(written on 24 May 2016)

Some people have written and enquired as to what it is like to live here, in Hatay province – a province that borders Syria on two sides, the Mediterranean Sea on the other and Turkey on just one side, especially in times such as these.

They inquire as to what life is like in the city of Antakya, which over the past five years has experienced a transformation, an evolution, a subtle process of Syrianisation.

When we first arrived in the city it was apparent that this is a city unique and unlike other cities in Turkey. For one thing, there was a functioning Jewish synagogue, a Greek Orthodox Church, a Roman Catholic Church, and a very visible Korean Methodist Church.

The population, in addition to these small Jewish and Christian elements was divided into two major groups made up of Sunni Muslims and Alevi Muslims (a branch of Shi’ite Islam). Ethnically the city is home to Turks, Kurds and a large and disproportionate number of people from Arab ancestry.

It is to be noted that at that time the city was a bi-lingual place. In normal life and interaction you would hear Arabic not nearly as often as Turkish, but frequently. At the same, when what you heard was predominately Turkish, it would often be spiced with Arabic words.

Not being a linguist, I can not say definitively, but I felt that the local, Antakayian dialect of Arabic, this regions flavour, to be softer and more mellow than the Syrian variety.

One other thing was clear then, the local people of Arab descent, whose mother tongue was Arabic, could not read nor write Arabic script. All the shop signs and advertisements in the city were in Turkish and using the Latin based Turkish script.

Even in the fellowship some twenty or so kilometres to the east of Antakya, a fellowship of saints who have come from an Orthodox background – whose first language, and for some of the older folk, only language, is Arabic, when it came time to put some Arabic hymns on the projection for the Sunday meeting that they wrote the Arabic hymn using the Turkish, Latin, alphabet.

When we came to Antakya in 2007, there was a rapprochement between Turkey and Syria – this was the pre-war time. And as a result, Turks would freely and without requiring a visa visit Syria and Syrians would equally and without the hassle of visas, visit Turkey. Eight, nine years ago it was common to see a car with Syrian number plates or Syrian taxis with the advertisement on the side offering a service from Antakya to Aleppo on the streets of the city.

Ah, the pre-war days….

So, at that time, Antakya was a unique, mixed city – with the various elements living with a degree of tolerance and peace. The local Alevi community even have some traditions that would appear on the surface to have been borrowed from the Christian community. This included painting of eggs at Easter time and a part of their meetings that involves bread and wine.

In those days being a Christian in Antakya was not especially note-worthy. Regardless if you were local or foreign, it wasn’t a significant point as it is in other parts of Turkey. Let me hasten to add that when a local believer identified as a follower of Jesus Christ – generally, there would be no reaction… that is, until it was learned that they were not “born” Christian… that they had chosen to become a follower of Jesus Christ from a Muslim background. Then there was a rather strong, determined and often times, violent reaction.

But I digress…. move the clock forward to today, Tuesday, 24 May 2016.

Have things changed?

Undoubtedly.

I mean, all things change, that is the nature of life, nothing remains the same. But there are degrees of change and the situation here has undergone some profound, significant changes and all within just a few years.

I suppose one of the more visible changes is the number of Syrian inhabitants in the city. You can recognise them at a distance by their dress – you see ladies dressed in the black, all-encompassing garb whereby all they have is but a slit at the eyes to see where they are going. Then some of the men wear a garment, reminiscent of an old fashioned night dress, one piece falling to the ankles. This is not a night dress, but your day to day, working clothes – but it is distinctive and Turks do not wear an equivalent to this that I have seen. Of course Syrians wear the full gambit of styles and clothing type, everything from conservative to western styles. It is not possible to make a single accurate generalisation about what Syrians wear. But, by and large, you can still discern who is Syrian on the street.

The complexion of the Syrian women is often quite distinctive as well – being of profoundly fair complexion. Other Syrians have a much darker, more what you may naturally associate with an Arab complexion, but this is not true of all. Again, it is complicated and defies simple, broad brush generalisations.

Today there is far more Arabic writing on shop signs and advertisements – sometimes to the exclusion of Turkish. These, by definition, have been done by Syrian sign writers as precious few people in Antakya would be able to write Arabic.

There are now shops specialising in Syrian bread, and restaurants that cater to the Syrian palate. This is common as it happens the world over where there is a foreign influx – the Turkish shops in Haringey and Hackney in London and the Polish shops scattered over the UK for example. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does indicate that the influx of souls has reached and surpassed the critical mass required to inspire the establishment of specialist shops to cater for their particular needs and desires.

The tenor and feel of the city has changed. More and more you hear Arabic on the street – not the softened, more mellow Turkish influenced variety, but, to my ear, the harsher, truer form of Syrian Arabic.

Where once you could easy identify Syrian automobiles by their Arabic script registration plates, they all now carry a Turkish registration number plate.

Wherever you go, be it in the shopping precinct, the vast old covered market area, the ultra modern shopping malls – you encounter Syrians and Arabic. When you wander off the beaten track, into the neighbourhoods around where we live, you encounter Syrians; families, children in abundance, and all freely and comfortably chatting in the Syrian dialect of Arabic.

Where once there was a pervading tolerance, especially between the Sunni Muslims and the Alevi Muslims, now it has been replaced with the imported tension and sometimes downright hatred of the various groups from Syria.

Likewise, as the Syrians have taken local jobs and have taken their place in the health system, often displacing or just being perceived to have displace local, Turkish patients, there is a growing resentment towards Syrians within the local Turkish population.

Sometimes these feelings are expressed in very strong and emotive terms.

But, to return to the question with which I began this, how do we feel living here?

Well, by and large, it feels normal. We do not feel any direct threat day to day.

Yes, we are more careful. We have received a ‘security briefing’ and have been taking on board what was shared. We seek to be aware of our surroundings at all times.

But, as far as ‘feeling uneasy’ or ‘feeling insecure ‘ or ‘feeling threatened’, I must confess, that, no, it all feels rather ‘normal’ – mundane even. We do not wake up fearful, we do not hesitate to go out the door in the morning, we do not curtail our activities because of a perceived ‘security threat’.

An example of not curtailing our activities was highlighted yesterday when we, as a fellowship, were doing one of distributions of aid (dry food stuffs) to Syrian refugee field workers. There was a group of foreign young people, some of whom were planning on joining with us to assist in this distribution. Then the team leader asked how close we would be working to the actual Syrian border. He had made an earlier commitment that he would not be taking the people in his group to within ten kilometres of the border, so his was a reasonable query to make.

Well, top of my list for distribution that day was an encampment we identify as the ‘olive grove’ – these are a lovely group of Syrian refugee field workers who are both destitute and yet very grateful for the aid they receive and are very pleasant to work with. They have been very much on my heart – and they have only begun to receive aid. In fact when we discovered them, on our first visit, we had nothing prepared for them, just that which was left over. We helped them, but in a limited sense. It really was ‘their time’ to receive aid.

When we were asked the question as to how close to the border, I could remember that we had previously done the calculation, and that particular encampment was within the ten kilometre window. To be certain, we did a recalculation – thank you Google Maps and the handy scale they provide in the map – and, by our calculation it was seven kilometres from the border.

The fact that the encampment was on the downside of a rather significant hill and the border was on the opposite side of the hill, notwithstanding, integrity means your word is your word and so the team leader decided that those who were to join us would be taken off the task and two others who, for whatever reason, were not subject to the same commitment would take their place.

My point in explaining this, was that we then headed off to do this ministry including the encampment that is within about seven kilometres of the border – we evaluated, assessed and decided in this circumstance not to curtail our activities.

When we had the security briefing I mentioned earlier, one thing that was shared was an allegory of a frog in a pot of water. Put the frog in boiling water and it will leap out if it can… put the same frog in room temperature water, it will happily swim in the water. Slowly heat the water, and the frog will remain in the pot until, well, it is cooked….. ((no frogs were hurt, injured or killed in the making of this allegory –  that I’m aware of))

Basically, he was saying, that there is an equivalent danger that people ‘in the situation’ can become inured to the small, daily changes occurring around them….possibly until it is too late.

And so, taking a moment to ‘take the temperature’ of the water, I freely declare that the ‘water is quite pleasant at the moment’ – not cold, not tepid, warm, yes, but not on the boil either.

Now, this assessment is very subjective and devoid of any objective input in what may be happening elsewhere, and what may be planned by forces and individuals and groups…. etc….

I guess what I want to say is that each day ‘feels’ normal, as if we were walking the streets of Hemel Hempstead in the UK. That may not be the reality, but I did say it ‘feels’ like that, not that it ‘is’ like that.

It is not an over-bearing hardship to live and work here.

Having said all this….

On Sunday it was reported by some believers locally and confirmed in the press and on the official Turkish Earthquake monitoring site that Antakya experienced a 3.9 earthquake.

Well, we do live in active earthquake region.

Neither my better half nor myself were cognisant of it at the time.

Now this could be construed as a more worrisome event.

We live in the old section of town in a house that is at least a hundred years old with rather weakened concrete and rusted reinforcing steel. We have increased the burden on the house by constructing a flat on the former flat roof – we live downstairs.

If that wasn’t enough and to complicate things, our neighbour’s house is subsiding ‘into a void’ that has developed underneath it.

Where once there was a visible crack at the point their home abuts ours, now there is a crack I can easily fit my fingers into – their house is on the move.

It seems obvious now that a 3.9 earthquake will not knock our neighbours flat down…. at least not yet.

But, it is not a healthy situation, it is stressing our home and we have our own sympathy cracks appearing and growing.

What can we do about it? After much thought, and in discussion with some people, it seems there is little we can do to our home to make it more resilient to earthquakes. I suppose a steel cage in our bedroom may provide a safe haven…but, to date, I haven’t done anything about trying to make that a reality – and I’m not sure how to go about it.

So there are some other, very real and very unpredictable threats or risks that are inherent in living in this particular place on earth.

Well, we are called to live by faith and to trust God in all things. That does not guarantee that none of these things will happen…just that if they do, God is with us, He will never leave us…and, ultimately, for us to live is Christ and to die is gain. This is easy enough to write, easy enough to say, very easy to sing, and, it is after all, a part of the bedrock of our faith and so it needs to be more than just a declaration but something we actually, practically, exercise in life.

So, in spite of potential dangers due to the socio-political environment and in spite of the very real dangers due to the geographical environment, we ‘feel’ at peace here and carry on day by day in a normal fashion.

We are not struggling under an oppressive burden, not hanging on by the skin of our teeth, in anxious, nervous, tension. In Christ, this is a normal ‘normal’, with the same tensions, problems, difficulties, challenges and burdens that are common to all of us wherever we are found.

Part of the reason we are in this generally peaceful state is because people are praying with and for us. Please continue. Do not take this as a declaration that we have no need for such spiritual undergirding. We rest on that support continually and acknowledge our need of your prayer support as we live day by day.

For it is by the grace of God, we are not beaten down and oppressed and feeling over-whelmed by the situation…

God, in His grace, has made this situation ‘normal’ for us.

(first written May 2016)

I’ve known about it for over two months…. but that didn’t make it any easier and if anything, it made it more difficult.

There is a system, a good, proper and beneficial system in Turkey. It is modelled on the German system, which, in itself is the epitome of efficiency and thoroughness. This is a proper, pukkah vehicle inspection at established government inspection stations dotted around the country and is required bi-annually for private vehicles and annually for commercial vehicles.

Now this is a good thing. It should mean that the majority of vehicles on the road, both private and commercial are sound, fit and safe.

And so for normal passenger vehicles, like the one I am using, once every two years you make an appointment, take your vehicle to your nearest inspection station, pay the fee and your vehicle is inspected. If it passes, you carry on for another two years. If it fails, well it depends on what kind of failure.

There are two kinds of failure, roughly and poorly translated as light and heavy. Light failure means you really ought to get this fixed – but, practically, you have passed the inspection, you still receive your all important sticker and pass certificate. Heavy failure is a true failure – make it right or stop using the vehicle. You have one go, within a month and at no additional inspection charge, to make it right and be re-inspected. If it fails again, you will need to pay the full inspection fee again to get it re-inspected. And no, you can not skip it for another time.

Now there is nothing in and of this process that should be stressful or cause any undue discomfort.

Nevertheless, I have hosted stress and have had my share of discomfort because of this pending vehicle inspection.

It all began in March when I borrowed the car and was informed at that time that the inspection would be due while the car was in my charge… I would have to see to it being done. Now this is an extremely small price to pay for the privilege of having the use of this car. Of course, I gratefully agreed.

But, in the privacy of my mind I concede that although it is a “small” price to pay, it is not equivalent to no price. While at the same time I must confess that for the vast majority of vehicle owners in Turkey who all have to submit their vehicles to inspection, all, I say with the sole exception of me, will find this process normal and in no wise note-worthy, absolutely no hardship and could never be described as any kind of “price”.

To be frank and honest, this is not my first time in doing a vehicle inspection, but it is something that I dread. Years ago when we had our own vehicle – I sold it in part because it had lost its dependability factor (when will it fail next) – it was a disproportionate expense for the benefit derived – an expense that accrued whether I used it or not, and the bi-annual vehicle inspection.

Yes, the inspection was a significant part of the reason for my selling the car.

So, for two plus months, in the back of my mind, there has been the knowledge, the presence, of the reality of taking the vehicle to the inspection.

That “presence” never leaving, always present, quietly speaking words of dread to me.

Now as one who has trusted Almighty God for eternal salvation, as one who trusts in His daily care and sovereignty, and one who has been given great promises in the Word of God, there is no reason whatsoever that I should be rattled, disturbed, bothered or stressed by such a simple, ordinary, plain and mundane task, as a simple as a vehicle inspection.

And there you go, in spite of all that, bothered I am, rattled I am, disturbed I am and, yes, stressed I am. There is no empirical reason for it – most people will not even notice the process for the inspection. But for me, it is stressful – whether the cause of that stress is valid or not.

So, when faced with a situation such as this what should my response be?

Well, I seriously considered engaging a ‘takipci’ (pronounced tak-ip-dji in Turkish) – that is a chap who, for a fee, basically does the task for you.

I found this very tempting – but then he wants money for the task…  an additional expense for a task that most just do themselves. Besides, in outsourcing the task I am avoiding my problem, deferring my problem, casting it on another and, hence, I have not dealt with it, I have not changed, I have not grown, I have not over-come this, this simple task which for me is a challenge.

If I engaged a takipci, I may not have to face the discomfort and stress, but then, I also have no opportunity to grow my way through this – my fundamental problem remains. I will not change. I will not overcome this trifling problem that has a disproportionate effect on me. It would be, figuratively, running away from my problem.

So, practically what to do?

First, my good wife went on line and made an appointment for the actual vehicle inspection. In this way, with an appointment, it should be, it ought to be, reasonably straight forward on the morning of the inspection. She even made it for the first appointment of the day – before the queues mount up, before the masses descend, before chaos begins its tumultuous reign…

Once that was done, I made an appointment at the Dacia service department for a thorough check – let there be no reason for a failure of any description, whether light or heavy.

Therefore, two days before the dreaded inspection – see how I can reinforce my problem in the words and attitudes I express “dreaded” – I took the car for its service.

On the way to the Dacia service I passed the forbidding Vehicle Inspection station… it was about 7 minutes to eight in the morning, before they actually open and the parking lot was chock-a-block, vehicles everywhere, some already queued up in front of the seven inspection bays doors. It looked chaotic.

My inner person was not mollified by what I saw but horrified. No reason really, but if you are stressing over it, if you are bothered by it, then seeing the crowds and queues of cars is enough to fire up the stress hormones and put them on active duty.

Anyway, at the Dacia service, all went well and I even had them perform the exhaust inspection required and they affixed the correct documents. Basically the car is in good nick and didn’t need anything serious, but….

But the manufacture date of the tyres, the tyres with reasonably good tread, the date is a full four years and that is at the date, if the inspection people examine the date, that is not allowable. Not to run the risk, I replaced the tyres.

Now this cost me more than I was intending, but this is the INSPECTION and I do NOT want to fail. Side note: sure I purchased new tyres but, fundamentally it is good, nay essential, to have good rubber under the vehicle, that is the main point of contact with the road and the tyres need to be in good nick.

Not for the first time, to the people at the Dacia service department, I re-emphasised that I wanted the car fully checked in order that on the day, there would be no failure. I even warned them that if it failed, I would be straight back to them to have it put right and that I would not be happy.

Hmm…not the best testimony to be presenting…. “…see how being a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ makes me different….” Hmm…

So, with four new tyres under me, I headed off, encouraged that there should be no legitimate reason for the vehicle to fail.

That should bring peace and tranquility shouldn’t it?

Well, it would if I were really “resting” and “trusting” and not “stressing” but, alas, I was stressing, not consciously mind you, but stressing all the same. And so, even after doing all that is in my hand to do, I was still disturbed, still bothered, still unsettled, still stressed.

I doubled checked what needs to be in the vehicle for the inspection: first-aid kit, two reflectors, chock for the tyres, tow rope, fire extinguisher…. all present and ready.

The night before the day of the inspection, I went to bed early-ish as I planned to get up earlier than normal. I slept, but it was not the sleep of angels… I woke a little after midnight, again at 01:00 and got up for the nightly stroll at 03:00 noted the passing of 05:00, the arrival of 06:00 and got up at 06:17 to have my breakfast routine, but in hurry-up mode as once completed, I planned to head straight out.

I had an appointment at the first time slot available, for some reason, I thought it was 08:30….

And so, I leave in reasonably good time, climb in the car and after one last quick inspection it dawns on me, where is my appointment paper – probably don’t need it, but hey, I’m stressed, remember, so against all contingencies, I ask my good wife for the paper.

Once retrieved I learned, there and then, that I had made a mistake, the time of the appointment is not 08:30 as I thought but 08:00. I have more than enough time to get there, especially at that time of the morning, far more than enough time, but if you are stressed, then this can put the stress on steroids…

Mine was not the right response, I know. I mean, honestly, how serious is this anyway? Why stress? There is nothing to stress about. This is illogical. This is without reason. This is stupid.

And yet, I was stressed.

I did not drive like the prophet Jehu (2 Kings 9:20), but I didn’t drive in a sedate, “Sunday afternoon drive” frame, I drove in a quick and prompt and well, yes, aggressive manner.

I went across the middle mountain road, moving along sharply, down the hill, passed where the ancient theatre would have sat, onto the main road and prompt-ish up the road and out to the Vehicle Inspection Station.

I arrived in good time.

Mind you, as I anticipated, it was teeming with people, some milling around, a clump of people by the security hut and another clump by the administrative office and cars, vans, truck, lorries and buses on the apron of the station itself. The limited parking facilities are already filled to and bordering on surpassing its capacity.

I swung the car past people parked out side the gate, powered through the gateway.

I have an appointment.

I proceeded past the security hut and down towards the bays… the bonafide parking spaces were all occupied, so I pulled in front of a bay and parked – I have an appointment for the first time slot after all.

A village type chap approached my car, clothing fit for a village gentleman, complete with a flat cap and trim moustache. Don’t park here, park elsewhere, go to the security hut and check in there.

Okay, helpful. I learned later that he is a Takipci – one of those chaps who knows the system and what needs to be done.

So I back up and there, it wasn’t there when I drove in, is a legitimate parking spot on the side – my fear was if there was no space I would then have to park outside of the apron area, outside the gate, off to the side of the site and then when my turn comes I would be scrambling to collect the car and get it to the bay door….. Thankfully, on the apron I was able to park up and then I make my way over to the security hut by the gate.

Nothing is open yet. There are people everywhere. There are vehicles everywhere. But the station is not yet open for business. I have an appointment. Others, too, have appointments. However it seems that many, many, I would go as far as to suggest the vast majority, do not have appointments.

So I join the loitering cluster of humanity by the security hut. At about twenty minutes to eight, a security man, after telling people to get their cars out of where it is forbidden to be, enters the hut.

Now the Turkish queue forms, more a cluster and yet with its own etiquette and rules – I move into this mass, after all, I have an appointment.

The security man is issuing numbers and people are filing off. I notice the throng of people by the administrative office has swarmed inside. My turn comes. I say I have an appointment. He asks for my car registration number and tells me to return to the security hut at eight o’clock.

Okay.

No, I was not understanding. I drift back over to the administration office to find it is teeming with men – vehicle inspections are man’s work. There are six different people working and there are queues in front of all of them and many more people waiting on the periphery.

I beat a hasty retreat. This is as chaotic and convoluted as I remembered.

I wandered back to the security hut and as the queue was light, I re-entered the queue and when my turn came round I reiterated what I understood, that is to say, I was to return at eight o’clock and then I would go to the administration office.

“Yes” said he, be here “at eight”.

Okay, as it was ten minutes to eight, and as I needed to be at the hut at eight, I decided not to wander anywhere but to patiently wait there under the early morning sun until the magic hour.

At a few minutes to eight he began issuing numbers to those others whom he had said, “come back at eight”, and he gave me mine.

Then as I understood the instructions, I went off to the administration office.

It still was a morass of people, queuing, waiting, loitering, and well, just there, filling the space.

Now do I queue? If so, where? I stand on the right side of the room, and after a while decide that that wasn’t the right place to stand.

Why? No reason, just made that value judgement. I moved closer to the middle of the six queues. There I notice that they have put stainless steel structures between the queues to render it more British in appearance rather than a Turkish queue – only one can get to the head of a queue at a time – what a novel approach.

In amongst all the waiting men I saw the village gentlemen, the Takipci, and he, being a helpful individual, looks at my ticket number and says “there is one number ahead of you” and when I puzzled where I should queue, he said “they will call your number”.

So nice to know the system. I hope my ears are up to the task.

The employee on the left hand side calls out 802, and when there is no response, he calls 803 – uh, that’s me. The poor chap who was loitering between me and my destination – almost got knocked out of the way. I’m a bit stressed, whether I want to be or not.

At the desk I pass over the car documents. He asks for ID, so after I query I give him my passport. I know how much this is going to cost, so I get the money counted and on the counter. He is typing away and examining the computer – the final check to make sure there are no outstanding fines, charges or infractions registered against the vehicle (which would invalidate the inspection until all fines and fees are duly paid) and then he reaches up and takes the money.

Eureka, that act means I have passed the first hurdle, all the paper work has been accepted. I guess at this time I should declare that, yes, once, I failed at this most basic of steps.

He hands me a receipt and some paperwork and tells me to go outside and wait. He assures me that as I have an appointment, it won’t be long. Oh, and they will call me by name.

Good. Well, I think it is good.

Outside, again under the unrelenting Antakayan sun, I loiter. The tannoy is making a string on announcements. Many are licence numbers, not names.

Now this is not too bad as most of the vehicles have vehicle registrations beginning with 31, however, the car I am using has a registration beginning with 34 – I should be able to recognise that.

But he said that they would call me by name……. But which name? The name of the owner of the car? By my foreign, passport name? And if so, by what rules of pronunciation, this I did not know.

Additionally, I hear, distinctly “kanal a” or in English I understand them to say bay “a” – except all the bays are numbered one through seven and not lettered. “How is it that they said “a””, I wonder.

Then, as I am treated to more announcements via the tannoy, I hear them say the bay number and the final word, in Turkish, is “kanala” that by translation means “to the bay”, ah, I see, the letter “a” that I heard was not referring to the letter “a” but to the standard and rather ubiquitous Turkish suffix “a” meaning “to” so meaning “to the bay” – basic Turkish…duh)

Standing there on the large apron, I see a steady stream of cars going in the various bays. Hm… I have an appointment for the first available time slot, and here I am standing, waiting, while crowds and crowds of vehicles are going in ahead of me…. What is the system here?

I chat with a waiting chap.

I go and get the things that are required to be in the vehicle and I put them on the passenger seat, open and on display. Once I had a light failure because they didn’t see that I had everything. Not this time, thought I.

Then I notice, as various cars are accepted into the bay, that the inspector opens the boot and has a good look around.

Consequently, I then move everything from the front, passenger seat, back to the boot, but on display if and when the boot is opened.

As I stand there waiting, listening to the tannoy I notice that my car has been blocked in. Okay.

Then I discern in the sounds coming out of the tannoy, Rij Kırkvud…… uh that would be me.

I hasten back to the car, pile in, start it up and look behind me. The driver who has blocked me in is endeavouring to move out of my way. He probably can sense my tension and stress and fears for the safety of his automobile….

As I reverse out, and then notice that I’m double blocked in, but by manoevering, I extract the car and move over to bay 3.

The inspector comes out and walks up to the bonnet at which point I understand and open the bonnet latch. Then he comes to the door with the plastic protector for the seat – this is as far as I go.

He then asks what’s in the boot. I’m not sure what he means, but I begin enumerating the various things that are required to be found in the vehicle. Right or wrong, he didn’t ask any more and told me to go out and around the building to the back side where the car will come out. He will shepherd the vehicle through the inspection process.

So around the building I go and waiting at the far end of the building whilst the car undergoes the various stations of inspection in the long inspection bay.

I don’t watch. I’m stressed. Shouldn’t be, but, honestly, I am. So I stand and look anywhere but where the car is.

The car comes down to my end of the bay, they perform the check of the alignment of the headlamps, drive it out and tell me to park up and come back.

No indication as to how it has gone. I mean, it should pass with no problem … it should, but until it does….

What is being examined here? the vehicle or me? I feel like I am being examined. I am stressed – but there is nothing for me to do.

I park up and return… but to where do I return – I don’t know. There is no one at my bay. So I join the cluster of men by the end of bay one. There are some computers over on the side… that looks like a likely place for the paperwork to be finalised – whether you pass or failure, the paperwork has to be finalised. It is there that the paperwork will be done, methinks.

I stand. I wait. It is all over now – or is it – just waiting for the word.

Someone is called, the inspector has paperwork in his hands. Yes, I am waiting in the right area.

Then the inspector walks towards me with a fist full of paper work, and I can see on top of it all, the sticker that is to be affixed to the registration plate – in other words, it appears we have passed…. Not just the car, we, it and I have passed. Relief. Blesséd relief.

Once I have the longed for paperwork I return, deeply liberated, not triumphant, just, finally, stress-free. I affix the coveted sticker on the front registration plate. Wasn’t sure where to put it, so, after cleaning the plate, I put it over top of the old one.

Then I look at the report…. I have five points of light failure – I can live with that. But I really did not want to have any point of failure.

Ultimately, the purpose of this whole episode is not the vehicle inspection, but my identifying and properly dealing with stress – regardless if it is justified stress or unjustified stress.

In this I failed. This whole multi-month vehicle inspection saga has not been my finest hour. But I am more aware of the basic equation now and, by God’s grace, the next time, for a next time there most certainly will be, I will do better in this situation. With His grace I will confess, live, demonstrate and experience the peace of God which passes all understanding – for this is mine in Christ regardless to the cause of the stress, regardless as to whether it is reasonable or unreasonable…the promise is peace in all situations.

This story is not over, just this chapter. Next time, by the grace of God, I am trusting for a much better experience.

(first written 18 May 2016)

 
The Volkswagen Transporter, bought by and primarily used by the American family who labour in the same fellowship here as us, was purchased with a view to being a tool of the fellowship.

Over the years, it has been used to transport people to the Southeast Region Family Camp, various children’s camps, the quarterly Youth Revival meetings and any other fellowship function.

Lately, that is for the past year and a half, it has been the instrumental instrument for facilitating our assistance to the Syrian refugee field workers. It has transported more than its share of physical aid, dry food stuffs, clothing, and a myriad of other supplies.

Additionally, it has transported people: volunteers who have wished to aid in distribution and then with the advent of the “Haven of Love and Compassion” volunteers who have facilitated this practical work with the children.

I have refrained from describing the service of this mechanical beast as being sterling, that is without trauma and fuss. There have been points and times when it has needed TLC – tender loving care.

In the beginning and in response to the desperate plight of the Syrian refugee field workers, the seats were removed and the vehicle was loaded with essential food stuffs – loaded according to the volume of the space and not the vehicle’s ability to carry weight.

This was our error – and the vehicle paid the price, or more to the point, things broke and we had to pay the price to expedite rectification of the faults.

We learned from our experiences, albeit slowly, and began loading the vehicle according to its weight limit. But the natural consequence of this was the single vehicle, alone, was no longer up to the task and hence, we needed to employ a second vehicle to carry the same amount of material.  This naturally required another driver and twice the expenses in fuel.

Thusly, and with more care for the vehicle, the work continued unabated.

Then, about ten days or a fortnight ago, when the vehicle, loaded – not overloaded – with volunteers, was returning from the “Haven”, which is an hour’s drive up the valley, came the news that there was a new problem.

It seems that it lost power and then just stopped.

What to do?

As there were Turkish speakers amongst the volunteers, they were dispatched to flag down and board one of the ubiquitous public minibuses which ply that road. The driver then rang the mechanic who does the maintenance and repairs on the van and he agreed to drive out to where the van was reclining – some 20-25 kilometres distance.

He arrived and it soon became apparent that it could not be rectified with a road side repair and so he affixed a tow rope and dragged the van back to his shop.

After inspection and diagnostics, the key problem was identified.  It seemed that the fuel pump had failed, but he also indicated other, essential repairs that were required (brakes! pads and disks….).

He is the mechanic that the elder has used for over ten years, I’ve used with the various vehicles that I’ve had charge of, and for the last four or five years, the American has also used his services. All this to say, we basically trust him and his judgement.

The only glaring and outstanding problem in this scenario was that this all transpired on the eve of the Southeast Region Ladies conference which this year was being hosted some twenty kilometres out of Antakya in the village of Altınözü. Although the bulk of the ladies would be billeted with the saints in Altınözü, there were others who would sleep at home and be transported to the church.  Therefore, a vehicle was needed to ferry ladies from the city to the village and back throughout the three day conference.

To compensate for the loss of this large vehicle, we needed to employ multiple vehicles.

With this provision in place we commenced the weekend. We were encouraged by the promise that the vehicle would be ready on Saturday. So Friday evening, going and coming and Saturday morning going we would use the two car convoy, but commencing Saturday night and carrying on to Sunday morning, we would use the larger vehicle to take and return the ladies after the meetings.

That was the plan. It was a good plan.

And so to facilitate this plan, I, again, drove out in a two vehicle convoy on Saturday morning, but then I parked up the vehicle I use and returned with the elder in his vehicle. The plan was I would return Saturday evening in the van and with this single vehicle return all the returnees; the car I use I would pick up on Sunday morning.

Saturday was a very busy day for me and as the American had retrieved the repaired van, it was agreed that I would collect it from his home on my way out to the village in the evening.

So, according to the ‘end time’ of the evening meeting that I had been informed of, I headed off to the chap’s house to collect the vehicle and go out to the village. Because of where I acquired the vehicle, I chose to go to the village by the alternative route.

The problem with that route is, you have make your way through the town of Harbiye – which is time consuming, and then up a rather narrow pass out of Harbiye to the junction with a new four lane section of road that will take us nigh unto the village, where the new road terminates and we would switch back to the old, two lane road.

All seemed well. I navigated the morass known as Harbiye and passed out of the town and began going up the gorge. I noted as I left the town and began moving up the gorge there was a security check point on the downward lanes – checking vehicles entering the town.

But my attention was soon drawn to the inescapable fact that the van was exhibiting extreme signs of weakness – illness. It had no power.

Granted, it is a fairly steep incline up the narrow gorge, but nothing that should have had that kind of effect on the vehicle. I was only able to proceed in third gear, normally, especially empty, you would be fifth or, at the very, very worst, fourth gear.

The van was struggling in third gear and I was seriously contemplating downshifting to second.

Because at that point the road is only two lanes, and as there was traffic, I moved over as far as I could to the nearside to facilitate normal vehicles in overtaking me.

It must be said that the van was still going, not quickly, but it was going. However, it really didn’t foster any confidence.

I made the junction with the four land section and turned on to it. Once again it struggled up the incline in low gear, but once we crested the hill, the van responded more like normal – and, in the fullness of time, I was travelling along in fifth gear, mind you, the vehicle was basically empty and the road was generally a variation on downhill.

At the terminus of the four lane section and after the translation on to the old two lane road for the final leg into the village, the road, again, being mainly downhill, the van seemed to behaved itself.

Once in the village, I made my way, very slowly over an extremely bad section of road to the church to find the ladies awaiting my arrival – the meeting had ended earlier than planned.

Everyone in, I returned via the bad section of road – no choice.

Back on the main road in the village I begin the climb up and as I approach an important junction, the road bending, as it does to the right, I notice police and vehicles on the right, but, paying it no mind, I continued to proceed directly up the offside lane.

Mistake.

It seems this was a police check, or should I say, a ‘mandatory police check’.

An armed policeman stepped into the street and the Turks in the van quickly told me that I needed to be stopping.

I stopped.

He said to pull over, put on the hazard lights and to give him the car papers and my drivers licence.

This I did.

I sat there for a wee bit and vocalised my wondering if I should get out – sometimes they take the papers, take a look, no doubt checking them against a list or radioing someone and then return the documents.

The Turks told me that I needed to go.

I don’t have a lot of experience with this kind of thing.

So out I get and in the gloom, there wasn’t a lot of light, I perceived that there were people gathered around the bonnet of the police car which was parked off and at right angles to the road.

I joined the queue.

When the police man finished with the man in front of me, giving him a road side breathalyser test, it was my turn.

He looked at the car papers. Then he looked at my driver’s licence. He asked where it was from…he postulated “Norway” (no, I don’t know why “Norway”).

I said no, the U.K.. We had quite a chat about what it is called in Turkish, England, United Kingdom or Great Britain (all Turkish equivalents of course).

Then he noticed a holographic “Jul 22” on the bottom left corner.

“What’s this?” he queried.

You know, I don’t often look at my driver’s licence – it has been a while. It is dark. I tend to be right eye dominate – and the vision of that eye is currently occulated by a cataract. I was at a loss to know what this hologram indicated.

Since then I have looked at it in daylight and it clearly and simply is the month and year of the expiry of my licence.

In any event, on the night, together, we agreed it was July and 22, of course duly translated into Turkish. He seemed happy with that, still at that time, none the wiser as to what it meant.

He then handed me back my papers, and sent me on my way – and without administering the roadside breathalyser that they were giving to all they stopped.

All they stopped, save me, that is.

So we carried on. The van again demonstrated its lack of power as we climbed the long incline out of the village. Because the road was still in the village, I wasn’t attempting “A” road speeds and so, whilst very aware of the lack of power, it didn’t make a deep impression – I wasn’t trying to go fast.

Out of the village to the four lane turn off – I had decided to return via the route I’d come as one of my passengers lives in Harbiye, and hence dropping her would now be “on our way”.

Once again, as we were going up the four land divided section, the van exhibited its reticence to going uphill quickly – but, still, it did go uphill.

Down the gorge – no problem going downhill.

As we reached the end of the gorge, just where the gorge ends and the town of Harbiye commences, where I had noticed the traffic control on my way out of town, well, I noted it was still there and active.

Having not yet learned my lesson with regards to traffic control, I merrily continued along in the offside lane – if they want me, they will indicate – or so my thinking went. Often that is the way, the control point is the tail end of a radar trap and they are only stopping certain vehicles.

Well, it seems they did want me to stop and once again at least one armed policeman stood in my lane indicating that I needed to stop.

And so, for the second time that evening, I slowed the van quickly, moved over to the nearside and joined the queue.

One of the policemen who had stepped into the road to encourage my stopping walked over to the vehicle.

I wound down the window and the policeman, dressed in civilian clothes, with a full black moustache pleasantly greeted me with a smile and a “welcome”.

I returned the greeting. He seemed pleasant enough.

“Where are you coming from?” he inquired.

“Altınözü” replied I.

After a few more questions he asked something to the effect, or so I thought, of “What are you doing?”.

Strange question I thought, rather self evident, nevertheless I replied. “I’m driving these ladies from Altınözü to Antakya”.

I must confess that this I said, in all naïve innocence.

Smile, little laugh, “where is your Residence [permit]?” he asked more directly. Ah the dreaded question….

Caught, as I was somewhat off guard, I naturally and honestly replied “İstanbul”. He seemed a bit content with that.

Then, when it became apparent it wasn’t just a van full of ignorant foreigners, but there were Turks in the vehicle, people fluent in Turkish and who would naturally be able to answer any queries, he smiled – I think a relieved smile – and began chatting to the elder’s wife who just happened to be sitting in the front of the vehicle.

She answered his questions – I noted her answers 🙂 .

He then waived his hand indicating we could continue on our way. Mind you, now I was truly bemused as, do I stop again at the head of the queue where other, armed and uniformed police are standing, or do I drive on….

In keeping with my evening’s practice, I drove on…

The following morning, once again I commanded the van to take the Antakya participants back to the village.

That morning I decided to go by the route I would more naturally take – nowhere near Harbiye, the dreaded gorge nor the almost constant check point.

As we left the valley and began our climb up towards the village, the van again demonstrated its abhorrence to going uphill quickly.

I spoke out load to no one in particular that “this vehicle is ill and needs to be taken back to the mechanic”.  Alas, I thought not a job for today, Sunday.

We, slowly, travelled up the valley and made it safely to the church. There I parked up and switched to the vehicle I use, for my return to Antakya. The wife of the American would be driving the van back with the load of ladies after the meeting.

I would be joining the men and the few ladies who were unable to attend the Ladies conference for the normal morning meeting.

It was after the meeting that we got the phone call. On leaving the church, the ladies had gone to the main road in the village which, as I’ve said, is an uphill road, but before they could get to the honestly steep part, before where I was stopped for the breathalyser check the van exhibited extremely low to no power and evidently, there was smoke. In the end, they stopped.

The ladies were all transferred to one of the minibuses that form the public transport link with Antakya and the elder and I were phoned and commissioned that on their arrival at the bus station to collect our ladies and escort them to their homes.

Once the American wife had returned home to watch the children, the owner of the van, once again needed to collect the mechanic to go and see what needed to be done with the injured and ailing van.

It turned out that it had something to do with a hose being fitted incorrectly or some such thing.

In any event, it is working again.

Mind you, yesterday when we did the distribution of milk, nappies, formula and some other things out in the fields where the Syrian refugee field workers abide, there was this disturbing noise…..

Time, methinks, to visit the mechanic once more…

(first written July 2009)

Faith.

We live by faith – but then, so does everyone. In these bumpy economic times even people with so-called ‘secure’ jobs realise that we all are living by faith.

Sometimes we actively exercise that faith; sometimes we use our faith in a bold and stretching forward way; sometimes we are much more passive in our application of faith. If the truth be told, I tend towards the more passive end.

In the year of our Lord, 2008, by God’s grace, we entered into a housing project here in Antakya – one property which was to accommodate both ourselves and the elder and his family. I guess for me it was not just a ‘bold and stretching’ step of faith but a step beyond anything I had ever done or even seriously considered doing.

Personal confession time, in the past I have refrained from embarking on various projects as I didn’t have the faith to even begin them. Over the years I have witnessed other believers who have boldly struck out and done great things, God providing the wisdom, grace, direction, discipline or whatever was necessary to bring the task to fruition.

Notwithstanding, I’ve have exhibited more limited ambitions, more limited plans and hence, I have exercised more limited faith.

But in the case of this housing project, I was caught up and carried along by the faith of the elder and his wife and the project was summarily begun.

Initially the property (as acquired) had adequate accommodation for one family, it was in need of updating, but it was fully useable in its purchased state. But our plans and expectations were that by the end of one year, it was to modified, extended, expanded and otherwise transformed to be able to accommodate two families.

I had no idea how it could happen and on some occasions, I considered what the consequences were and how we would deal with the situation if it failed to be completed on time.

On the dark days I would rehearse the list of all that was needed to be done within the year and the mounting requirements would be overwhelming. And yes, on the ‘dark days’ somewhat depressing. In times like that, so much for faith. But faith does not exclude doubt – but ultimately overcomes it.

The task was both simple and complex. It was simple in that we needed to create accommodation for either us or the elder and family to live in and by July of 2009 – one year to the month from when we purchased the property. Conversely, it was complex in that there was so much to do to make an additional habitable accommodation.

Was my faith up to the task?

Frankly….er, well, no….

But we had commenced the task, it had begun….

And so, beginning in the summer of 2008, under the unforgiving, blistering Antakya sun, the old walls of a primitive single room on the flat roof were torn down. Other various low level tasks of preparation were accomplished; the water tanks were dismantled and removed – and in doing so we inadvertently undermined the supports holding up the vigorous and productive grape vine which subsequently collapsed and tried to take me out in the process. In the end the grape vine was propped up until the grapes were ready for harvest and once collected, the vine was consigned to the role of fire wood. We built end walls where our property abutted the neighbours – so two block walls were constructed.

However encouraging as all we had accomplished was, with the weeks, and then the months passing, it was patently evident, how little had actually been achieved compared to the totality of all that needed to be done.

In the autumn, we, jointly, and led by the elder, took a major step of faith and contracted to have a roof installed under which, in the fullness of time the proposed flat could be constructed. It was important that the roof go on before the winter rains and so a brother graciously loaned the funds to facilitate the construction of the roof.

Please note I am describing the construction of the roof – there are no walls, no interior walls and no exterior walls save the two end walls where our property adjoins our neighbours. The roof would be constructed where it belonged, steel posts strategically positioned to hold it up. The end walls would act as anchor points – the ridge of the roof resting on these walls. Mind you, the one wall was such that the builder immediately put a steel post running up the wall to provide additional support – not a great confidence builder – mind you, the steel support did introduce a new level of confidence.

Thusly the roof was duly constructed, the flat and prone-to-leaking roof over the lower flat now protected from the winter rains and summer sun. It took some time to reimburse the brother for the funds to build the roof and time continued to tick relentlessly onward. And we departed for our annual sojourn in the UK – three months would pass with no activity whatsoever. The elder and family actually temporarily moved in to our flat at this time as our flat was easier and cheaper to heat than their wonderful, but large modern flat.

It is noteworthy to acknowledge how funny it is how time keeps marching on whether we have time for it or not. The deadline did not and could not be altered – it was fixed as the elder and his family were in rented accommodation and when the contract terminated, it was, well, over. Here many flats are let on an annual basis – you pay a year’s rent in advance.

When we finally returned from the UK in January, there were just six months left to complete all the tasks that needed to be accomplished. In reality, all we had was a roof and a very roughed-in bathroom. All that had been done was great, but there remained so very much more to do.

Ahh…

I sat down and reflected on the task: exterior walls, interior walls, ceilings, insulation, electrics, windows, doors, plumbing, kitchen cabinets, flooring, plastering, painting… and every day that passed brought us one day closer to the time when the elder and his family would have to leave their rental accommodation and move….

Whew…

I’ve always been a sort of “jack of all trades and a master of none” (actually “a jack of some trades and a master of none”) – basically I’ll have a go at a practical task, and try to do it, being a practically minded kind of individual. And so, if I can not afford to hire someone, I would have a go and try to do it myself.  It is something that I’ve enjoyed doing over the years.

So, we ordered Ytong blocks for the exterior walls. Ytong is described as ‘gas concrete blocks’, the blocks are formed in uniform dimensions – in the case of the exterior walls, the blocks were 60 cm long, 25 cm high (standard) and 20 cm wide (this is a variable, you can order in a variety of widths).

The blocks are white, and as gas concrete, they resemble, vaguely, the interior of an Aero chocolate bar – many minute little bubbles. Or you could say that Ytong resembles pumice stone, light with little bubbles all through it. This results in the blocks being reasonably light, easy to work and you can even cut them to size using a normal hand wood saw although there are specialist saws which can stand up to the rigours of (basically) cutting through concrete. An added advantage is the blocks are self insulating, to a degree, and sound insulating, again, to a degree. But in this climate, every little bit helps.

On the negative side, the blocks can absorb water, somewhat like a sponge and in that case they become quite heavy and difficult to cut.

But, by and large, Ytong is a great boon to a novice builder like me for if you get the bottom course level and true, it is very easy to maintain the rest of the wall in that vein.

In this manner I was able to construct the outside walls. I even attempted to plaster the outside as I built the walls. I endeavoured to do this as I built them as we had no ladder long enough to reach the finished product and hence I would be unable to plaster them after they were constructed. Plastering was more than cosmetic as I needed to seal the blocks so they would not absorb rainwater.

Truth be told, I wasn’t overly successful as it was quite a reach, and sometimes my reach was not quite up to the task. But, in the end, there was a form of plaster covering the exterior walls. At the very least, maybe no attractive on close inspection, but the walls were sealed.

We contracted the ceiling work out as beyond the skill set of this ‘jack of many trades’ – that was a trade too far.

The ceiling was to be a suspended sheet-rock (gypsum) ceiling and the chap who had agreed to do it said he couldn’t commence the task until the electrics were in (understand room lights – once the ceiling is up there would be no way to retrofit wiring in the no-access loft.

However, the electrician said he couldn’t do the electrics until the interior walls were constructed – how else will you know where the room lights go, without first building the room divisions.

And so, guided by events and circumstances, I pressed on and ordered a different width (narrower) Ytong block for the interior walls. We had the luxury of laying out the walls in the cavernous space and see, before laying the first block, the layout and size of the rooms. Mind you, one row of blocks on the floor does not really communicate what the room will be like when the walls are full height.

Duly laid out, the blocks were delivered to the flat – that is delivered to the street in front of the main door. First we needed to hand carry all the blocks off the street and into the courtyard. Then we rigged a rope and pully system to lift the Ytong blocks up to the first floor – and we had all the blocks for the interior walls to lift.  That was a lot of blocks. The elder was loading the blocks and pulling them up – I was on the receiving end, getting the blocks and unloading them upstairs.

There were a lot of blocks.

At one point the elder came and suggested that I put the blocks scattered about the floor space to enable them to dry out because this being winter they had been rained on which makes them heavier, harder to work and they really needed to be dried out before construction.

Poor chap. My blood sugar was low, I was hungry, I was tired and it was all I could physically do to unload the blocks and place them relatively near to where I was receiving them. And so I told him “no”, not now, not possible – albeit not in a very gracious or kind manner. He didn’t suggest it twice. Not proud of that.

Later, after lunch, I returned and man-handled all the blocks, as he suggested, around the interior near where they would ultimately but used for walls and in such a manner that they could dry out. It really was a good and reasonable suggestion.

Laying the first course correctly, the subsequent courses rose straight and true – Ytong is a delight to work with. You lay a thin coat of ‘glue’ or so it is called in Turkish, a concrete based mixture. Applied correctly, the block is held securely in place by the suction of the thin coat of glue – it took me a prodigious amount of time to learn how to properly apply the glue. When blocks needed to be modified, a hand saw was all that was required to make very precise cuts and hence the walls fit beautifully together.

Slowly the walls rose to just beyond ceiling height and the rooms thusly divided came into being. The time had come to rough in the electrics.

As a ‘Jack of many trades’, I set about roughing in the electrics, not the important work of connecting it all up, just running the wires where they needed to go from where they needed to come from. So, to carry the power from where the circuit box would eventually being to the rooms I ran electrical conduit through the loft space to all the various rooms and where the ceiling lights would be.

Now my limited construction experience was with wood frame construction and in such construction you lay the wires in the interior of the walls. Here the practice is to lay conduit in the walls and then fish wires through subsequently. I was unaware of that and so, using a wood working router, I routered channels in the Ytong block to lay the wires ‘in’ the walls. I fitted boxes for the wall plugs, switches and such. I made junction boxes where the wires would be connected and distributed.

Once all this was roughed-in, then, and only then the ceiling man came in and created a metal frame partly resting on the newly constructed interior walls and partly hanging from the roof trusses on which to affix the sheet-rock/gypsum.

We had stipulated insulation and he brought many bails of insulation.

Now here there developed a problem between the chap building the ceiling and myself.

I can read.

I can read Turkish.

I can read English.

In both languages and in the most unambiguous of language declared that the insulation was for use in lagging water tanks and was not to be used as a general insulation, full stop.

I said to him, “This is inappropriate”.

He replied, “It is what I always use and no one has complained.”

This was an impasse.

In the end I agreed to pay the difference between the cheap and inappropriate insulation and the stuff that I had used in the past, that was proper insulation. And being the correct material for the task, it cost more than the other insulation.

In this manner the ceiling was installed and proper insulation put in place.

We now had exterior and interior walls, roughed-in electrics and a ceiling.

Absolutely phenomenal improvement – not yet a flat, but promising…. real progress…

But we still required windows and doors. Windows and doors are big ticket items and they are kind of necessary. Without windows and doors, well it really would not be habitable. In any case, the chap who would make and install the windows and doors agreed to do so with no money down and with no stipulated monthly instalments. There was no contract, or written agreement – we agreed the price verbally, what we will ultimately pay and it was so.

Finally, the house is closed in and weather tight. It is still not a habitable flat – there is no flooring, no kitchen cabinets, no paint on the walls – oh and the electrics are only roughed in, no functional electrics, no plumbing. Still much to do.

In the autumn, before we went to the UK, I had tiled the bathroom – it was my first experience in tiling. At the time the plan was that T. and I were to live upstairs and hence I was tiling “our bathroom”. What that meant was if I made a dog’s breakfast of it, it would be us who had to live with it. At the end of my first foray into tiling I will confess that while the walls are fine, the floor is appalling. A “have a go” attitude does not always result in success.

And so when it came time to tile the floors of the rest of the budding flat, I was not keen to do it – let the reader understand. As labour goes, I am cheap (free) but this is only valid if the work that is done is accomplished to an acceptable level. The elder was keen that I do the floors (free labour) and I was determined, even desperate, not to do the floors (the bathroom floor being a constant reminder that floors are beyond my skill set).

Sometimes faith enables us to be able to do something.

Sometimes faith results in the Lord providing someone to do something.

Praise the Lord He provided someone to lay the tiles – a true master tiler – and for a very modest fee. He did the whole flat, expertly, and in one day.

I watched, amazed, at the time, effort and techniques employed – well beyond my skill set.

The tiles for the flat were 40 cm by 40 cm and there was a multitude required for the flat (around 600 tiles). I observed that he hit every tile a minimum of thirty times.

I counted.

Hm, that works out to at least 30 hits per tile times 600 tiles which equates to 18,000 thumps with a rubber mallet – in one day.

But, before he laid a single tile he found the centre line of the flat, not an easy task when the footprint of the flat is anything except square.

I think the word to describe the footprint of the flat would be trapezoidal.

Then from that determined centre line all the tiles in the flat were laid from the line outwards, through all the rooms to the exterior walls. Smooth, flat, a fantastic, wonderful job.

Now, as we had decided that the upper flat was more appropriate for the elder and his family, he would be living with the excellent floor in the flat and the rather less than excellent floor that I laid in the bathroom. Well, when I did my foray into tiling it was never my intention for it to be the disaster it was. We all leave a legacy.

The man who built and installed the doors and windows now installed a full bespoke kitchen on the same financial terms.

In the beginning, my faith struggled to begin to believe this housing project could be done. The depth and breath of the task was too great for me. The lack of financial resources inhibited my ability to see a way forward.

Frankly, simply and realistically, it was impossible.

However, a month before (!) the deadline of July, all the walls were painted, all the floors laid, all windows, doors, ceiling, wiring, plumbing, well, everything in fact was completed. The 90 square metre flat was ready for the elder and his family to move in to.

Another personal confession:  the new flat was much, much smaller than the elder’s rental flat and I wondered if it would be difficult for them to leave the brand new, modern, expansive flat. I think it would have been difficult for some. But no, without the slightest qualm, hesitation or second thought, they enthusiastically embraced the smaller flat and have never looked back.

The flat is a testament to the grace and goodness of God – not the result of my ’faith, but a testament of the grace of God. This was more a ‘faith-building exercise’ for me than a ‘faith exercise’.

God is good.

God is gracious.

(first written July 2010)

It is said that the only thing that never changes is the fact that all things change.

In living memory Antakya has two basic seasons; either summer or winter. It isn’t totally like a switch, but very close to being like one, one day it is summer, and the next, winter. Sometimes, it can begin the day as winter and end it as summer. But in our limited experience and in discussion with locals, it seems as if there is no distinct season of ‘spring’ or ‘autumn’ as we would recognise them.

That is until this year.

Winter is characterised by its lack of the continuous wind blowing up from the Mediterranean Sea – replaced by winds that can blow at any time and from any direction – and by a cloudy brooding sky and by rain interspersed with the occasional thunderous downpours which can result in the creation of localised flooding as the water pours off Mount Habib Neccar (ancient Mt Silpius) and into the city.

Floods are notoriously democratic, causing havoc and ruin among the rich and poor alike without distinction or discrimination. These are not the floods that make the news and unleash waves of international aid but the more localised version which inundate homes and cause distress and discomfort but mercifully leave everyone alive and standing – albeit in mud.

Our first Antakyian flood, was last year (April 2009), and flood or no flood, I had to go out. It had rained vigorously all night and the mountain released all the pent up precipitation that had fallen onto it, channeled into the valleys and gorges that scar the face of the mountain. The water cascaded down the mountainside and down into the area of the city where the houses are built on the hillside.  There the concrete stairs that take the place of streets are converted into spectacular rapids and waterfalls and from thence the water continues down the regular streets, alleyways, byways and lanes of the city, heading to the Asi river (ancient Orontes river) and ultimately to the Mediterranean Sea.

As I had an unchangeable appointment, I left our home and as I stepped into our courtyard I was greeted by a great brown stain coming from the street door.  This apparition had originated in the corridor that joins the street door with our central courtyard, and once at the courtyard it was spreading out in in a fan shape, creeping relentlessly across the floor of the courtyard.

Our courtyard is open to the sky, so the night’s rain had been, ah, flowing freely onto the courtyard. Around the courtyard and stairways there were places where you normally could avoid rain, but the length and intensity of the deluge was such that our dog looked like a forlorn drowned rat – even the normally dry areas were wet.

The road in front of our house is a modern cobbled street – modern in that instead of stone cobbles, it is a laid pattern using preformed concrete, interlocking cobbles. As we reside in the older area of the city and the storm drains are really not adequate for the rains which can besiege the city, the basic design of the street, most likely reflecting the ancient solution to this problem, has been constructed so that the centre of the roadway is concave, that is lower in the centre and higher at the sides hence the excess rain water flows down the middle of the street. However when I opened the front door the water was not flowing only down the centre of street but rather the road was awash from side to side, with a swift flowing stream, deeper in the middle but ranging from edge to edge (shore to shore?).  It was this overflow which had come in our front door, down the corridor, invading the courtyard.

We drive on the right in Turkey and hence use left hand drive automobiles. I had parked on the right, snugged up to the exterior wall of the house. To gain entry into the car there was no option but to plunge into the waters – ah,if only the car were British and steering wheel on the side where the water was at it shallowest, but alas, even if it were so, I had left no room to enter by the nearside.

Oh, for a pair of wellies.

If I didn’t have an appointment – an important and unchangeable appointment, I would not have gone out.

If I had any common sense I would not have gone out.

Strange thing about ‘common sense’ – it isn’t nearly as common as one would think; well, not in my case in any event.

Struggling against the determined and forceful current and drenched below the knee, my shoes, socks and trousers well inundated, I made my entry into the automobile.

The vehicle started with no difficulty, however, I had a distinct struggle getting the car moving as the rain water had deposited debris in front of the tyres and as the continuous force of the waters swirled by, it was holding that formidable impediment to my intended forward motion in place.

Once the obstacles had, with difficulty, been overcome and I was moving, I drove up stream – I used to call it a street – through the on-rushing water, over the storm drain at the top of the road that had long given up the impossible task of capturing the river of water and I decided, rightly or wrongly, to turn left and head up the mountain.

As I rounded the corner by the Maternity Hospital I was faced with the sight of an unbridled torrent cascading out of the entrance to the park on the corner. Additionally, right where the water was at its deepest there was a storm drain, however, one of the great cast iron grates had been forced up by the waters and was now perpendicular to the road – the top sticking out of the flood.

What to do now?

I could choose the least tumultuous side of the waters and try and make my way trough the incoming flood, or I could retreat and find another way, or, perish the thought, cancel the appointment and go home.

What would “common sense” dictate?

I don’t know.

But I do know that  appointments are to be kept and so I forged forward.

As I proceeded in the swirling waters, the one thing I did not know and could not know was whether the remaining grates were where they belonged on the drain, or whether I would drive the car into a hole and get stuck, or even if the road was no longer there – all was obscured by the abundance of gushing and frothing water.

As I cleared that barrier, and made my way through the torrent of water flowing as from a cataract from the park I crested the wee hill to a ‘T’ junction. My plan was to turn left. It transpired that was a good plan as there had been a massive inundation complete with masses of gravel and stones and even now, with water obscuring the full extent, it was clear the road to the right was impassible to all.

I made my planned left turn and drove the ‘middle’ road – the ‘high’ road would have been accessed by turning right, the blocked way and the ‘lower’ road, well when I first turned left I would have to have turned right at that point to get to it.

The course of this ‘middle’ road travels laterally, traversing the hillside and additionally took me higher up the hillside. On this road there were few vehicle roads on the right, the steep hillside side, but many footpaths providing access to the hillside homes. These footpaths, all concreted and basically forming continuous stairways were now all converted to stream-beds, cataracts and water falls.

Through the rainfall, wiper blades banging back and forth trying to keep the windscreen somewhat clear and the inevitable build up of moisture on the inside of the glass could not hide the fact that it was quite an impressive sight – as long as you do not have to travel on any of the footpaths up the mountain and the water is not finding an egress into the homes clinging on the mountainside.

A glance to my left, downwards and city side, and I cannot see the city. It is shrouded in cloud and pelting rain.

At this rather late and belated point I began to think that this wasn’t one of the wisest things I had ever done.

But, I had chosen, there was literally no turning back – I could only press onwards.

Completing the traverse of the mountain side, the time came to move down towards the plain. As I descended, once again I passed more cast iron grates peering up from the waters giving silent warning that the storm drain below had been utterly compromised.

Once on the flatter part of the city a new sight greeted me. The waters that had entered the storm drains up the mountain, filling the pipes to their capacity, had now, on the level, been translated into geysers, forcing the manhole covers off and bubbling, gurgling and sometimes forming great columns of water erupting out of the drains and onto the streets.

The world is truly upside down when the drains – which are supposed to remove unwanted excess water are now the conveyance for delivering massive amounts of unwanted water onto the streets.

At last I turned onto a main road where I joined a line of slowly moving vehicles – now I could relax a bit. Being at the tail end of moving queue of vehicles I had, in effect, an independent guide as to the depth of the water ahead and indeed if the road was missing below the surface of the water. My task was to follow the queue and the vehicle in front would declare the depth of the water and if there were any hidden dangers. I would not have to discover that for myself.

Sometimes it is best to be at the back of a queue and not leading one.

As we moved along – slowly as it turned out, no one seemed to be in a great rush – I was faced with the sight of great piles of cobbles, torn from the surface of the road and compelled downstream until at an appropriate point they were deposited in a great heap.

Water is a powerful force.

The vehicles in front of me would sometimes weave all over the road to find the shallowest path or to avoid some obstruction but we continued to make slow but steady forward progress.

At the end of this journey, whilst it was still raining, although the intensity had left off by a large margin, I arrived for my appointment and on time.

This kind of flood is not ‘news-worthy’ as it is a ‘localised problem’. No one outside of Turkey would have heard about it. It was not ‘news-worthy’ that is, unless you are one of the families who had the force of the flood come in the front door and out the back – leaving behind a legacy of mud, debris and misery.

We had but some muddy water come into the courtyard – an insignificant, minor inconvenience, nothing more.

Some of our neighbours had bedding and furniture inundated, floors engulfed in mud and foreign matter.

But, as I said at the beginning, there is change. This year we actually had a spring – it lasted more than a month and in that time there was no flood. Every year there is at least one flood – normally – sometimes more.

But not this year.

Mind you, no one is complaining.

Things change.

These past months we have had more challenges than normal – sometimes difficult questions that defy simple answers. Often being called upon to do things and undertake commitments that take us well out of our ‘comfort zone’, experiences which can be somewhat onerous. But we are here to serve. Sometimes the service is in areas and ways that aren’t what we may ‘want’ – but we are here to serve, not to do what we ‘want’.

However, whether we are aware of it or not, all things change.

Good things come to an end. Someone moves from the area and there is a real hole in the assembly. Children grow up and leave home. The job that we enjoy comes to an end. Someone dies.

This is also true of the things we do not enjoy.

Bad things come to an end. A difficult circumstances and debilitating problem, a overwhelming challenge, these too come to an end.

Maybe it’s not a great encouragement, but we are called to persevere – and knowing that all things come to an end can aid in that perseverance.

This can give us the impetus to carry on, and so, carry on we do…

(first written January 2010)

It seems that wherever I look, I am confronted with winter scenes, winter tales and, well, an unrelenting stream of snow, ice and cold – not in the absolute sense that those living in North America or other northern climes will recognise, but cold, snowy, icy and well, wintery.

It is under these inescapable conditions, that my mind turns back to last August, a time without the unrelentingly frigid encumbrances of winter.

Ah, I remember it well, especially as it was a nice hot day – in strong contrast to the January norm in the UK. Mind you, I may not have said a ‘nice hot day’ then, but I will now.

The invitation we received explicitly said three o’clock in the afternoon, and we, being a son and daughter of a western country with our inherent western culture, arrived a bit on the early side only to find the parking lot completely and absolutely empty. To emphasis the point, there was not a soul to be seen anywhere.

Normally I pick up clues on what I should or should not do by my cultural context – what is everyone else doing or not doing. In this case I was at a loss – it appeared, save us, that there was no one there. Maybe the clue was ‘not to be there’ but we ‘there’ were.

A quick, furtive check of the invitation indicated that, yes, today was the declared date and yes, nigh to now, was the declared time….but, alas, it seemed like we were in a land devoid of people.

I stayed in the car at the road and my intrepid wife went through the imposing steel gates to seek guidance from any she could find in the church.

She did find someone and was advised, clearly and in no uncertain terms to stay out of the empty parking lot.

Strange, but okay. Do not park in the, er, parking lot… Hmm…

However, as I was parking up on the narrow, dirt lane, and since the parking lot was devoid of anything and additionally we did discover that there were just a mere handful of people actually in the church, I decided to take the car to a tyre repair place, somewhere, as we had developed a puncture at some point on our way.

In fact, it was as we left Antakya (Antioch) that I had noticed the puncture and as I didn’t think I had time to have it repaired – the date and time did not allow, or so I reasoned, for a time out to get the puncture repaired – my culture and nature demands I be on-time at worst and a wee bit early ideally.

Hence, I briefly stopped at a tyre repair place and had air added. However, now it seemed, I had time. So off I flew in search of a local tyre repair shop.

Finding a shop I dropped the car to be repaired in my absence and headed quickly back to the church on foot, under the burning Mediterranean sun, walking briskly, as I hate to be late.

I needn’t have hurried.

When I arrived back at the church, nowt had changed. The empty parking lot was, well empty. The parking space lay there still baking in the sweltering afternoon heat; a sultry breeze which would occasionally build into a blustery oven-like blast continued to course over us as we waited.

In the distance we could hear the sound of drum and zurna (according to the translation dictionary a zurna is a reed instrument somewhat resembling an oboe; the Turkish definition of a zurna is a high pitched wind instrument often accompanied by a large or small drum). The music was accompanied by shouts and ejaculations indicating a group of people celebrating. It was at a distance and as the wind waxed and waned, sometimes it sounded near and sometimes far.

Interesting…

And we waited. The wind blew. Our eyes squinted into the brilliant sunlight and we tarried; a handful of people.

Time, slowly, relentlessly ticking by… where was that invitation again….

Of course the passing of time is regulated by your expectations…three minutes is nothing when waiting for a special event a few months hence and by the same token, it can seem like an eternity when waiting for a lift to arrive. The same three minutes, but our appreciation is determined by our circumstances.

Today we were more in the ‘waiting for the lift’ frame of mind….time seemed to crawl by.

After about a half an hour I was convinced that the music was drawing near only to be convinced five minutes later that it was drifting off. Fifteen minuets later it became increasingly clear that the music and the mobile celebration was indeed slowly drawing nigh.

Finally, the noisy throng came around the corner, a hundred meters from the church but this was not some random, strolling company, this was the full wedding party, dancing their way to the church. In the exuberant crowd are the wedding guests, the bride’s family, the groom’s family, the brides maids, the groomsmen, the groom, the bride, everyone – it is the whole wedding party, dancing, celebrating their way to the church.

Dancing is not a quick, direct or efficient means of travel. It seems for every three steps forward there would be at least two backwards and this particular Turkish folk dance consisted of a line which would go backward with as much liberty and vigour as it went forward.

In the fullness of time, going backwards and forwards and sideways as well, they entered the church parking lot, one zurna player and two vigorous drummers. The young men were dancing in a line and the ladies dancing in a cluster in the middle, children running to and fro, young and old alike in celebration – the wedding party had arrived.

The air was reverberating with the sound of the drums and the music of the zurna in a continuous stream, rose and fell as the people danced and children ran and every so often the air was filled with the sound of a “zılgıt” – this is a tradition, generally at weddings and other joyous celebrations, where the matriarchs, the bride’s and groom’s mothers or ladies close to the family make a joyful sound a bit like a yodel, in cheerful celebration.

It was for this purpose the parking lot was sacrosanct, no more a parking place but now a generous celebration area. The dancing continued, the music soared, the drummers kept up the incessant and intricate drumming using two drum sticks – a big one on the front for the boom boom heavy and dominant sound and another, smaller drumstick on the back of the drum with a lighter, higher-pitched complimentary sound – one drum, two drumsticks and different strokes.

The zurna player made a continuous melodious sound, when breathing out, the music soared, as you would expect, but, at the same time as when he was breathing in, the music continued in an uninterrupted stream as he continued expelling air through his mouth whilst replenishing his air through his nose. Don’t ask me how, but the music is uninterrupted, continuous and non-stop.

Finally the dancing stopped and the people streamed into the church, filling it to capacity.

Ah, now is the start time for the church part of the day.

So, by my western clock, the wedding ceremony was about to begin a good hour late – but by the eastern clock and culture we were already over an hour into the wedding.

All was ready, and now minus the loud, deafening drums and shrill zurna, we began to sing songs of praise and worship to God, filling the space with joyous music, with hearts and voices united in jubilant acclamation of the goodness and greatness of God.

As we sang in Turkish and in Arabic (this is a bi-lingual town and a bi-lingual fellowship) the tone is well and truly set. The bride and her father are ready and waiting in the foyer – waiting as we praise God, waiting as the congregation joyfully lift hearts and voices in worship and adoration of God.

The time had come. The singing came to a joyous conclusion and the bride and her father began their passage down the central aisle. Halfway down the groom came and met them mid-church, surrounded by all and sundry. He kissed the hand of the bride’s father in a sign of respect and took the arm of his bride to bring her the rest of the way to the front of the room.

The bride in her splendid white wedding gown, the groom suited and booted stood at the front of the church. They stood whilst we joined our voices again in praise and worship of God.

After singing, they continued to stand for several exhortations and sharing. Afterwards they were led up onto the platform where the elder officiating stood at a 45˚ angle facing both the assembled saints and the bride and groom who were also standing at a 45˚ angle so the elder and the bride and groom could look each other in the eye – but everything said and done was also in full view of the congregation.

No one was left looking at anyone’s back.

As vows were exchanged we rejoiced, not only in this wedding and not only in the fact that this is a marriage of two Turkish believers but more so from the fact that he comes from a Orthodox Christian background and she from an Alevi Muslim background – different backgrounds but united in Christ, many barriers had been broken down and this through the Grace of God and the power of the Good News.

When all had been said and done, the newly weds again trod up the central carpet, now as man and wife, radiant in joy.

Once outside in the so-called parking lot the drums and zurna again exploded into life and the sounds of celebration once more filled the air, near and far. All would know that a exuberant celebration was taking place.

The young and energetic took up dancing anew – the older or worn out commenced walking and as we strolled through the streets we jointly declared the good news of the marriage – the full wedding party, the bride and groom, the parents, the children, the guests, everyone walking through the streets in joyful celebration and declaration.

Drums booming, zurna shrilling and the zılgıt punctuating the air, we slowly made our way to the home of the new couple. There, outside the door the music continued, the dancing continued, the crowd of on-lookers loitered and the children ran and played.

Finally, a ceremony at the door that I did not begin to understand, incorporating as it did several people with their hands on the cross bar of the door and a rather large knife that appeared to be stuck in the door frame – the music stopped, some words were spoken which I could not hear standing as I was on the periphery of the crowd, the knife was removed and the bride and groom entered the building.

That was all until the wedding feast in the evening. But I will leave that tale for another time, possibly…

A joyful taster, a faint shadow, a hint of the wedding of the Lamb and the Bride – where the greatest of barriers have been removed by the finished work of Christ our Saviour and Bridegroom – and this is the good news we seek to share in Turkey – we are all invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb.

(first written November, 2011)

I can’t remember ever doing this before, but today was kind of a special day.

It is holiday time in Turkey – it is the time for the annual Sacrifice Holiday – a remembrance of Abraham sacrificing his son (“Ishmael” according to Islamic belief). Those who can afford it, buy a sheep (or another kind of animal), bring in home, tether by the house and on the first or second day of the holiday, bind the legs, lay it down, and cut the throat of the animal until it bleeds out.

Then it is butchered and a feast is held with about 1/3 of the meat being given to neighbours or the poor (technically 1/3 is for immediate family, 1/3 for neighbours and 1/3 for the poor – I do not know what happens in practice, but meat did arrive at our door once, so that would have been some for the neighbour I suppose).

We, however, have no need for a sacrifice as we have One who was sacrificed once for all.

Nevertheless, the elder had three days off work. On the first day, he and his wife made some visits and on the next day, as is the way with holidays, some outstanding household tasks were done.

But today is the third and final day – tomorrow he returns to his labours.

Now it is a fact that since we sold our car a year and a half ago, we don’t get out of the town very much. This leads me to muttering, “if I had a car, we would go to….” filling in the blank with some location that is outside of our normal walking distance.

However, when we were in Istanbul recently, a good friend offered to loan us his car – his new car – an offer we gratefully accepted. And so now we have a car, or more precisely the use of a car, until we return it to its rightful owner when we travel back to İstanbul on our way to the UK in December for our annual sojourn there.

Still, I must confess that having an automobile parked up outside our house and every-ready for us to climb aboard and travel somewhere that we haven’t actually gone anywhere.

Needless to say, the elder challenged me on this, saying “You always say, ‘If I had a car I would go to…’ and now you have a car and you don’t go anywhere”… and by implication, what is the matter, stop muttering and go somewhere.

So, today, the third and last day of the nation-wide holiday, the elder and I took the car, “my” car and headed for the coast, destination: Seleucia, the ancient port of Antioch, for I have often been heard to murmur that I would like to drive along the coast from Seleucia – part curiosity to know what lays down that way and partly because it is breath-takingly beautiful.

We covered the 25 or so kilometres to Samandağ (pronounced Sa-man-dah) in reasonable time as most of it has recently been up-graded to a four lane divided road.  The roadway still bisects numerous villages along the way, so it is not a high speed road, but a vast improvement on the former two lane roadway.

We wove our way through the town of Samandağ – the town which seems to be primarily stretched out along the interminable and incredibly long High Street. Once clear of that entanglement known as Samandağ, we then turned to travel across the flat coastal plain to the village of Çevlik (Chev-leek). This is the Turkish village that rests on, around, in and near the ruins of ancient Seleucia, from whence Paul and Barnabas sailed to Cyprus on their first journey.

Now, in the fullness of time we arrive right at the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. The clear sky above and the sea glistening in the bright noon-day light is a marvell to behold. The broad plain has long disappeared behind us and the road has been reduced to a narrow way squeezed in-between the mountains which rise steeply from the sea and disappearing high above us. In many places there simply wasn’t enough room for a road – but they had managed to achieve it through diligence and no doubt a copious application of dynamite.

The road is good, the car is great, the company superb and the scenery out-standing.

At every bend, the mountains relentlessly cascade down to the sea, and the Mediterranean itself, is calm, flat, crystal clear. As we travel along we witness little groups of Turks fishing from the rocks or others in large fishing boats just off shore.

We know the asphalt road goes some way along before it degenerates into a gravel road and our goal is an abandoned Police Station which the elder has been to, whilst on a fishing expedition with one of the believers some time ago.

The elder knows the way – I do not and I’m driving.

I do not know how far along the coast it is. Therefore, for me, there is the excitement of discovery, every bend, every rise, something new, exciting, and invariably a spectacular vista laying in wait…

We came to one place where the sea had assaulted the road to the point that it had begun to eat into the seaward side of the roadway – I wouldn’t want to be on that part of the road during stormy weather.

A bit further on the mountain emphatically completed its course from its highest heights to plunge straight into the sea. There was no place to tag a bit of road on the side and no practicable way to go around in the depths of the sea.

So, through the dint of hard work and probably a goodly amount of explosives, a cleft was hewed, blasted and otherwise forced through the living rock to make a roadbed with towering sides overshadowing the passage.

Once through this man-made chasm we rounded the corner and three things were immediately visible.

Firstly the asphalt road continued along the coast, sandwiched between mountain and sea a mile or so further and then was lost around a bend.

Secondly, before us was the abandoned Police Station.

Thirdly, the bridge was out, a victim to the weather, storms and floods. To circumvent the ruined bridge a rough ford had been made in the stream to enable vehicles to carry on up the road.

Rather than cross the ford, the elder suggested we park up and take a walk.

Walking is good.

I rather wanted to take the ford and carry on and at least see around that bend a mile or so further up the coast – but I took his suggestion and parked up. We walked across what was left of the bridge, probably not the wisest thing to do considering its state of its ruin, neglect and decay, and then meandered past the abandoned Police Station and up the coast for a ways, enjoying the fresh air, the warm, but not oppressive sunlight and the delights of nature, tender green grass and flourishing wild flowers blooming and garlanding the rocks and mountain slops.

As we walked, vehicles, not many, but normal cars and little trucks, came up and down the road, the ford not being a barrier to the more adventuresome.

After a ways, we turned back and as we came once again to the abandoned Police Station, we approached two men who were sitting there – they greeted us and invited us to come and share a cup of tea. Initially we said no, then the elder said to me that a glass of tea would be nice right about then, so we accepted their next offer and crossed over to join them.

These two men, enjoying the holiday, had risen early and come out to fish. Having finished their fishing, they had made some tea and were enjoying the delightful weather and vista. As we approached we shook hands and greeted one another.

To make tea the Turkish way they had a simple double boiler with a little wood fire below providing the heat. The first pot, that is the bottom pot, was filled with fresh mountain spring water and was on the boil and the smaller pot on top had the tea leaves steeping in a modest amount of water. Two tulip shaped glass glasses were produced and the tea was mixed – first the highly steeped tea from the top pot and then piping hot, boiling, water from the bottom pot added to dilute the tea mixture until it attains the correct colour. Turkish tea, I am told, properly mixed, will be the colour of rabbit’s blood (tavşan kanı).

As we drank our tea, we chatted a bit and they offered to make us some kebab – they had eaten and the remnants of the bar-b-que were evident. They sincerely offered to make us a couple of kebabs if we wished, they had mince and freshly caught fish. We drank our tea and gratefully declined their very generous offer. They offered again – and again we politely refused.

Once our tea was consumed, the elder crossed the stream to where a jet of water was gushing and began to wash his tea glass. “No, no, don’t do that,” they said, “No need, we will take care of that”. The elder then took my tea glass and washed it.

We thanked the men, who again offered to make us a kebab and we departed. We crossed the washed-out bridge and got back in the car.

The car is nice, very nice. The scenery is gorgeous – incredible. But the warm, friendly hospitality of two strangers, to offer us tea and kebab was the greatest of all.

When was the last time two strangers offered you tea, just because you were passing by and when was the last time you felt safe and assured enough to be able to take up such an offer from complete and utter strangers?

This is a wee taste of true “Turkish Delight” – the richness and warmth of this great profoundly hospitable people.

(First written September 2009)

The project was really quite straight forward.

The tasks included setting up a studio space with cameras, lights & sundry and once so established to then shoot 15 lessons in three days.

The plan was for the speaker to arrive on Saturday evening, speak at the fellowship on Sunday and then begin the recording Monday morning. As the studio space was to be constructed in the fellowship meeting room, nothing could be done until after the Sunday meeting.

As the schedule was tight, I decided to make an exception to my ‘not working on Sunday’ practice and loaded up the elder’s car, which I had borrowed for this purpose, and Sunday afternoon I took the bulk of the kit down to the church and did a rough set up.

Chairs were moved against the walls, creating a large open space in the centre, then the lights were set up approximately where they needed to be. The fine tuning of the setting of the lights would be left to Monday morning when the speaker would be in position. The final tasks on Sunday were the determining of camera angles and finally, assembling our home-made Teleprompter and setting it up about five meters distant from where the speaker will stand.

Of course there is always health and safety to consider; not in a negative sense that often we seem to take pleasure in decrying, those bad examples of over the top  repressive, restrictive, bureaucratic health and safety, but true health and safety whereby you pause and think through the set-up to identify and avoid possible threats to life and limb and establish any remedial action that can be instituted to mitigate potential threats. The most obvious risk was in trying to ensure there are no tripping hazards, difficult to do when the electricial wall plugs are all on one side of the room and the cameras & lights are all over the place – and everything is electrical.

Come Monday morning, we commenced with a prompt start as we had a lot to accomplish in three, limited and finite days – we can not over run and go for a fourth day as we have a second batch of guests coming on the fourth day and the speaker himself has other obligations.

T.’s job is to run the Teleprompter – this wonderful device which projects the words onto a two-way mirror mounted in front of the main camera – hence the speaker looks at his notes and at the same time directly at the main camera. T.’s first task involves getting the text loaded into the Teleprompter software on her computer and get it ready to be displayed – you would think it is a simple enough task but we are using a Mac computer and the software works in Microsoft Windows. To achieve this discordant algamation of incompatible systems and which includes specialist software, significantly adds to all the complications that inevitably and inherently arise.

Once coaxed into playing ball and properly displaying, the speaker  makes some final corrections to the text and all is ready.

Now that all the technical set-up is complete, we stop, pause and pray together, committing the time and effort to the Lord not wishing to do something “for” God but “with” God.

The shooting now commences.

My job before the initiation of shooting was to run around like a proverbial deranged chicken, packing, toting, loading, unloading, setting up and establishing the studio space. At the point that shooting begins I have to set the ‘white balance’ (basically put a piece of white paper where the speaker will be, zoom in on it until it fills the viewfinder and tell the camera that the white piece of paper is, er, well, white. This is essential for the camera to get the correct colour balance). Once ‘white balance’ is established for both cameras, then I turn on two external hard drives which will record what the camera ‘sees’. This is referred to as DTE – an acronym that means ‘Direct to Edit’.  I no longer use video tape. Now everything is recorded direct to hard drives. This saves the costs of video tape and using DTE saves time in the edit stage – transfer from external hard drive to computer for editing is much, much faster. The negative side is that you do not have a tape back-up just in case…..

As we are planning five to six lessons a day, it is well to remember that these hard drives will record the day’s shoot – but just – and will need to be monitored least we run out of space.

Once the hard drives are recording, I check the framing of the cameras to ensure the speaker is where he is supposed to be in the shot and will, by and large, remain where he belongs. Then I have the speaker hold up a piece of white paper (again) as an aid in colour balancing in the edit stage and once ten seconds of that has been recorded and the paper put away, I loudly clap my hands giving a clear audio signal so I can link the two cameras to the same point for later use in a multi-cam edit in the edit suite.

Let the teaching commence…

My task is now to monitor. My task is to watch the hard drives to ensure they are continuously recording – sometimes, not often, but it has happened – a hard drive decides to take an unscheduled break. I must needs watch the monitors to ensure the framing hasn’t changed either by the speaker straying out of the zone or some drifting of a camera or an accidental bump setting things on a different plane. Finally, I listen to the audio as it is being recorded – there is nothing worse than video without audio – especially when it is a teaching video. Once the speaker has departed and returned from whence he came there is not much you can do about the audio in this rather depressing scenario.  Hence, monitor, monitor, monitor.

To try and capture the best audio, I have an expensive lapel mike fixed to the speaker – and this is the one I monitor. I have a good quality mike fixed on the number two camera, as an emergency back-up of sound. It is not as good sound, but, in a pinch, it would be better than no sound. Additionally on this shoot, I borrowed a little digital audio recorder which I placed on the pulpit as a third back up of the sound.

Sound is important.  Sound is really, really important.

So, at this point in the process, my task is to sit and monitor; to stand and monitor; to stroll (within limited parameters) and monitor. Oh, and if I get thirsty, I can nip to the back of the room and quickly get a glass of water and return to monitor.

My task is to, well, monitor.

Not so for the speaker who is intent on his delivery – sharing from God’s Word is no mean task. Additionally, he has some heavy lifting to do – five or six lessons from God’s Word today, each 20 − 30 minute in length.

Also, not so for T. who is sat at her computer, staring intently at the teleprompter, listening to the speaker and speeding up, slowing down, stopping and restarting the teleprompter so it keeps in time with the speaker. Sometimes he slows down (which can mean she must stop the scrolling) and sometimes he speeds up (which means she must scroll faster – but not too fast). Sometimes he goes off script (yikes!). An illustration, a desire to elaborate more has come to mind and he is speaking extemporaneously and there are no written words on the teleprompter. She must listen and watch and wait until he returns from his excursion to the prepared text and then, matching the tempo and syncing with him, she recommences tracking him with the words.

I feel weary just describing it.

In the shooting process the speaker and T. are working very hard. I, on the other hand, am monitoring – tiring, yes, important, yes, but not overly demanding.

Mind you, in the evening when we get home, and the tired ones are resting, I am loading the video from the camera hard disks to the edit hard disks (and making a copy on yet another disk, just in case). Copying this amount of data takes time – but it is much faster than loading from tape. Loading from tape, as we used to do, is a ‘real-time’ experience and by that I mean that one hour of loading time is required for every hour of recorded material – if you have 100 minutes of material recorded on tape it will take another 100 minutes to load it onto the computer – hence real-time.  That is the old way.  I don’t do it that way anymore, I think you can understand why.  Hard disk transfer to the computer is a small fraction of the time.

After loading the days shoot, I take time to look at the footage in the edit suite.

Then I hold my head in my hands and lament little mistakes that have crept in.

The framing isn’t 100% correct – and that is the framing on the main camera. In the morning set up I noticed that there was a discrepancy between the monitor and the camera on the framing and I thought I had set it correctly.

I was wrong.

The problem with shooting six segments in the day, and if you can not check what you have done after the first session, is that if the first has a flaw, the following five segments will have the same error as well.  Ah….

If that wasn’t enough bad news,  the back drop to the speaker didn’t really work visually. The camera sees differently to our human eyes, and it is the recorded images that are critical.  The backdrop, that which is visible behind the speaker needs to compliment, to aid and must not distract, draw attention to itself or otherwise interfere with what the speaker is saying.  Alas, in looking at the days shoot, the background is not complimenting – it just isn’t working.

These problems I will have to try and fix in post production, in the edit suite. Not sure how these problems will be addressed but there is no other option now. Either I fix it in the edit suite or we re-shoot and we do not have time for that.

The up-shot is, for day two, I needed to shift gears. Because the background behind the speaker didn’t really work, now we are now going to shoot with a green screen background. This means that in the edit suite we can remove the green of the green screen and in its’ place we can put something more interesting behind the speaker.

Mind you, there is a problem. We do not have enough lights to light the speaker (rather important) and the green screen as well (also rather important). This means a compromise – making lights do more than they can and living with the compromises that are the consequences of that. Hmmmm…

So, once more in fraught, frenetic, even manic tumult I struggle to quickly set up the green screen where both cameras have a clear and unencumbered shot and then the struggle to get sufficient lighting on both the green screen and speaker. Once set, my task is to monitor (again) – the speaker speaks and T. is studiously, continuously, concentrating on the the words on the screen and the words coming from the speaker and trying to keep the two in sync.

In the evening, once more, as they who have laboured through the day take a well deserved break, I load the material on to the computer, and then copy the material onto a second hard drive and then I plunge into the edit suite to examine the fruit of our labours.

It is now, and rather late in the day that I see that the lighting on the green screen was not all that it should be – in fact it is significantly lacking. The green screen is, well green and it is essential that the colour green needs to be consistent across the shot.  However in our days shoot it is, in fact, very different. Where the light is bright, the green appears a lighter green and where the light is not as bright the green appears as a darker green. It has become a multi-shades of green, green screen.

Not good news.

Alas, this will be extremely difficult to key-out; that is to replace the ‘green’ with the image of our choice. This is a new problem, hopefully not an insurmountable problem, but one to be fixed in post production, in the edit suite. I dearly hope it will be fixable…. Not all errors are fixable in the edit suite, especially green screen issues.

And so, as with the problem with the first day’s shoot, this new problem with the lighting of the green screen is replicated in the remaining five that we shot on the day – the same intractable problem times six.

Therefore, on the last day I need to re-arrange the lights to try to apply more light on the green screen and still leave enough on the speaker. Not a recommended course of action, but it is essential that we have more light on the green screen.  At the time I was unaware, but subsequently I learned,  that I actually needed much more separation between the speaker and the recalcitrate green screen – about three metres of separation.

In any event, at the time, after adjusting the lights and trusting that this was a more equitable compromise, my task returned to checking and monitoring whilst the speaker pours out his heart and T. diligently concentrates for hour after hour after laborious hour as we record the last segments and re-record one of the first ones we shot on day one.

At the end of the day the speaker is done. T. is done. I break down the set up, put things away ready for transport back to the house and later come back to clean the church so all will be ready for Sunday.

That night, with the exhausted two, I load and copy and check the days shooting. The green screen keys-out better ; it may be easier, it may even be actually possible to put an image behind the speaker. But it is still not well lit – in any event, it will not be easy to do.

By faith I say it will be possible to do.

So, now the speaker’s work is done – he leaves to give a Marriage Seminar in Mersin, a city about four hours from here. T.’s teleprompting work is done – now she returns to the more mundane tasks of home and life. However, my work has now truly begun and I haven’t made it any easier by the catalogue of mistakes and compromises that have been done.

This is one reason why we so deeply appreciate and need the prayers of believers wherever they call home in this world – without which I would not have the heart to press on.

Appendum: the green screen shoot of 2016 avoided virtually all of these pitfalls – lessons learned the hard way are often the lessons most well learned.

(first written in October 2002)

August, 2002, was when we made the transition from the security of a full time job with the council in a London borough; from a daily commute on the M25 motorway; from all that living in modern, western Britain involves and we relocated to a sleepy Turkish village in western Turkey, not far from the Aegean Sea and nestled in the shadow of the ruins of ancient Ephesus.

The view from our apartment windows was in a generally southwards direction. In ancient times the ground before us would have been open sea which, over a millennia of gradual silting, would have morphed into a marine marsh and with the passing of more time it would have transitioned into lowland and today, it is a broad, fertile plain.

The ruin of the Temple of Diana, renowned as one of the seven ancient wonders of the world, lies about 500 meters behind us and as the land around has silted and risen, the ruins of this once glorious temple now are located in an excavated hole in the ground, often filled with slimy green ground water and the haunt of a colony of very vocal frogs. My, how the mighty have fallen.

As mentioned, the ruin of the ancient metropolis of Ephesus is about a kilometre or so off to our right, or, roughly, to the west of us. This is one of the many Ephesus’s as over the millennia, it has been destroyed and rebuilt many times. Sometime due to the ravages of earthquakes and at other times destroyed by rampaging armies bent on destruction and pillage. There are many Ephesus’s centred on or near the shadow of Ayasoluk Hill – a modest hill rising once on the banks of the Aegean, now fully landlocked – the current, exposed ruins of the most ancient predecessor of Ephesus are found, as I said, about a kilometre distant from the hill.  It is these excavated  ruins which are open for public display.  These are the ruins of the Romano-Greek  Ephesus of the time of the apostle Paul.  It was in this city  that the riot in Ephesus provoked by the silversmiths occurred.  It was here that the apostle Paul rented the lecture hall of Tyrranus and taught for many years.  It was here, most likely in the large agora that Paul together with Acquilla and Pricila practiced their trade as tent makers.

It is interesting that due to the shifting nature of the city, always in the same general area, but in different locations, that the famous temple of Diana was situated at the base the Ayasoluk Hill and at a distance of maybe a kilometre from the ruins of Pauline Ephesus.

Today one could say that the present village of Selçuk is the living modern descendant of Ephesus especially as it, once again, is nestled up to flanks of Ayasoluk Hill.

Today, on this plain, that once would have been sea or salt marsh and separated Ayasoluk Hill from the location of the excavated ruins of Ephesus, the local farmers grow a variety of crops in the rich fertile soil.

In this region there are the ubiquitous olive trees – gracing the hills and uplands around the plain with a lush green cloak, but we observe no groves on the plain itself. The plain seems to be dominated by rows and rows of fruit and citrus trees; hard for me, a city boy, to know what is what. This is especially true as the season is early for citrus fruits and past the time for fruit – hence before us there is a vertible sea of indeterminable, thriving and flourishing green trees.

I have seen and recognised lemons – so I surmise that there must be other citrus fruit there as well.

There are fields of eggplant, peppers and tomatoes. If you want organic, then amongst the non-organic large farming enterprises you find these fields where everything is grown organically – sometimes a bit too organically, but we won’t go in to that now.

A few days earlier I was taking a contemplative interlude and was gazing out of the window, at the pastoral vista before me.

Immediately across from us, just before the citrus plantation there lies a small field planted with cotton. As I said, I’m a city boy and know nothing about farming and nothing about cotton, so I would not know if it was a very productive field or not, but in my somewhat ignorant city-boy view, I noted that the plants are quite low to the ground, ranging from about 40 cm to 80 cm in height.  Maybe that is normal, like I said, I do not know.  But the field was white as only a cotton field that is ready to be picked can be.

I noticed one or two women in the field picking cotton. By their dress, I could tell these were village women. Their heads were covered with a white triangular headscarf made of cotton with either beads or sequins crocheted on as a border and put on the head in such a way that all the hair is covered. Their upper body was covered in multiple layers of clothing, long sleeves, either sweaters or blouses, and additionally a sleeveless knitted vest over all the other garments. These tops were generally dark colours, browns, tans, some navy. To finish off this ensemble, they wore şalvar (in English pronounced as shalvar).  These are extremely baggy trousers – really a skirt that has been sown half way up from the bottom to form baggy trousers. These were universally of dark colours and usually of a floral pattern fabric.  Finally, dark coloured socks and plastic flip-flops – not ideal footwear for working in fields where mud and snakes would not be unheard of.

In the heat of the day, they do not take anything off.  Dressed thusly, they labour from morning through evening – and trust me it is anything but cool here.

As I was watching, another woman suddenly appeared, rising out of the white/green of the field. She had been fully stooped over at the waist to pick the cotton and was not visible to me – hidden within the cotton plants.

Then another lady rose from within the sea of cotton plants followed by another and another. Then the first women stooped down and disappeared once again between the rows of plants to pick cotton.

There was no way of knowing where or when she would appear again. Stooped over, she would pick cotton putting it in a sack she had tied around her and she would work her way down the plants until the sack was full or her back could take no more – then and only then would she surface. How you maintain that position and labour, bent over like that is a mystery to me.

Watching them rise and plunge out of sight reminded me of a school of dolphins or whales which when swimming along, surfacing briefly and the disappearing into the sea once again. The difference here is that these women (the only man is the driver of the tractor, the toter of bales, the loader of cotton into the huge bags and part-time cotton-picker, and roster under the shade of a tree) spend the day from early morning, through the heat of the day to the evening bent over from the waist, picking, picking, picking cotton. The small, pre-school children play by the road while their mothers are in the fields. The 8 or 9 year-old daughters join their mothers labouring in the field.

Unlike the dolphins in the sea, where, when they dive beneath the waves they are in their element, free and sleek, this swimming in the cotton is unnatural, backbreaking, arduous labour.

Their reward after all the effort and exertion is almost enough to live on. (Note the application of the adverb “almost”, that is to say “not enough to live on”). Their reward for their perseverance and sweat is not enough to send all the children to school especially as that removes a pair of productive hands from the family income. Sending a child to school also costs money – uniforms, books, writing supplies – their hard earned wages are not enough for the basics of life that it is so easy to take not only for granted, but as a birth right and, in the west is so often couched in terms of a fundamental human right.

Decent housing, that is basic even primitive but dry, warm housing and adequate food; these are the goals these women aspire to. Aspire to, but many of them never see the reality. These fields are white unto harvest – but these harvest workers only share in the sweat, toil and labour. They receive precious little recompense for their labours.

They labour hard and long when there is work and suffer lack when there is none. These people have no practical or realistic hope in this world. All their efforts, all their toil, all their energy goes to try and survive today. There is no light at the end of the tunnel for them.

Death only promises an end to the pitiless labour in this life, but for them there is no assurance of acceptance in the presence of God. Life is hard – death is even harder.

For them, they have never heard that “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son” in order that we might have a fulfilling life here and the promise of a better eternity. Indeed, Jesus said He came that we might have life and have it to the full. You can still have little, there is no promise of wealth and plenty, but a promise to be with us until the end of the age, our ever help in our time of sorrows and His strength in the difficult time.

This is indeed Good News.

And it is to sharing this Good News that the Lord has called all who have “tasted and seen that the Lord is good”.  Praise the Lord for New Life.  Praise the Lord that He has given us this New Life.  Praise the Lord that this offer of New Life is made to ‘whosever will’ through us. That the people living here may hear of the Lord of the ‘Spiritual’ harvest, which is also white unto harvest – and He has sent His workers out, not as these labourers in the cotton fields, but as his adopted children sharing the Good News in the power and provision of the Lord.