(written September 2009 & an addendum written September 2015)

He has black curly hair and the cutest brown eyes you have ever seen. Bouncy, irrepressible, delightful, the centre of attention and complete strangers want to draw near to him.

He is very smart, learns fast and does what he is told.

And yet he is broken.

His name is Bobi and the elder of the Assembly is the fourth or fifth owner of this terrier-like mutt. As we share a common courtyard and terrace, we also share ‘the dog’.

We received this loveable rascal rather abruptly – his former owner contacting the elder and delivering his charge quite suddenly after an “event”. At the time, he failed to reveal the reasons for this sudden change of ownership or even the existence of the ‘event’.

Nevertheless he is an attractive and pleasant animal.

But he is broken. We don’t know how or why he is broken – but he is.

Some things we can ponder out – he is terrified of the hosepipe, especially when the water is spraying out. He will disappear the minute you begin watering the trees. So I hypothesize that he may have been beaten by a hosepipe or on a hot summer day someone may thought he would be happier if he were refreshed by a shower and dosed him whether he actually wanted it or not or someone may have decided that the hosepipe was the quickest and easiest means of washing the dog. I don’t know why, but I do know he is frightened of the hosepipe and so I make sure that whenever I use the hosepipe that I never seem to threaten him with it. Over time, if commanded, he would even come and stand beside me when I was watering the trees.

Bobi loves barking at cats and if they run, delights in chasing them.  However, on numerous occasions the cat in question has not been intimidated by his raucous barking and they have stood their ground.  The result?  Bobi changes tack and ignores the cat – whilst maintaining a discrete distance.

Bobi doesn’t like loud noises.  Once during an extended thunderstorm, in order to get closer to us as we sat on the terrace, he climbed up the roof of the wood store – no mean feat.  On another occasion, again during a thunderstorm he crossed into forbidden territory,  something he would never do  and came to where we were sitting on the terrace for comfort.  Every year, at the time of the month long fast, daily, as the sun sets and the call to prayer rings out, the local Council fires a cannon to announce the end of the fast for that day – and every day at that time the poor dog was frightened and unnerved by it.

He doesn’t like children. I don’t know why, but this I have observed. This really is a problem as he is so cute and attractive, he tends to draw children – which is one of the many things he is frightened of.  The ‘event’ that prompted the change in ownership involved children.

Bobi is not aggressive towards children, he will avoid contact with children  if at all possible.

Some months ago we were invaded by several families from the Diyarbakır assembly of believers. We had something like thirty for the evening meal. Amongst the thirty there were numerous children of varying ages – boys who like to shout and yell and girls who love to scream. They were like a swarm – a fluid, moving whirlwind of noise and action. They were playing in the courtyard whilst the adults conversed on the terrace. I say playing, but it sounded more like a war or torture or some apocalyptic catastrophe – but the children were happy and simply playing.

Now the dog, Bobi, was separated from this chaos in a corner of the courtyard behind a closed, rather large, steel door. He  had retreated to his doghouse; he was sitting inside and around the corner in the doghouse, out of sight and he was growling.

Mind you, the continual barrage of noise emanating from the children’s play was beginning to send my mind around the twist so maybe Bobi had a point.

To say the least, it unnerved him.

It is clear that he doesn’t like children and is actually afraid of them. When children run down the street, he will bark which could mean “I’m here – don’t come close – you have been warned,” but I think it actually means, “You really terrify me, please leave me alone.”

We have many visitors and some of them bring children and besides, Bobi’s owner, the elder, has children so I have entertained thoughts to trying to ‘understand’ Bobi and maybe even trying to help him grow out of his fears and foibles.

The problem is I don’t speak dog. I have heard some things which dogs are said to understand – and even tested some of them in the past. But either my accent is too broad or Bobi speaks a different dialect. We don’t communicate very well. Sometimes he looks at me and I think I’ve found a life-long faithful friend. At other times, it seems to be to be a look of unease, untrusting, unhappy, sometimes even threatening.

One day he was in the corridor that links the courtyard with the outside street. He was laying in the shade and I thought I would squat down and pet the little mutt. He likes being petted.

This I proceeded to do in the same manner that I had done countless times in the past, when he began growling at me.

Now I wasn’t aware of a bad odour emanating from me, I hadn’t shouted at him for any infraction of the house rules, I was speaking to him in my normal, soft, dulcet tones saying pleasant and nice things.

And he was growling at me.

So I said to myself, as I quickly removed my hand from petting his head “Now this is strange, I wonder if he is simply saying something or if he means business”.

So I devised a clever plan.

I determined not to respond to his growling, in other words, not to growl back getting upset at his unwarranted behaviour. I decided to continue in a positive, pleasant manner, and that I would continue to pet his head.

Good plan I thought.

Test the hypothesis I thought.

Don’t assume, said I.

So I put my hand back on the head of the growling dog and began to gently pet him as I was accustomed to.

Now the snap, when it came, was calculated or so I feel, to give me sufficient time to extradite my hand before teeth and flesh would meet with all the unpleasant, unrepentable and dare I say, bloody consequences.

He meant business. When the dog, Bobi, growls, he means business.

Hypothesis tested and lesson learned.

But the biggest problem is my failure to speak dog.

I’ve heard that dogs like treats and will do anything for treats – and dog treats are sold in Turkey.

So, now I try to ‘communicate’ with Bobi using treats. But it is still not plain sailing.

On one occasion I was feeding him a treat – I break it in half and give it to him in two bits. It was the middle of the day and it was hot. It gets hot in Antakya. I was not ‘playing a game’ with him, I was not ‘teasing’ him – I never tease this dog. I gave him half as I always do and whilst he was eating the first half he growled at me – yes the treat was still in his mouth and whilst chewing on the treat he growled at me. Either I smell really bad – or remind him of someone who treated him really bad – or he really doesn’t like beards – or he really doesn’t like English (I talk to him in Turkish and English) or he is a really tough case.

I gave him the second half and left him alone.

I didn’t try and pet him, I gave him space.

We continue, Bobi and I.

I do not kid myself into thinking that I am making progress with him – although it has been almost two months and he hasn’t growled at me – but it wouldn’t surprise me if he did; and he has growled at others at various times. And when I pet him, one hand is always on active duty to prevent any lunge or bite that may develop because, in my ignorance of his past, I may ‘touch a nerve’ or do something that triggers a more aggressive response.

We are getting along, he and I.

I used to call him ‘unbalanced’ but now I’ve come to understand he has his ‘own balance’. He doesn’t do things randomly, he has a reason – even if I don’t know what it is and can not speculate on what it could be. My challenge is to understand him and try and redress his ‘balance’ so we can coexist happily in our world together – to find a way to really communicate with him.

This reminds me that before God I, too, am broken. I do things – which make sense to me – and yet before God are stupid, self-destructive and ignorant things to do. But, God – being God Creator, not only knows how to communicate with me in His own right, but the Lord Jesus took on the form of a man, became man and so He fully understands my world and how to communicate with me.

I just need to listen. I need to allow my creator/saviour God to redress the balance in my life.

…the story today…

We cared for Bobi as best we could. He was watered, fed, given shelter. His fur was clipped, he was bathed regularly, and had his annual inoculations. He was walked and we did, to varying degrees spend time with him.

He, in return, provided an active watchdog service – we always knew when someone was at our door (he was silent when the neighbours doorbell rang – it is identical to ours; he could tell the difference when often we couldn’t) – and when we were all at church, we knew that Bobi was on active duty.

Having said that, Bobi was dissatisfied. He wanted to have free access to our homes and the area on the terrace where we sit – this was never afforded to him.

Then one day he disappeared when out on a watering break. It was not the first time he has disappeared. In the past he had been dog-napped and ended up in a pet store for sale, on another time, whilst out and about he was tied up by someone and kept with them.

This time he was found by a teenage girl who fell in love with his curly hair and brown eyes. She took him into her parents flat and they gave him run of their house. He had received his hearts desire. When we found him, for we were looking for him, the girl begged and pleaded to be able to keep the dog.

On consideration, Bobi seemed to like it there, they wanted him, and so in the end we consented. Bobi went, by his choice to a new home with new humans to interact with.

With the passage of some months, the reality of having a dog and the mess and the disruption that naturally follow having a dog in a flat became patently clear. Of course the teenagers initial burst of love and infatuation with the dog also passed with time.

Then they asked if we could “watch the dog” for a week while they went on holidays.

We consented.

Bobi came back. He recognised us all. He knew his dog house. All his tricks he still did. He automatically took on his role as watchdog.

But he wasn’t happy. He was still barred from our homes and the terrace. A casual look into his eyes revealed he was not happy.

For the first five days we coexisted. I provided better quality food than before and treated him very positively.

Then there was an opportunity, the front door was opened and before the person who opened the door realised what was happening, Bobi was gone…

He made his choice, he rejected us (again) and returned to the home he desired.

However, the new home that he had chosen, we think, had grown tired of him and cast him off. We do not know if he is alive or dead… He has not returned to us. If he had, we would have taken him in.

We always worked for his best. He didn’t get what he wanted, but never lacked for what he needed. He rejected us – twice. He left those who were committed to him, with all his failings and foibles and followed his own desires and passions.

Kind of sounds familiar to me….

(written April 2006)

The blue screen – essential when you shoot video with the plan to put a different image behind the speaker – was hoisted to its full height, towering from the ceiling and falling like a blue wave to the floor. I had set the lights, and after a few adjustments, it seemed to be set right.

Our speaker was collected from the airport the previous day and today was to be the first day of a four day shoot. Planned was a series on Spiritual Warfare from Ephesians, a two part series on Servanthood from Timothy in addition two special programmes, one about Christmas and another on Easter.

Our living room was turned on its head to become our makeshift “studio”; we shifted the furniture out of the way, hung jet black curtains on the window to exclude the powerful spring sunshine and took a monitor off my edit suite so it could do its duty as part of our “teleprompter”.

The teleprompter is a marvel, sitting as it does in front of the camera – the monitor, laying on its back, is up facing and a two way mirror is placed at an angle above, catching the reflection of the monitor and so while the speaker is looking directly at his notes (the image in the mirror) – the camera remains concealed behind – looking through the mirror and not detecting the image. This is much easier for the speaker; staring at the ‘one-eyed monster’ is not easy. The result is that he is always looking directly at the camera and is always on track with his message.

Everything was ready. The speaker had spent time in prayer and reviewing his notes. All that was left was to bring our trusty laptop out to the “studio”, hook it up to the monitor that is part of the teleprompter and we were ready to shoot.

At first it was a curiosity. The laptop seemed a bit testy even uncooperative. Things it would normally do with a ‘click’ it wasn’t doing. Things it would do “automatically” it was refusing to do. I would say it was behaving rather erratically.

What do you do when a computer misbehaves? You re-boot it. You may feel like literally “booting” it, but, no, you “re-boot” it. It is almost a mantra; problem with your computer, turn it off and back on again. This action fixes a myriad of problems, a panacea for most things Windows.

So I turned it off.

I turned it back on.

However, it failed to turn back on. Well, the screen came alive – the electricity was flowing, but almost immediately, up came an error message, a new error message, an error message I had never seen before and that was as far as it would go. This was an error message before the dreaded Windows “Blue Screen of Death” – the normal kind of message you get when Windows is in the terminal throes of a software crash. It never got that far. Black screen (not blue) – error message. That was it. This was new. This was uncharted territory. This was scary.

There it sat.

There I sat.

I was staring at the screen.. the words of the error message staring back at me. I was speechless. I hadn’t anticipated this. This had never happened to me before.

There we sat, my laptop and I.

We were ready to shoot.  Our Turkish speaker had travelled from Germany where he is based.  He had made a special trip for this shoot. He is prepared. The room is readied. The Blue Screen (for video) is set. The lights are set. The camera is primed and ready to shoot. But the teleprompter can only work with a computer – no computer no teleprompter, no teleprompter no shoot, no shoot no programme, no programme then no encouragement for the saints. This is not an inconvenience, this is serious.

Now I don’t know a lot about computers, but what I know I tried. I am inclined to be, hmm, what is a kind word for “stubborn like a mule”? maybe it would be, er, “steadfast”? Okay, I steadfastly tried to restart the computer. Again and again, over and over. But it was determined not to respond to my machinations. And respond it did not do.

Whatever I tried it returned the same response, fell at the same hurdle, refused to alter its chosen course. Well, the laptop earns full credit for consistency, for it was consistent in its refusal to move beyond that first error message.

In my, uh, steadfastness, I tried every variation on a theme I could image to coax the laptop back to a semblance of health, but to no avail. The laptop was not going to be so easily cajoled into compliance.

“Plan ‘B’, we must go to Plan ‘B’ – er, what is Plan ‘B’?” I muttered.

The only Plan ‘B’ that came to mind involved dragging the PC out, hooking it up and then, at last, getting down to the real work.

Great, wonderful, a way forward, light at the end of the tunnel, a solution…

Except that the PC is sick.

When we returned from the UK a hard drive had failed in the PC. The main hard drive had failed. So I fitted a new hard drive, re-installed Windows and got everything nearly back and nearly working.  Nearly….

This is a happy story so far, isn’t it?

Then the new hard drive began to fail. Error message upon error message, fault upon fault, cascading together into an avalanche of ill tidings. I threw Norton System Works at it, and it found and repaired problem after problem after problem… and every time I ran it, it found more problems. The drive is sick, very, very sick. However, it was still working, just.

So, we installed the teleprompter software – which T. that very morning, in a fit of responsibility and resourcefulness had copied off the now immobile and uncooperative laptop and safely squirrelled it away little realising that in a few hours that one act would be key to Plan ‘B’. We moved the PC and got it all set up and ready to go – hey not bad, we wanted to start shooting in the morning, and by early evening we were ready to go. That evening we shot two messages.

And so, over the remaining days we shot video, whilst trying to prod the laptop back to a facsimile of life, and load tape on to the edit suite to ensure that what we shot was good. A bit of a three ring circus trying to be in two places at the same time and keep three or four tasks going simultaneously.

Whilst in the midst of this somewhat frenetic activity, one of my ‘wisdom teeth’ decided, in its wisdom, to rear its ugly head and announce its presence in my mouth. Now I’m too old for wisdom teeth, and hey, I knew it was there, it did not have to make the effort to remind me. Up late trying to sort out the laptop, not much sleep courtesy of my wisdom tooth but the shoot goes on…

Well, the laptop is finally, hmm, let me say “working” again, but after a fashion. It does bizarre and unexpected things – I guess, contrary to the saying, that an old dog actually can learn new tricks – but some of the tricks it has learned are really weird. It remains not only very ill, but, I fear, terminally ill. The solution to its ailment will involve having to copy all the data off the hard drive, wipe it clean and reinstall Windows from scratch, then bringing it up-to-date, then reloading all the programmes and bringing them up-to-date. Ooph, I feel worn out describing it all. All-in-all, probably two or three days worth of work – just to be able to ‘get to work’.

As a friend recently wrote with regard to the saga of my laptop – my digital servant:
“”Your servant is in bed, sick and terribly tormented. I can only have compassion on you, not your servant, because just as one must never get angry at an inanimate object, it stands to reason one must not pity it either. I am afraid it is hard to expect miracles for this soulless servant of yours. It can neither be damned nor blessed…..only put into order or chaos.””

Well, to put it into ‘order’ I need two or three days and I don’t know when I will find those days.

However, for now the shoot is done, the programmes are in the bag – on tape – loaded on the computer – ready for editing.

As the new series title “Spiritual Warfare” suggests – life has its share of struggles, it can be a battle to get even simple things done. But we can rest in knowing the battle is not ours but His, even if we feel the struggle and have to deal with the aftermath. Often it is not “Spiritual”, but it is still a struggle.

(written October 2012)

At last, the long, hot, Antakya summer has come to an end.

We have come to the conclusion of months of hot, very hot and always hot weather; months of clear skies and rare occasional clouds that would skirt the horizon but would never fill the sky.

Last night it was real.  A thunderstorm came up from the west, from the Mediterranean, guided by the mountains that lie between the city and the sea. The lightning flashed and the thunder roared and we knew that rain was definitely on the way.

The night sky was broken by sudden, violent flashes of light, illuminating the night with a frightful brilliance followed by the booming, raucous clap and reverberations of thunder, the only danger being if the lightning were to strike the electricity infrastructure and send a damaging surge down the lines to the computers and televisions that fill the homes of the people.

And yet, last night it was more sobering. It raised the spectre of what is happening not many miles away. Twenty miles or less to our east all hell is reigning in our neighbour, Syria. There, the flashes are not benign lightening, but deadly fire. In the place of harmless thunder, there the sound of gunfire and bombs pepper the day and night, leaving no respite.

Eighteen months ago our brothers and sisters, believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, people whose names have been inscribed in the Lamb’s Book of Life were living and marrying, buying and selling, making plans and having babies. They had no idea that their world would change so dramatically, that the ‘norm’ would cease to be, and would be replaced by a horrific new ‘norm’.

Today the questions they face daily revolve around surviving, finding enough food to eat and sourcing water that is safe to drink. Gone are the days of carefree shopping in the market, children playing in the streets, plans for holidays and family gatherings.

It is an immutable, brutal fact of war, that whether you support or oppose the fighting – bullets are indiscriminate, equal opportunity killers and bombs do not query your position on any issue before they do their deadly duty.

Meanwhile, here in Antakya, there is a new shopping mall under construction. Every time I walk by I am amazed at the speed and the quality of the project management. Something new is rising on the banks of the Orontes River. It will be beautiful, full of shops – providing employment opportunities as well as spurring the local economy. It is a delight to behold.

In contrast, just twenty or less miles away, buildings are being destroyed and cities are littered with the detritus and debris that was once someone’s home, business, school or hospital.

The contrast is so stark and made especially so, as it is so near. Additionally, there has been a great influx of people fleeing the fighting. Those who flee with nothing are in the camps, those with means are renting flats and living in the city.

Some people wonder if there are opportunities to share the Good News with the incoming masses. The fact of the matter is there are three important considerations to remember.

The first consideration: no one, right up to and including members of the Turkish Parliament can enter the refugee camps. They are closed to all, not just those who may wish to help. Indeed, many may desire to help, but the door is most decidedly shut. The residents of the camps have all their material needs catered for – they lack nothing and hence are not in ‘need’. (Yes, they live in tents and it is a bit like a prison, but they have food, health care and sanitation – their most basic needs are being met.)

The second consideration: please do not let the media mislead you, this is a religious war – the fighting is by the Sunni majority against the Shi’a/Alevi (ruling) minority. This is not about democracy. This is not about freedom. It is about gaining the ascendancy and changing the nature of the state to reflect Sunni values.

The third consideration: most of the people who have fled are Sunni. They are aggressively hostile to the Shi’a/Alevi and to anyone who is not Sunni. They come as conservative, covered people. They are searching, but not for Truth, but for support in their fight – they believe they have the answer and are looking for those who will facilitate it.

Instead of open doors to share with people, we find the local tenor of the community to be disturbed. Sunni and Alevi who have co-existed in relative peace in this province are being exposed to open hostility by the new-comers – hostility aimed at the Alevi. In Turkey, the Sunni are a majority but in Antakya, they may be at parity or even a minority. The local Alevi who have lived in comfortable harmony are now feeling threatened and are drawing more tightly together as a community.

Some ask, “Is there a sense of fear or foreboding in the city?” The simple answer is “no”, (as it was in 2012 when this was first written). As we go about our daily life, go to the market, walk through the old section of town, dialogue with shop-keepers and people we meet, we are not struck with fear nor apprehension.

Some may ask, “Are you afraid? Do you fear for your safety?” The simple answer is “no.”

Why? Well, I suppose the fact that there are no active problems in our area… Yes, recently there was a tragic incident at Akçakale where two women and three children were killed by a mortar bomb from across the border… but that is many, many miles away and happened right on the border. So, there is no ‘pressing’ reason to fear.

But more importantly, we serve the Lord of the Universe – the Almighty God. We believe, confess and declare the Scripture that says, “If we live, we live to the Lord and if we die, we die to the Lord” (Romans 14:8 NKJV). This has to be true, not only in the good times but also in the bad times, even when there is a danger of dying. If I cannot trust the Lord in times like these….. then how small is my faith.

Whatever may be, we must maintain an open door of ministry to the ‘whosever will’ and not limited to any particular group – remembering the words of our Lord to ‘love our enemies’.

Regardless of the circumstances, we need to reflect the Truths of Scripture in our lives as we live – that we do not just read it, understand it, embrace it, confess it, but live it.

This is true for all of us who profess the name of Jesus here and our brothers and sisters across the border, and it is essential that we know, daily, the peace, strength, perseverance, endurance and joy of the Lord.

(written February 2004)

The light blue mist caused by the smoking drifted lazily in the air as I focused on the man opposite. He was expounding forcefully on some point that my Turkish had failed me to even begin to comprehend, so I was in the dark. He was speaking quickly, with purpose, hands flying into the air or shooting out at right angles to emphasis or punctuate his harangue.

There, opposite me, these two brothers sat, the men who had strengthen the apartment building to make it resistant to earthquakes and had received as payment for the materials and labour, two flats that they had added to the top of the building.  It is from the sale of these two flats they would pay for the materials used and make a profit.  The first price they had put on the flat, an airy-fairy price of near on $250,000 USD – but there were no ready buyers at that price, and they needed to sell one of the flats….soon.

Üsküdâr is a conservative area of town, not the most, but it is listed near the top of the rather religious or devoted areas of the city. These men were religious. They were not ‘nominal’ but practicing; and the one brother, fully practicing.  This is the brother who would not shake my wife’s hand – for him, that would be sin to touch a woman, even to shake her hand. He is a ‘hafiz’ – a person who has memorised the whole text of the Qur’an – in Arabic. His mother tongue is Turkish, nevertheless, he has fully memorised the Qur’an in Arabic.

Although I was a key player in this meeting, it soon became apparent that it wasn’t important for me to know the details or nuance of the situation as we had an intermediary, a representative, someone whose Turkish was impeccable – uh, he is a Turk, and whose knowledge in this area was unequivocal – he was a building contractor, and he is acting on our behalf.

The conversation was primarily between our emissary and the man opposite me – the other people in the room were following the proceedings with care and interest. A question was raised and a man at the desk opposite me, the Estate agent, immediately picked up the phone and rang the appropriate official for a definitive answer.

T. was sitting opposite and to the right of me, against the wall, thinking that things had gone badly pear-shaped and it was only a matter of time before the debate and verbal sparing would end in abject failure. Whether you understand the fine points of the language or not, the gesturing, the emphatic declarations, the strident expressions all lead to one, rather inescapable and negative conclusion.

Finally, and to our eyes, rather abruptly, our negotiator sprang to his feet, crossed the room to the man he had been waging single-handed verbal combat with, grasped his right hand and with mighty strokes shook his hand as one might pump water from a well.

He then crossed the room to the man’s brother – the hafiz, the other major player in the room and repeated the gesture.

Then he crossed to me, grabbed my right hand, put it in the hand of the man he was just shaking hands with and again in the same exaggerated style had us shake hands.

It was done. They had just sold and we had just bought a flat in Istanbul or at least we had agreed to – the process was rather more drawn out and Byzantine in practice with the sale to be referred to the military as I am a foreigner, and then the payment of the funds via bank account – a new legal requirement and a bit of a stumbling block to the hafiz who believes it is sin to have a bank account and finally the essential paperwork at the Land Registry Office which is the final step and still over a month, nearly two before we can actually call the deal ‘done’.

Without our intercessor we would not have been able to agree the purchase of the flat. He had worked them down from their asking price to their “final” price and then below that – requiring them to be responsible for any fines that may have been incurred in the construction of the flats (and there were fines) and to installing radiators. Our legate had brought us to the place where we, with some essential help from our friends were able to agree the purchase of it.

Our friends would be buying a 13% share of the flat thus making the deal possible. Our surrogate negotiated, cajoled, encouraged and understanding the culture and the process, brought the deal to completion. We couldn’t have done it without the Lord’s provision of these two parties.

This is a story of God – God providing the funds from the sale of the house in England, God providing a local commissary who, without charge, has helped us find a place, counselled on the suitability, durability, safety and engineering qualities of the flats we looked at and negotiated the deal and God providing friends who were ready and keen even, to become part-owners with us in this venture.

It is never the story of one person. It is the story of the “many” that God brings together to accomplish His purposes. In the above account, my job was to sit and say nothing – and to shake hands when the time came. Our friends’ job is to come in as part owners. Our factor’s job was to advise, counsel and close the deal.

We each had a part to play….

(written August 2008)

He stood on the steps, looked out at the crowd of faces, young and old, local and foreign and said, “This is a unique event. Some of you will never have seen anything like it before.”

He was right.

We had been asked to video tape this event more than a month previously, and now the appointed time had arrived. I had assembled three cameras for this shoot and all their associated “bits and bobs” – tripods, cables, power supplies, microphones. etc. The task was made more complicated as there were two locations for the event and we would have to move from the first to the second with things basically carrying on around us. A bit of a daunting prospect – no time to set up and check things; just set up and go….

I had scouted the location and determined to put one camera on the balcony with a bird’s eye view of the assembled folk, one at the back of the courtyard to give a wide shot and one mobile camera to be up close and personal.

People had gathered from all across Turkey, from as far as Istanbul in the West and Diyarbakır in the east and others from Europe, Egypt, Syria and various other places in the world.

At the start it was clear that the big camera at the back was too far back, the small camera on the balcony refused to work and the mobile camera was struggling to be in the best position for the best shot… but the event was on, and so, ready or not “lights – camera – action”….. er “lights” is sunlight and it’s too bright; “camera” – ah, one isn’t working, one is too far away and one is in the midst of the crowd; “action” – it has begun, ready or not….

The elder of this assembly of believers spoke briefly on the steps of their new meeting place. He pointed out that the easy work was done – building with bricks and mortar, but now the more difficult work would carry on, shaping and forming people’s lives. He stressed that the physical building was not the goal, merely the means to achieving the goal of building God’s living Church.

After these remarks, the elder and two others took scissors in their hands and cut the ribbon, officially(1) opening this new church building.

As the saints, local and visiting streamed into the building, we rushed to take up our positions, the big camera at the back for a wide shot, the small camera near the front for the close-up of the speakers and the medium-sized camera on the mobile rig – free to wander.

The initial problem with the small camera was sorted with a new tape. The big camera was set up – but I could not check its settings as I had the mobile camera strapped to my chest – by faith I had to accept it was set correctly. The meeting continued; together the saints were worshipping God interspersed with prayers of praise and dedication – dedication of the building and more importantly dedication of the believers who would utilise the building.

The building filled with the combined voices of the saints singing and making melody to the Lord in thanksgiving and praise. It truly is a wonderful building, large, with a good combination of rooms for worship, teaching, fellowship, children, youth and even some guest rooms, but all this is just a means for the local assembly to be built up in the faith and to reach out to their community.

At one point people were invited to come and pray in different languages – Turkish, Arabic, Norwegian, German Danish, Spanish, Nigerian, Armenian, Syrianii(2) and French – a beautiful declaration of the One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism and One Body.

After the morning meeting we retired to the wonderful covered terrace on the top of the building to share a meal together. There, in the shade of the roof, a robust and refreshing breeze flowed through creating a comfortable haven of rest, hospitality and fellowship. From this vantage point we could gaze out at the town knowing that the gaze of the town was also on this building and more importantly on the living stones who will be meeting there on a regular basis.

The afternoon had the second meeting of the day in Arabic and Turkish. In this part of Turkey and in this town most of the people are bilingual – speaking both Arabic and Turkish. Especially for this second meeting, we had visitors from a church in Aleppo in Syria, a gifted Lebanese Arabic singer and a special speaker from Egypt who spoke in Arabic and was translated into Turkish.

We had agreed to shoot this meeting as well, so we took our positions as the meeting got under way.

Now, I do not understand Arabic, but the songs the singer sang were wonderful and I could tell they were meaningful, as people around me worshipped the Lord in Spirit and in Truth.

A unique day, two meetings, much rejoicing and praising God, hearts lifted up to God in many languages; a celebration of what God has done and a commending to God the work yet to be done.

As the elder said, “Many of you will never have been to an event like this,” which was true.  But, by the Grace of God, may that statement be changed, in the years to come, to “Many of you will have been to many events like this…”
(1)  when I write “officially” this is in the sense that the building was completed and the saints will now be using it. It does not imply “official” recognition of the building as a “Church” – this legal, technical and bureaucratic morass took over five years to resolve.
(2)  Syrianii is an ancient language related to Aramaic, the language that Jesus spoke and still spoken by the Syrianii (Assyrian) Orthodox Church.

 

 

(written July 2011)

Recently a small project arose in the home we share with the elder and his family. My tasking was to build a simple wall of Ytong blocks , do some electrical work and to plaster it. Nothing demanding – simple tasks.  (If you are wondering what Ytong is, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ytong )

Ytong is an easy material to work with – the blocks are all of uniform dimensions and exact measurements; the building of a wall is like assembling Lego blocks. Making a straight, level wall is quite simple. You can cut the blocks with a hand saw, shave it with a rendering tool and even use a wood rasp on it. If you wish to embed electrical cables, you can scour out a channel with a normal router. It insulates; it sound-proofs; it is mould resistant; it is wonderful.  If it isn’t clear, I like Ytong.

Plastering, well, that is a bit more complicated.

Now, I’ve never studied the art or science of plastering, however, a few years ago we had a master plasterer do some work.

When he was a child he was sent out to learn a trade – and the trade he was sent to and learned was plastering. Not his chosen field, nor a job he enjoys – especially as he has an allergic reaction against plaster on his hands. But it is his trade and he has learned it well. Many use the title of “master plasterer” but few are… In his case, he is a “master”.

When he arrived I was there show him what needed to be done and to answer any questions he might have. Then, I remained and watched his technique.

Initially he would load a large amount of plaster – often simply referred to as ‘mud’ on to a hawk. Now a hawk is like a large serving tray with a handle below. With the hawk fully laden he would quickly apply the plaster with a gauging trowel (the pointy one) casting great lumps on to the wall. With a finishing trowel (rectangular shape), he would, in quick graceful strokes, trowel the plaster smooth and if there were deficiencies, he would apply more plaster to those precise spots – sometimes with plaster on the finishing trowel and sometimes by flinging a lump of plaster to a more distant but deficient place with the gauging trowel.

Then he would smooth it with the finishing trowel and to ensure it was level he would take a long, straight piece of wood and drawing the wood across the surface of the wall, he would scrape the tops off the hills and reveal the valleys between. The valleys now identified could be filled in. When he had completed this stage he would employ the float with which he would ‘fine-tune’ the plaster, adding, smoothing, removing and otherwise rendering the plaster to a uniform level and smoothness.

At this stage, with the plaster applied and levelled he would wait. From time to time he would come and touch the wall to gauge the state of the plaster to see if it was ready for the next step.

Not only did he know what to do – but when to do it.

After much touching and testing, he would take a sponge, load it with the ‘right amount of water’ and apply the sponge to the wall in circular, almost scrubbing-like motions. Working the whole surface, rinsing clean the sponge and attacking the wall he worked the plaster until it was fully flattened and smooth. Waiting some more until the final sponging, he would render the surface polished and blemish free ready for painting.

I observed it all.

I saw every step and every function.

And when he left and a new bit of plastering was required I grabbed the same tools and set to work.

This is when the reality of “seeing” and “doing” and the differences therein became blatantly and painfully apparent.

That which he did (with his twenty plus years of experience) with seemingly effortless grace eluded me. He would take the pointy trowel with a lump of plaster on the end and with invariable accuracy, fling it off the end of the trowel to the spot requiring a bit more “mud”.

I could barely keep the lump of plaster on the end of the trowel, and when I did achieve the flinging action it was anyone’s guess where the plaster would end up. Most often, on the floor behind me, sliding off as I positioned the trowel. When I did hit the wall, it rarely came anywhere near my intended target. Occasionally, not sure how I achieve it, it would end up on my face – the latest example just two days ago where it landed square on my nose and mouth (plaster doesn’t taste very nice).

When I had the wall somewhat covered in plaster – I knew it was time to touch and wait; but, I had no idea what I waiting for or what I was ‘touching’ for. How would I know when it is ready?

So I touched and waited and after the passage of some time, I attacked the wall with the sponge.

It was plastered – nothing like what the Master Plasterer had done – but it was plastered.

Then we had another big piece to do and we brought the master plasterer back. Again another opportunity to watch the master – to observe his technique, to see what I had missed, to comprehend what I had seen but not understood, to realise what I had forgotten.

And when he left – the next little bit that needed some plaster was again my victim.

Over the many months, I’ve learned more, I’m still a novice at plastering and I still leave lumpy and uneven walls behind.

Rarely is the fault the wall – well, actually, it is never the fault of the wall, but my, er, I hesitate to identify it as a technique, but my modus operandi that produces my, ah, irregular, ‘artistic’ shall I say, finish. But with exposure to the master plasterer and actual experience, I am getting better.

I need both. I need to see the master at work. To take the hours and watch, not casually, but actively, at what he is doing and how he is doing it. Then, getting my hands dirty (literally) and working with the plaster and wall and the tools and taking that which I have seen and try and replicate it – sometimes eating plaster in the process. To truly learn requires doing.

The apostle Paul writing: “The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:9 – a conditional promise – the “God of peace will be with you” is tied to the “do” of the things which you learned and received and heard and saw in the life and teaching of Paul.

This is how we learn. It is also how we teach, not just with fine words, but by example.

 

(written April 2006)

Heading south from Diyabakir the land spread out in a rolling plain on all sides, the Tigris river valley slipping from sight as we proceeded, the surrounding landscape was dyed with deep shades of green testifying to the rich fertility of the region. I knew where we were going, the destination, but not the route we would be taking. It was exciting to be travelling across Mesopotamia – the ancient fertile crescent; the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

Traffic was light and we were making good time – but not knowing the distances I didn’t know if we were an hour from our destination or three. It was closer to three.

After a while the fertile plain gave way to stony hills. When I say “stony” what I really mean is “stone”. There seemed to be little soil and the bedrock was exposed on all sides. The hills grew in height as we wound our way through narrowing valleys and up and over ridges of hills. This was the antithesis of the previous vista – dressed in green with the promise of crops to come, this was dressed in stony gray with no promise that I could see.

Sitting, as I was, behind the driver and his passenger in the front seats, T. and a young lady behind them, my view was limited to what passed by the side windows. Not much warning of what was coming – and if it was something near, it would be visible for the briefest of moments. I gathered we would be passing by Mardin on our way to Midyat and from thence on our way to our destination.

We skirted Mardin, perched as it is on a high, steep hill. However as we approached from the back side, the opposite side of the old city, we were not in a position to see the old city and how the hill sharply drops off to a vast plain and that the plain then disappears over the horizon. Our brief encounter with Mardin was in such a manner that there was little to see.

We had only briefly touched the new part of Mardin when were off, heading east, down another valley, then a steep climb out of the valley to a region of gently rolling rocky hills interspersed with small green valleys invariably given over to agriculture.

On a newly travelled road, even a short distance can seem to take a long time, so it is difficult to appreciate the length of the journey, but in the fullness of time we reached the city of Midyat.

Midyat is a town that has a special place in my heart and mind for it featured in a filmstrip of the events that took place in this town many years ago that was used by OM in sharing about the need of and opportunities in Turkey. What struck me on this trip through the town was the number of workshops preparing white stone blocks. I love stone buildings, and I had arrived at the centre of stone buildings and stone work.

The local stone is a off-white stone that when freshly cut is fairly soft and hence workable. However, once exposed to the air, it begins to harden and over time becomes quite a long-lasting stone.

We parked up to get some things to take to our destination. In the city centre they were building a new mosque out of the local stone, richly worked. There was a Memorial, again built of the local stone and heavily worked. There was the local tourism office, built of the local stone. It was all rather impressive.

When I returned to the car, T. and the young lady commented that there was not a single woman on the streets – none, not by themselves, not accompanied by a male family member or husband, not even the heavily covered ladies in the full black tent-like covering. A glance at my watch told me that at 6:30 in the evening it wasn’t time for ladies to be out and about. hmmm, I was glad T. had opted to stay in the van when I went to do some business.

After the rest of the party returned, we returned to our quest, it was past dusk now, we would be arriving in the dark. We departed Midyat heading an east, south easterly direction.

Another half hour down the two lane road and we reach the turn-off. Our driver swung the van across the road and we began going up the hill on the side of the low valley. The road was narrower than the one we had been using, but if there was on-coming traffic we could have passed without difficulty.

In any event, on this road there was no on-coming traffic – there was, in fact, no other traffic at all.

The distance was about 5 kilometers… at about 4 kilometres we could see the shape of our destination – a large black lump on top of a hill, still discernable in the gathering darkness.

Finally, we pulled up to a four meter high stone wall that encircled the complex. To the left was a wide, massive, almost classic gate with a rounded arch, decorated white stone and a massive, securely fastened, solid steel door. We had stopped in front of another, smaller gate, set in a finely stone carved arch, which was also tightly secured for the night. It was made of wrought iron, with decorative leaves interweved with the bars providing an extremely pleasing and secure barrier to our forward progress.

The sign beside the sealed gate declared the visiting hours – and we were well outside them. The chap who had arranged the visit leaped out of the vehicle and went in search of a bell. I don’t know if he found a bell or not, but he came back looking for his phone.

A quick call and someone was dispatched, at this late hour, in the dark, to come down and open the gate.

We waited.

It was a long way.

Finally someone could be seen walking down the drive. The gate opened we breezed through, up the drive, across a massive parking lot to the main gate in the wall of the complex.

Like the outer wall, the gate was set in a stone wall towering some four plus meters above us. The chap who had opened the gate had left this door open for us and we grabbed our luggage and began the lug.

Through the gate, across a stone clad courtyard, up a double set of stairs, across another expanse of stone clading, up a set of stairs, across a shorter stone clad surface, left turn and up some more stairs across the stone clad terrace and we arrived at the door to the Metropolitian’s reception room. Welcome to Mor Gabriel – a Suriyani (Assyrian Orthodox) Monastery founded in 397. Yes, that is the correct date – 1,618 years ago – this is one old, very old, place.

I had no idea what the accommodation would be like in such an ancient Monastary.  I guess I was expecting  a small  rather primitive  monks cell, with a hard bed and being cold and damp.  I was surprised that my wife and our other female travelling companion were allow the monestary at all.  In the end we were shown to some very nice, very modern, ensuite rooms. These accommodations were fairly recently renovated and made to accommodate the Assyrian orthodox diaspora who both support the Monastary and visit.

In the morning we looked out from the fortress like complex on the vista which will has remained generally unchanged through the millennia. Here believers had settled, studied, prayed, lived and died for hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years.

Once this complex was in the border region between the Roman and the Persian empires. Armies from one side or the other would ravage the land taking what they wanted and destroying what was left.  It is no wonder the buildings are build like the massive defensive structures they are.

For the past thousand years or more they have found themselves in a Muslim sea, surrounded on all sides. Today, many have emigrated to Europe and the few who remain feel like the endangered community they are.

In spite of the hostility and pressures on all sides, high above the central church in the complex, adorning the bell tower is a large orthodox cross – constructed in such a way that it is clearly a cross from whatever angle you look at it. At night this is lit, a beacon shining in the night.

So it is for us, regardless of those around us, whether they approve or disapprove of us or our message, whether they like or even hate us, whether they are friendly or fearful of us, whether they threaten and from time to time, enact their threats, we are to shine like a beacon in the night – not us, but the cross of Christ shining forth in the darkness.