The Islamic month of Ramadan is a month marked by fasting in daylight hours and by general acts of ‘goodwill’ to earn ‘sevap’ or merit with Allah. It is because of this effort to earn ‘sevap’ by doing good works, especially in this month of Ramadan, that Muslims, in general, will be, could be, or should be, engaged in their own acts of goodwill.

In order that there is no confusion with this Islamic month of Ramadan, and with our on-going distribution, which rather than being a futile effort to garner favour with Almighty God, is a demonstration, of the Love of God, that we take a short hiatus in our distribution.

Our monthly distribution is done as we visit each encampment once, spread over  the last two Monday’s of the month. When we miss a month, the people will need to wait until the end of the following month before we vis it again.

Undoubtedly, in the course of the two months since we were there, some people will have moved, some new people will have come, some encampments will have been abandoned, others established, some will shrink and others will expand. We have no idea, beforehand, what we will encounter.

Therefore, we knew in advance that this recommencement of distribution would be somewhat challenging.

Additionally, J., our American co-worker and key individual in this ministry has returned to his homeland. Thus, we are recommencing this ministry without the one individual with the longest history and deepest knowledge of the work, people and places.

Now, if that isn’t enough to ensure that it would be an interesting and, er… stimulating time, we have also changed our computer programme that we use to record and administer the distribution of aid.

Anyone who has had experience with changing to a different computer programme knows how fraught such a project is, with such a change being liberally laced with unexpected, inexplicable and intransigent problems.

Sensible people who plan well, would never schedule a combination of tasks like this to transpire simultaneously. It is a recipe – with an almost certain outcome….

The old computer programme had worked adequately for J., especially as he had worked with it from the beginning, he was fully au fait with the programme, and knew where to go, what do and how to do it.

But I am not so experienced – it is more a mysterious ‘black box’ for me – not knowing where to go, what it does or how it works.

But there was a more basic and fundamental problem for me – the screen of the laptop that we used in the field was, um… of the more ‘affordable’ variety and hence sported a TFT screen. One aspect of a TFT screen is, in bright sunlight, it is rendered virtually unreadable.

Oh, and while I am complaining, the text was so small that my ageing eyes found it virtually impossible to read even when I could actually see the screen.

Then there is one more serious consideration. The database was just that, a very simple, basic database. In preparation for a coming distribution, I understand that J. would go through the database manually, counting the people to establish the number of bags we would need. He would calculate the total for each encampment and then, manually, select the encampments we would visit with a goal of evenly dividing the task into two equal days-worth of distribution.

When questions were raised as to how many nappies, how much milk or baby formula or sanitary napkins, again, this was all a manual task, pouring over the data and doing date math and making lists.

All very labour intensive.

Interestingly, these are all tasks that a database should be handling automatically – repetitive, math based calculations with summary totals – this is the bread and butter of what a database does.

So, in an attempt to solve the above perceived problems and in spite of common sense which dictates that you do not re-start a work (especially a re-start that is known before hand to be somewhat fraught with surprises), I accepted the inevitable complications and compounded the situation by introducing a new computer programme.

Where conventional wisdom is to do things in series, I, rather naturally it seems, pressed ahead to do them concurrently.

To configure the database to do that which we require involves the creating ‘scripts’.  A ‘script’ is simply an assemblage of instructions to the database in a special database language and in a format that the database understands.  These scripts therefore  direct and control the database to do, well, what you want it to do. This includes, but is not limited to, date math, summary totals and really, whatever else you need. A script is written once, and then, either automatically or at the push of a button, it provides the results of the script whenever you want it. Any number of scripts can be crafted to meet various real-world needs.   It also means that someone who does not know what scripting is, let alone how to do it, can easily get the results they want from a database.  We all know how to push a button.

Now, to put things in their proper context – you might say ‘to make matters worse’ – let me confess up front and declare that I am not a database ‘scripter’, that is one who is qualified or experienced and hence able to write various ‘scripts’ within the confines of the scripting language and limited by the scripting syntax.  What I bring to the party is the basic knowledge that scripts exist and are powerful.  To this I add a willing heart, tenaous approach, dogged determination and a willingness to learn and read as required.

Now, writing a script is not computer programming, but it is a distant cousin, twice removed. It is similar in that you must use its’ own peculiar language and if you miss a punctuation mark or reference the wrong entity, it will not work – or worse yet, it may work but produce inaccurate results. Straight out failure is preferred over questionable success.

As the Elder of the church had already been gifted an iPad, I decided to use a database for the iPad. The pluses of the choice to use an iPad are: it uses a touch interface, has a long battery life, is light and easy to carry, is reasonably robust and well built and has a good screen to use in the field. And as it has already been gifted, the cost of the hardware is zero.

If the ‘gifter’ is reading this, let me say a massive ‘thank you’ and ‘God bless you’.

To build this database, my chosen programme was FileMaker Pro. This is a serious, full featured, and, I dare say, expensive database programme.

Thankfully, they have a one month free trial, so you can actually use the full-bodied programme to see if it is possible to achieve that which you desire with it, BEFORE you purchase. In the free month trial period, I was able to cobble together a version of what we could use. Hence, there was sufficient confidence that, with work, I would be able to produce a useable tool for the task with this programme. And so, after much to-ing and fro-ing, the bullet was bitten and the programme purchased.

In some of the reading I did concerning database design and app design, they talked of building your first database/app and then expunging it from the face of the earth and doing it all over again from scratch.

That advice, it seems, is born out of practical experience.

Mind you, I didn’t take that advice. I hasten to add, however, that if I had the time, I would definitely record what I learned from the final design, then delete it all and rebuild it from the first table upwards. But, alas, I don’t have the time, and as it does work, albeit not elegantly nor efficiently – I will continue to refine, fix, re-write and otherwise use it. Ultimately, it is a small database, and not very demanding – even poorly written scripts should perform well enough.

As I worked to write the scripts to manipulate the data to get the results we require, I learned through trial and error (much error) what worked and what didn’t. And so, within the time frame with which we were working, whilst not elegant, nor from a scripting perspective very clean and efficient, the end result does work. It performs the majority of the ‘donkey work’ and ‘manual calculations’ we require and now are all accomplished either automatically or by the push of various buttons.

One of the initial problems, and I’m not sure we ever really mastered it, was the data conversion. We had all the data in the old system and we needed to bring that across to the new. We also had to break out various data bits which were lumped together in one field previously, and put them into separate fields in the new. All these are standard data conversion tasks and challenges.

But in the process, it is always possible to mangle and/or lose some data. Mitigating this, was the fact that at the end of the day, it is a small database and all we were really concerned about were the ‘active’ records.

In the past, I had been involved, in a minor capacity, in some data-conversion projects where the decision had been made to leave the historic data alone and only convert the ‘active’ data.

At the time I wondered why, reasoning that, ‘surely it would be bether to have it all ready and available’.

Now I understand.

The labour required to bring records ‘you may never access’ was greater than the potential benefit. Better to ‘update’ the old records on a individual basis as and when needed.

I built the database, built the various scripts to calculate the total number of people in a household, the number of bags of food stuffs that would be allocated, the number of nappies, and ‘if’ we are currently distributing milk or formula, the amount we would be providing. There was a script to make summary totals of all live encampments with a tool to aid distribution planning. So far so good.

I even built a search function that was intended to facilitate the searching for someone who was once ‘active’ on the system and is now ‘dormant’ and so the old record (in the old format) should still be there……

Well, come the day, delayed by a week by political events in the country,  and in the time available, the database was as ready as I could make it. I wouldn’t call it a finished, ‘ready’ programme, after all, I spent the evening before the morning after, creating a script which would provide a running total of bags distributed against the number we loaded on the lorry. This would be helpful as we grappled with the ‘surprises’ we would encounter as we went about the distribution and so, we would be able to know how many bags remain, without attempting to count a mountain of white bags in the back of the lorry.

I suggest, with a certain generosity of heart, that this first version of the database may be what is described as a ‘beta’ – I daresay those in the know might prefer to call it an ‘alpha’. Enough to say, we were using it ‘ready or not’ and knowing that in the using, any problems, conflicts, deficiencies, and lacks would only then become apparent.

And so, on the day, we loaded the lorry with 200 bags of food stuffs that we had prepared the day before. We also loaded the van with nappies and sanitary pads and then we headed out…

At the first encampment, we knew the majority of the Syrian refugee field workers had moved to a new encampment and hence the majority of names that we would call, well, the people wouldn’t be there. The plan was to change their location to their new encampment – they are still ‘active’ as far as distribution goes, but now at a new locale.

That proved to be far more time consuming and not as intuitive as I had hoped.

Once we distributed what we could there, we headed off to where the former occupants of this encampment have relocated to. Their new locale is in a barren field some fourteen or fifteen kilometres away.

On arrival, we parked up on the narrow, asphalt, road, and I positioned the van with the back towards the back of the lorry so we would have one point of distribution – the bags of food stuffs from the lorry, and nappies and sanitary napkins from the van.  T. with the iPad, was sitting in the shade of a large tree between the two vehicles.

Now there is a reason T. was running the iPad.

Fundamentally, I am challenged in two practical areas: my hearing is impaired to a degree (so I can not clearly hear what people are saying) and I can not spell (regardless of the language).

Consequently, when someone says their Arabic name, obviously in Arabic, I am unable to clearly hear what was said and even if I had heard it clearly, I remain at a loss as to know how to spell their name… I am not your first choice to be doing this particular task.

To compound this tension, a database is, by nature, well, pedantic. They are extremely literal, and can not see the similarity between ‘Ahmed’ and ‘Ahmet’, nor the difference in a typing error between ‘el Hac’ and ‘elHac’.

To do this task well, you need reasonably good hearing and especially the ability to convert what you hear into consistent and reasonably accurate spelling.

As we went through the distribution, we needed to search for individuals on the database. Using the tool created just for that purpose… well… for whatever reason both then and throughout the day, it steadfastly refused to return a viable response…

The searching and failing to find results was compounded by the verbal accompaniment of the elder’s wife joined by the lorry driver adamantly declaring that we have given to them in the past and they are on the system. We searched in vain….and, at the end of the day, if we can not find them on the system, then, functionally at least, they are not on the system – even if they were on the old system.

My plan all along, especially on this of all days, when we knew there would be problems, was simply to ‘re-register’ the people if we couldn’t find them. They may be registered twice, but we only distribute to ‘active’ records, so a dormant record will receive nothing and a record we can not find, well, by definition, they will receive nothing, as we can not find the record to provide anything – no functional danger of double distribution…. Later, without the crowd, without the searing sun, in a cool room, we can search for and resolve any duplicates that may be thusly created.

My goal was to enable the day’s work to progress at a reasonable rate….

From that encampment we went to another, only to be told as we pulled up and stopped, that we no longer distribute to Syrian refugees accommodated in buildings… so although my database said there were people there for distribution, there weren’t. The guiding protocols having now been more clearly explained, we departed.

Just on from there, there was another encampment. This encampment sometimes is and sometimes isn’t. The last time we did food stuffs distribution it wasn’t there, just a barren patch with the marks and signs where once shelters had been erected. But, now, here it was again, reconstituted. But, as it is newly reconstituted, it is not reflected in the database as a ‘active’ encampment, and our loading of the lorry was done without this particular encampment in mind nor on the list ( practically,  no provision for them was loaded on the lorry).

There was some rather, er… active discussion as to validity of the encampment – well it is a valid encampment, it just has not been recorded as yet…. So, it tops the list for next week, to record and distribute – we, therefore, summarily left without distributing anything at this time.

So, we went on from there to the next encampment.

On our arrival it was crystal clear that the majority had left. Of the dozen or so tents that were previously there, only four were standing and one of them was being used to dry some herb or plant of some kind. Many of the former tents had been collapsed and were lying where they had once stood.

We disembarked, but there was no one to be seen. As we remained standing under the unforgiving Antakyian sun, people, slowly, began to appear…. And so we, again, updated the database of those who had moved on (now dormant) and distributed the goods to those there…..

But as time passed, more people drifted in.… And one family, who were on the database, and a large family it was too, took their allotment and then trudged off, carting their bags, away from that encampment and towards the nearby encampment which we were intending to visit next…


Finishing up there, and moving on to the next locale, there seemed to be a greater degree of confusion – there were more people milling about than usual and things became a bit more chaotic.

When it came time to leave… a dispute broke out… we were told that there is a family who we never give anything to and it is ‘unfair’. Mind you we do not just drop goods, we only provide material if someone is registered, that is to say, we have seen their ID papers, the living souls so detailed and often where they call home in the encampment and only after they are duly recorded on the computer, do we then distribute aid. From thereafter, if there is a bonafide family member present, we will entrust the goods to that family member. If someone has not received anything in the last few visits it is either because they are not registered, or not present when we come – we do not automatically leave goods behind on people’s verbal assurance that ‘they are still there’

Anyway, it was in the course of this rather robust discussion that it was brought to our attention that we had just given two allotments of food stuffs to a single family (unfair, UNFAIR! they vigorously declare). I don’t know how they managed to get two allotments, but the family who had managed to do this defended their actions by saying the extra was for relatives living in nearby town of Kirikhan (not for themselves, not cheating, not unfair, but for other Syrian refugees also in need)…..

Well, that is a definite no-no. We have protocols in place and this was in clear breach. We provide assistance, on the basis of IDs and verifying the individuals and we limit what we do to those living under canvas as being the most needy of the masses of those in need.

In any event, the question of what were we to do with this ‘double portion’ was bandied about for a bit and then it came to me. For me it was clear, for you see, I’m a bit of a Pharisee at heart. We have protocols in place, we have principles that guide what we do, we strive, above all, to do things right in the eyes of God and the eyes of man. This was not an extraordinary situation calling for mercy or grace or compassion. Therefore, I said, either he returns the extra he received, or we will mark his name and there will be no future distribution to him and his family.

The extra bags were returned.

Then the missing family arrived, the ones that we, reportedly, had never given to as they were never there and it was ‘unfair’, well, they came and were duly processed and given their allotment.

Whilst this protracted, shall we call it ‘energetic discussion’ was going on, and under the sweltering summer sun, and at 13:00, my blood sugar was rapidly diminishing. As a diabetic, I find I can manage my condition well between taking my tablets on time in a consistent manner, daily exercise, and oh, yes, eating on time. I was now officially late – not by choice but by weight of events. However, late is late whatever the cause, and my blood sugar was dropping.

I was aware the meal was late, not by the clock, but by my body. My energy levels were dropping, activity levels were diminishing, mental acuity was impaired…. And still the, er… discussions continued…

Yes, I ate something in the van, I generally carry something with me for just such contingencies…however, I tend to resort to it when I must, and on this day, this too, was a bit on the late side.

We, finally, tore ourselves away and departed that locale and on to our next destination which was our designated lunch break. We drove past an encampment that we were not prepared to stop at this week, they are on the list for the following week. There was a nice, large, solitary, shade tree by the road, suitable for our impromptu picnic, but I deemed it too close to the encampment just passed, and I didn’t want to have to fend off their queries and entreaties, so I drove on to another, large, solitary tree further down the road. These shade trees are kind of rare, so their location sticks out in my mind.

After a revitalising lunch, blood sugars rising to a more happy level (maybe too high, I do not know), we carried on to the next encampment.

This was planned to be the penultimate encampment.

On arrival we saw that once again, things had changed and there were new people there. The on-going problem of people who ‘were registered somewhere previously’, but we couldn’t find them, continued. Again, the best answer, well, actually, the only answer, was to re-register them.

A quick head count was done of the new people there and using the new database tool, we knew how many bags remained on the lorry and, consequently, it was decided that this would now be our last locale of the day, there not being enough to go to the last place. The former ‘last place’ now heads the list for the following Monday and that list is getting longer and longer…

So, at the conclusion of this first day of the recommenced distribution, the intended number of bags of food stuffs were distributed. Maybe not according to the original plan, but to bonafide recipients. New encampments were identified and our plan for the next week was refined…. And next week is proving to be a very intense day with thirty additional bags added to the planned 212 bags that were currently listed for distribution.

We have agreed to limit a days distribution to 250 bags of food-stuffs. This upper limit is 50 more than what we set out with today and with many we were ending the day in the late afternoon. The intent is, if we have a need for more than 250 bags, to then shift to going out three Monday’s in the place of two and spreading the load that way.

Setting an upper limit is encouraging as there is a limit to how many bags we can prepare the night before distribution, how many we, with limited numbers, can load on the lorry on the morning after, and how many we can physically process in our distribution in the fields.

I do not know about others, but this no-longer young man, has some physical limits to what he can do.

Oh, and the scripts that didn’t work as planned need to be revisited. The data needs to be checked for any inconsistencies and the forms need to be tweaked according to wishes of the one using the app. A revision of the database/app is required.

It was a ‘good’ first day – not without its own little dramas and excitement, but, all in, a good first day.

(written 23 July 2016)

“Selamünaleyküm” is an ubiquitous greeting in Turkish. Actually it is from Arabic and it, roughly translated, means “peace be with you” (peace/health/safety/success be yours). When the greetings is extended, it is customary to return the greeting to the first speaker.

That is what the words means, but, it is used much like our English “welcome” – rarely do we stop and think about and mean that the person we are greeting is fully “well come”. It is something that is said and we say, but without a lot of thought going in to it.

Nevertheless, this common Turkish greeting highlights that ‘peace’ is something that comes up frequently, well at least linguistically. It is something that resonates with the heart of man – we all desire peace.

Often our actions, our decisions, our words, conspire together to render peace an impossibility, regardless of the high regard and primordial imperative that it is to us.

We all desire, want, long for, peace. However, often we seek peace on our own terms and according to our specified conditions. This, in practice, puts us in competition with those around us, who, like us, seek peace on their terms and conditions.

Most often, our desire, our longing for peace is an unrequited passion…

Now, by the middle of 2016, I’ve written about the inherent dangers of living in an active earthquake zone, living near an active war zone, living amongst IS and IS supporters, living in a country that is institutionally anti-Christian, living in a country experiencing ethnic strife and violence, living through an attempted military coup d’état, living under a declaration of a ‘State of Emergency’….and we are just at the mid point of the year.

Observers, if they contemplate our continuing to abide in this land, at this time and under these conditions may presume that surely we must have a ‘martyr complex’ or a ‘death wish’ or must be ever so slightly ‘mentally unbalanced’ to continue as we do.

Let me firstly dispel any notion of a ‘martyr complex’ – like most of mankind, I’m in no hurry to die – I enjoy living and there are things I still wish to do, places I wish to see and relationships I wish to grow in. Yes, I know I will die, we all do, and I am ready, but, at the same time, I’m in no rush to transition through that particular door.

I think the preceding paragraph addresses the question of a ‘death wish’ as well, but if not, we have no ‘death wish’ – a ‘live wish’ yes, but a ‘death wish’ absolutely not.

As to the third suggestion, as to our mental competency, well what could one ever write to adequately respond to that. You, the reader, will decide in your own mind if we are mentally challenged or not and nothing I can say in my defence will dissuade you if you have decided that we are, hmmm, mentally deficient.

There is a fourth reason for us to live here and to continue to live here, and this reason, some will reject it out of hand simply because it is born out of faith and belief in God.

If that is you, then, you wI’ll decide for yourself why we have chosen and continue to choose to live in this environment and under these conditions.

‘Taste and see that the Lord is good’ – is a challenge that is recorded in the historic text we call the Bible and is extended to all mankind. This is not a doctrine, nor a dogma, nor a ‘statement of faith’, but, simply, Almighty God challenging His creation, the creatures of His making to, if you will, put Him to the test.

So much has been and is done in the name of religion. So much is established in the name of ‘faith’. So much, that in practice and reality, can get in the way of that which is essential – a relationship, interaction between man and God.

This tension between ‘religion’ and ‘relationship’ sums up the conflict that Jesus Christ had with the religious leaders of His day. They were people who were very religious, spent their time reading, discussing and arguing about the very words which should bring people into a relationship with God Almighty. They studied the book, were consumed with the book and their understanding and their interpretation of the book which was their goal, their life and this became their functional relationship – with the book but not a relationship with God Almighty Himself.

What has this got to do with us living here, at this time, in these conditions?

Well, very simply, we have ‘tasted and seen that the Lord is good’ and very good indeed. We have experienced a change in who we are – where old, entrenched and fundamentally harmful and unhelpful aspects of my character and life are being changed to something beautiful, healthy and peaceful. Let me hasten to add that I am a ‘work in progress’. You will still see areas in need of repair, replacement and demolition – thankfully, He is not done with me yet – but the work has commenced and is on-going.

In the past, before I entered into a relationship with Almighty God, there were things which, when I was confronted with them, I was basically helpless to do anything save succumb to the passion or desire, fulfil it and then be filled with the guilt and shame that naturally follow. Before you immediately declare it is my ‘religion’ which provided the basis for my guilt and shame – again, I am referring to the time in my life when I was fully ignorant of religion and religious teaching.

Before, when I was ‘just living’ and unschooled and unknowledgeable in morality and ethics – I still knew when I did wrong, I was still aware when what I did or approved or said or how I acted was not correct.

I knew when I had broken a law – a law that I did not even know existed.

But, there came a time, a point in time when I, confronted with the morass that I had made of my life, through my own desires and choices I hastily add, and I came to a point where I knew I had a decision to make. I could decide to run away from the mess that was my life, go to a new community and start over, try to do a better job, have a clean slate….. I considered that option….

The other option was to acknowledge Almighty God – by faith – and to submit to His Overlordship in my life.

As you are anticipating, this, latter choice, is the one I took. It was a free-will choice. I was alone, on a desolate mountain road at the time. There was no music, no crowd of people urging me forward, there was no ‘powerful speaker’ challenging me. I had a choice to make, and the choice was mine.

It is a choice I made – and some will be upset by what I am about to write – and a choice I continue to make, daily.

As I free-will decided to submit and follow, so, daily, I, using my (still free) free-will, recommit to that choice. I am not a robot. I am not a puppet. I still have choice.

Of course, now I have ‘tasted and seen that the Lord is good’, now I have experience His Grace and His Love in my life. I have seen the power of God in me. To turn my back now would be to deny so much that has happened, that is real, that I have experienced and has been demonstrated both to me and in me. Yes, ‘by faith’, and yet not ‘blind faith’ for I have first hand experience with the unseen, but faithful, All-Powerful, loving God of creation.

You see, I have tasted and seen that the Lord is good – very good indeed. He is changing me – for the better. He gives me the Grace and power to be different, to break habits, to overcome my mistakes, to be set free from my past, to be liberated from my weaknesses.

When there are setbacks, and setbacks there are, it is because I have raised my head against what He is saying and I have refused to go His way and insisted on doing things ‘my way’ with the natural and I must confess, disastrous, results.

God has provided for me. Yes, this is very true, and I am profoundly grateful. But it is ‘Emmanuel’ – God with us, God interacting with me – with such a one as I, and changing lowly, little, me into a better person – this is what I am most grateful for.

Jesus said ‘forgive’. Jesus said ‘love your enemies’ and ‘do good to them’. Jesus said ‘do not worry’. One of the fruit of the Spirit of God is ‘patience’. These things, not as ideas, or doctrine or dogma or beliefs or as statements, but these things actually being expressed and lived in my life provides a wonderful, powerful, PEACEFUL, life.

It is the hope, it is the love, it is the grace, it is the peace that I’ve tasted and seen and experienced that I want to share with my fellow man.

That is why we are here. Not to teach religion. Not to convert people to our denomination. Not to debunk bad teaching and provide good teaching.

No, we are here because of God in us, changing us, giving us the power to live differently, to act differently, to rise above circumstance and events and threats and powers and principalities, to actually ‘be’ different and hence, being a ‘new man’ and living the ‘abundant life’ that Jesus said He came to give and thus giving hope to those without hope…

According to this base line, and walking in a daily relationship with Almighty, Sovereign God, who has adopted me into His family and invites me to address the all-powerful, Deity as ‘abba, father’, we can daily, peacefully and happily live in a place and in a situation such as this.

Earthquakes? They happen. They happen in many places in the world and if you are in a building that has been poorly constructed, with bad materials, or bad workmanship or plain ignorance of sound construction, then you may die or be injured.

Terrorism? In our modern world we have seen terrorism raising its ugly, bloody head all over the world. Profoundly selfish individuals, killing themselves and as many others as they can for their personal hope of eternity and a perverted notion of Heaven – there is precious little you can do to prevent this, regardless to where you live. Recently, in Nice, France, an extremist in an articulated lorry killed 84 and maimed and injured countless more in his selfish quest for heaven and peace.

Economic collapse? In what country, in our now tightly integrated world, is anyone immune from the effects of the global economy? Such a place doesn’t exist in our modern world – we are all inter-dependant.

Global warming? Where, on God’s green earth are the dramatically changing effects of weather not evident?  These changes are often violent, with diverse places experiencing hotter temperatures and more unpredictable and powerful storms.  Where, on this terrestrial ball can you go and be free from these effects – whatever their cause – and where can you find refuge from these effects?  No where.

So, the only hope, the only ‘real’ hope, lays in the ‘hollow of His hand’ – the hands of Almighty God – in the One who challenges us to ‘taste and see that the Lord is good’.

He gives grace – unmerited, unearned, undeserved favour – to those who trust Him. He is faithful.

Does this mean there is no suffering?

Absolutely not!

Let me say that again: absolutely not.

Quite the contrary, Jesus promised us difficulties. There is suffering, there are difficulties, there are very unpleasant circumstances, there can be sickness, there can be untimely death – but – but, God ‘with us’, never leaving us, always with us, giving us inner strength, grace and power to live ‘rightly’ in it all and through it all.

The goal isn’t a perfect life with perfect circumstances with perfect health – that is not the earthly goal. When we transition to Heaven, into the physical presence of Almighty God and faith is put aside and we see, face-to-face, yes then, in that moment, our bodies will be changed. But here, on earth, in this physical tent, for this life, in this sin-soaked world, no… perfect circumstance or perfect health is not the goal….

The goal is to be like Jesus – the man of Galilee, who had no home, no place to rest, who became tired and weary, whose closest friends and followers did not understand Him and what He was teaching. Our goal is to be like Him who did good and was reviled, who taught the way of God and was accused of working with the devil, who did no wrong, and yet was accused, and abused and tortured and finally, unjustly, put to death.

Our goal is to be like Jesus, His life living in us, showing patience, and grace and forgiveness and peace in all circumstances, wherever we may be found on this earth.

Where can we go where we are safer? What circumstance will be easier or better for us. Surely, in the centre of His will, endeavouring to be Light in a dark place and Salt in a sinful place is the best place to be.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
John 14:27 NIV

(written 23 July 2016)

We always knew, not just that this day ‘could’ arrive, but, in actuality, that this day ‘would’ arrive. The question was never ‘if’, just ‘when’.
Well, that question has been answered.
When you are ministering and serving a transient, migratory group, you know that their life style mandates that they move about.

The work at the ‘Haven of Love and Kindness’ began in the winter – a time when there is little field work for the Syrian refugee field workers and hence the encampments tended to be more static over the long, cold, damp winter months.  

But with advent of the Spring season, the weather is more moderate, and conditions in the encampments aren’t as punitive and harsh as during the winter months and field work recommences in earnest.  

The nature of field work means that in any given locale, there is a certain amount of planting or working or harvesting to be done and once the current phase has been completed, there is no more work in that locale until the next phase is ready.

In response to this aspect of field work, the people responsible for organising the labour for the field owners, then arrange tractors pulling farm wagons to load up the make-shift shelters of a particular encampment, together with all their meagre possession, and move all, lock, stock and barrel, to a new field where they reestablish their encampment and commence whatever field work is available in the new location.

About a week prior to their relocation, we were informed that the families where we have pitched out tent for the activities of the ‘Haven’ were being relocated some thirteen kilometres away.

We are assured that they will be back, in about two months time. Then work in the new location will be exhausted and there will be work back in this location. As the individual who organises the work, with his family and a few other families will be remaining at the encampment, we have taken the decision to leave the tent pitched where it is – ready to recommence when the full encampment is once again reconstituted.

So, for our last ‘Haven’, we decided to have a bit of a party and prepare some gifts for the children. We knew that some of the families will have already have been relocated, and so we did not know how many children would be there.

In preparation, we asked the teacher to prepare a list of all the children and so we prepared individual, named gifts for the children

We arrived a bit earlier than the appointed time and found many children there and many who had already been relocated. It was agreed that, together with the teacher, I would travel up to the new encampment site, pick up the children and bring them back for the party, meal and gift giving…

Thankfully the teacher knew where we were going as this is a new encampment, it hasn’t existed before and I had no idea where it was – just a vague idea as to the general location.

We drove up to a village, through the village and out on a patched asphalt road heading towards the hills and, I suppose ultimately, the Syrian boarder. Fields to the left and fields to the right, sporadically dotted with massive piles of huge field stones.

Finally we saw, in the distance, the tell-tale signs of an encampment, the bright blue tarpaulins that form the outer coverings of the make-shift shelters. As is all so common, the location for the new encampment is simply a barren field. As it is devoid of growth, I assume the crop has been harvested and the ground has not yet been prepared for the next crop.  

There, there is no significant shade save for one solitary tree which one individual has already claimed and pitched their shelter in its shade – all the rest will be situated under the relentless and fierce Antakyian sun. Already, on this flat field, the first contingent have pitched their make-shift shelters. There seems to be no order or plan to the encampment – it is almost as if wherever the tractor stopped they have pitched their shelters.

Water at this location is provided by the labour organiser and in this case consists of a bowser of water (water tanks on wheels). So not the freshest of water and in a distinctly limited amount. Latrines will need to be situation and dug and surrounded by a bit of tarpaulin to provide a degree of privacy.  

The teacher meet with the those in the encampment and then we loaded up the children for the return trip to the ‘Haven’.

We had been provided with colourful yellow t-shirts for the children, and as we pulled up to the ‘Haven’, the children ran out to greet us, all dressed in their new yellow t-shirts.

Today was not a ‘class’ day, there were no lessons. The children were happy and playing.  

It was hot in the tent, no two ways about that, but outside there was no shade, so, even hotter. But that is par for the course for these children – in the summer it is always hot or very hot or too hot; and in the winter it is damp and cold or very cold or too cold. That is their inescapable lot.

The time came for the gift giving. Receiving a gift is always enjoyable, but even more so when you are the named recipient. But these are children living, shall I say, in ‘less than ideal’ circumstance, and so the gifts would not be of a frivolous nature.

In each gift there were two summer weight sweat suits, 2 pairs of socks for the boys or tights for the girls, some candy, gum and cupcakes and the little children received a strong rubber balloon and a toy truck. I am always humbled by the truly appreciative and thankful attitude of the children when they receive a gift of socks or other clothes.

After a meal together, they were given individual boxes of chocolate milk.

When all was said and done, I loaded up my charges and returned them to their new encampment, they all now dressed in their bright yellow t-shirts, clutching their gift bags.

It is not the end of the ‘Haven’, but we have entered a two month hiatus.

Our ministry of providing basic dry food stuffs will continue and so, we will be out in the fields, seeing where they are and what they are doing and, DV, in the fullness of time, they will be back and the ‘Haven’ can recommence in September.

Thank you for your prayers and concern for these children. Please continue to pray for them and that the door to ‘Haven’ may once again open in about two months time.  

06:30 rolls around at about the same time everyday. That doesn’t seem to change. But my preparedness to greet it, well, that is something that can and does vary greatly.

On this particular Saturday morning I was decidedly not adequately prepared.

My alarm is the soft chirping of a bird song, so nothing jarring. There are times, in response to the bird song, when I rise, refreshed and ready to face the day. At other times, I rise, grudgingly greet the day, and get on with my business. And then there are days where I somewhat rise out of my groggy, sleepy, stupor, give a fleeting sidelong glance at the day, and then stagger out of bed, one eye intermittently opening to guide me to my chosen destination and all the while I perform my rather convincing impersonation of the zombie walk.

Today was a prime example of that latter form of rising.

When I, on unstable pins, came out of the bedroom, my wife, who has no problem whatsoever in greeting the day early – for her, rising at 06:30 is considered a lie-in – well, she introduced me to the events of the night just past.

Well, that is one way to quickly transition from groggy to wide-awake.

It seems, while we were happily in the land of Nod, dreaming weary dreams of the tired, significant and far-reaching events were unfolding in the major cities of Turkey.

The first indications that we had, were not in response to distressing sounds of the city, nor some media, but as my wife rose, she checked her emails to read one from our daughter – in a far off land – expressing concern about the events transpiring and that ‘the borders may be closed’ and she queried how that might effect us.

Hmm, borders closing… first I’m hearing about that…

Then, when I checked my emails, there was one from a chap in our company inquiring about the ‘situation’.

So, the first task of the morning was to learn what was the ‘situation’, what was happening, here, where we live.

It is rather ironic that the first news sources I had recourse to, were foreign news services – the BBC heading the list.

Now the problem with a source like that, is they are posting stories as events transpire and hence at various times during the previous night. The natural consequences of this flow of news is that each story reflects the understanding of events at each of those unique points in time.

Therefore, even though I am reading from what I would generally consider a generally balanced and reasonably trustworthy source, there are articles that are no longer true, superseded or rendered irrelevant by subsequent events – and all without any indicator that this may be the case. Indeed, when major events occur, I’ve learned that I need to be very careful in reading news sources and try to be aware of the chronology of events and the chronology of the articles written about them.

So, some articles said that we were under ‘martial law’ and others seemed to indicate that we were not. Some said that a curfews had been declared and others made no mention of one. To say the least, it was a contradictory and confused picture.

Then, speaking Turkish as I do, I turned to some Turkish news sources.

Now this can be tricky as well, partly because they, too, post articles at various points that, although they are still available, may well have been superseded by later articles. But, also by being in-country, if there actually has been a successful coup, then one of the first acts of coup-makers is to control the various news outlets – and hence endeavour to control the ‘news’.

In truth, I would not have been surprised if the Internet connection to the rest of the world had been cut – they have blocked Facebook, and Twitter and other sites in the past when the government deemed that the material there presented was offensive. Indeed, since first drafting the preceding sentence, Turkey has banned Wikileaks for posting over 300,000 emails sent by the ruling AK party that were sent over the course of some sixteen years.

But, no, the Internet was functioning normally.

At the end of the first half hour, if I were to proclaim that it was a confused picture, that would be true. However, it is safe to say that my over-all impression was that the events amounted to an ‘attempted’ coup rather than a ‘coup’ as some of the earlier reports had stated – the attempt having failed. The question still remained as to whether one could venture outside or not – the uncertainty over the state of ‘martial law’ and of the existence of a ‘curfew’ remained.

I looked at our home security camera, showing the street – and the street was devoid of people, vehicles, even passing cats. Mind you, it was still before 07:00 on a Saturday morning, so maybe that was not so indicative.

In any event, our morning had commenced and we went about our regular activities.

Now, normally, I go for a brisk walk at 09:00 and often one of my destinations will be the shopping mall that has been built in the centre of town. There I can do whatever work I have taken with me, be it reading or writing or preparing, in the relative comfort of an air conditioned space.

I had deduced by 09:00 that there was no curfew or at least, no effective curfew, for as time had progressed, I noticed some people on the streets and a random vehicle or two traveling about – oh, and the odd cat.

So I set out on my morning constitutional.

This morning I chose to walk down to a main throughfare that runs parallel to the river and mountain, travelling roughly southwest by northeast. It is the most important street running through the old part of the city. The old quarter is built directly over the ruins of the ancient city. The path of this road, called ‘Salvation’ Street, seems to mimic the course of the ancient ‘colonnaded’ street which old plans of the city describe. The colonnaded street was the most important street in the ancient city and, reportedly, was one of the first street in the Roman world to have been fitted with a form of street lighting.

I was enjoying my brisk walk, walking in the early morning shade on the easterly side of road and heading, roughly, in an easterly direction. There was traffic, but not as much as normal. There were pedestrians… but again, less than usual.

I came to one of the large, main mosques of Antakya. It is named after Neccar Habib – reportedly a saintly Christian who lived in Roman times and is now revered as a ‘saint’ amongst the Muslim, Alevi population. This mosque intrudes some into the street and causes a wee wiggle in the otherwise straight Salvation Street. I have had occasion to visit the subterranean catacomb under the mosque where there are two graves of… not really sure who… but the stones appear to be old (how does one tell the age of a stone?), and it is deep in the bowels of the mosque…

In any event, as I progressed up the street past the mosque, I came to a number of shops where the shop keepers were busy hanging Turkish flags from their shop fronts… a kind of reaction to the previous evening’s events and showing support…

But I was not and still am not sure what they were showing support for, the democratic order, for the secular Republic, for the government, for the President… for the ruling Party… I do not know… but they were hanging the national flag… and showing support…

I continued my walk up the street, and then turned around and went back down the way I had come.  At a convenient point I turned to my right and made my way down to and then crossed the Asi river – known in ancient times at the Orontes. The volume of water dribbling down the river in these modern times has been reduced to this desultory trickle by the demands of upstream farmers pulling vast amounts of water out to irrigate their fields. By doing this, they get not one, nor two, but up to three crops a year from their fields.

It doesn’t leave much to flow down the Asi.

Arriving at the shopping mall, the security at the door was normal – not extra, not less, just normal.

As I entered into the cool spaces, I noted that the large H&M shop was still fully shuttered, and as I wandered about I noticed that there were two other shops still closed. All the other shops were open for business.

I found my quiet corner, ordered a hot beverage and commenced the task that I had brought with me.

I had opportunity to chat with a person who works there. They said that normally staff get to work about two hours before the mall opens to the public, but on this day, they were kept outside and barred from entering for that time.

Generally speaking, there seemed to be a sense of unease and a degree of trepidation about.

As the hour arrived for me to return home, I noted that even though it was then 12:00 noon on a Saturday, a time when the food court should be chock-a-block, yet it was barren, just a few hardy souls and acres of empty tables and chairs.

My walk home was much like my walk out, everything was normal-ish. It wasn’t really normal… but it wasn’t really abnormal… it was almost normal… kind of normal-ish.

As the day progressed, more news came out about the attempted coup. The where, when and who did what, became a bit more clear. The number of casualties rose – how many homes would be getting the devastating news that their young men would not be coming home. The fatalities included police, military and civilians.

Then the photos and video began to become ubiquitous – in this modern day where everyone has a camera and access to the Internet. Soon social media was inundated with scenes of rampaging tanks,  and then shots of static tanks and soldiers, followed by surrendering soldiers, then cowed and beaten soldiers, then bloodied and terrified soldiers.  These were the initial images that came out on the day.

And by soldiers, I am not referring to the alleged plotters, organisers and perpetrators of this coup but I am referring to the simple, conscripts who were given orders and, as they are trained to do, they did as they were told, and all without knowing who, ultimately, is giving the commands and with no knowledge if the action they were engaged in was sanctioned. The officers, well, they will, or at least, should have known, what they were engaged in, but these poor privates were at a loss to know beforehand; and then they were abandoned to the ‘mercy’ of the mob.

For me, this attempted coup is not the main point of concern. Rather, it is the aftermath, it is what has come on the heels of this.

On the night of the coup, as the events had begun to unfold, the president of the Republic went on telly and also on social media calling for the citizens to come out into the streets and show support. He called for and unleashed the masses to stop a military coup.  And people responded, in their masses.

However, there are examples where the unfettered and uncontrolled mass of civilians can go beyond the bounds of expected behaviours.  In well-published occasions, civilians surrounded the soldiers. These, the non-officer/ non NCO class, these simple conscripted soldiers, found themselves facing what descended into a baying mob.

The soldiers had guns. Additionally, they had tanks. One assumes that they had munitions for those weapons… but even if they didn’t, they had tanks.

In Nice, France, we saw the carnage created by a single, empty, articulated lorry – leaving some 84 dead and multiple injured in its wake. One shudders to contemplate what would be the outcome if a tank were driven in such a violent and aggressive manner.

The soldiers were not without recourse – but they steadfastly did not fire on, nor defend themselves against their fellow citizens.

What follows next is sobering beyond description.

The civilian masses then descended on the surrendering soldiers, they herded them together, they beat them, they bloodied them, they cursed them, some they murdered and at least one was beheaded. Citizens doing this not to a foreign power, nor a terrorist organisation, but to their own brothers, cousins, sons, nephews – for these conscripts have come from citizenry.

The young men did not defend themselves with the tools at their disposal, and the mob assaulted, humiliated, beat, bloodied, and tormented them.

In the immediate aftermath of these confused and distressing events, one could almost, almost, understand…

But the calls to the general public continue to go out… for this coup attempt turned out to be a surprisingly close-run thing. It was the intervention of the common people that turned the tide.

From the mosques, the loudspeakers declare that the citizenry should go out in the evening and drive about the streets, hooting their hooters and making noise to declare their suppor for the established order.

However, when you call for the masses to, well, mass together, you are in danger of creating a ‘mob’. Mob mentality departs from normal human norms and takes on a life and personality all of its own. Let the one who summons the mob beware.

In Ancient Rome, the great and the powerful were always mindful of, wary of and fearful of the infamous Roman Mob.  When large bodies of people gather, with no head, and many themes flowing about, then anything is possible.

One sobering historic example was when the crowd greeted Jesus as he entered Jerusalem with ecstatic shouts of “Hosanna” and “Great is God in the Highest” and just a few days later, in the same city, the mob gathered to violently demand, “Crucify Him” and “We have no King but Caesar.”

There is great power in the masses… and masses can be summoned and, to a degree, manipulated, but can easily devolve into a mob which can never be controlled. You may summon the masses. You may manipulate the masses. But, if the so-gathered masses deteriorate into a mob, then, ultimately, no one does nor can control the mob.

Now some facts of life: we live in a country that is prone to earthquakes and we live in an area that is one of the highest risk areas for earthquakes. We live in a province where on one side we have the Mediterranean Sea, on another, a small side, we have our link with Turkey and on the remaining two sides we have Syria. Syria, which is currently enduring a long, protracted, bloody civil war – a civil war complicated as it is, because in addition to being a civil war it is also a proxy war for major players in the world and yet further complicated by the fact that it is filled with foreign extremist fighters, fighting for their own agendas…  Moreover, we live in a country that is being violently shaken by its own, internal ethnic conflicts and resultant violence. We live in a country with a growing sectarian divide, sowing the seeds of future chaos, struggle and the inevitable violence, injury and death. We abide in a land that has supporters of IS, and IS fighters live in our midst.  We live in a country where the economy is suffering from the effects of all of the above, and as they economy suffers, so the common people suffer and suffering people will grasp anyone or any ideology which promises help… and all the dangers that poses. These are the facts.

But in viewing the images of the poor soldiers, surrendered,  surrounded and cowed, those images cause me pause;  the danger posed by rampant ‘mob violence’.

The masses can be summoned – as demonstrated in these past days. A focus or target can be provided – recently it was the military, but, at another time it could be something closer to home. The one instigating this may be doing so with the intent to intimidate, coerce, cow and domineer. That could be their genuine intent, but once unleashed, if the masses degenerate into a mob, then there is no control of, nor stopping it

The last pogrom, primarily against Greek Orthodox Christians living in Istanbul, was on 6 September 1955, in my life time.  It was an example of mob violence, raised on a false accusation and resulted in the deaths of many, with mass migration a direct consequence.

You can mitigate against the danger of earthquakes. You can take measures against the threats of religiously motivated violence. You can endeavour, as much as it is possible, to not be in the wrong place at the wrong time. But, there is precious little that you can do against a summoned mob, bent on violence… that will seek out and destroy, rightly or wrongly, the focus of their fury…

… as evidenced by the mob treating shamefully, then violently, then tortuously, then even murdering their own flesh and blood, the young lads conscripted into the military to do their ‘national duty’…

In the wake of this coup, thousands of military personnel, many of them very senior, have been arrested – well, these events were a military coup, so, I suppose, that is not surprising. However, immediately after the attempted coup, thousands of judges and prosecutors have been suspended and also thousands of police officers as well. Some provincial Governors – those appointed by the State – have also lost their jobs.  It is believed that the instigator of the coup was the self-exiled Islamic scholar, Fethullah Gülen.  Hence his followers, seeded throughout the organs of the state are being neutralised.

Hence there is a  general ‘house cleaning’ going on, spurred on by the coup and yet with list already drawn up;  it lends itself to a more dark interpretation.

On July 19, four days after the coup, 15,000+ education personnel from the highest positions downward have been suspended. Between the police, military, judicial and now education,  the effects of this action continue unabated and neither diminishing in scope nor with an end in sight.

On the morning of 20 July, the following from the BBC:

The army, judiciary, security and civil service have all been targeted following Friday’s coup attempt:

Now over 45,000 lost jobs, suspended or arrested

■ 6,000 military personnel have been arrested, with more than two dozen generals awaiting trial
■ Nearly 9,000 police officers have been sacked
■ Close to 3,000 judges have been suspended
■ Some 1,500 employees of Turkey’s finance ministry have been dismissed
■ 492 have been fired from the Religious Affairs Directorate
■ More than 250 staff in Mr Yildirim’s office have been removed

Turkey’s media regulation body on Tuesday also revoked the licenses of 24 radio and TV channels accused of links to Mr Gulen. “.

This is not a comprehensive listing… and since writing it, the new total being published is 50,000…

This is exceedingly troubling when one considers Jesus’s teaching on a house divided against itself – it can not stand.

And then, against the  backdrop of the active fight against the PKK separatists fighters, IS fighters and with a fiercely contested war on the southern border and oh, yes, millions of Syrian refugees in country and mixed up in all that are the untold undocumented individuals who have also entered the country, it is not a good time to be eviscerating the police, military and the judiciary.  Evidently the threat from within was viewed as greater than the threat from without.

Additionally, the sacking of 45,000 50,000 personnel, which is only the current count, will be devastating for the families of those directly effected and a body blow to the general economy.

We are travelling down a road and the vehicle we are travelling in is moving with shocking speed, and we do not know the destination, nor if anyone is truly in control.

Yes, it is normal for a fear, an almost animalistic, visceral fear to rise from within. But we are more than our senses, we are more than our circumstances, we are more than a helpless pawn being shunted around a glocal chessboard by the so-called great and powerful.

But let me interject, our situation is by no means unique.

Recently there was a referendum in the UK which was won, convincingly 52% to 48%. But, pause for a moment to consider the 48% whose votes did not carry the day. There has been no effort made in the aftermath to convince them of the value and benefit of the choice the majority took. To a certain extent, they are ‘along for the ride’ travelling down the ‘Leave’ path. They are in a vehicle, going down a path they did not choose and may not believe in. With all the uncertainties of the ultimate outcome, those so affected can be described as experiencing a similar ‘feeling’ to what we are.

Consider those of our cousins across the pond, some who write profoundly vitriolic abuse concerning one or the other of the two candidates to become the next president of the United States. One will triumph and one will lose. Those on the ‘losing’ side will be carried along by the winners. They, too, will feel powerless and helpless, going down a path that they did not choose. And, may experience a similar feeling to what we are experiencing.

But we are not subject to our circumstances. We are not slaves to what others decide. We are not obligated to be desolate and helpless and fearful of what may, possibly, come next.

We are children, by adoption, of God Almighty. We are under His care, His love and we are called to live in His peace where we can trust and rest in Sovereign Lord. I can focus on that reality, and breath deep, knowing He is faithful – come what may – or I can focus on what may be or possibly be, or the strength of the powers that be, or the machinations of my own imagination concerning what may happen next, all of which leads to worry, ulcers, high blood pressure, debilitating fear, stress and a nightmare existence.

At the end of the day, the choice of where I put my thoughts, my focus is up to me as an individual – and so it is for all. We can live the reality of ‘contentment’ regardless of our circumstances, or we can live as slaves to our circumstances – it is in our hands to choose.

God is faithful.

God is sovereign.

God is our High Tower – but we must enter in…

5 July 2016 marked the ending of the Islamic month of Ramadan. It is a religious observance that, here in Turkey at least, dominates life and profoundly influences the whole country, and does so for a full month.

Many people outside of the Muslim world are familiar with the requirements for the month: no drinking (of any liquid), no smoking, no eating, no intimate relations during daylight hours. Daylight hours are defined for each locale based on the determination of a religious leader who, using traditional and historic methods, declares when the fast commences and, more importantly, when it ends.

These tasks are performed on a daily basis as the actual length of the day varies through out the year.  This means each day the length of the fast is different. Additionally as there is one time zone for all of Turkey, the beginning and ending times also vary according to the clock – the timing being determined by the amount of light determined by the religious leader in each locale.

Okay, that degree of detail is known.

But what is this month of fasting ‘like’ for the average individual?

Many, I do not how many, will keep the fast throughout the time because they so choose, believing it to be their duty and obligation, as a Muslim. Others – again, it is impossible for me to accurately declare how many – will have kept the fast because of general expectation, peer-pressure, family pressure or work pressure. There is another category; those who ‘appear’ to be keeping the fast, and yet, secretly, are eating and drinking as and when they have opportunity – with no one witnessing – throughout the day. Oh, I might add, come the evening, they will break the fast with the majority as if they, too, have fasted and suffered all day.  Finally, there are always those, again I am loath to state even a guesstimated number, who simply do not, will not or cannot keep the fast.

Now that, described in brief and in a very broad brush fashion, is the fasting part.

But, there is another part.

There is the feasting part.

Yes, in the month of fasting, a time dedicated to not eating and not drinking (identifying with the unfortunate and suffering), this is also a time of great feasting, great banquets and, I’m afraid, great gorging of food. Fasting gets the highlight, but it is not the whole story.

At the end of each day of fasting there is the ‘Iftar’ meal, the special ‘breaking of the fast’ meal. Restaurants, hotels and other establishments will offer exceptionally rich buffets each evening where the patrons, for one all-inclusive price, can eat all they want from a vast wealth of a rich and varied selection of hot food, desserts, fruit and many speciality items seen only at this time of year – forget food that is ‘good for you’, rather, if it is good to eat, tastes delectable and is sumptuously delicious, then it will be offered.

The month of fasting is a good time to eat – well, after dark. In many places all eating and drinking establishments are shut during the day-light hours – you would be unable to purchase a meal even if you wished to – but come the evening, after the setting of the sun, now that is a totally different story.

Thus, after a interminable long day of yearning, burning, desire, where thoughts invariably go to, dwell on and are obsessed with food, the Iftar is an unleashing of that pent up, explosive passion and, with reckless abandon, prodigious amounts of food are consumed, but, again, only after the setting of the sun and before dawn, the rising of the sun for the new day.

Of course, not everyone can afford to go to restaurants for such a feast.

For many, nay, the majority, the Iftar is shared at home. The lady or ladies of the house, whilst fasting, neither eating nor drinking,  have laboured for hours to prepare the nightly grand Iftar feast, with speciality dishes and all the trimmings. At the sound of the evening Ezan – the call to Prayer that marks the official setting of the sun – the family gather and attack the long anticipated feast.

One of the deeply appreciated aspects of Iftar, of this evening meal, is the gathering of all the family together and eating together. Because of the fast – because of the hardship of the day and the common time to break the fast, there is much to encourage everyone to be assembled at the appointed place and time to break the fast together. As it is the first meal since dawn, people are highly motivated to do everything they can, to ensure they are not late.

The Iftar meal is not a rushed affair. Okay, initially, it is rushed, but, once the immediate, overwhelming cravings are satiated, the meal continues, surrounded as you are by family, extended family, friends and neighbours. A great social gathering – and this evening Iftar meal is repeated daily – for the full month of Ramadan.

Whilst many will be able to do this, it is clear that there are still those who could never afford the special restaurant meals nor even to be able to manufacture the nightly ‘proper’ Iftar meals at home, but they are not left out. The local Council – note: not the local mosque – puts on Iftar Meals in specially erected Iftar tents in various locations around the city. Here, at the appointed time, whosoever desires can arrive and partake in an Iftar meal – without charge.

Additionally, many Councils will put on both daily Iftar meals and an evening’s entertainment – music, poetry, other artistic activity, plus readings from the Koran and such, again all without charge.

These are great public gatherings where everyone who is suffering in the daily fast can get together in a jolly, festive atmosphere and break the fast and enjoy an evening out as a family.

With regard to singles, those who are single for whatever reason and also those who are at a distance from their families, in Ramadan, no one is left sitting alone. In the Iftar tents all are together, corporately, breaking the fast together in a great, shared, social occasion.

Many, who, although they can afford restaurants and home-made Iftar feasts, will choose to join in the local City Council sponsored events – sharing the meal in a great, almost a Mardi Gras atmosphere followed by an evening of entertainment.

Oh, and then there are the extra special, Iftar meals, put on by the Great and the Powerful. These elaborate affairs are free – with an offering of food so resplendent as to make a life-long committed ascetic change his ways.

Putting on an Iftar meal is constituted as ‘sevap’ or earning merit with Allah, within the general understanding of the Islamic faith – an attempt to balance out the bad that has been done by doing a ‘good’ – an expensive and elaborate Iftar is seen as a good ‘good’. So this month is also marked by general acts of selfish ‘good will’, good deeds done to earn the much coveted ‘sevap’ or merit with Allah.

Once the evening meal has been consumed, then people will enjoy one another’s companionship, smoking and  drinking tea/coffee/water/ayran/whatever they wish to quaff, to their hearts content. As the sun has set, it is cooler and these times tend to go on.

Then, early, and by early, I mean really, really, middle of the pitch dark night early, the lady or ladies of the house will rise to prepare the pre-dawn breakfast. This can be a normal Turkish style breakfast or a far more elaborate affair in keeping with this pre-dawn breakfast’s task of preparing people for the long day of fasting that lays ahead.

When the breakfast is spread, complete with the last beverages to be consumed together with the last cigarettes until the Iftar in the evening, the men and boys rise to join the ladies and consume all before the sun begins to make its appearance.

This year, I was told – told because as I am not a ‘faster’ and as such I have no personal experience of this – that you would be up and dining on your breakfast by about 03:00 in the morning.

This combination of events does not leave much time in the dark hours for that little, inconsequential, thing called ‘sleep’. What this means is that often, during the month of fasting, vast numbers of people are seriously sleep deprived and either sleeping during the day, or, as a result of their poorly rested state, rather grumpy and miserable as they go about, or attempt to go about, their daily business. Short tempers, aggravated individuals, much shouting, swearing and cursing, some shoving and pushing – all the fruit of a burning thirst, lack of food, low blood sugar and a paucity of sleep.

So, in general, you can say it is a tough month – being composed of these two diametrically opposed elements, daily fasting – nightly feasting, compounded by adding in a generous portion of sleep deprivation.

I guess you could sum it up as a Sour-Sweet-Sleepy time. However, in spite of the daily feasting element, the dominate sense that pervades is more Sour-Sleepy… it is a tough month, for the fasters – regardless to their motivation and degree with which they comply.

Additionally, I dare say, it is a tough month for the non-fasters who must cohabit with those who, to various degrees of success/failure, are coping with the rigours of the fast.

It is a time of depriving yourself and, yet, fully indulging your passions and desires; a time of not eating or drinking and yet it is a time of great feasting and prodigious immoderation.

Billed as a time of fasting, hardship, denying yourself, suffering…

And yet, whilst being all of the above, it is a time of feasting and excess and indulgence… more food is consumed during the month of ‘fasting’ than at any other time of the year.

Ramadan, is a time of suffering and feasting.

But what comes next is most interesting.

After this date-shifting observance that is Ramadan, which being a lunar month, shifts some eleven days each year and so slowly moves throughout the year, is completed, it is immediately followed by the ‘Sweet Holiday’ (Turkish = Şeker Bayram).

This ‘Sweet Holiday’ I suppose is in contrast to the day-time suffering endured during Ramadan with its fasting and sleep deprivation. The ‘Sweet Holiday’ is a wee bit like Christmas.

I guess I should immediately say, a ‘Christmas’ without ‘Christ’ for this is a Muslim country and knows naught of Christmas. But if you think of the modern, secular meaning of Christmas – which by definition, is a holiday without Christ – then this ‘Sweet Holiday’ has some similarities.

Historically Christmas has been a time when families made a supreme effort to get together for the holidays. Many people, travelling from wherever they normally live from all over the country, striving to ‘get home’ for Christmas. It is a time of gift giving, true, but, more notably, it is a time when all of the family gather around the table to share a meal together. Often, this is the only time in the year when the whole family sits together around the table and shares a meal. It is regarded as a ‘positive’, ‘happy’, ‘family’ time.

Well, viewed from this limited understanding, you have described the ‘Sweet Holiday’. It is a long holiday and like ‘Christmas’ it, fundamentally, has a religious aspect which some acknowledge and many do not. People make a determined effort to ‘get home’ for the holiday. Thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands and more, are travelling at this time – with the resultant carnage on the roads as tired people push to get ‘home’ in time. It is a High and Important holiday.

Special clothes have been purchased, the children in their equivalent to ‘Sunday Best’ and family groups out visiting various relatives. It is a time marked by the giving of sweets wherever they go – remotely like Halloween, but without the threat of ‘tricks’ if not given a ‘treat’ – the sweets freely offered and received. Presents are also given.

The highlight of this time, as shared with me, is the visiting of the relatives – much like the Christmases of my youth.

It is a happy, festive time – in stark contrast to the ‘suffering’ of the fast.

Well I recall in years gone by, that here in Turkey, you had to make sure you did your shop before the holiday began, because once started, you would be unable to purchase anything that ran out or that you forgot. And doing that last minute shop on ‘Sweet holiday eve’ (the day before the holiday commences) was fully compliant to the mad rush, the crowded shops and bare shelves that are often synonymous with Christmas Eve shopping.

So, it was a bit of a surprise for me as I went out, at 08:00 on the first, most important day of the Sweet holiday on my morning constitutional, that I came across a grocery shop fully open and with custom. It was not unique. Yes, most other types of shops were closed as I would expect, but many grocers, barber shops and a few other shops were open…..and the shopping Mall, which has a full range of shops, also was open on the first day of the holiday, the highest day and most important day of the holiday – albeit opening four hours later than usual.

And so, in practice, the length of this holiday, officially three days as a ‘bank holiday’ is extended to five days if you are a government employee. But the length has practically been reduced to zero for some shop owners, two days for most others and three days for others. Does this sound familiar?

What to say, in this modern time we live in, not everything is as it appears on the surface – fasting can equal feasting. Life is complex. Societies are complex.  People are complex.

Not everything is as it is billed and not everything lives up to its stated ideals.

Life is, well, unpredictable and as it is made up of individuals, it is marked by diversity, colour, variety and I suppose, glaringly obviously, individuality.

Methinks that the essential point is to not rely on the ‘broad brush’ understand for anything more than a ‘general’ notion of something. If you really want to know, you need to go deeper, and actually mix with people in their lives and their personal expression of the ‘ideals’ that are presented.

If you are unable or unwilling to do this, then know that the ‘broad brush’ description whilst maybe it is ‘generally true’, it is often functionally false. Indeed, for many and maybe even the bulk of the individuals who are living the reality of whatever has been described in a ‘broad brush’ style, their experience may be not just at variance, but significantly ‘other’ to what is commonly described.

Be careful with value judgements and pronouncements about things known only at a distance and second-hand.

Let me begin by saying that this may seem like a complete ‘rant’ and I suppose it could be considered that.  But my intention is more of a contemplation, and, as such, is not meant as a critique nor judgement on any individual. To fully understand what I mean by this statement, I commend my blog titled “Righteous Selfishness” to you.

If you find what follows to be somewhat ‘harsh’, that, again, is not my intention – the events described happened and in my account I am giving voice to the feelings and experience of many.  However, I hope, for those who persevere until the end, that the conclusion is both encouraging and edifying – for that is my ultimate goal.

Let the ‘rant’ commence….

For the Southeast Regional Family Camp, the Christian saints from as far east as Van, as far west as Mersin, as far south as Antakya and as far north as Erzurum gathered on the shores of Lake Hazar southeast of the central Anatolian city of Elazığ.

The multifarious purposes of this annual gathering include: to provide a ‘holiday’ for people who have never known what a ‘holiday’ is; to provide an opportunity for believers to develop deeper relationships with one another from the same fellowship and with believers from other fellowships in the region; to worship together in a large group which is in stark contrast to what the normal small, sometimes very small, fellowships experience on a weekly basis; to provide an opportunity of challenging/encouraging teaching in the morning sessions which is followed by small groups studies based on the morning meeting and equally challenging/encouraging preaching in the evening meetings.

These are many diverse purposes and, by and large it succeeds year on year. This year we celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Family camp with something like ten or so different fellowships represented.  This gathering is a grand statement to the fact that there is one body, one Lord, one baptism and one faith. There is diversity and variety in the various expressions of faith in these fellowships.

In our Western expressions of faith we often resort to a kind of short hand when we first meet a believer – we use a kind of denominational pigeon-holing to quickly assess one another and have an understanding of where we think someone is coming from.

Today I am led to believe that this denominational identification is not as absolute as it was in my youth, but, by and large, it is still utilised, but maybe, by people of my generation.

When we have foreign visitors, there are two fundamental questions I know will be asked – they may be asked in different ways, but with the same objective: what is the ‘denomination’ of the local fellowship and where are we, as foreign workers, from.

For me at least, both questions are not at all easy to answer.

Often, here in Turkey, the question of ‘denomination’ is very hard to identify. Here, the saints are, well, saints – many, nay, most have no ‘denominational’ tag or label.  Even in a Turkish fellowship birthed by a foreigner with a clear denominational identification – which they then pass on to the local fellowship (for example: İzmir Baptist Kilisesi – an English word imposed on the Turkish name of the fellowship)  – the local saints are often ignorant of the meaning of the denominational label and hold it loosely.

Generally speaking, the local believers believe the Bible and use it as their absolute guide – basically they say, if it is in the Bible, then they endeavour to do it, and if not, well, then, not.

This is especially true in our fellowship in Antakya which has no denominational tag – the local Turks identify themselves as ‘Christians’. When pushed, they will use the word ‘protestant’ to mean, not Roman Catholic, not Orthodox, not Jehovah Witnesses and so, by default, Protestant – but we are not protesting against the Roman Catholic Church nor are we defining ourselves in relation to the Roman Catholic Church, rather we are striving to live a life true to the Word of God and true to our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

The goal of the Southeast Region Family camp is not to create a Turkish denomination, whereby we would all adhere to our own, unique, take on scripture and follow the same ‘common book of prayer’ – but our goal is, in our diversity, to celebrate our uncompromising common core beliefs in Christ and as we gather, to be built up in the Body of Christ – allowing for differences in practice and allowing for diverse understandings of ‘disputable matters’.

The morning meetings this year were taught by a Turkish brother from Bursa which is in the west of the country and the evening sessions were taken by a Korean brother who, although now living in Korea, has lived for many years in Turkey.

The speakers were selected, asked, agreed and organised many months ago.

This year, after Family camp had commenced, there came along another Christian brother, who, I believe, is from and ministers on the island of Crete in Greece. He is known by a local leader in a fellowship in the Southeast Region. Together they approached the Camp Director to have this brother in Christ preach at camp. They made this approach in spite of the facts that the speakers had been long selected, that they had prepared and, at that time, were engaged in executing their responsibilities.

As I’ve said, at the camp we have believers from all over the region and have about ten different fellowships represented – different gatherings with different practices but all united in the core of belief in who God is, who we are and who Jesus, our Saviour and Lord is.

Anyway, this chap dearly wanted to preach to the gathered saints.

Oh, I should mention at this juncture that he does not speak Turkish and the gathered saints do not understand English – any sharing could only be accomplished via the tortuous route of interpretation.

Years ago we had interpreted speakers at the Family Camp, but due to the multiple inherent problems of interpretation, we, at the Southeast Region Leaders group made a collective decision that, especially at the family camp, we would no longer have interpretation. The message had to be delivered, direct, spoken in Turkish without interpretation – the speakers could be foreign, or could be Turk – that was not the issue.

As stated earlier, at this year’s camp the morning speaker was a Turk from Bursa and in the evening a Korean who shared in Turkish. This decision to no longer have interpretation was jointly agreed and I believe it to be a very sound decision.

In any event, our unexpected and I dare add, uninvited, brother asked… and asked… and asked…. to be able to speak – preach – to the saints gathered at the Family Camp.

Turks are a very gracious people and in the end, the camp director graciously agreed that he could share for ‘ten minutes’ in the prelude to our sharing the Lord’s Supper.

The day of these events, being a Sunday, we had planned a joint celebration of the Lord’s Supper which had been added in between the morning message and the small group sessions.

Evidently this brother found the limit of ten minutes to be too restrictive and so he beseeched the Camp Director if it couldn’t be longer and after much persistence, it was reluctantly agreed for him to present a ‘twenty minute’ introduction and preparation for the Breaking of Bread together…..

This decided, it was then that the camp director had to leave the camp site on other Camp business.

So, after the challenging and I felt, thought provoking morning session by our scheduled speaker, delivered as it was, in native Turkish, this brother came forth to preach.

As this was unplanned, a foreign brother was summarily dragooned at the last moment to act as the interpreter.

As I stated, this unscheduled, visiting speaker, would be preaching in English – again, a language that is not generally understood by the Turks, Kurds and Arabs gathered.

And so he commenced.

And once begun, the speaker spoke on, beyond both the initial time frame of ten minutes and then beyond the latterly agreed twenty minute time frame.  He seemed to have no end in sight, so, at one point a message was passed up to the interpreter stating that the speaker was encroaching on the time dedicated for the small groups and he should wind up.  The speaker, who was not told the content of this message, seemed annoyed that a message was being passed….

Suffice to say that when the Camp Director returned from his task, forty minutes from the time he departed, the speaker was still waxing eloquent.

And now the key question, what was his topic – this vital message that the saints from all over the Southeast region needed to hear?

What was this essential teaching that rode rough-shod over the programme, and for me at least, succeeded in drowning the previous teaching (in wonderful and clear Turkish)?

What was so indispensable that justified the usurping of time devoted to the small group sharing time – which is an essential element in understanding and applying the morning message and additionally in building relationships between believers from different fellowships…. ?

What was it?

What was so vital, important, essential, indispensable for us to hear?

Now, before I answer this reasonable query, let me stress, that this speaker is a brother in Christ, one whom God so loved that He gave his only Son to redeem. Let me clearly declare that this brother, no doubt, prayed about what he was about to do, and was seeking, in his own way and understanding, to share that which would be of benefit and blessing to the saints so gathered.

Let me reiterate, I am not attributing any negative, evil, selfish, carnal, arrogant, self-obsessed or any other appellations or contrary motives to the speaker. I am not doing that – and if my presentation gives rise to that view, I apologise.

However, what I am endeavouring to communicate and illustrate is the complexity of saints living and sharing with one another and fellowshipping together… but, remember that we are all declared saints by God, we are all redeemed by the Blood of Lamb, we are all ‘sinners saved by Grace’, we are all in our own place in growing in Grace and learning how to please our Lord and Saviour.

The ‘speaker’ is a brother in Christ, he is a ‘saint’ in Christ, and he is striving, to the best of his ability, to please Christ and serve the Body.

Now, the answer to the question: what was so vital, so important, so essential, so indispensable for the saints to hear.

His rather long, interpreted, message was on what the physical elements used in the Lord’s Supper should be constituted of.  His teaching, was not unique to him, I’ve heard it before. Basically, he presented a clear case that the bread to be used in the Lord’s Supper must be, note: not can be, nor is best to be, nor even should be, but absolutely must be unleavened bread.

Now without going into the rights or wrongs of this interpretation, let me remind the reader, he was not speaking to just the leaders of the various fellowships, nor was he an invited speaker, nor was he speaking to address a point of controversy or friction within the Southeast Region – he was an uninvited interloper and this was his chosen topic.

As declared, the Southeast Family Camp is a gathering of many, diverse and different wee fellowships scattered over a large geographic area and who come together in this manner but once a year to be edified and be built up in the faith. We gather, to grow in Grace, to grow in our understanding of the Body of Christ, and yes, to receive teaching other than from our own leaders.

But, it should be noted that the invited guest speakers and organisers of this Family Camp recognise the diversity that is the Body of Christ and within the Southeast Region. Speakers are not selected because they represent or favour any particular doctrinal expression of Christianity – speakers from various persuasions have been invited in the past. Having said that, none have run rough shod over all and imposed their own understanding and way of doing things on the gathering.

Well, that was the case, until this day… but then, he wasn’t a selected nor invited speaker.

Personally, I can not think of a more inappropriate venue to deliver such a message. I will make a little comment on the content of the message, but the issue is more the manner, timing and venue of such a presentation and how it came to be.

There were many fellowships present and as a collection of fellowships, we endeavour to respect each fellowship – we agree on the core, essential beliefs, and let the differences that always exist, to, well, exist…

For example, some fellowships limit participation in the Lord’s Supper to baptised believers – others do not recognise such a limitation – in the sharing of the Lord’s Supper at Family Camp, the saints are instructed to follow the custom of their home fellowships as we share together.

Some fellowships have identified with a historic denomination, most others have not, some are rather ‘charismatic’ in their form of worship, others are decidedly not – there is a rich variety in the expression of faith in the diverse fellowships.

Whilst it is true that in the context of relationships and with mutual respect, these issues can and perhaps should be discussed and explored… but not, as on this particular Sunday, presented to all and sundry as the one and only interpretation of this particular, disputable topic…

The verse that rose in my mind as he presented his absolutist vision of the Lord’s Supper, were the words of our Lord when he said to the Pharisees, those masters of the Law, “go and learn what it means that I desire mercy not sacrifice” – something they were unable or maybe it would be true to suggest, that they were unwilling to understand… the law was written, it was tangible, it was clear and something they could dissect and render clear interpretations on… and they were in a very long tradition… And yet the Lord, the one who ultimately had instituted the sacrificial system, drew their attention to “I desire mercy not sacrifice”… the heart over the technical details…

But, I dare say, on this day, our unexpected speaker was not expressing the conclusion of that particular lesson…

The ironic bit was, after this absolutist, black and white, uncompromising and forced teaching on what the physical elements must be (unleavened bread, and proper wine), we, the gathered saints broke bread using good, common, Turkish (leavened) flat bread.

I did not observe what the speaker did with this element. Later I learned that he had wine purchased to replace the Sour Cherry juice that had been prepared and also had insisted on ‘unleavened’ bread – which, simply put, was wholly unattainable.

Please, don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with unleavened bread – it was the manner, the uncompromising character, the absolutist nature of the teaching… which seems to render the Lord’s Supper to become something less about ‘remembering Him’ and ‘showing the Lord’s death’ and more about what the physical elements used are… and doing ‘it’ right…

I suppose by implication, this teaching introduces limitations on being able to celebrate the Lord’s Death ‘till He come’ according to the availability of the ‘proper’ elements… The speaker did not say that, but the implication seems to present itself.

Now, after a tour de force that was this unplanned dogmatic presentation, how can you add something negative to this?

Is it even possible?

Well, it seems the answer is, yes.

After what many felt was a debacle, the speaker had the audacity and temerity to go to the evening speaker and ask him to step aside and give the prime evening speaking time to him.

Yes, he asked the invited speaker who had been specifically asked many months prior and who had come from Korea – a significant distance – to share, (and he was sharing directly in Turkish,) to yield to him.

Words fail me…

… utterly fail me…

It beggars me to try to understand this mind set…

Yes, there is one body.

Yes, there is one Lord.

Yes, there is one Spirit.

Yes, there is one Baptism.

Yes, there is one head of the Body.

This interloper, this individual, this uninvited speaker, is my brother in Christ. God loves him unequivocally. God loves him so much that He gave His one and only Son that he might live.

This is truth. This is reality.

And yet, what he did was profoundly inappropriate. It was, by any definition, inconsiderate of others and it was indescribably offensive to ignore the local leadership and programme.

It was unbelievably… again, I am at a loss for words… and it could cause the stumbling of some…

Is his view on the elements for the Lord’s Supper right or wrong?

That is really not the question. That can be discussed at another time if people feel it needs to be explored, but the topic of his message is only part of the problem.

I maintain that this was not the venue, that this was not the time, that this was not, by any definition, in the very least, helpful to the saints gathered.

Please, consider where we live. Consider the times we live in.  Consider that death, and a violent death for believers, is not a remote, idle possibility, but a very real potential. Consider we had at camp those whose father, husband, co-worker, who, together with two Turkish brothers were brutally murdered for their faith, just nine years ago in the nearby city of Malatya.

Considering these realities, I maintain that this was not the message to forcibly bring to the saints so gathered.

When you face death, violent, vicious, bloody death and rejection, cursing, torture, ‘remembering the Lord until He come’ is paramount – surely the actual elements used are secondary… not unimportant, but I suggest, secondary… to daily remembering Him who endured so much for us, who gave His life that we might live.

Please, Pause and Consider – please ruminate on the state of affairs of where the local believers live, especially those of us in the east of this country… mull on the daily challenges that our local brothers and sisters face, with a raging war just over the border, sectarian violence within the country, ethic atrocities, fighting, terrorist outrages and not just the spectre but the very real presence and activity of that black organisation of death and terror – IS, existing, planning and executing its brand of Islam and terror here in this country.

Those who live in countries where the mere threat of IS causes you to ponder and reflect, consider your brothers and sisters here, who live cheek by jowl with the reality that this group lives, and I dare say thrives, here and they pose a special, very real threat to those who identify with Christ.

So, back to our unplanned speaker, here we see that it is possible for a brother in Christ, to honestly and sincerely desire to speak and share what he, no doubt, believes to be an essential message and yet to miss the mark so utterly and completely.

Indeed, it is possible, for one whose name is inscribed in the Lamb’s Book of Life, to proceed and be not deterred by the camp leadership, nor by the fact that he was uninvited, nor by the fact that he does not speak Turkish, nor by the fact that he had not arranged an interpreter.

In point of fact, in the face of such reluctance and hesitation, it is possible for our brother in Christ to diligently press on, over the top of all, overcoming all objections and feeling no shame, nor approbation, pressing on and continuing until there was ultimately no possible way forward – the evening speaker declined his request.

Please remember, Christ loves him, still.

What is the take-away, from this rather long rant?

I believe, in response to these events, the take-away application is that in whatever I do – and by inference, what you, dear reader do, is to be sensitive both to our Lord and also to the Body of Christ – it is, after all, His Body and He is the Head of that Body.

It is not enough for me to be convinced of the rightness of my message or my vision or my burden or my calling or my whatever – I do not live in isolation.

The Body of Christ is an essential part of the equation.

Therefore, if I acknowledge the Lordship of Christ and if I confess that Sovereign God is, well, Sovereign over all, then, when I have that sense that “my message” or “calling” or “teaching” or “whatever”, is so ultimately important and essential, but, at the same time, the Body of Christ and the leadership that God has placed in the Body say, “whoa” or “slow down” or “not so fast” or a simple, down-right “no”, I should listen.

Alternatively, I could simply deny the sovereignty of God in this scenario, I could just decide that I am a ‘prophet’ sent by God to the sick and ailing Church – hence their opposition – and they need to hear ‘my message’.

But, if that is my course, then I must indeed ensure that my life is a shining example of the Grace of God, the Love of God, the Holiness of God and there is full adherence to the HOLY Spirit in my living, acting, reacting and the manner in which I address my brothers and sisters in Christ. If I am to over-rule the Body of Christ, then I had better be right, not just before God, but in my living before man.

What our brother in Christ did, is both done and, unfortunately, it is not unique. This experience is a warning to me, and to all who have persevered and read this far, that individually we need to be alert, to be aware, to listen to God as He speaks to our hearts, but, also, to listen to God as He speaks through His Body – the church. The Body of Christ is His idea, His creation, His chosen vehicle, and He is the Head thereof…

It is not sufficient to be just “Jesus and me”.

Let me reiterate: it is not sufficient just to be ‘Jesus and me’.

It is simply not sufficient for me ‘only’ to be fully, wholly convinced in myself.

Ours is not just an individual faith – yes, it is an individual faith, I must exercise faith and believe as an individual, I must express personal faith in, and trust in Christ for my salvation, myself, but that belief then births me into the Body of Christ, the fellowship of the Spirit and the ultimate Lordship of Christ over me, my thoughts, my beliefs, my burdens and my vision.

Let me emphasise, I personally, must believe and exercise faith, but then I enter the Body of Christ – and from that point onwards it is the Lord Jesus Christ and me and you (plural pronoun), in other words, ‘us’.

God made it that way.

I am absolutely certain that our brother meant no offence, meant no harm, meant only to encourage and build up the Body of Christ. However, in his manner and in his message he failed to achieve these goals and only brought discord, discontent and dissatisfaction into the Body of Christ.

May the ‘good’ that I intend actually be ‘good’ and be a blessing. We are together in the Body of Christ, and it is as the Head, who is Christ, directs that we can encourage, and bless and build one another up into maturity, honouring the Lord in what we do and say.

Yes, Jesus and me, but also, us, in the Body of Christ.

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