To tell the truth, I do not travel well.  Rather than enjoying the travel experience, for me, it is more the ‘price you pay’ to arrive at your destination.

Our trip down from the UK via a Turkish budget airline was uneventful.  However, once landed, we pass through passport control and retrieved our baggage, the official bit of travelling is done.  Then the question of how to get from the airport to our accommodation for the night I could put off no longer.

Of all the various means before us, being met by friends, taking the city bus, the airport service bus or a taxi to our destination, choosing was difficult.  The city bus runs an express service to the centre of Kadıköy which is near, but not actually that close to our destination.  The Airport Service which is more direct than the city bus, but also does not go genuinely close to our goal.  Taxis go the most direct and quickest route, but this is offset by the cost.  Maybe it was the time of day, the darkness or just being tired… we opted for a taxi.

We bundled into the conveyance, I got in beside the driver and we headed off.  Unlike in London where Black cab drivers must pass the “Knowledge”, here taxi drivers rarely know exactly where you want to go but will figure it out along the way.
  Our driver first opted to avoid the E5 dual carriageway as it would be the definitive illustration of congested traffic.  I observed that as the plane landed and we crossed the E5, it was a panorama of traffic, standing still or creeping along.  I did not object to his choice.

From the airport we joined the TEM motorway, which is a road I know and would have used if I were driving.  However, our driver, feeling that traffic would be too much, opted instead to turn onto a new motorway which goes to the new third bridge over the Bosphorus.  This bridge is on the coast of the Black sea, quite a ways north of where we were and where we intended to go.

I bowed to local knowledge and raised no objections.  So we departed the road I knew and headed into terra incognito.

Mind you, I am curious regarding the new bridge and the new motorways connecting it….  I wasn’t wanting to cross back into Europe on our first night in….  This was especially true as our friend’s home is on the Asian side of the city, the same side as the airport and the motorway we were travelling on.

The driver was correct, traffic was light.  He was flying along.  I must admit I was feeling like we were being driven by a descendant of Jehu the prophet.

Our direction of travel was north, north-west.  Our friends live basically westward.  Hence, we are travelling in a negative direction, and for every kilometre north there will be a corresponding kilometre south.  I am not worried.  I trust the driver.  But… but… we are going out of our way, and at great speed….

I admit to enjoying the forested hills and travelling over impressive concrete via-ducts.  There is something impressive about being transported high over valleys.  Then I spot a motorway sign showing an exit for Umraniye.  Now, for me Umraniye is meaningless save that is where we could turn south, south-west and be really heading towards our goal.

Our driver is making excellent time, racing along in lane four – the furthest from the exit.  The first exit sign has come and gone, and still he continues thundering down lane four, traffic occupying the three lanes to our right.
Now, honestly, I am quietly concerned.  I really, really want to see the third bridge, but NOT tonight.  I keep quiet… either your trust your driver or you do not….

The exit is nigh, and dare I say at the last moment, the driver begins to ‘power over’ to the exit.  Room or no room, cars and such, are all immaterial, he is shooting for the exit…. Which we duly take.

This new road is also a sparsely utilised eight lane motorway.  With the road wide open, our driver speeds up and we take up our position, once again, in lane four.  I am much happier in myself as we are now heading directly towards our goal.  But, naturally, as we draw near Umraniye area, the traffic increases immensely.

Soon we are in a long, never-ending parking lot like experience.  Traffic, that is standing traffic, is everywhere.  The dual carriageway is no longer eight lane but six; we have road markings for three lanes, but we have four lanes of traffic jostling for position and advancement.

We are near the high hill called “Çamlıca”.  Near the top the Turkish state has built a brand new massive mosque which dominates the skyline and is visible from many miles away.  It is a glorious testament to power and influence of the government – just like the grandiose buildings that grace so many cities in the UK.  Those impressive stone edifices built during the time of the British Empire and are a lasting testament to the power and wealth of that era.

The city of Istanbul is likewise graced with many extraordinary edifices which the Ottoman Empire erected over the course of 600 plus years.  They stand as a clear and lasting testament to the power and might of that immense empire.

This latest mosque is on that scale.  But it speaks not of the past but the current state of the Republic of Turkey.
Traffic being what it was, we had ample time to appreciate the massive complex.

IMG_0327In contrast, on the back side of the hill and nearer the summit, a massive concrete pillar soars into the sky.  Still under construction, it is to be a new communications tower. The goal is to replace the rather ugly cluster of communication and television towers on top of Çamlıca, moving them to the top of the new tower.  That will be a marked improvement.

However, the tower, in its current unfinished state, looks like a unimaginative phallic symbol thrust impossibly high into the sky.   Standing without the communication rigs secured to the pinnacle nor the viewing platforms and restaurants completed, it is merely the carcass upon which the tower will be built. Yet, when it is finished, it will be a wonder to behold, soaring 365.5 metres and this from on top of a hill.  It will the tallest building and a landmark in Istanbul.

This dual carriageway, thronged with crawling traffic goes under the skirt of this hill through a tunnel.  On emerging from the tunnel, the overhead signs declare a division in the roadway;  straight ahead to Üsküdar, our destination, or right to the second bridge and Europe.  Traffic is inching along towards Üsküdar; I am happy-ish.  At the least, we are travelling toward our goal.

Our driver manoeuvres, with difficulty, to the right.  This is the exit that goes, according to the overhead sign, and to the best of my knowledge where I do NOT want to go.  I have absolutely no desire to go over the second bridge – none.

Traffic is not moving, it is stop and go with the emphasis on stop.  As I observed, our driver has, with difficulty, left the Üsküdar bound lanes and now we are estranged from them, from the lanes going where I want to go…. And by separated I mean with a substantial barrier – there can be no repentance now.

Either you trust the driver or you do not…  I sat silently.  Inside I was in a roiling turmoil.

We slowly crawl along to a road jutting off to the right – well it couldn’t go left could it, as that is where the standing traffic is.  Our driver, with purpose and direction, turns on to this road and leaves the masses behind.  The road is much narrower, only a two lane passage.  But, there are far fewer who are using it, so our speed has increased immediately.
Down we fly, following the meandering path of this residential street.  We come to a sharp turn and it is an acute turn up the hill.  We take that and are shortly going over top of the motorway that is going to the second bridge.  This driver knows his stuff.

We turn right and I am surprised at the good time we are making considering the time of day.  We are now in Üsküdar proper and heading towards the banks of the Bosphoros.  The road crested the summit, and we plunged down the narrow road towards the shore below.  We come to a ‘Y’ junction and the driver, decisively and with purpose takes the left arm.

Now travelling on a steep, narrow, cobbled road there is just enough room to pass the cars parked on one side.  Down we go, the road turns to the left sharply down until we come to a sign strategically placed across the road declaring the road closed.  There is nothing for it.  With absolutely no room to turn around, the only action is to reverse back up whence we came.  I am glad I was not driving.

Now the driver took this in his stride.  He did not throw a wobbly, nor curse the city council nor any other emotional diatribe.  He put the taxi in reverse and cautiously reversed back up the hill between the parked cars, the edge of the road and back to the curve.

Well, before we got there, another vehicle came down the same, narrow, cobblestone passage.  The descending vehicle came to where we were.  Naturally we stopped.
After some mutual stopped-ness, our driver energetically gestured to the descended one to reverse up the hill.
He did.  We did.

Finally, we arrived back at the ‘Y’ junction and this time took the right arm, quickly descending the last bit of the hill.  Once on the sea-side road we passed by the end of the road we had attempted.  The workers had not yet laid the final stretch of cobblers, the road was impassible.  Added to this was a massive pile of sand blocking the exit.

We travelled along the side of the Bosphoros coming to the major square of Üsküdar.  The city council has redesigned this square many times over the years we lived there.  Once again they are redeveloping it…  the last time for a long while I hope.

Whatever they have done, traffic was manageable, and we made it through the maze expeditiously.  There is a one-way road at the bottom of the hill to the south.  Sometimes it is a one-way up and sometimes it is a one-way down.  It too has changed many times over the years.  On that day it was a one-way up, exactly what we needed.  Up we went.

Then travelling up Doğancılar street, we passed all the roads to the left which are all posted ‘Do Not Enter’.  Then we come to the one we want, a one-way, and going our way.

We power up the road, over the summit down part way on the other side to our destination.  We have arrived.

Mind you, going this way and that, up, down and back, it all has a cost.  It came to ₺150 which is a lot of money.   Shocked me it did. Works out to about £25 or $37 USD.

Through it all, we were at the mercy of a complete stranger.  We had to trust him.  We had to have faith he would convey us to our stated destination.  We encountered difficulties, struggles, barriers, and we were not driving.  It very much affected us, but it was not ours to solve.  We were to sit there and let the driver handle and sort it.  He did.

For me, this speaks of the Christian walk.  We must trust and have faith in God.  Whatever the barriers, struggles or troubles, letting Him sort it and carry us on to our destination.  Importantly, He is not a stranger, He is not ‘sorting it as he goes along’ like our driver.  He never makes a misstep nor takes a wrong turn.

Ultimately, at the end of the day, either I trust the driver, or not…

It was in the autumn of 2003, the weather was still very pleasantly hot in Istanbul. I needed to go somewhere new in the city and I had never been there before. To complicate matters, I was not really sure of the directions on how to get there. Istanbul is a huge city – it has great communications, bus, mini-bus, underground, ferries – large and small, cable car – it is really well serviced… but, there is always a ‘but’, the population has expanded beyond the capacity of even this broad, rich and varied public transportation system.

On this day I headed out to the banks of the Bosphorus Straight – that international water-way that divides the European side and the Asian side of the city of Istanbul, that salt-water passage that connects the Black Sea and the Marmara sea – near the harbour in Kadıköy (formerly known in ancient times as Chalcedon).  I entered the man-made maze created by the multifarious lanes and a myriad of bus stands, all filled with a teeming swarm of buses that make up this, one of the multitude of city bus stations in this mega-city.

This open air station is a continuously surging shoal of city and private buses, disgorging their human cargo and reloading for the next foray as they power forth into the maelstrom of Istanbul traffic. Each bus, council or private, is prominently proclaiming the name of their destination and their route designation on the front, sides and rear of the bus.

The problem for me is I did not know nor recognise any of these destinations nor did I have any idea of where they are located in the city nor what the numbers of the routes mean. All this very valuable information, which is full of meaning for the many and yet, sadly, devoid of any practical meaning to the uninitiated such as I.

I had been instructed and was diligently searching for the ‘14Y’ designation. My problem was, I was finding a significant number of buses with destinations beginning with 14 – but, alas, none ending in all-important ‘Y’.

Finally, I caught sight of ‘my’ bus, standing at its appointed spot, across the many lanes from where I was. On seeing it, I carefully, and yet as quickly as I could, made my way, doing my best to avoid the buses powering away from their stands and heading out into traffic and other buses prowling through the narrow lanes to arrive at their appointed resting places.

On attaining the correct stand, I entered ‘my bus’ and pressed my ‘Akbil’ (a Turkish name representing ‘White Ticket’) to be rewarded with the satisfying ‘bee-boop ’ which indicated that my ticket had been accepted. This ‘Akbil’ is kind of like a key fob, but the electronic head had been charged with some money and on every use the cost of the ticket is deducted from the total. Every time you press the key fob, you hear the comforting ‘Bee-boop’ and you know you have paid the cost of the ticket – no hassling with correct change and such, it has simply been deducted from my device – what a wonderful system!

As I sit waiting for the bus to depart, I ponder the fact that I had been rushing to find the bus as I absolutely abhor being in the position where I would arrive at the appointed spot in time to forlornly watch the tail-lights of the bus powering out of the station – I dread missing my bus by a minute. My motto – ‘better a half hour early than a half minute late’.

This day I was happily early. However, in my haste not to miss my bus, I had successfully missed my lunch. In fact, I hadn’t even brought a bottle of water to quench my thirst and there was no way that I was about to leave the bus to find water.

Then I observed man boarding the bus – he didn’t purchase a ticket – in his hand he was carrying a blue pail and in the pail, proper, sealed, bottled water which he was offering for sale. Once he has visited our bus, looking for custom, he would exit and board the next bus. This water seller isn’t sitting somewhere waiting for custom to seek him out or to go to him, he is proactively out, he is diligently searching for buyers, wherever they may be hiding. He is bringing his service to wherever custom may be found.

Now, on another day, at our flat in Idealtepe in Istanbul, I heard a strange noise emanating from the street outside our home – some kind of power machine making an unfamiliar and rather unusual sound. I looked out my window and there was a flat-bed lorry standing in the street. On the back was a large table and on one side was a machine. A man and a boy were manhandling a large runner type carpet onto the back of the lorry. They twisted and turned their awkward burden, to line it up and put it into the machine and then carefully they guided the edge through the machine. Two balls of cotton or twine or some other material magically spun and twirled as the thread was pulled off and into the machine. Powering all this was a small petrol powered electrical generator. The machine itself was stitching a proper, finely finished edge to the carpet.

Not leaving any opportunity ignored, this industrious individual has taken his lorry and offers not only repair work, but people can purchase a hall runner from him and get it cut to their own, unique specifications, and then have it machine finished, right there on the lorry, outside their home.

The carpet finisher isn’t in a shop, somewhere, waiting for you to come to him, rather, he has chosen to go out onto the streets and is actively seeking for custom.

Have you ever found yourself out and about when you remember that you need something photocopied?

That is not a problem here in Turkey. Of course you could go to a copy-shop and have it done there, or you could simply pause on the street corner where a man has a photocopier and a small electrical generator, both mounted on a small cart – he stands ever ready to do your photocopying right there on the street while you wait.

And if, by chance, you want it laminated, well, there is another chap standing nearby with a cart, generator and laminator – waiting to serve you.

They are out, pro-actively seeking custom.

Sitting in your home you become accustomed to various calls resonating through the streets. The dulcet tones of a lady singing “SeeepPPPpet VaaaarrrRRRR” and you know the lady peddling plastic kitchenware is making her way down your street.

Once or twice a day you will hear the sing-song call “EeeSSssskkkiiiiJJJJJiiiiiIII—ahhhHHHhh” – the rag and bones man is making his presence known.

Sometimes the caller has a distinctive call which I have been unable to distil down into recognisable words – but everyone recognises his call and everyone knows what he sells.

The call rings forth, sounding like “SoooOOOOOooootTttt” – ah, you say to yourself, the melon seller is going by.

In fact, the sound distils down to resemble the Turkish word for milk and bears no likeness that I can discern with the Turkish word for melon, but everyone understands his unique call and instinctively knows what he is peddling.

Another variant is to change the word order. For example normally you declare the equivalent of ‘Fresh Bread Rolls’ but what a local seller declares as he walks the streets is ‘Bread Rolls Fresh’. He has made it different to catch your attention and becomes his own unique, differentiating catch phrase.

This is true for virtually everything you will need. Everything may be a bit more expensive, or there may be less selection or it may not be as fresh as you would like, but, you could practically source everything you need from your own door step.

Bottled water, plastics, cleaning supplies, clothes, cloth, blankets, shoes, sheets, vegetables, cleaning supplies – and more than I can currently recall.

All brought to your door. Full service, and with a smile.

The Turkish attitude to employment is very pro-active. If someone hasn’t or cannot find a ‘normal’ job, they may be able to create a job, to meet a need, to fill a gap; to earn a crust. As it says in Proverbs: “The appetite of labourers works for them; their hunger drives them on.” Proverbs 16:26 NIVUK

For the rest of the population, yes, they can go to shops, malls, markets and other places to buy various things – but at the same time, there is a whole army of people bringing their goods and services to whomsoever, wherever they may be.

 

(written March 2004)

When darkness fell, from deep within came a desire to be home, tucked up and comfortably resting. It had been an exceptionally fine day for February.  

J. and his fiancée, L., and T. and I had been to the old city, – the ancient city of Byzantium also known as Constantinople from the mid 4th century.  Regardless of its name, we had spent the day in old Istanbul. We had finished the day with a tour of the TopKapı palace, the seat of the Ottoman Empire for hundreds of years and now the repository of a fine porcelain collection; the treasury containing every form and description of gold, jewel encrusted ornamentation, decoration and furniture; a portrait collection of the Sultans and the leading men of the Empire; and of course the room with the artefacts from the Prophet Muhammed; an extremely old copy of the Koran, reportedly a footprint of the prophet, a sandal, some of his hair, his sword and other artefacts. 

That particular room was packed with the faithful; women in a variety of head coverings, men with the small white skull cap, and  a multitude of children, all doing a sort of pilgrimage; parents showing the artefacts to their children, adults staring at the artefacts that confirmed the historicity of their prophet; in the corner, in a booth, a man in a long dull-coloured robe with a squarish hat on his head, a clean close-cropped beard, his eyes closed, as he sat before an open Koran, rocking gently, chanting verses from memory, the sound filling the room and invading every recess of the mind.

It had been a good day. With my smaller, but good quality video camera, I had taken some, what I felt was ‘good’ “stock footage” – you never know when you may need some footage from Istanbul, the Palace or the general environs. As always the camera bag was slung over my shoulder, and as always, at the ready for that important impromptu shot. We were tired and slowly trudged back to the ferry terminal for the half hour ride across the Bosphorous, the strait joining the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmaris and ultimately the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas. 

The Bosphorous … which divides this city of 12 million into two halves, the European side – where the ancient, historic city is, and the Asian side– where we live. As always, there was a crush of people waiting in the departure lounge and when the ferry arrived, there was a mad dash to board and hopefully get seats. In one sense it is unnecessary as the ferry will take all who wish to board and there are an abundance of seats – so in all probability, all passengers will have a seat. We desired seats together, and me being me, I desired a certain part of the ferry.

The “no smoking” winds have blown across Turkey as they have across Europe and North America and so the interior of the ship is all “non-smoking”. Those who wish to imbibe must go to the open deck to engage their addiction. We settled nicely on some wooden benches, grateful for the opportunity to rest.

Normally the ferry goes straight over to Kadikoy, – ancient Chaceldon – and my plan was that we would walk the ten or fifteen minutes over to the train station at Haydarpaşa (which is also in Kadıköy but opposite the ferry wharf). It is from there that we would take the train to where we were staying (this was before we bought the flat in Üsküdâr). 

Suddenly I became aware that the ferry was slowing as to stop, not going directly to Kadıköy, but possibly stopping at the train station. To validate what I assumed was happening, I leaped up from the bench seat, left the others wondering what was causing my sudden burst of energy considering how tired we all were and I moved through the crowd to the middle door to see if we were indeed stopping at Haydarpaşa. 

Indeed we were stopping and the crowd at the door indicated that the regular commuters know that at this time of the day there the Kadıköy ferry makes a stop at the station. As the ship is nigh on docked and as it probably will not remain long at the wharf side, I hurried, through the crowd to my party.

““Quick, quick!”” I urged the others, “”we are getting off now.”” Everyone leapt to their feet and in a rushed blur of activity hustled to the departure point and the people crowding at the door. The ferry gracefully sidled up to the wharf as if the captain was parking a Volkswagen and not a massive ship several hundred feet long and carrying hundreds of passengers.

Trying to stay together amidst the turmoil, we hurried across the wharf and scampered up the stairs to the famous and historic Haydarpaşa train station. We made our way through the cavernous departure hall and out to our departure platform. 

Twenty minutes down the line we collected ourselves and disembarked at the station nearest where we were staying. As I was climbing the stairs of the underpass in the train station it struck me.

Something was missing. 

Something wasn’t right. 

What was it? … What was it? …

I stopped in the middle of the stairs and turned, a puzzled expression clouding my face. You know the feeling – something is wrong but you can’t put your finger on it. 

Then it dawned on me. 

I flapped. 

I patted my body. 

I looked anxiously at my fellow travellers.

Frantically I examined each of my companions; did T. have it, did my son, his fiancée? 

Alas no…..

My video camera – the one that went with me wherever I went, had now gone somewhere without me. More likely I had gone somewhere without it. Whatever the event that transpired, it was most definitely no longer wiht me. 

No more to be said. Did I leave it on the ferry in my haste to depart?  Most likely. 

Was it turned in to the ferry terminal?  Unfortunately not. Someone received an early holiday present – an expensive, quality camera, complete with batteries, unused video tape and some wonderful stock footage.

Regrettably, for me it was gone. And boy, have I missed it. It was so handy. It didn’t draw attention in a crowd, and yet it recorded very good images. I took it when I travelled and it allowed me to “load tape” onto the computer for editing on-the-fly. And it was gone.

 Not a cheap video camera – cost £1550 GBP or roughly $3,000 USD or $3,600 CAD (all 2003 values). It was not something that I was going to replace easily or soon. 

Ahh…

“But God”. 

I love the passages in the Bible that begin with “”But God””. Although I did not have the resources to replace this camera and as I had nothing to sell and no way to “raise” or “earn” that kind of money, “God”, who can do abundantly more than we can ask or think provided and now we have been able to replace the camera. 

Wow ! God is Great ! God is Gracious !

Gracious because it was my own haste and lack of attention that resulted in it being left behind. Grace – undeserved, unearned favour.

God is many things, all knowing, all powerful, Creator, Sustainer, Judge, Holy but maybe the two most powerful attributes of God are His is Love and His is Grace. 

 Without these two, where would we be….where would I be?

(written January 2005)

T. gazed out the window at a sunny Sunday morning, the opposite shore of the Bosphorus Strait glistening in the early morning light.

However, when it was time to leave for the morning meeting the clouds had descended and were now on the ground, a strong north wind was howling down the Strait and the snow, yes, snow, was driving horizontally past the window. We bundled up in gloves, hats, scarves, coats and umbrella. The umbrella was not something T. would have normally used, but she thought it would help keep some of the snow off her.

The crunch of snow – there must have been six or seven centimetres accumulation in that short time between our earlier appreciation of the Bosphorus and our departure, was an unfamiliar experience. The good thing was there was little to no traffic – all sensible people were warm and cosy inside.

By the time we arrived at the ferry terminal my glasses where covered over in wet snow. I couldn’t see. T., with her umbrella held like a shield in front of her, was only marginally drier.  My front was covered in snow from head to toe; of course, I had no snow on my back. We went to the ferry terminal to find that although there was a ferry at the quayside, the ferries were not running.  Why?  Due to the weather.

These great big massive ships, with the capacity to 5500 – 700 passengers were safely tucked up to the quay, draped in snow. So we moved to the next quay where the little motorboats with a capacity of 100 – 250 passengers ply the same route – these were running. I thought it strange – the large ferries were not running because of the bad weather, but the little motor boats ply on… We bought our ticket and boarded for the short hop across the Strait.  The boat was not crowded, again, sensible people were still tucked up in their beds, or observing the weather from the comfort of a soft chair, gazing out of the window with a hot cup of tea in their hands.

At the Assembly we found some people there, but the foul weather was going to have an impact and the number of those who would be able to make it in, would be diminished. At first I thought that was a shame as we had a guest speaker from Scotland sharing in the morning meeting.

The meeting would be starting late, so we had a nice warm cup of tea to take the chill, that we had collected on our journey, off.

Before the meeting, many of the saints gather for prayer in the meeting room. By the end of the prayer time, we were running about half an hour later than usual. As we got up to get ready for the meeting, we saw a group of people at the back of the room – they had been there about five minutes and had waited until the prayer time was done.

A short, stout man was standing about two meters in front of the other visitors. The prayer meeting had broken up and people were scattered all around the room. The stout man began talking, his deep baritone voice filled the room. The tone was direct, forceful, not friendly and as he talked the edge in his voice became more hostile.

My Turkish impeded my understanding of all of what he was saying, but I could tell it was unpleasant and the repeated statement that he was prepared to give his life and take life made it clear that he was making a most serious threat.

He spoke. He made his statement. He made his threat. He then gathered the others, his family it transpired, and departed.

It seems he feels he is owed money from the church and he is threatening people with death if he doesn’t get what he feels he deserves.

He struck me as one who was not cohabitating in the same reality as me, as one who had lost touch with common reality and is living in a reality of his own creation – or one who has been or is being influenced by demons. Either way you cut it, not a pleasant situation.

This fellow was once part of the fellowship; once broke bread with the saints, once taught from the Word, once carried responsibilities in the fellowship. Now he is threatening people and is reportedly part of an Islamic extremist sect.

The guest speaker who shared a bit later in the morning did not know what was going to transpire on the day – But God did. The word he gave was extremely appropriate to the events of the day and drew our focus back to real Reality and He who is our Lord and why we are here.

The snow too, was a blessing, as the witnesses to the event were fewer than would have been expected had there been no snow and had his statement been made during the actual meeting.  The snow was also a barrier to any visitors who would be enquiring as to what we believe being present – such a scene could have been a stumbling block to them.

There is a Spiritual Battle going on. It is serious. People have received death threats from credible sources. The Church is being shaken. But God….

But God is sovereign. But God is not taken by surprise. But God is with us “until the end of this age”. God knew the man would come, and God knew his words would have an impact. He could have stopped the man from coming, but didn’t. He prepared the guest speaker, who was completely ignorant of the man, his history and the fact that he would come and make threatening demands. And so Sovereign God encouraged us with a word from a man who was outside the situation.

But God…..

(written January 2005)

The colour of the Bosphorous Strait, that narrow passage of water connecting the Black Sea in the north with the Mediterranean Sea in the South via the Sea of Marmara, the Dardanelle Strait and the Aegean Sea, reflects the changing moods of the sky. One day it is a deep, almost black blue, on another a light, cheery “sky blue” and on another, a rich turquoise blue.

Today the Bosphorous was a deep steel grey colour, the surface broken by choppy waves and decorated with sporadic white caps – the colour brought on by the dirty grey clouds streaked with fuzzy black ribbons forming an image reminiscent of tattered old drapes caught on the hills on either side of the strait. The clouds were low, threatening and ominous, foreboding the impending onslaught. The wind, driven down from the north assaulted the house and howled through the balcony railings as some tormented beast trying to free itself from captivity and driven forward against its will.

Glancing to the north, up the strait towards the Black Sea, there was a large rain cloud, like an ancient battleship, settled in the middle of the channel filling the void and rubbing against the hills and clouds. Stealthily moving downstream, rain emptying from the bottom of the cloud formed great white sheets reaching from the bottom of the clouds to the troubled surface of the water, clogging the strait and obscuring everything in it’s path.

As it reached us, the opposite shore vanished from sight and all became engulfed in a grey world of cold, rain and wind. The house shook, the waters descended, and we could see nothing out the windows but rain and grey clouds to the accompaniment of the tormented gale.

As it slowly passed, plodding onwards, assaulting the old city to the south, the shore opposite us slowly and reluctantly emerged from the long white tendrils of falling rain trailing along behind the storm front. The ferries were once more visible and the life that was going on during the storm was again in sight before us.

Days before, when we returned to Istanbul, on the trip from the airport to the flat we asked a Turkish brother who had met us how things were in our absence. I was not in the least prepared for his response.

We were aware that there had been a large, legal distribution of New Testaments over the Christmas period: some 54,500 were given away on the streets of Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir. As this was a legal distribution, with all the required permissions, the police were present to ensure the freedom of those distributing the New Testaments. Great! Praise the Lord! Wonderful!

The counter-point to this tremendous outreach has been a virulent, public, sustained and extremely vocal reaction. Believers have been threatened, many feel intimidated. There has been a veritable flood of newspaper articles, television programmes and magazine articles – some accurate, but most inaccurate – that incite peoples’ emotions and engender much heat and smoke but precious little light.

Now nearly a month after the distribution I have before me three magazines, samples of what is still occurring in the press. One, on the front page, has the title “”What is the Goal of the Missionaries?”” a full colour, nine page spread with photos of an church, elders, people, books, maps and comments by both believers and “experts”.

They begin by saying that there are “33 thousand house churches and 55 thousand believers” – we wish it were true!  And they claim that we stuff dollars in New Testaments; and have distributed 8 million so stuffed !

The second magazine has on the front page the title “”The Missionaries’ Plan for Turkey””. The third example is a full page article titled “”The Religious Problem in Turkey EU Relationship: Missionaries””. This article is laced with inaccuracies, exaggerations, distortions, misrepresentation and errors. The author is reflecting his own genuine beliefs, apprehensions and fears concerning missionaries, their practices, beliefs and goals. He is in error, but he writes from a position of respect and authority in the community.

In these articles the motives, methods, goals and desires are all grossly misunderstood and erroneously portrayed.

There is a storm raging, visibility is obscured, rain in driving down and the howling of the wind fills our ears. Life goes on, but you can not see, you can not move, you can not act as you did before the storm. This storm will pass – but not just yet. Some of our brothers and sisters are intimidated and disturbed by the furore. Others are encouraged in the Lord.

The believers, local and foreign alike, none of us, are impervious to being influenced by such a torrent of attention.  As winter storms come and then pass, so too, this current bout of frenetic activity will pass. Those who must weather the storm find refuge and trust in the Lord; there we can rest in Him, and be ever ready to give the reason for the hope that we have.

And also, as the Lord Jesus taught, we need to be ever ready to pray for our “enemies”; for those who speak ill of us with no cause; for those who do not know or understand, are ill-informed; for those who actively oppose us and wish our demise. Jesus said, ““If your enemy is thirsty, give him a drink”” – Our desire is that those who oppose us the most will taste and drink and drink deeply of the Fountain of Life, that well of Living Water.

(Written August 2004)

I settled on the wooden bench on the side of the ferryboat feeling ‘bone weary’ as many of us do at the end of a busy day. Given the late hour, I was surprised by the steady stream of people boarding the ferry – mostly men worn out from their long day of toil.

The ferry rested at the quayside for about ten minutes, as if it too, was drained from it’s repetitive cycle of transporting people back and forth across the Bosphorous Strait; from early morning, through the heat of the day, and into the late evening.

You know that it is getting near time to leave when they shut all but one door from the terminal. There the man stands, ready to seal it shut, and once shut no more can board that sailing – and yet he hesitates, with grace, watching for those running to board the ferry and waiting patiently during their mad dash through the turnstile, across the waiting room and out through the last, narrow gap, mustering up one last burst of energy after an arduous day to make it onto the ferry.

The whistle sounds, the final doors slams shut, no more people will be boarding this ferry and the crew move to release the mooring lines. The ferry, no longer bound to the quay, an unnatural and restricting situation, thrashes the water as if in a hurry to distance itself from being restrained; it turns and surges into the inky black waters of the straight.

Sitting, as I was, on the outside, I leaned against the side of the ferry, throbbing with unseen power and as we moved into the dark waters my eyes were drawn from the ancient skyline of the city to the reflection of the lights in the surprisingly flat and docile waters. The night-time reflections of the lights is unlike a day-time reflection. Often, in daytime, you have an exact representation of the real buildings. At night, it is a pattern of lights, some dim, some bright, some white, some yellow, some differing colours – a pattern made by the original, and yet, unrecognisable as to the structure being reflected.

The wind created by the speed of the ferry through the waters, washes over me – a refreshing touch after a hectic day.

The day actually began on the ferry, heading the other direction, towards the city centre with the airport as my destination. We had been shooting a series of viseo messages on the first three chapters of Genesis and the speaker had to travel to another city; today, this morning he was travelling back and I was going to meet him at the airport and conduct him back home to finish the shoot. We would record four more messages and then he would depart again for Izmir. So, I headed out, with the rush hour crowds to the ferry, changing to the tramway, and then changing to the metro (underground) to the airport.

After meeting him at the airport we travelled back to the flat by the same Metro, tramway and ferry.  Once back to the flat, we entered the “studio” – it used to be called the sitting room / dining room but by shifting the furniture here and there, a space was carved out creating a temporary studio-like area. The speaker, after a bowl of muesli which we called ‘lunch’, checked the text on the teleprompter, and we commenced shooting. Everything proceeded well until the last message. There was a glitch and we prepared to re-shoot it, one eye on the clock as we planned to leave at six to make the return trip to the airport – six was the right time to leave to get there on time.

But…

But there was a problem with the text, a couple of lines had been accidentally skipped over in the transcribing. So, a hasty correction and we begin shooting the last message. The clock ticking. The speaker did an excellent job and we finished taping at six. By the time we were ready to leave, it was 6:30 and the race was on.

When we arrived at the ferry terminal, the doors were mostly shut, and the gentleman was providing that last minute ‘grace’ as we flew through the turnstile and ran headlong through the waiting area. We made the ferry!

That was then. And now, the speaker safely delivered to the airport – the metro ride and tramway ride over – and now on the ferry I was half an hour from home. The reflected lights of the city dancing on the waters, a colourful spectacle, captivating to watch, turning the most prosaic of industrial complexes into a fascinating and intriguing pattern of light in the water.

In the same, may the labours of our hands be used of God to become captivating and intriguing programmes with all the “industrial” mechanics of the making of the programme transparent – the programmes edifying the church and being a light to those living in darkness.

 

in much the same way, in the various activities and endeavours that we as individuals engage in, may they be a beautiful and enticing reflection of the beauty and grace of God.

(Written March 2004)

T began rummaging around in her bag almost immediately, assuming that this was a once in a life time opportunity. She found her camera and began taking some quick snaps.

I stood, transfixed, drinking in the vista before us, a large body of water, narrow and long, teaming with activity as the sleek, high speed ferries carrying their load of hundreds of passengers piled their prescribed routes across and up and down the water way; then there were the independent, privately owned ferries, of a smaller size, not as fast and carrying fewer people as the city run ferries, but much more plentiful, streaming back and forth; interspersed were the high speed ferry, few of them, each carrying hundred plus passengers speeding past all other forms of public transport, their twin hulls skimming across the surface of the water; dotted here and there were fleets, more like flocks, of fishing boats, one-man operations, fishing in a group huddle, evidently where a school of fish were; finally sailing through this moving mosaic of water borne transport, the large, larger and massive ocean going ships which would enter, negotiate and traverse this motley array of vessels. Such is a typical moment in time on the Bosphorus – that international strait connecting the Black Sea with the Marmara Sea and dividing the mega-city of İstanbul into two unequal halves, one side in Europe and the other in Asia.

The water sparkles in the sunshine, a deep, almost inky hue. The surface is basically calm, but the dark colour and calm surface are deceptive, there are hidden depths, hidden dangers and hidden forces. All looks placid on the surface – but all is not as it first appears.

My eyes are drawn to a private ferry on the Üsküdâr – Beşiktaş run, travelling directly across the Bosphorus. The boat is pointed straight across the strait, the engine giving its all to cross in the shortest possible time. And yet, although the ferry is aimed directly across the strait, it is drifting down towards my left. By the time he has reached the opposite shore, he is pointing up the strait making up for lost ground. He attains his goal although not according to his intended plan. There are no straight lines when you try to cross this body of water.

Over the past month I have felt a bit like the ferry. I see where I am going, I am pointed in the right direction. I am doing all in my power to reach my goal, and yet I seem to be drifting sideways driven by unseen forces.

We found a flat we very much liked.  Then, we couldn’t afford the flat.  But, a way was found.

However, before the exchange, the exchange rate dropped – we no longer had sufficient funds to purchase the flat. And then the rate rebounded, briefly – very briefly, we exchanged our funds and the rate dropped and remained for the best part of ten years after that point in time.

We ‘bought’ the flat, completed the torturous process that lasted well over a month since the agreement was made. We had problems  gaining the requisite military approval. And then that was sorted.

Then, before we could complete, the seller was taken ill – actually not ill at all but reportedly ill, trying to get out of the deal as he felt he had sold too low.  And then that was sorted.

Then I needed to get a residence permit to complete some of the utilities.  And that was delayed.  And then that was sorted.

Finally, the flat was purchased.

Like the ferry, we have arrived at our destination, but with slippage and constantly contending with unseen forces.

Back to my view of the Bosphorus and my attention is drawn to the flock of fishing boats – seemingly stationary in the water. The men, standing pulling lines or fiddling with some fishing tackle in the midst of all the traffic, sometimes far, sometimes near to my viewing position. I am taken by these little boats, stationary in the water, “How is this possible, when the much larger ferries are being drawn irresistibly down the strait, that these little boats remain in the same position?”.

And then I see.

The ‘stationary’ fishing boats, the whole school of them, are actually slowly travelling up the strait – at the exact rate of the downward current, and hence remain in the same place. To be in one place, they travel forward; to be able to do their job they have found a way to deal with the challenge until it is second nature; looking like the most natural of things.

All of us face hidden forces affecting our lives, dreams and desires.  These are reminiscent of these underwater challenges, these currents and we, by God’s grace, find ways of dealing with, coping and overcoming them. Nothing unusual in that, it is common to us all – the key is to emulate the fishermen, find the solution and get on with the job.

(Written Nov 2003)

The sun sparkled brightly off the dancing blue waters as the sharp prow of the sleek white passenger ferry sliced through the waters, the spray arching back in living, undulating white sheets. This was one of six ferries within my field of vision, moving back, forth, up and down the crowded waterway, each with its own history, where it came from and to where it is rushing, each with its human cargo with their individual stories of mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, ambitions, dreams, frustrations and aspirations.

Mixed with these ferries, there were two car ferries augmenting the twin bridges that span the water. These car ferries loaded with cars and lorries trundle across the water. Their design has two fronts and no back making it easy to load and unload their mobile cargo. These vehicular ferries add their own dimension to these crowded waters.

There are others, fishing boats, and I’m forced to count quickly because they are small, one-man operations, some no bigger, it seems, than a rowing boat. The ferries, human and car, manoeuvre amidst one another and dozens of these little fishing boats, which seemingly are solely intent on the business of catching fish and oblivious to the frenzied ferries on all sides and often through their midst.

To this we add the motor-ferries. These are smaller than the larger ferries, which carry multiple of hundreds; these smaller motor-ferries would carry between a hundred to a hundred and fifty, and these, each on their routes ply between the opposing sides of the Bosphorus. They are slower than the larger ferries and far more numerous, twisting, turning and ploughing forth on their chosen course.

Then there are the high-speed ferries, twin hulled like a cross between an airplane and a ferry. They are fast, very fast, manoeuvring amongst the ferries, car and human, fishing boats and motor-ferries, the spray rising up like twin rooster tails from behind their sterns as they fly upon their mission to be the fastest conveyance on the water.

Finally we add the spectacle of ocean-going ships ploughing their way either up or down in the middle of the passage, some riding high indicating they are going to collect their goods and others low in the water, fully laden. Every cargo from the benign to the dangerous is funnelled from the wide open reaches of the sea, their natural home, through this unnatural environment, this narrow waterway, the banks rising close on either side and a multitude of shipping crossing in front, behind and often it seems aimed directly at them as the ferries bide their time waiting for the intruding hulks to pass out of the way so they can continue on their course across the waterway.

It is a sight that takes your breath away – you stand mesmerized by the chorography of the various elements, each intent on their own business and yet each taking its’ place amongst the whole. This view of the Bosphorus is replayed everyday – always the same and yet never the same.

Vibrant, changing, interplay, knowing and not knowing, being a part of something and being estranged from it at the same time, everyday this dance is played out – always the same and never the same.  Vessels teaming with life – or, more accurately, lives, and yet the majority is not tied to the ship – merely a passing commodity.

Life, our lives, our interactions, reflect and mirror this in a thousand ways every day throughout our sojourn on this lump of dirt flying through space. Knowing this, being cognisant of the fact that we are travelling together and not, that we are going to the same destination, and not, that we share many, many, many traits and things in common with the multitude around us and yet we are unique, one of a kind and on our very own journey.

Take care as you go, take care where you go.