(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.
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.