ with the special ‘tool’ and the lock would audibly snap open and the door would shunt a wee bit only to pause briefly and then return to its former state.  Multiple times he tried and multiple times the process was repeated – always ending on the same sad note.

Then he queried if I had unlocked the upper lock. “Yes, of course” said I extracting my keys to demonstrate the unlocked-ness of the upper lock.

Now you have to bear in mind that a Turkish lock doesn’t turn once and lock. You rotate the key once and the bolt goes into the frame an inch and a half, you rotate a second time and the bolt goes further into the jam, and finally, a third time and the bolt is driven further into the door jam. Then the door is truly locked. That is true for the bottom lock and for the second, upper lock (this, too, has three turns).

I confidently put the key in the upper lock and turned it, and the bolt was withdrawn from the jam and the door popped open.

I had indeed unlocked the upper lock – but it seems, only twice. Patiently, the lock waited until the third turn to release the bolt from the confines of the door jam.

The locksmith smiled, his talents had been vindicated – the problem wasn’t with his skill or special tool; it lay elsewhere. He collected his fee and went smiling on his way.

I, for one, was glad to have paid the fee, to gain entrance to our flat and to be able to enjoy it far out weighed the cost of having a locksmith do his magic. Our stairwell is nice, but our flat is nicer.

Kind of reminds me of life in Turkey really. I had thoughts and ideas on how to get the door open. I tried, diligently, with tenacious effort, full of hope and faith. To no avail.

I needed someone who knew what he was doing and had the right tools for the job. Even then, I was able to hinder his work.

So, please pray with us that the Turks, who diligently and with tenacious effort seek to please God, will avail themselves of the locksmith – the Holy Spirit using local and foreign saints and receive the ‘key’ – the Good News – that unlocks the door – pray that they will not hinder the work and be released to enter in and enjoy all God has for them.

(written August 2015)

Mardin, a town in the east of Turkey, is situated some 60 kilometres or so from the Syrian border. It is located on the south-facing side of a high hill which is on the edge of the hilly, highland region called by the Assyrian Christians who have called this region ‘home’ for thousands of years, Turabdin. It is from this dominant position, looking down on the broad, flat expanse of the Mesopotamian plain, a uniform expanse flowing to the horizon, that this city stands, proud as a sentinel, ever watching for approaching threats. This is made ever-more prevalent and poignant as the threat of IS or ISIL or whatever name the Islamic State is currently using, has risen and now reigns just over the border. It is difficult to imagine a greater threat to humanity, to civilisation, to existence, than this group.

The protective castle dominates the pinnacle of the hill and the town, which in times past stood on the land opposite the north side of the hill, was removed and rebuilt on the very steep, south facing side of the hill.

The road network in the city, divides the hill into a terrace-like pattern with roads above roads (or roads below roads, depending on your viewpoint). This means the lateral roads, those travelling from side to side, are narrow but passable, however the interconnecting streets that join the upper with the lower streets are often composed of stairs, sometimes arched passageways under the buildings accommodating the stairs.

To cater for the realities of old Mardin, the local Council has a, er, fleet-flock of donkeys or mules (I can’t readily tell them apart) to collect the rubbish and otherwise service the homes on the hillside.

The buildings are predominately made of ‘Mardin Stone’, a local and unique rock, a sweet yellow-cream, which when weathered and unwashed takes on hints of a orange-ish tint. The crown of the hill is adorned by a large castle, built originally to protect the area and project power and today is still a military installation. The ‘new city’ is spreading on the hills to the north, on the opposite side of the hill of old or upper Mardin. You cannot see the new city from the old, nor vice versa.

The Protestant church in Mardin – in the old, upper city – is about 160 years old. It was the fruit of the labours of the American Board missionaries who laboured in the 1800s. After the establishment of the Turkish Republic and the declining of the American Board, the church carried on and was functioning until about 1960. Since that time, with no congregation, the building has sat derelict.

You enter the building by a set of double steel doors at street level, that is backstreet level, or lower street level. The front street, a main thoroughfare, is up the hillside and hence a story and a half above the lower street. At the upper street level there is an entrance to the flat which occupies the the floor above the main church building. Technically this flat is part of the church property, but as there is a sitting occupant, it is not included in the renovation project nor is it available to be used for church activities.

And so, from the lower street level you enter into the courtyard with the church built in the form of an L shape. To the left is the long side of the L which is the main meeting room. The short side of the L shape, opposite the entrance will be a library and fellowship space (it could also be used as an overflow space in the event the main meeting room is full).

The current work is focused on removing the plaster and exposing the stone walls and structure beneath. I say ‘structure’ because although the building is made out of stone it is not made solely of dressed stone or cut stone. Many walls and the arched ceilings above are made of undressed field stone or rough cut field stone.

Personally I’m not that impressed with field stone but do I enjoy the fine workmanship of finely fitted dressed stone; this structure has all three types, but, predominately either field stone or rough cut field stone. It does, however, boast some fine dressed stone walls.

Originally this building would have been all plastered, especially the ceiling with its arches created out of rough cut field stone but including most interior surfaces, even finely fitted dressed stone columns.

In the time when this church was originally built, everything was made out of stone – there was nothing particularly attractive nor special about stone work. But plaster, covering a multitude of imperfections and blemishes, rending a smooth, uniform finish in dazzling white, imparts a feeling of cleanliness, purity and modernity. From the beginning, this was the chosen finish.

I feel the original building work was done on the cheap. It seems evident that there were different phases of building, different degrees of finishing, different styles of walls and different levels of quality.

In any event, once the stone, of whatever description, is exposed, the structure, whether walls or arched roof or columns need to be stabilised, fixed, re-pointed and sometimes rebuilt.

Some of the original workmanship was, shall I say, less than the standard you would expect. Often the interior structures, behind a façade of dressed stone, appear to be a rough fill of field stone held together with a strange mix of dirt, ash and possibly some other components. All I know is that when you open the wall it falls out like soil from between and around the stones; when you pull down a wall, it acts just like common dirt; when you load up wheel barrow after wheel barrow of this stuff and pile in the street, it strongly resembles ordinary soil.

Having said all that, the building has stood for about a 160 years and with precious little maintenance, so, regardless of what I say, it has stood the test of time.

As I mentioned, when we have been forced by what we have discovered, to remove the facing stone, it often exposes this soil held rubble core. In order to rebuild it properly, with interlinked stones and tied into the rear wall, there is a time when we have created great gaping holes between the lower courses and the upper structure. In spite of this, sometime rather drastic surgery, the upper reaches held and did not collapse. So, I may not understand how it has worked – defying the basic rules of construction as it does, but it has withstood the vagaries of time, life and neglect.

When the church was built so was a well. For the first month of the renovations water was drawn from the well for the various renovation tasks. The pump would be activated and the walls would be washed. The mortar mixed, the dust in the street damped down, the tools washed. Water was used liberally and after a month, as the cold water continued to flow, we speculated that the well had a mountain spring source.

The next day, the very next day, the well ran dry. It turns out that the ‘well’ is just a huge cistern that has been carved out of the living stone beneath the church. It happened at the most inconvenient time – as these things do. The labourer was reduced to dropping a pail down the five metres into the well/cistern and retrieving partial bucket loads of water to mix the mortar (the pump having burned out). That evening and the next day we had seven tractor-drawn water bowser loads of water poured into the cistern. We hope that will be sufficient to complete the renovations. Once emptied, after all the work is done, the well/cistern will need to be cleaned, probably for the first time in at least fifty years – then it will be used as a cistern for the church water.

To accomplish the renovation work, a team of workmen, made up of five individuals has been engaged. They come in at the start of the day, between 7:30 and 8:00. They change from their street clothes into their work clothes. They change their street footwear for a variety of slip-on sandals, open-toed, no support and absolutely no protection for work in a building site. Often the sandals have seen better days and are missing straps or other accoutrements that help bind the footwear to the foot – the slip-ons also function as slip-offs…

During my two week time of assisting the oversight, there were two things I observed. The first being, sometimes I would be there for hours on end understanding virtually nothing as they converse, chat and joke in their mother tongue, Kurdish. Yes they speak Turkish and fully fluently – but Kurdish is their ‘mother’ tongue. The other thing I noticed was the fact that I haven’t smoked so much in a decade or more – the second hand smoke seemingly filling the air in this rather large space.

The head of this team of workmen, is the boss. It is his crew, he is the one who has taken on the task, and it is his responsibility to get the work done. He works at various tasks in the course of the day, but is also prone to resting, having a cigarette and I presume, thinking about the project.

Next there is the master stonemason. He is the one in charge of rebuilding the walls, replacing bad stones, cutting stone, fitting stone, selecting stone and any other technical work regarding the stone finishing.

Following on are two younger men (let the reader understand, that at 63 years of age, many people ’appear’ younger to me) who, I have observed, are in charge of the fine finishing work of the grouting and the finishing of the mortar between the stones. These are two diligent workers, labouring all day long with few breaks (not having to stop work to have the obligatory cigarette), laying mortar in the gaps and then going over every gap again and again with various tools to finish it properly.

That leaves the final man of the team.

He is the low man on the totem pole. It is his task to move the sand, tote the 50 kg bags of cement, mix the mortar, turn the water pump on and off. It is he who cleans up the building site and who loads the detritus of the building work, or more accurately, the detritus of the demolition work, into the wheelbarrow and then out on to the street.

When the sand is delivered, and we consume a copious amount of sand, the nearest the tractor and trailer can come is the narrow lane by the lower street door. This is really quite close – there are other areas of upper Mardin where the building materials are deposited a distance away and brought the final leg by donkey – so we are blessed. However the sand still must migrate from the lane to the inner courtyard. To do this our labourer, the low man in the food chain loads the wheelbarrow and wheels in load after load of sand. His ‘safety’ sandals, being what they are, both allow the free ingress of sand and have a tendency to become caught in the sand – a tripping hazard. Solution? Leave the sandals in the sand and wheel the barrow, barefoot, into the building site and dump the sand – until the all the sand is shifted.

He assists everyone in their tasks, doing the grunt work, the hard work, the dirty work.

He is the one who washes the tea glasses, and then makes the tea for the tea breaks and at lunch.

He is the one who, when the boss brings some bags of tomatoes and hot peppers to be prepared for lunch, cleans the pan, washes the vegetables, cuts and prepares the tomatoes and hot peppers, liberally sprinkles with salt and adds a splash of vegetable oil. He then takes the pan to the local bread factory to be cooked.

He returns to the bread factory an hour or so later to bring the piping hot pan back together with many flat ‘pide’ style bread. After all have dug in, broke bread and consumed the meal, he cleans the pan and, once again, makes the tea. If, in the course of eating the meal, the bread is insufficient, he will return to the bread shop and get some more.

After making a wheel barrow full of mortar (a special mix with sifted, fine sand and a splash of latex) for the two men doing the fine pointing, and another wheel barrow of a different, coarser mix has been prepared for the stone mason, he then turns and mixes a large batch of mortar on the floor – essentially bringing multiple wheelbarrow loads of sand, a 50 kg bag of concrete (on his shoulder or back), which he then mixes together by hand, turning the pile over with a shovel. After adding water, the mix is, well, mixed again, turning it over but now, heavily laden with water. Then it is carried wherever the need is – in the case today, filling a large pail with the mortar, carrying to the stone mason and then filling in the cavity in the wall behind the newly assembled stone wall (a space once occupied by soil and field stone).

If he is all caught up on these various tasks, rather than take a moment to rest and catch his breath, he grabs a tool and joins the workmen in finishing the mortar.

No thanks, no appreciation.

Every day is much like the previous. The one certainty is, if a dirty, hot, difficult job arises, it will be his.

The stone mason earns more because of the skills he brings to the job.

The men applying and finishing the mortar garner more than the labourer for their skills.

These three also receive a degree of respect and honour.

But our man, the one I would describe as a ‘key’ man, the man that actually facilitates everyone else, well, he gets the least reward and no recognition.

Yet, in the economy of God, it is in this manner that we are all called – to be like this simple labouring man. We are labouring in Christ to do what needs to be done, to do the difficult and unpleasant tasks, to facilitate others, to provide for other’s needs, to quietly serve others. Also, like this simple labourer, we expect neither thanks, honour, praise nor reward for our activities.

This is the calling for each of us in Christ.

Thank you yet again for praying for us,