(written February 2005)
The sweet breath of spring swept down from the clear blue sky filling every nook and cranny with a refreshing taste of better weather to come. Storm clouds can be erased from our thoughts when the sun shines bright and the sky reigns clear. Our spirits soar and people smile – the hint of spring works wonders.
On Sunday we left our flat in Üsküdar, İstanbul, as normal and made our way down the hill. Our flat is on the top floor of a building, at the top of a hill – every time you go anywhere, guaranteed exercise. Now when we arrived at the bottom of the hill we prepared to enter the maze. Not a maze in the British sense; a horticultural marvel where one can spend pleasant hours meandering up and down green alleyways seeking the centre or even a way out. No, our maze is the result of the construction of an Underground station or Metro station in the main square of Üsküdar – all part of a plan to join the Asian side of the city with the European side with a subway system deep under the Bosphorus Strait.
But before the bulldozers come and, er, bulldoze, the archaeologists have to dig and see if there is anything of value under the surface. In Istanbul it is not possible, I think, to dig anywhere and not find something. Üsküdar is around 2,500 years old – or older; probably the biggest historical event was the final victory of Constantine over his last opponent in the hills above the city.
Üsküdar is decorated with many fine imperial buildings from the time of the Ottoman Empire, so the site of the station and the projected path of the tube are all subject to the scrutiny of the archaeologists.
And so the square is fenced off; as is the central median of the road running beside the Bosphorus; as is the pedestrian pavement running between the road and the shore; as is half the main bus station; as are most places where we used to walk. Now, we can’t go on many of the old ways; not only is there construction hoarding blocking the pedestrian path, but there are signs, symbol signs as well as written signs saying “Do Not Walk Here” – with both types of signs, ignorance can not be claimed as an excuse.
So we dive into our Maze and search for a way to the other side and the ferry quay. We dodge this way and that, make our way down this side street, across to the square, round the corner, down the side, across two – no it’s three – no it’s four lanes of traffic and we arrive at the quayside.
In a few minutes we are on the ferry, across the Bosphorus and shortly we arrive at the church building and find our places in the meeting room. The room is filling fast and there is a sense of anticipation and excitement in the air. The main meeting room was extended in the autumn and it is filled to capacity – I sense the need for another extension to the building.
A Turkish brother opened with a good exhortation, and after prayer, began a time of singing worship. Our combined voices filled the room as with a sweet perfume, flooding every corner and permeating every aspect. Interspersed between the songs people lifted their voices in prayer to the Lord.
Finally four people were invited to the front. These who had decided and committed to follow the Lord were now prepared to follow Him in the waters of Baptism. They came forward, three males and a female; one was a foreigner, the others Turkish.
In these days when believers and missionaries and churches seem to be the object of disproportionate interest and media hype; in these days of negative, strident TV programmes, newspaper and magazine articles; in these days where one who for thirteen years was called “brother”, who was numbered amongst us, who read the Word of God and studied it, who preached and shared and now deny openly the Faith, deny the Lord and deny the Body of Christ – this publicly and repeatedly; it seemed amazing that in the midst of all this, four would at this time, in this place, declare their Faith, declare their allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ, declare that “for me to live is Christ”.
The sweet breath of spring swept down from the clear blue sky filling every nook and cranny with a refreshing taste of better weather to come.
That morning in the meeting, clear testimony was given, and then, one by one, the four entered the waters of Baptism. This was not merely entering a tank dry and coming wet, this was a powerful proclamation of commitment to Him who is over all and this, in spite of all that is happening in the country.
When the four returned from drying off, they again took their place in front. Now, one by one, many of the gathered saints rose to read from the Word and encourage them. Again and again through words, scriptures and prayer they were committed to God and the recurring theme was “now you will be tested” and “the enemy of our souls will attack.”
Not nice sounding words. Not pleasant thoughts. But very real and very practical and here, very normal. They will face testing – not might, not maybe, not possibly, they will face testing.
Day by day, when I encounter a newspaper rack, I am confronted with headlines continuing in the current trend, decrying missionaries and not alleging but declaring without proof or evidence, the missionaries’ perceived devious, insidious, political aims. Week by week we see programmes on TV where missionaries and their suspected activities are discussed – often with local believers called upon to represent the Christian side, I am reminded that the winter storms have not yet passed.
But, there is the sweet breath of spring; encouraging events are happening, people following on with the Lord in the face of general, vociferous opposition, Turkish believers giving good testimony on the TV programmes, the Christian magazine that was recently published giving voice to the Christians.
As winter comes nearer to an end, the sweet fragrance of the coming spring encourages us, our hearts cry is for a spiritual ‘spring’ in Turkey.