The venue where the Antakya Christian Church gathers is a rented former courtyard house in the oldest part of the city of Antakya. It is not overly large – but we’ve been gathering in this location for over ten years now and, well, it feels like home.

It is known in the immediate community, and over the years, many have come and visited with us there, sharing in our special occasions, Easter and Christmas and many other events.

But it is rented. The rent, as rents do, continues to increase year on year. In the beginning, the fellowship was able to meet the rent. However, over the years, we’ve passed the point where the believers are able to do so; every month there is now a short fall.

In former times, the landlord, a Turkish, ‘Greek Orthodox’ gentlemen whose house is adjacent, would provide his large garden and its most important feature, in the midst of his garden, a large water feature for Fellowship baptisms. It was within this water feature that a number of believers have been baptised.

Sadly, our landlord has passed-on and with his passing, so has passed the opportunity to use his ‘water feature’ as our impromptu baptismal pool.

Recently, a brother declared his desire to obey the Lord in the waters of baptism and that raised the question of where were we to do this?

In the past, in addition to the landlord’s water feature we have conducted baptisms in the Mediterranean Sea. The sea sounds like a idyllic place to be baptised, but the reality is, it is over thirty kilometres away and large sections of the beach are subject to a vicious rip-tide. Added to this is the complication of transporting everyone who would like to be there to the baptismal location, thirty or more kilometres there and naturally, another thirty or so kilometres back. A local venue is our clear preference.

As it is our understanding and practice that baptism is by immersion; a bucket or font does not fill the bill.

One possible solution was to construct a ‘water feature’, that is a baptismal pool, at the building we rent for the church, but:

• we are renters – we may have to move at some time in the future

• the property is small, and to put an adequately sized ‘water feature’ in the stone clad courtyard would dominate the courtyard to such an extent that it would impede our fellowship times, fellowship meals, and the children’s work

• we can not built the baptismal pool indoors as, well, there really isn’t any space to do so within the church building.

And so was born the notion of building a ‘water feature’ in the courtyard of our home, which belonging to the elder and will always be available for our use, and use it for Fellowship baptisms. Our courtyard is larger, and whilst the Baptismal Pool will dominate it, it would not impede the activities that occur in the courtyard.

So, we embraced this solution with the desire to have it built and established quickly to enable our brother to be baptised.

Two young people from the United Kingdom came down to help with the refugee ministry and, they declared, in any way they could be of a help.

We took them at their word.

They helped with the refugee work. They helped with the children’s work. And they helped with this baptismal pool project.

We felt that if we built the baptismal pool on top of the courtyard floor and with it being deep enough for a baptism, it would stand rather tall – too tall. Consequently, it was decided that we would drop the bottom of the pool lower than the courtyard floor. In this way, with part of the pool below the level of the courtyard, less would be required to stand proud – the required depth would be created without being too high in the courtyard.

To go lower than the courtyard required breaking open the floor and digging down sixty odd centimetres. This was no mean task.

Digging the pit is a task in and of itself, but it is not just the digging, but also the bagging up of the spoil and then lugging it out of the way, that makes this such a laborious task. With over one and a half cubic meters of compressed soil, broken up and dumped into bags, this equated to a disproportionately large number of bags.

The need to dispose of all the bags was a constant pressure dogging me. It is not enough to create the hole, it was not enough to bag the spoil, at some point it would need to be dragged, lugged, cajoled or otherwise removed from the courtyard and loaded (let the reader understand ‘lifted’, hoisted, manhandled) up into a lorry for transportation and disposal… somewhere.

The courtyard tiles were carefully lifted and cleaned as they were needed elsewhere, and our two, hearty and hail young people threw themselves at the task of excavating the hole.

Slowly, layer by layer, the pit, about 1.70 meters by 1.86 meters rectangle, was excavated. Beneath the courtyard tiles there was a sand layer of about five to seven centimetres deep – we bagged this relatively clean sand up separately as we felt it may be required later in the build (it was). The sand had been laid over a compacted layer of stones. Together this formed the base of the current courtyard tiles. Below this, as we dug deeper, we passed through various levels until, at about 60 centimetres down, we encountered an old level surface. This appeared to be constructed of cement, so, it would not be really old. As this was at about out desired depth, we stopped excavating.

I confess, it was rather satisfying to look down and see a smooth, flat bottom to the pit.

However, it was less than satisfying to look all around at the bags and bags and bags of spoil. All the bags were hand filled.  Some were on the light side, easy to shift, and others were beyond my ability to shift without extreme difficulty.

It was important that the sides of the hole be perpendicular and we did work at it to ensure they were so. And, to a degree, they were… to a degree… but, in reality, they really were not.

The young people, having expended their energies and sweat, returned to the country from whence they came and the labour baton was passed to a Turkish workman who does this sort of rough construction – forms, hand mixed cement, block walls and such.

He informed me that he had experience in this kind of thing, that he had made a large pool for his children and their friends to romp around in and it has never leaked.

I found that very encouraging.

He convinced me that he was the one to do the task and besides, I dreaded the notion of mixing a lot of cement by hand, and I have no real experience laying blocks.

Before he began his task of pouring a floor in the pit and building the sides, he jumped in the hole and measured the top and the bottom of the hole. He then declared that the top was larger than the bottom. True, my eye, which is not very accurate, did note a discrepancy.  His measured discrepancy was significant – accumulative over two sides was about 15 centimetres, on the one axis and the same on the other axis.

Now that is a large discrepancy, about seven centimetres per side.

In my ignorance, I thought he would trim the sides of the pit, creating more spoil, and make them truly perpendicular; that this approach would be easier, better, and result in a stronger structure.

I assumed he would make the bottom measurements the same as the top, with straight, perpendicular sides, and that then he would pour the floor and then build the walls.

The measurements at the top of the pit are true, framed by the courtyard tiles. To make the sides right it would mean excavating the bottom reaches of the sides to extract the excess soil – I acknowledge that this would be an added task, but I did not perceive that this was an overly taxing or difficult task.

Alas, no…

His first chosen task was to ignore the wonky sides and dig a hole in a corner to accommodate the sump pump. A sump pump was required as we could not put a drain in, partly because of the depth and mostly because we did not want to tear up any more of the courtyard tiles than necessary.

Leaving the sides as they were, his next task was to cut and put some steel rods in the bottom of the hole and then to hand-mix sand and gravel and cement in a pile on the floor of the courtyard. The idea is you roughly turn the pile over and in so doing, you mix the cement into the sand and gravel. Then you make a depression in the middle of the pile with walls formed out of the sand, gravel and cement, creating a lake-like basin. This space is then flooded with water.

Once sufficient water has pooled in the ‘lake’, you carefully chop slices off the interior side of the walls, that is the walls which are all there is holding the water in. These delicate slices of sand, cement and gravel are drawn into the centre and mixed with the water.

Thus, in this manner, slowly, slowly, the original dry pile, has been turned over and flooded and mixed until it is a large sloppy, soupy mixture on the floor of the courtyard.

To cement the sump pump depression, he first, carefully, put some of this cement mixture in the bottom of the newly excavated hole and then placed an old paint pail on top of the concrete. He then poured the cement around the sides. In this way, it would be encased in cement – the plastic paint pail would remain in-situ and provide the venue for the sump pump.

Then the remainder of the cement mixture was poured, pushed and coaxed so as to fill the bottom of the hole, carefully lifting the steel bars off the floor of the pit in the process.

This task being done, he departed.

On the following day with the cement now set, our rough builder set about building the walls of our Baptismal pool.

I did wonder if he would just make the pool smaller, using the bottom width of the pool his guide and build the walls straight up from there. This would result in a smaller pool and a gap between the tiles and the wall.

That was not his plan…

The constructing of these walls was one of the more intimidating aspect of the work for me… the walls need to be right, true and well built as they will, after all, be charged with holding in a tonne or more of water.

Turkish building block – Tuğla –

The chosen building material for the walls was ‘tuğla’, a special block made out of clay and formed with a hollow, lattice interior structure. These blocks are first sun dried and then baked hard in a special oven. This is the ubiquitous building material in Turkey for walls.

They are also some what brittle. Personally, I am not so keen on them, but, as I said, they are rather ubiquitous in Turkey. They are also comparatively cheap.

Now, our rough builder had been at pains to point out to me that the sides of the pit were not perpendicular. In assessing the problem he had determined that the solution to this problem was to knock off bits of the block, that is to reduce the size of the blocks laid at the bottom of the pit so that when the wall reaches the courtyard floor level we would be able to carry on using full sized blocks.

In other words, he decided to make up for the difference in the size of the hole (smaller bottom, larger top) by reducing the size of the blocks in the bottom of the walls of the hole.

I wrote this twice as it was not what I expected, nor desired.

In this way, at the courtyard level, the blocks will be their full 15 centimetres (full sized), but, as he was aggressively knocking half of the block away (sometimes more than half) at the bottom this meant that the bottom row of blocks were a mere seven centimetres wide.

I didn’t say anything partly because I reasoned that as the soil is the backdrop to the walls, the thinner wall will have nowhere to go, the soil behind it will hold it place… but, I wasn’t happy with his methodology.

Alas, it also transpired that the special hole for the sump pump was poorly located and actually came under the path of the wall – even the curtailed, reduced wall blocks. I feared that if this was not properly addressed at some point, then it would provide a weak point – an easy path for the water to escape from our enclosure.

Now, throughout the two days of rough construction, including the essential building of the block walls, our rough builder had brought along a ‘helper’, someone less skilled than he to do the simple tasks and the basic grunt work.

After the walls were, er, ah… custom trimmed and built up to the level of the courtyard, the rough builder departed as he declared that he had some other business that he had to attend to. He was adamant that he would be gone ‘no more than half an hour.’

Now, culturally, when a Turkish speaker gives a time reference it is not intended to be a precise, digital reference. That is to say, “half an hour” is not intended to mean thirty minutes duration. It is more the emotional intent – what he was saying was he would be gone a relatively short while, do not worry…

He left his semi-skilled ‘helper’ behind to carry on the task of building the walls up to the finished height.

In the event, we didn’t see the rough builder again until the task was completed and he had to return to pick up his helper, his tools, oh, and to be paid…

Now, to be honest, the helper worked to the best of his limited ability. It is true that the size and shape of the finished product will be a lasting monument to his skill set. Suffice it to say, a master block layer he, most definitely, was not.

At this point I also learned that it seems our rough builder has a tendency to over purchase material – to avoid running short when doing a build. The problem for me is that he charges for all the material that he has brought, used or otherwise!

Now, I acknowledge that I should pay for what was used, this is as you would expect. But it was a… er… surprise for me that I was expected to pay for all the extra that he didn’t use. He had no intention of carting the surplus away, and some of it was brought in preparation for the plasterer, nevertheless this was not what we needed, wanted or expected.

Indeed, it was a rather unpleasant turn of events.

However, on the positive side, he did load all the spoil; lugging, dragging, lifting, hefting, hoisting it all on to his lorry and then he deposited it somewhere. As I said, some of the bags were a doddle to lift, and others were beyond what Health and Safety would ever condone being hoisted by anyone.

Removing all the spoil almost made his exorbitant charge worth it – almost, but not quite. I still smart when I think of what he was paid. It was the agreed price… no one to blame but me – I agreed after all…  There are times when I make bad deals… and this was one.

Now with the walls so built, it does not look like anything that could hold the waters of the baptismal pool in place. I was informed and assured, by the rough builder, that the plasterer, would line the inside of the pool with a mesh and use a special plaster that is more or less water proof. He was adamant that this combination would be able to withstand the pressures of the water.

From our projects in renovating our flat, we knew a Master Plasterer. He had been sent out to work as a child and hence, learned his trade the old fashioned way. On the plus side, he really is a master of his art, but, on the other side, he didn’t choose this profession and he doesn’t really enjoy it.

Currently he has found other employment, which still involves his plastering skills, but the work is more varied, and most importantly, the pay is more consistent. We called him to come and examine our project. In his examination, complete with a tape measure and a level he found that there were quite a few challenges before him.

It seems on careful inspection that the new block walls were not straight, were not level, and the structure was not square. It could have been; actually, it should have been, but, alas, it was not. The shape of the pool had its own, unique, kinks and quirks.

The task for the Master Plasterer was to try and straighten out and correct some of the fundamental flaws and make the top of the walls level.

On the day he came, our first task was to go and source the essential mesh which would reinforce the walls… but as we traipsed from shop to shop, he couldn’t get the mesh he wanted. In the end he settled on some plastic coated wire mesh – good stuff, but harder to work with.

Initially he said he would put the mesh on the inside and on the outside of the walls of the pool – he had measured and had me purchase sufficient material for this.

Affixing this metal mesh proved to be an unexpectedly difficult and labour intensive task. At times it seemed as if the wire mesh had a mind of its own. Even once it was fitted and secured in place, it would sometimes find it within itself strength to pop away from the wall, or to refuse to stay in the selected position that had been determined. The plasterer used nails to try and keep it fixed in place until the plaster has been applied… sometimes to no avail.

He had arranged that we would have ‘black sand’ (brought by the rough builder) for this stage of the project. He said it is the best for this task. Also, he sourced a special package of something or other which was to be mixed with the cement and sand and will make the finished plaster, water… er… resistant…

After wrangling the mesh into place and standing in the pool, he expertly applied the ‘mud’ to the walls, embedding the mesh. The notion is, the wall provides form and shape and basic strength, but it is the wall, plus the mesh, plus the plaster in combination that will, ultimately, be sufficient to contain the water. As the water pushes outwards, the mesh, embedded in the plaster, will counter this powerful force. Hence, it is the wall augmented and strengthened by the mesh and plaster which are reinforcing one another, which will resist the outward pressure of the water; kind of like a Chinese finger puzzle – the more pressure, the stronger it seems to be.

As he worked, it became clear that at one place the plaster is just thick enough to bury the mesh, at another it is three or four centimetres thicker to make up for a wobble in the wall. It is a challenge to make right something that is, well, rather wrong.

When the interior was done, he carefully extradited himself and was about to commence the exterior walls. Now, initially, he said he would apply the mesh to the inner and outer sides… now, because of the difficulty in working with this plastic coated metal mesh, he suggested this was not really necessary.

I disagreed.

I could be in error; indeed, the wire mesh may not be required on the outside; truly, at the end of the day, it may offer little structural support. But as we had the mesh, and as our initial plan was to lay it on both sides and as we had the workman to fit it, and as he was being paid for the task, I insisted.

He fitted the mesh.

In this way, all the mesh purchased was used – nothing left over.

He then applied the plaster, smoothing it, levelling it, aiming to make the best base for the finish which will be ceramic tile on the interior and stone cladding on the exterior.

He had to add more plaster to the top of the wall than he desired and felt was acceptable. But, as the walls were not level and they really needed to be.

At the end of the day, he was both done and done in. The pool looked much better – this is just the foundation for the finish, but it looks like something now.

As he was worn out, and as we had the ‘excess building material’ that the rough builder had delivered and I paid for, it was agreed that I would take the Master Plasterer home (he lives in a nearby village) in the church van. We would also take along the building materials that were extraneous to our needs. We know that he could make good use of the building material and we appreciate him and he did put the mesh on the outside as I desired, and he is a jolly nice bloke.

With the pool now prepared, we needed a Master Tiler cum Stone Cladder.

Again, due to the renovations we had been involved in, we just happen to know a Master Tiler.

Before he came, I was sent out to source the tile. In so doing, I found I had the choice of one ‘pool’ tile, and, thankfully, everyone approved of it.

For the exterior, I had in mind a specific type of stone – travertine. I love stone, and travertine is, to my eye, a very pleasant stone. I was able to source and purchase the travertine – it comes from the west of Turkey. It was about the same price as ceramic tile so did not impact the cost of the project, but will look so much better in the courtyard when it is finished.

Now this tiler is a Master – he really knows his trade. He is the one who tiled the upstairs flat, over 90 square metres. He prepped the floor, found the ‘centre line’ and drew out the tiles from there and it took him but one day to do the entire flat.

A wonderful job which was very done as well.

I thought, “For a master tiler, this wee little baptismal pool should be a trifle.”

And I suppose it could have been except everything was off.  Nothing was square and nothing was true. The plasterer had brought it much closer to true… but much closer is not the same as true.

Our Master Tiler set to work and completed the inside walls of the pool in a couple of hours.

Great.

But the exterior stone cladding, well that took a lot of time. And the floor of the pool, that was a real challenge for as as you work, you run out of a place to stand and the high walls prevent you from leaning over to complete the task… and the sump pump hole presented its own, unique challenges partly because two sides were under the edge of the wall… and it was a round hole. He is a Master Tiler, he wants the sump pump to look good as well.

In any event, by the end of the day, the task was not yet completed. He completed a 90 square metres flat in one day, but our wee pool, proved to be such a difficult challenge that one day was insufficient time.

He returned in the morning, to grout the interior and to cut and place the stone cladding for the top of the walls. These walls that are 20 centimetres thick on one side and are 17 centimetres thick on another – even the most basic elements are not true.

Throughout the project, he was cutting the travertine stone using an angle grinder with a large stone cutting wheel fitted. At one point we noted that the cutting wheel was damaged (chunks missing at the cutting edge), nevertheless, with no alternative and no spare cutting wheel, he carried on. This is definitely not what is recommended by those involved in Health and Safety. You could argue, nor is it recommended by simple common sense.

We were near the end of the stone work. In fact, we are at that stage that his helper was cleaning tools – an essential task and one left to the end of the job. The Master tiler was himself cutting one of the last stones with the angle grinder. I’m standing off at the other end of the courtyard trying to stay out of the way of the dust.

Suddenly there was this almighty BANG … I mean it was sudden, it was very loud, and it was absolute… sharp, abrupt and unrestrained. It emphatically declared something had gone very, very wrong.

The Master Tiler’s helper, who had been standing in front of the angle grinder abruptly dropped what he is doing, his hands instinctively flying to his head and he twisted and turned away, walking towards the end of the courtyard. My first thoughts was injury to the face/head.

Thankfully, he was not injured, just shaken up with a serious smack to the face and a few minor cuts. Everything missed his eyes!

It transpired that the cutting wheel, spinning as it does at an extremely high speed had burst apart; all parts of the disintegrated cutting wheel being propelled at that extreme speed away from the angle grinder. The tile master himself, was aware of the danger, and had angled the machine away from himself. He was unscathed.

The bulk of the cutting wheel, with the largest pieces which had been, thankfully, expelled backwards, away from the helper in front of the angle grinder, had flown towards our flat and towards our closed front door.

The largest piece struck the window in the door where it pierced the glass and after creating a massive hole in the window, continued travelling all the way down the corridor to the far side of our flat. The corridor was liberally littered with debris, glass and bits of the cutting disk.

Thankfully, T was not in the corridor at the time but in a side room.

That was… er… exciting.

We were all extremely glad no one was injured.

And, as is in the nature of things, the work continued.

Finally, the master tiler finished his task and now the baptismal pool looks proper. His workmanship was 100% but he was paid less than the rough builder – life is not fair.

I paid him an honest amount – he would not take more. It was the rough builder who had the inordinate recompense. The rough builder, too, has a family to support and being a small builder, work can be inconsistent – paying him more, whilst it irked me, is providing essentials for his family.

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To finish off, we had a wooden cover made for the baptismal pool. This enables the baptismal pool to function as a table when we prepare the assistance for the Syrian refugee field workers. It also is effective in keeping the children from falling in when it is not in use.

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The pool is complete, and has been commissioned – we recently had our first baptism.

The construction process has been a bit of an adventure.

What really struck me was how the walls alone could not do the task, and how the walls and plaster could not do the task, nor just the walls and the mesh… all three elements are required to make the whole complete and strong and up to the task.

Reminds me that God saves, the Holy Spirit in-dwells and the Church – the Body of Christ – provides the living context for the living out of our Faith. Or to put it another way, we have faith and trust in the finished work of God in Christ, we have the Holy Spirit abiding within us to encourage us to walk in the Way and to give us power to do so, and God has established the Church, our brothers and sisters in Christ – we are not alone, but need one another.

All three elements are necessary.

They are necessary for the baptismal pool to function.

And in the same way, all three elements are necessary for me to grow in Grace and in the Knowledge of God.

(written January 2012)

We reside in a dusty backwater of a town with a population nominally posted at 509,000.  This is rather deceptive as number is for the greater or metropolitan city – our actual part which was before the restructuring, consisted of the formerly much smaller city of ‘Antakya’ with a population of around 200,000. 

CC BY-SA 2.0 it, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=300399
Seleuceo I Nicatore – founder of Antioch

Regardless, for in reality, it feels more like a large village than a proper city.

This city, in ancient times was known as Antioch, which was founded, or rather, re-founded by a general of Alexander the Great in about 293 B.C..

Through the passing millennia, through changes in empires, ruling powers, languages, strife, turmoil and not the infrequent and violent earthquakes, the name has remained for all intents and purposes the same.  Over time it has morphed into the Turkish rendition of Antakya which is still very similar in sound to the original.

However, after being known as some derivative of this name since its re-founding some 2,300 years ago, it has now, in the last ten years or so, been rebranded as ‘Hatay’.  I’ve not found a meaning for ‘Hatay’ other than the name of the region and now the city where we reside.

Additionally, it is notable that in spite of the history that it was in this very city, some 2,000 years ago that ‘followers of the Way’ were first described as Christians, that currently there are but a small number of churches in the city.

greek-orthodox-church-of-antioch-antakya
Greek Orthodox Church

The largest of these small churches, is the Greek Orthodox Church, home of the ancient Christian tradition dating all the way back to the time of the apostles.  Then there is an extremely tiny Roman Catholic Church.  Additionally, there is a small Korean Methodist Church.  Last, but by no means least, one, also small, Turkish Protestant Church.

The physical home for this Turkish Protestant Church – the Antakya Christian Church, is a rented, old courtyard house, modestly modified to serve the needs to the fellowship.

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Antakya Christian Church

Like all courtyard houses in Antakya, the inner sanctum of the property is hidden from the street by a massive, three metre high stone wall.  I suppose in the days when these homes were constructed, they really did believe that a man’s home was his castle.

IMG_5288Typically, entrance is afforded by one single, solitary steel door.

Entering the Antakya Christian Church through its substantial and

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the courtyard of the Antkaya Christian Church

reinforced street door, you find yourself in a rectangularly shaped, 11 metres long, and 4½  metres wide, stone clad courtyard. On the right side there is a primitive, poorly constructed wing hosting two small multi-purpose rooms followed by a minuscule kitchen and finally the toilet. On the opposite side, across the courtyard is the left wing, constructed of finely finished dressed stone and looking the part of a fine old Antiochian house.

Today this wing houses the main meeting room. Formerly this space was divided into two ‘fancy’ rooms but over the years, with the landlords permission, it has been merged into one larger space with seating for about 70 souls (75 in a squeeze).

Sunday by Sunday the space is more than adequate, however, on special occasions the space can be rather restrictive – and so an idea was born.

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Currently there is a large, rather fruitful orange tree living and dominating the far end of the courtyard, but we reasoned that if we were to put a roof over the ⅔ of the courtyard remaining, then when the weather is inclement, this space could be used for children activities and, after meeting, also utilised for fellowship and drinking tea.

Tea drinking is an important social activity in Turkey.

Christmas was approaching and the church – that is the people who constitute the church – were planning on inviting those with whom we have had contact in the past year, plus the neighbours where we live, plus the neighbours near the church building – all people we have had dealings with and built a degree of personal rapport with. And so, anticipating a larger than normal number of people for the celebrations, this added a new impetus for the construction of a roof over the courtyard – and if possible, in time for Christmas.

However, there were just a few obstacles to be overcome for this to be a reality.

  • First we needed the landlord’s consent which was two-fold; consent for the actual construction of the roof and, most importantly, agreement from the landlord to off-set some of the expense of the roof against rent – after all, it will be part of his property.
  • Then a quote on the cost of fitting a roof – it had to be within our means
  • Finally, we desired, if possible, for it to be built before Christmas.

A rather tall order.

We prayed and asked the landlord, but he declined to accept a modest reduction in the rent for the next two years to off-set the cost.

Falling at the first hurdle as we had, it looked like it was a ‘dead deal’ rather than a ‘done deal’.

As we waited on the Lord, we felt it was right to offer the landlord a modified proposal, which was to hold the rent at its current level for the coming two years (meaning, no annual increase in rent). In this way, at least a part of the cost of the roof would be recovered in not having our rent increased for two years.  If this would be acceptable, the cost would be shared between the landlord and us.

To this proposal the landlord consented and so the first hurdle was cleared.

Now to get hard quotes for the work.  There was still sufficient time to get the task done before our special Christmas event.

I contacted a welder we had used in the past and was commissioned to meet him at the church, explain the task and get a hard quote. The hard quote was essential as we can not afford to have price creep – we need to know what it will cost up-front – with no surprises.

The welder came at the agreed time. The landlord also came. We talked about the task and discussed how it could be done. In the course of this discussion our landlord took a rather strong dislike to the chap – he leans over to me and muttered “Where did you find this guy?

It was not a positive query.

The fact is, he had done some work for us at our home and we were reasonably happy – happy enough with his workmanship – but clearly our landlord was not impressed with his persona.  To be fair, not everyone is enraptured with him – our landlords reaction was not unique.

We came to one of the finer points for the roof, how to deal with our flourishing, young olive tree, situated just inside the street door immediately on the left hand side.

Earlier, this flourishing olive tree had become a point of contention with the landlord – a point of contention that we felt had been fully resolved.

DSC01730It was some years ago that we had planted this olive tree in the courtyard of the church and it had flourished.  Mind you, it had yet to bear olives, but was a green, leafy, pleasant, shady addition to the courtyard.

But, it is to be noted that in its flourishing, it had now grown too high for the proposed roof. I noted that we would need to trim the top of the tree – that is the tree we had planted.

But the landlord adamantly declared: “No, it will not be touched.

He was emphatically emphatic. Our landlord could be very emphatic when he wished.

It is clear that we cannot leave a hole in the roof to facilitate the tree – it needs to be a complete roof in order to keep the rain out. Therefore, I rang the elder and we agreed that if the tree has to stay at that height, the project cannot go forward – if we are to do this project, it is either we do it right, or not at all.

Consequently, I told the welder that we had decided not to do the project and he departed.

Truthfully, I was rather downhearted at this unexpected turn of events, but, there was no choice – the landlord, well, is the landlord – it is, ultimately, his property.

The project is dead – there will be no roof.  Result: we will continue as we have been doing, so nothing has been lost except the hope and expectation.

However, as soon as the welder had departed, the landlord informed me that I needed to be at the church the next day as we will engage in reorganising the courtyard with a view to building the roof.

Say what?” I think. “One minute the project is absolutely, completely and summarily scuppered and now we are re-organising the courtyard greenery to facilitate the construction of the roof….

Rather bemused, I agreed.

The following day, a simple, hard working, rather religious labourer had been engaged by the landlord; engaged by the landlord but to be paid by the church.

His tasking for the day, under the watchful eye of the landlord, was the reorganising of the greenery.

However, before commencing work on the living, green things, his first task was to remove an old tree stump from the far end of the courtyard, under the shade of the five metre tall orange tree.

The tree stump was a stubborn, well entrenched remnant of a quince tree which had dominated but not graced that end of the courtyard.

The labourer struggled mightily with the stump. He didn’t have the correct tools for the task, but he was dogged and determined, utilising those tools which were at his disposal. Whenever he was particularly frustrated, he would exclaim “gavur” which being translated, means “infidel” in English. It perplexed me as to what I, in his view a full-blooded infidel, had to do with the inanimate stump.  What was the connection between me (or my ilk) and this passive, lifeless, wooden remnant of the once unappreciated quince tree – mind you it was proving to be very well rooted, determined, recalcitrant remnant.

These little verbal pejoratives are laced throughout the culture and language, quietly tainting peoples view and fouling their understanding of us as Christians.

In time the ‘infidel’ stump submitted to his labours and was grudgingly  dragged from its former resting place. Its final fate was to be given to a neighbour to be used as fuel for their wood stove in the coming winter.

Maybe the quince tree would find momentary appreciation yet.

Then it was the turn of the olive tree – yes, ‘the olive tree’ that the night before the landlord had adamantly, emphatically proscribed it being pruned let alone the removing of it to a new location. Now this very same man, our landlord, ordered it to be uprooted and replanted in the now vacant space left by the evicted quince stump.

To add insult to injury, midway through the relocation, whilst lying helpless on the ground, the olive tree was well and truly, one might say, savagely pruned – far beyond what we had ever contemplated, envisioned or suggested.

At this point I understood: when the landlord objected the night before, it was his way of saying, “I don’t want this man to build the roof…” and not, “I do not want the olive tree to be pruned…”

Hmm… a little lesson in cultural communication there…

DSC02390

The pomegranate tree was next to swap ends of the courtyard. Then the rather anaemic grape vine was summarily removed and consigned to history.

Finally, the orange tree was vigorously trimmed.

DSC02377At the end of the day there remained no impediment for a roof to be constructed to cover ⅔ of the courtyard and redeem the space which is lost in winter to rain and in summer to the intense Antiochian sun.

The landlord then arranged for a welder, a welder that he approved of, to come and discuss the project. The man arrived and gave us a firm, hard quote and followed on by writing up a detailed description of what he would be doing and he signed it. A written and signed statement of what the work would entail – I had never had that happen to me in Turkey before – this seemed a good sign.

Whilst there still was just enough time before Christmas for the roof to be constructed, T. and I were about to leave for the UK and so I could not be there to superintend the actual construction.

But, we had a written description of the work, and the landlord would be there, and it was in his nature to ‘supervise’, and it was being done by the landlord’s chosen welder – so there was some reassurance in that.

As we had agreed the project, in my capacity as co-treasurer for the church, I had to hand over from Church funds, a goodly portion of the price to facilitate the purchase of the necessary materials. I understood that work would commence on Monday and be completed by Tuesday or Wednesday at the very latest.

The task would be completed days before Christmas.  I was happy.

On Sunday, after preaching in the meeting, T. and I left for Istanbul in a borrowed car. We broke the trip into two parts, stopping at a near half way point in Aksaray on the vast interior Anatolian plain.  We arrived in Istanbul on Monday evening.

My first task on arrival was to ring and learn what progress had been made.  It was then that I learned that the welder hadn’t come, but I was assured, he would be coming on Tuesday.  I’m still happy, but now mixed with heavy dollop of consternation.

And so, on Tuesday I rang again only to be informed that the welder had failed to come yet again.  Although I must add that, reportedly, all the materials had been purchased and preparations at his workshop had been accomplished. I subsequently learned that on Wednesday they got a good start and erected the bulk of the steel but on Thursday the rains settled in.

Now, even I can understand a reticence to do electric arc-welding in the rain.

So work had come to a complete and absolute halt due to rain.

Time was no longer running out before Christmas – it had now run out.

The rains persistently continued through out the rest of the week – not uncommon in winter in Antakya, and the very reason we desired the roof in the first place.

By faith we were expecting a full building for the special Christmas celebrations. Invitations had been printed and given to people we had met or know – not blind, mass distribution, but focused on those we know. The roof remained unfinished and could not now be completed for Christmas.

And so we prayed.

The day of our Christmas Celebrations dawned overcast and rainy.

But at the appointed hour the rain ceased, the clouds lifted and parted.  The day brightened. There was a wonderful, dry interval that encompassed the time of the meeting and fellowship afterwards.

2011-12-26-331979_328171080546433_567032000_o.jpgWe wanted a roof to keep the rain off, but the Lord of the rain took care of it in His own way.

On the day, there were 85 souls present – 36 guests, 20 believers from another meeting, and our own folks. The building was brimming full to capacity, actually, well beyond capacity, as ten people had to stand.

Because it was not raining, after the meeting people could spill out into the courtyard and drink tea and chat. So we had room for the visitors to comfortably visit and chat afterwards without being cramped or crowded.

The roof was completed on the Monday following Christmas – ready for our normal Sunday meetings and special occasions as and when they happen.  It will be a blessing and expand our limited available space.

God does all things well and this was a poignant reminder. Our goal, in this case, was a place for the visitors to, uh, visit, and consequently we felt that this required, or so we thought, a roof. On the day, the ‘roof’ was still an unfulfilled promise.

Yet He accomplished that goal without a roof, hence keeping our focus and trust where it really, always, ought to be – on Him.

(written October 2012)

We live in the old part of Antakya – a city with ancient roots. However, having acknowledged the age of the city, it must be confessed that the old part of town is merely old and not truly ancient. This city has seen more than its fair share of the power and devastation caused by earthquakes. As a result, the city has been built, lived in, shaken, destroyed and rebuilt innumerable times throughout its long history.

And so the reason the visible part of this ancient city is merely old, that the majority of the buildings are probably in the hundreds of years in age, is mute testament to the result of the most recent powerful earthquake that occurred in 1822.

But this is predicated upon the reality that the ancient city has been fully destroyed multiple times in ancient times and therefore not much has been left as a visible heritage for subsequent generations to appreciate. In the years: 114, 342, 458, 525, 528, 565 and 587 the city was hit by repeated earthquakes and looking just at the sixth century (the 500’s) there were four significant earthquakes with an estimated total of 380,000 deaths – the first earthquake in that series alone claiming an estimated quarter of a million lives. Hence there is not a lot from ancient times, that is anything built prior to 600 AD, that was still standing even at that time.

Today, there are some notable buildings which are of a size and status that they were repaired after the last great ‘quake – but they are few and far between. Taking a strolling tour of the narrow lanes and byways of the old quarter and the observant will notice that there are a number of buildings with fine, finished stone courses in the lower reaches – often changing to a field stone construction to complete the wall to height. This mix of quality and dare I say, shoddy or primitive building methods, draws a line between the old, durable and astonishingly well-built parts and the more slap-dash workmanship exhibited in the more modern elements.

Underlying this all is the awareness that the ancient city is never very far away, mere meters beneath our feet.

Recently the local Council commenced a project to build a cable car system to take tourists from the old city to the top of the hill that rises along one side of the city.

This is a great and grand project which, initially, forged ahead with great speed and vigor.

Then it came time to construct the base station in the heart of the old quarter. The first step was to demolish the old, dilapatated shelters that were occupying the site and then to excavate the foundations for the base station. Compulsory purchase and the demolition of the old homes was accomplished in a reasonable amount of time. Then, according to a new policy in Turkey, before any excavation could commence, the archaeologists were sent in to ensure that no valuable archaeology would be destroyed in the process of building the base station.

It didn’t take long, nor did they have to go more than just under the level of the old, dilapidated structures that formerly occupied the site to discover much archeology in situ. As the soil was painstakingly removed, first walls came to light, then floors, then, as the work progressed, deeper levels. As they dug down, the intricate ceramic water pipes of the ancient sewer and water systems came to light. The work continued and deeper levels were uncovered.

Often the changing levels representing the effects of an earthquake and the rebuilding efforts. These form natural devastation levels. In the aftermath of an earthquake, it is much easier to pull out useable stone from the destruction, level the site somewhat and build on top. The archaeology demonstrates this. Sometimes later walls plough through earlier structures. Sometimes there is a distinct layer of rubble laying between levels. This also means that the city slowly rises above its previous levels, resulting in the ancient, normal street level of the city now being found multiple meters beneath our feet.

As the archaeologists went down, they travelled back in time. Wells came to light, here and there, some smaller and others larger. Then, down about two and half meters or so then came across a fine mosaic – still in its original location. This mosaic was installed in the dining room of a house, not centuries ago, but millennia ago. When I first caught a glimpse of it, peering over the protective fence as I am wont to do, I was not impressed.

Don’t get me wrong, the workmanship of this ancient mosaic is outstanding. It was the motif that was chosen for this dining room that I didn’t appreciate.

It shows a skeleton reclining at table with the fine food about.

Is it reminding the diners of the transience of life?

Or is it a comment of the meaninglessness of the things we take as so important?

Is it an ancient way of saying, “Dead men walking?”

I do not know.

But, for me personally, I do not relish the notion of eating a fine feast with a smiling skeleton staring up at me from the floor.

It was not the only mosaic found in this site. And remember, this site was not selected because people thought there was archaeology of merit buried there, but was opened up, basically at random, in the old quarter, to facilitate this modern conveyance of a cable car.

This random discovery reinforces the fact that the old city, or the shadow of the glory of the old city and the marvels of the ancient world and its workmanship are not far away, but are lying just beneath our feet.

In the course of this dig, they went down a total of about 3½ , maybe 4 metres and in doing so went back some two thousand and four hundred years in time.

One wonders what would be uncovered if ancient Antioch was not abiding under a living, modern city and hence there was the ability to take a large segment and do careful, modern archaeology – as in Ephesus. I wonder, would the remains of the ancient main thoroughfare, one of the first streets in the ancient Roman world to have street lighting, the street upon which the Apostles Paul and Peter would have strolled, come to light?

Anyways, it has been decided by the powers that be, that they will (somehow) build the base station over and above the now exposed archaeology. They will construct the base station so that it straddles over and with carefully situated piercing insert supports amongst the archaeology so uncovered and thusly creating an ‘open air’ museum of what was found, and yet, finally, having the base station for the now many year delayed cable car project.

This project has provided a glimpse of what lies hidden from sight, under our feet.  Most of what is above ground, however,  in the old quarter, is not ancient.

It is true that there may very well be ancient cut stones forming part of the construction of these ‘modern’ structures. As one wanders the lanes of the old quarter it is not uncommon to see a random column sitting upright and sticking out of the floor, in the street, beside a building, in a courtyard or even forming part of a grave beside a mosque, all mute testament to former splendour and the wonders of the ancient world.

Now our own house, for example, like many, is maybe a little under a hundred years of age – the result of a bit of a building ‘boom’ when France was the protecting power and had dominion over the province of Hatay in the aftermath of World War I.

It was during this time that the Central Park, now a pivotal focal point for the population, was constructed on the banks of the Asi River (ancient Orontos River). The French prepared the province to become an independent Republic, and constructed a number of fine stone buildings, a small Parliament, a mansion for the leader, and other governmental buildings. These were all made of fine, fitted stone and although not large in size are impressive structures even today.  The resultant republic was very short lived as its first act was to hold a referendum with the result that the Republic of Hatay became part of the the Turkish Republic.

Many houses were built at that time in a mixture of old and newer construction methods. Everything was built without regard for whatever may be ‘down below’. The construction was undertaken utilising old and tried construction methods.

As has been done for centuries, you begin by creating thick rough stone outer walls. These walls are comfortably 70 centimetres in depth. Fine cut stone – most likely made to order but some may have been scavenged from the detritus of the ancient city, were used to create a feature wall and often, fine stone was used around some windows and, almost obligatory, around the main door.

One of the distinctives of the French period is the use of rather large, impressive steel I-beams to span that space between the thick walls. These I-beams form the main supporting structure for a flat, poured concrete roof. In their day, the construction technique called for the use of reinforcing steel bar. However, now, nigh on a hundred years hence, it is observed that this steel has been subject to the cancer of rust and over time the integrity of the concrete is somewhat compromised. This is universally true for all the buildings constructed at that time.

The ceilings are high, the interior height of the average room is 3½ metres. This creates a space which tends to be cooler in summer. Again, in a nod to the old building principles, in various places in the thick outer walls, cupboards were built in to hold the bedding and other things, which, traditionally, were stored in the daytime in the cupboards, brought out for the night and returned in the morning – rooms being multifunctional, day room in the daytime and bedroom at night.

It seems, as well, that there was no understanding of what a ‘damp proof’ course is and so these stone walls are directly connected to the foundation and hence to the soil. The result is capillary action which draws moisture up from below creating a chronic problem with damp and mould in these substantial outer walls.

The old quarter is noted for its narrow and twisty lanes. Often the houses are constructed so close together that the roofs overlap above the ‘lanes’. In summer you are granted a shady relief from the relentless summer sun. In winter, the runoff may mean there is no dry place to walk as the water is forced to flow in the narrow pathway. Throughout the old quarter there are innumerable cul-de-sacs which come to an abrupt end.  In this warren of streets, half streets, lanes and byways, even some of the ‘through roads’ that exist can be reduced to just over a meter in width.

In the old quarter, many of the houses are legitimately old – but at the same time, all of the houses, those two hundred or possibly older and the newer ones, well, they all look old.

As has been observed, some have exquisitely cut stone foundations that speak of a more prosperous time when houses were made from dressed stone, finely fitted together, from foundation to cap stone. For some, that ‘prosperous’ time may have been hundreds of years previously, for the wealthy have always be able to build in quality. Some of the dressed foundational sections speak of a durability and resilience that is bordering on the thousands of years.

Most of the houses have rough, uncut or roughly cut stone walls speaking of a time when there were not the resources, or the skill, or the desire to make meticulously cut stones precisely fitting together.

This is most graphically exposed when you see a combination, the lower courses of the building made of fine dressed stone, well-fitting even today, and the upper courses are composed of the rough cut and uncut stone.

It is incongruous to say the least.

As believers and followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, we have slowly tried to improve our home. By small, daily sacrifices, we were able to make incremental improvements that both improve the over-all health of the building and the comfort of those who abide therein.

It really isn’t rocket science. You do what is in your strength to do. At the very least you clean, scrape and make neat. You attack the mould and seek to expunge it – it isn’t easy and may not even be possible, but you aim to overcome it.

Over time we would purchase a pot of paint and then paint. At another time, when possible, we contracted to install a sun roof. When we have been enabled, we had the floor of the terrace tiled. Thusly, and in many, little, often incremental ways, we have made our home stand out in the neighbourhood.

Let me add that I am not referring to the exterior – it still, er, rather fits in as far as the neighbourhood goes – but the interior, the inner courtyard, the terrace, the living areas, these have been slowly improved and our neighbours, when they visit or come to drink tea are aware of the changes made.

The improvements have been the result of little money and a lot of effort. The on-going priority of scrapping together the funds for a bag of ready-mix plaster or a pot of paint, the result of mini-sacrifices, but slowly making a difference.

In Turkish there is a saying “damyla damyla göl olur” or by interpretation, “drop by drop a lake is formed”.

With the plaster or paint in hand and doing the labour ourselves to splash it on the walls we were able to make a cleaner, neater and more pleasant environment for all.

In the years since we began our residence, and, slowly, month by month, year by year, the changes have been wrought. We have been observed and, at the same time, we have observed that some of our neighbours have improved their housing as well.

Is this a response to our example?

Or have their situations improved sufficiently that they are able to do the things they have wished to do for a long time?

This I can not discern.

But some neighbours have put up protective roofs to make up for the invariable leaks that develop in old flat roofed homes. Others have plastered, covering up the decades of decay and presenting a pleasant, smooth, finish. And still others have painted.

All in all, a general improvement.

Let me clearly declare that I am not claiming credit for any of this general improvement… just observing the changes…

Having said that, what we have done over the first five years we lived here has been perceived by our neighbours. In seeing the gradual improvement, some may have been encouraged and others, possibly challenged and/or inspired to make a change in their own homes. But, whilst that may or may not be true, it is evident from some comments heard that not all people have responded positivity.

Indeed, some, unintentionally have let slip feelings of jealousy and envy.

For some individuals, it seems, in the past, they have been satisfied to live in a decaying house, with cracks in the plaster, peeling paint and wet, damp or mouldy patches due to winter rains and a leaking roof. When everyone is in the same situation, then inertia and entropy settle in, and nothing changes… Well, nothing changes for the better, the house continue to deteriorate until either the occupants move, the building becomes uninhabitable or it collapses about them.

Then we come along… raising dust and noise as we cut, saw, break, mend, pour, build, tile, plaster, paint and otherwise slowly change our ‘normal dilapated’ home into a pleasant, clean, healthy and modern home.

I believe that some people have been quietly encouraged, and it is evident that others have been bitterly displeased. It was in this framework that we noticed that in front of our front door there has been a collection of trash, drink tins, cigarette packages, crisps packages, general litter and worse of all, cigarette butts found on a regular basis.

Ugly, unsanitary – ugh – cigarette butts.

Since my youth, growing up in a home of smokers, I have been put off by ash-trays, and butt-ends and all the smell and half-smoked bits that end up being all over the place…

Now we – all the occupants of our home – do not imbibe in the smoking habit. So, the most natural question arises: from whence do these cigarette butts come?

Now our neighbour, two doors up, is a widow on a very limited income. She and her children live in a very dilapidated house – the windows leak, the door appears to be falling off it’s hinges, the plaster is missing from some walls and the small, rough stone core walls appear to be in danger of tumbling into the room. When it rains the roof leaks. When there is an abundance of rain, the street overflows with run-off, and, on occasion, the surplus rainwater has ‘run-off’ and into and through their home.

They have little money, and they do not seem able to take a wee bit of their merge resources to improve their home. But they do have the resources to smoke. Smokers tell me that there is comfort in smoking and that they receive a physical benefit from imbibing in the habit.

I will take their word for it.

Nevertheless, it is not a cheap habit to sustain.

Our observation was they would smoke in front of their house – the street in the front of their house doubles as their front garden. It would be the most natural of actions, when the cigarettes are exhausted to toss their used cigarette butts into the street. In this scenario the unintended consequence would be for the wind to encourage said refuse to move down the street and, ultimately, come to rest at our front door.

But why come to rest at our front door?

Why stop the journey part way down the street?

Why not continue on down the road?

Why does a collection of cigarette butts joined with an assortment of other trash congregate and wait patiently just outside our front door?

A conundrum.

But the observation of our eyes, and the application of logic and common sense drew us to one hypothesis.  In fact, we were so convinced of this hypothesis that it was our neighbour intentionally or, more likely, unintentionally that was the source of this detritus that we, nicely, asked the lady to be more careful with her discards.

She profusely proclaimed her innocence in this matter.

I’m afraid we did not share a high level of confidence in her declarations of innocence.

Now, we have a good relationship with the family and there is no trace of animosity or hostility on any side. Nevertheless, the cigarette butts are found outside our front door.

Then the day arrived.

It was unplanned, and occurred, basically, at random.

Several from our home were out on the street – going about their business when everyone noticed a soft drink tin rolling down the middle of the street, driven by the wind. Our street is lower in the centre, concave, which acts like one common gutter to take the rain water, down the centre of the street to the storm drain.

This disused drink tin was merrily, and remarkably quickly, tinkling its way down the centre of the street following the concave and being driven by the wind. All was as you would expect it to be, although the speed was a bit of a surprise…the wind is strong in Antakya.

The tin tumbled and tinkled until it arrived parallel to our front door…

And there it stopped…

And there it stopped!

The tin, just stopped in the centre of the street.

The wind was still blowing. Gravity was still calling it to continue down the street. And yet, it stopped.

This disused drinks tin then proceeded to turn 90º towards our front door and then recommenced it’s travel, proceeding now at right angles to its former course and up the concave of the street towards our front door…

Uphill……

Now, our front door does not open directly on to the courtyard, but to a long corridor that leads to our courtyard. We hadn’t really noticed before, but this configuration results in a funnelling effect – drawing the air, I suppose like a chimney, and in a profoundly counter-intuitive direction.

In summer, there is a strong, blowing breeze that caresses in the city, flowing from the sea towards the interior – roughly southwest to northeast, in keeping with the terrain and shape of the valley. Throughout the long summer months this is a constant and it flows consistently from one direction. The trees on the mountainside all lean in mute testimony to the power and consistency of the wind. The whole forest leans up the valley at an astonishingly acute angle.

However, here in the city, at street level, with the myriad of buildings, the wind can be twisted about and it flows ‘down’ our street. As we observed, when the breeze gets to our house, to our front door, the corridor acts as a funnel, and strongly draws the wind in towards the courtyard (completely and diametrically opposite to the normal direction of the wind).

As we witnessed, it was in this manner that all sorts of the discards of daily life, were consistently finding their way to our front door.

Without a doubt, our smoking neighbour has ignorantly and unintentionally contributed to the accumulation of cigarette butts, but she was not the source of the problem, just a contributor, a minor player.

It was all so easy. The evidence of our eyes, the daily collection of assorted mess at our front door. Every time you opened the door to leave, at each point when we came back to our home, there was this mess to greet us…

We saw the ‘evidence’ and, in trying to understand how and why, we ‘reasoned’ and ‘thought’ and used ‘logic’.  In the end we had come to an ‘understanding’ of the problem and once this was ‘determined’ then the ‘solution’ was clear.

The only problem is, we were completely wrong.

I guess that is one reason why we read the admonition about the dangers of judging – even when all the evidence before our eyes declares only one logical conclusion…

36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.

Luke 6:36-38

New International Version (NIV)

(written September 2002)

The stories recorded in this blog began when this phase of our personal saga commenced in September 2002 with our arrival and settling into life in Selçuk, Turkey.

Ah, Selçuk, the modern descendant of the ancient city of Ephesus – the magnificant fourth city of the Roman Empire, home of one of the Wonders of the ancient world. The ruins, which are one of the most extensively excavated archaeological sites in Turkey, are a vast complex with streets, forums, homes, baths, theatre, gymnasiums, Odeon and brothels exposed, cleaned, persevered and now on public display. These outstanding ruins – the results of over 150 years of archaeological excavation, lie just outside of the modern locale known as Selçuk.

Our flight from the UK was too short for jet-lag, and yet for the first few days we were in a bit of a daze as we wandered the lanes and byways of Selçuk.

Our daze, was it caused by the unfamiliar sight of so much sun? Or maybe the heat which was so much hotter than we were used to in the United Kingdom? Maybe it was moving from a large town – and working in a very large city (London) – to a small Turkish town with a population of 23,000.

Oh, did I say “town”, maybe large village would be a more accurate description of Selçuk, for it had more of a village atmosphere and village pace than that of a town.

After more than twenty years since we first went overseas, we were back in Turkey.

August was a chaotic amalgamation of disparate activities and emotions. We were packing and preparing to go, still involved in the Sunday meeting and other activities as well as the annual Turkish Family Camp that we ran every August and at the same time breaking ties with a work and with people that have been so much of our lives for the previous eleven years.

On our first Sunday in Selçuk the weather was sunny and warm. We stepped out of the flat and as always, we were dazzled by the brilliance of the sunshine, our hands snapping up to cover our eyes.  As we initially staggered about, I rapidly readjusted my hat to provide some relief from the shock caused by the intensity of the light. We turned left onto the street for the short walk to the Church.

“To the ‘Church’”, – my how things have changed in Turkey – while some twenty years prior there were so few Protestants and Protestant ‘churches’ in Turkey that if you had said “none”, no one would seriously argue – using the most generous of definitions, there were maybe five fellowships in the whole country. In fact, in 1981 there were about 44 million souls living in Turkey and only 40 believers from a Muslim background in the whole country.

Back to the our story (2002); we walked up the quiet cobbled streets past a few children happily playing with a ball and then past the little kiosk where the local Council sells freshly baked bread – very reasonably priced and exceedingly tasty. At this hour there were still people coming and getting their morning bread – it was nearly 11:00.

Sunday mornings start slowly here.

We came to the little mosque by the main road and as we crossed the road I looked ahead, the church building stands on a corner not more than a hundred metres from the main road, up a side road, and I noticed a black stain on one of the window frames.

“Strange”, I thought to myself “that is some bad mould on that window, I hadn’t noticed that before – there must be some water leakage”.

You see, in England it is not uncommon to see black mould, especially around windows. Rain, damp and humidity is the norm in the UK resulting in mould, moss and everything green or black adorning many if not most surfaces.

As we neared the front door it then became obvious. This was not black mould – actually highly unlikely given the heat and long dry summer that is common in this part of the world. The reality is that someone, on that lazy Sunday morning had risen earlier than most to throw tar at the two Church signs. They were fairly poor shots in fact, as attested by the tar on the window frame, missing most of the one sign. On the other sign, the logo was obliterated, but the name of the Church and the fact that it was a Church was virtually unscathed.

What was truly ironic was that this action was most likely intended, so I presume, to intimidate and frighten the believers. But on that Sunday there were two visiting groups, one, a group of Turkish Christians doing a tour of the places in Turkey where the Apostle Paul visited and the other, a group of believers from Moldavia.

The room was full, extra chairs being required, the visiting Turkish group took the meeting, leading the worship and with several sharing; and it was an exciting and encouraging time for all. We prayed for those who threw the tar as scripture says to pray for them and to forgive them.

It seems, our re-introduction to Turkey had commenced…

A few days later, I was sitting in a friend’s car in town. The car was stopped by the side of the road and we were chatting with someone when the car lurched side to side. It did this twice, two rather definitive, almost violent lurchings. The driver looked over his shoulder, did someone bump us? He didn’t see anything nor did I. I, at least, assumed that somebody must have bounced the car for a laugh.

On my return home T. reported that as she sat at the kitchen table the rather large, 19 litre water bottle began to move, as did the wall.

The wall?!?

It didn’t last long and she didn’t know what to think of it.

Hmm, car bounces, no apparent cause, water bottle dances – the wall moves – not normal, usual occurrences for us, I wonder?

We checked the news and sure enough, there had been an earthquake with its epicentre in the Aegean sea just off the coast from where we were. It registered at 5.4 on the Richter scale. It seems that 5.4 on the Richter is sufficient to lurch cars, dance large water bottles and move walls…

Our re-introduction, included a reminder that Turkey is a very active earthquake zone.

As we begin the process of adapting to living once again in Turkey, and in a new town and in a new flat, I discovered, we have a pet!

Well, that may not be totally true.

Ever since we lived in Adana in the south of Turkey, we have been aware of these, uh, delightful creatures. Not harmful, so I am assured, and actually beneficial – or so it is said. Our flat is the proud residence of a wee lizard.

They reportedly eat insects (good) maybe even mosquitoes (great). So we co-exist. My only fear is his ‘defence mechanism’ seems to be to freeze and by not moving, it would appear to believe, become invisible to me, as if I am hunting it. However, if I get up in the middle of the night – which is not unlikely as I grow more mature in years – it is then that I truly can not see anything, whether he freezes or not, I can not see anything. So, freezing, staying in one place and not moving may not be the best defence in the world. The facts being I am not hunting him and I literally can not see him and at the end of the day, or the middle of the night for that matter, I really do not want to inadvertently stomp on him.

We have chosen to co-exist.

In typical Turkish fashion, the flat is finished to a high standard. It has ceramic tiles on all the floors. In winter, area rugs are laid out for warmth – in summer said rugs are put away allowing the bare tiles to help cool the flat.

And in all seasons, this provides an easy to clean surface. The tiles themselves are a light white grey pattern which is light and cheery.

The kitchen and bathroom have ceramic tiles on the walls, floor to ceiling. You have a reassuring feeling of cleanliness. This kind of surfaces helps ensure there is no mould or flaking paint.

Additionally the flat was basically outfitted with all the basics with the exception that there was no washing machine and no fridge. We have been able to borrow a little, pint-sized, fridge which meets all our needs. For our washing needs, we hand washed for the first months and then, in the new year, we purchased a proper washing machine.

And so our housing was established, but we weren’t there to simply live.

One of the things that we were involved in was the production of Turkish Christian videos. Our first video shoot was in Izmir – ancient Smyrna about an hours drive north of Selçuk. An hour’s drive and, oh, er, we don’t have a vehicle.

And so the solution, not only to convey us but all the kit needed to shot a video, we decided the only alternative was to rent a car. We found a small place which let cars and the price was surprisingly affordable.

I smiled.

It turns out that I’m a bit naïve when it comes to renting a vehicle, I haven’t done it much and in the UK, it is pretty much standard stuff. Well, here was a reminder that we weren’t in the UK any longer.

On driving the car to the flat to load it, it didn’t take long before we realised that this was not your typical UK quality rental car. The car did function and most of the basic features did work, even if on a somewhat sporadic basis.

My smile dimmed a wee bit.

So we loaded up the vehicle and headed off for the metropolis of Izmir.

The journey commenced by joining the autobahn/motorway/freeway – whatever word conveys these modern masterpieces of roadway engineering, straightening, flattening, spanning and otherwise taming the terrain.

My, how Turkey has changed!

We drove in relative… uh, relative, er, well, we drove to the outskirts of the city, then off at an nondescript exit, left, right, left and so on to a road that we followed towards the centre of town.

We had a Turk with us giving directions, this was in the days before in-car navigation via satellite – without our guide, I would still be in the car going in mindless circles in the Byzantine labyrinth of roads that make up the maze called Izmir.

“Thank you, Lord, for providing E. to guide us to the Church.”

A Christian band were doing a concert in the church and I was there to video tape the performance with a view of creating a lasting snapshot of the ministry of the concert.

The group was from Canada and hence a long way from home. They spoke English or was it French or both, I can’t remember, anyway, they shared their faith through verbal translation of comments and things said, they also projected the Turkish translation of the songs via an overhead projector and distributed paper copies of the lyrics to those who came. The people came to hear a foreign band and enjoy the music – and they were afforded an opportunity to understand the words as well.

The room was empty as the group went through their final sound check – everything was as ready as the kit and acoustics of the room would allow. I looked around the starkly empty room and quietly wondered to myself where the people were for the concert. With just a few minutes to go, the doors were thrown open and people streamed in – they must have been queuing outside.

Within a matter of minutes the room was full.

With all the technical stuff done, the band and supporting people all retired to pray – not a rushed, “Let’s start the concert”, but a real pause and waiting on God and committing each other, the evening and all aspects to God.

After prayer and returning to the main room, I slipped my shoes off and climbed up beside the main camera – this was to be my first time using the main camera in a real filming situation (it was an exDemo, professional, used camera – so the camera had far more experience than I).

I ran through a mental tick-list:

  • tripod stable and balanced, tick,
  • correct filter selected, tick,
  • white balance done, tick,
  • fresh battery loaded, tick,
  • full tape loaded, tick,
  • second tape ready, tick,
  • mike turned on, tick,
  • mike recording levels set, tick,

Everything going according to plan and almost done the tick-list and, what’s this, a member of the band asking if they can turn the house lights down?

I think to myself, “It is important that this concert is the best it can be for the people who have actually come and made the effort to be here….”

I say, “Turn the lights down…”

The number two camera is set on fully automatic, so it should adjust okay – but the main camera, the number one camera, well, this is the first time I’ve used it in an actual filming situation and it is all set to manual (as it should be).

Before we began, I had set the correct setting for the lighting… the lighting that was now dramatically changing… I hit the aperture button and it seemed to cope, but no new ‘white balance’, no adjusting for the colour temperature… just trying to adapt whilst things merrily carry on around me…

As the concert began, I started with framing a wide-angle shot… and now the myriad of questions flooded my mind: “How is the sound?”, “What is the light like?”, I was not liking the light and so I made an adjustment on the fly… good/bad thing to do, the video looks better, but now we have a dramatic change part way through the shot…..

…and for the next two hours, I remain, steadfast, standing beside the camera, trying to do my best, sore feet notwithstanding, trying not to move too much and doing my best not to bump the camera… and so the evening went.

Without question, this was a good experience with much being learned on preparation, camera technique, lighting and the co-ordination between the number one and number two cameras. I thought and hoped that there may even have been enough good video to actually produce something. The proof of this particular pudding is in the editing stage.

Unfortunately what became clear in the edit suite was that this was just a ‘good learning experience’ with no viable product resulting.

Our evening efforts in shooting the video were finished, but our evening was not yet over… we still had miles to go before we could rest.

And so after the concert, we broke down, lugged and loaded up all the kit and headed out to return to Selçuk.

We drove to first one motorway, which was leading to another, and then that motorway split three ways, two lanes going left, two going down into a tunnel and two peeling off to the right – by God’s grace I was on the right and was carried away by the departure of the two lanes.  It so happens that this was the direction that we were supposed to go.

Yikes, this is not fun.

We then merge with and join another motorway. But we are separated from the main carriageway by a rather formidable metal crash barrier, four lanes thundering along, all going the same way, but yet, separate.

“What is going on here?” I frantically mutter to myself. A bit ahead, the two lanes to my left go up and over an overpass and we… and we go down, to the right towards, yes, yet another motorway.

We got home in the end.

My, how much Turkey has changed, but in the last twenty years, I must confess, so have we.

It seems the only constant is that nothing stays constant.

There is much to learn, much to adjust to, much to unlearn as things have most definitely changed and are continually changing.

Regardless of where we abide, of new locales or old, I’ve found that there is another constant constant: we need God’s Grace day by day to live, adjust, change, to learn, to unlearn, to be light and salt in this world.

(written 8 August 2016)

In the wake of the previous week’s experience of the recommencement of distribution after a short hiatus, we knew this too, would be a demanding day.

This was one of those times that things lived up to their billing.

Two days previously, the bulk food stuffs arrived in our courtyard, ready for the task of assembling the distribution bags. And so, on the previous day there were 17 from our fellowship including children (who genuinely helped), who were engaged in assembling the bags of food stuffs. The preparation is divided in to several tasks: some people grab a large bag and walk around the circle, while others stand in front of the various kinds of foodstuffs, rice, lentils, etc. and place the correct number in the bag being filled.  The bag is lugged around the circuit until it is completed and then the bag is twirled and a cable tie is used to seal it and the bag is passed on to the person responsible for putting them into a pile that doesn’t spread over the whole courtyard nor go too high as to be hard to shift to the lorry and gently enough so as not to damage the food stuffs in the bags.

On the morning after,  the lorry had arrived, and, as it seems is the norm, we were short handed when it came time to commence loading. We were blessed as an Ethiopian Refugee had come just to help load the bags on the lorry – her help was deeply appreciated.

All told, we had eight souls (seven of the team going out to do the distribution and one helper), just enough people to form a bit of a conga line.  One person less and you could not form a conga line.  The line begins in the courtyard where someone lifts the bag and swings it up and around, and, importantly, at the end of this swing, it is grasped and carrying on the momentum, it is with a pivot and swing, the bag advances to the next person and so carries on until it get to the last person standing at the back of the lorry. This person then has to swing and lift it up on to the lorry. For the line to work efficiently, the bag must never stop moving… for when it stops, you have to hold the dead weight and then get it moving again.

All tasks in the process are somewhat strenuous and unrelenting and as you are part of a process, you can not take a brief break when you feel the need, unless you are prepared to stop everyone.

From my perspective, as one who has been in every position in the line, the most difficult task, is the final lifting of the bags up on to the lorry. The second most difficult position is the initial lifting of the bags. But, all positions are demanding. A conga line is still preferred to lifting and lugging the individual bags, or carting them two at a time out to the lorry to then be lifted on to the lorry – that really is the most difficult way to load the lorry.

I guess I should point out at this point that the bags are a little over ten kilogrammes each, so not a tremendous burden in and of itself. However, when you have 250 to shift, that relatively light weight, over time, can become quite a burden.

I began the day at the end of the line, lifting the bags up and onto the lorry.

After a too-short period of time, my dominant arm weakened, and began making expressing of fatigue, so I shifted to using my non-dominant arm… I wasn’t sure how long I could keep up the pace nor how long I would be able to continue to do the required task.

Then someone suggested they take my place as I was labouring under the morning sun.

I gratefully accepted, not because of the sun, but because of my arms… they didn’t know that.

I then moved to the other end of the line and began lifting the bags into the line. This too, for me, was a strenuous task. When my dominant arm objected, I again switched to my opposite arm. The work carried on.

Let me openly declare, lest you think that being in the line is any easier, experience has shown that that, too, is wearisome… the bags keep coming and the task is to grab, swing, release, swing back and grasp the next one… and so on…  As in all positions in the line, each is just a cog in the machine, you are tied to doing your task, non-stop as long as the bags keep coming…

In the end the lorry was duly loaded and headed off to our rendezvous point.

After prayer, and thanking our loading helper, we climbed aboard the Volkswagen Transporter and set out to the  rendezvous point.

At our rendezvous point, a petrol station with very fine public convenience, we met up and made use of the said public convenience as this is the first and the last opportunity until the day’s work is done.

We also met up with a believing family who, although he is from this region, they now live in Istanbul. They wanted to come out and see and help.

We were pleased with their interest, although, in the distribution there are a fixed number of tasks and we came prepared to cover all tasks. They were more than welcome to join us, and as they had their own vehicle, they would be free to leave whenever they desired.

We headed out towards the first place on our list for the day…a place we hadn’t been to for, well, nigh on two months.

As we drove out towards the particular field this encampment is situated in, I turned on to a raised roadway, like an isolated levee or dyke (with no visible function – just a raised roadway in the midst of a broad plain). As we came onto the elevated, poorly asphalted road, we saw, stretching off into the distance, that the road seemed to be covered with some material.

As we got closer to this ‘material’, it became clear what it was. It seems that something had dug three deep furrows in the road surface and the gravel, pieces of pavement and soil so dislodged had been spewed up and onto the surface of the road. Of course, added to this were the three new furrows carved into the roadbed.

Well, this was the most direct road to our goal, we were relatively close, and there really wasn’t a suitable place, on this elevated roadway, to turn about.

Truth be told, I didn’t really contemplate turning about, but, almost instinctively, ploughed on forwards. I moved the van onto one side of the ravaged roadway, I choose the left hand side of the road, one tyre on the old, cleanish road surface, not far from the drop off and the other bouncing and hopping about in the detritus of the shattered road surface.

The car with our visitors and the lorry were coming on behind me. They may have not approved my choice, but, like the morning conga line, not much can be done about it once it has commenced.

As we made our way along we caught up with the cause of this destruction, a grader, purposely and intentionally carving up the road surface. He stopped and pulled to the right-hand side to enable us to pass him by.

This, it turns out, was a fitting beginning to our days distribution.

We arrived at the first encampment, and on agreement with the lorry driver, the two vehicles were parked with their back ends side by side to establish a single, common point for distribution.

The encampment had more than doubled in size since we were last there. We were planned up for eleven shelters, and we were confronted with some thirty.

Immediately the back of the van was engulfed with a swarm of people; men, women, teenagers, children, babes in arms. This conglomeration of registered and unregistered people were pressing in around us, many with their ID papers in their hands each competing with their neighbour to put them in our faces….

It was somewhat chaotic….

The temperature was in the 40sº C in the shade….uh… and the only shade to be had, was under the open rear door of the (black) Volkswagen… and it had a large window in it, over which we laid some cardboard to establish a minimum of shade.

That was the sum total of the shade available.

Oh, yes, and it was quite warm…

Now our system is that we call the names of those registered on the database, verify who they are and then provide that which we have prepared for them.

Their system is to push in close, thrust their ID papers in our face and gain our attention, after which, according to their system, we would then find them on the database and process them and then they will receive their provisions.

This conflict of systems inevitably leads to inefficiency, confusion and a degree of tension on all sides.

We made our way through the registered individuals – remember there were only eleven previously registered shelters at this encampment. Then came the task of registering the ‘new’ folks.

This has been complicated because, in times past, new refugees entering Turkey were issued Turkish Language ID-like cards which we used for registration – all in beautiful Turkish.

However, for many months now, the powers that be no longer do this. This change has been done partly as a disincentive to Syrian Refugees, to dissuade them from coming over the border. The intention is that they would stay on the Syrian side of the border where camps have been set up to provide for the basic necessities of life – Turkey will continue to aid these newly minted refugees, but from ‘safe havens’ within Syria proper.

I guess these folks didn’t get that memo.

Anyway, now we are registering families and individuals using Syrian ID papers.

Oh, and naturally, Syrian ID papers are all in Arabic – a language unlike Turkish in grammar, form, vocabulary and and most importantly, script.  Completely and totally foreign.

Being aware of this change and to address this need, we had asked a Christian Syrian Refugee who lives in Antakya to accompany us and help in reading the ID papers and registering these new-comers.

That is great!

But – don’t you just hate the word ‘but’ – but, he doesn’t speak Turkish, and has very weak English. So, he can read the papers and understand them, he can chat with the folks and ask questions and understand what the situation is. But, he can not easily communicate that to us.

But he can read Arabic which is essential, and he is very familiar with the ID papers being a Syrian himself.

So, now comes the truly challenging task. The Arabic names are read in Arabic, and the recorder, T. has to, accurately, transliterate that vocal Arabic into Turkish.

All this with the pressure of a crowd of people surrounding you, the sun, unmercifully blazing down, precious little breeze to offset the heat and a seemingly never ending mass of people to register… all clutching their ID papers and whenever possible thrusting them forward or tugging on your sleeve… T. is the focus of this activity as she is the one doing the physical registration.

To give you an example as to how it felt, our visitors who have been with us on site for about thirty minutes or so, came and asked if it would be acceptable for them to depart – the sights, heat and fierce sun was draining them of energy and emotion.

They had their insight into what we do; they had a tour of the encampment, saw the state of the people, the children, the babies, and the conditions they endure and what their daily ordeal is like. So, for them, they had accomplished all they really needed to. I sent them on their way with our blessings – directing him to go back via a different route avoiding the newly destroyed road we had come by.

But, let us not lose sight of this important fact, for the occupants of this and similar encampments, this is the ‘daily grind’;  for them there is no escape, there is no relief.  It is just each and every day being a repeat of the previous… heat, hard work, crude accommodation, no proper washing facilities. Sun, flies, mosquitoes and hard labour… this is their daily lot.

It takes time to register the new comers. As the registration process continued, and we distributed food stuffs to the newly registered, people noticed that the odd tractor would arrive and drop people off, and the odd car would pull up and disgorge people or the odd motorcycle would appear, coughing and sputtering and one or more individuals would alight and then come up to be registered.

The ‘gangmaster’ of this encampment, the one in charge of organising the labour, providing a place for their shelters to be erected and transportation to and from various fields, is an individual that our past interactions has caused us to doubt his integrity and honesty. Some ‘gangmasters’ are a delight and seem to be genuine individuals who actually care, not just about the work but the workers. Others, like this one, appear to have their own, rather selfish agenda and try as they might, it can not be hidden.

He was in the midst, kind-of organising the process – this unmitigated chaos – and he was ‘vouch safe-ing’ various people.

It is in this context that various conveyances are arriving and ‘new registrants’ are joining the melee.

The fear and the very real possibility at this particular encampment and with this particular gang master, is that these new ‘registrants’ were in fact ‘ineligible’ people or ‘cheaters’ or even his relatives who were being brought in to receive ‘free’ food stuffs.

Maybe…

These new-comers very well may be ineligible or cheaters or relatives….

But, just to complicate things, it must be acknowledged that by the same token, if I lived in any particular encampment, during the daytime, I will not be in the encampment, but out working in some field somewhere… if news reaches me that there is a distribution and I need to be there with my ID, then it is only reasonable that I will arrive by tractor or vehicle or motorcycle…

This arrival by various forms of conveyance after we commence is not uncommon – and it is fraught with questions and introduces an element that is hard to discern truth from fiction.

At this, our first encampment of the day, with the seemingly never-diminishing crowd around the back of the van and with this particular ‘gangmaster’ there, I freely admit, that the potential for ineligible people and cheaters in amongst them was far greater than at other encampments.

Most troubling, some reported seeing the newcomers departing the area with their bags of food stuffs – something you would never do if you were truly resident in this encampment.  I did not personally see this – that would be a red flag to me.

Our procedure is to register by ID papers combined with visually looking at the photo and the holder of the papers. This is good as far as it goes… But someone can be living at a distance, working in the field while not living ‘under canvas’ which is one of our requirements for assistance. There are no means to verify where they live. Often, when asked, they will vaguely point at the cluster of blue tarpaulin shelters indicating ‘one of them’ without any way of actually verify it. If the gangmaster is a person of integrity, his word is sufficient. If you question the veracity of what the gangmaster says… you have no means to confirm.

Now, ultimately, we are serving Sovereign God who knows all hearts, and as scripture says He causes the rain to fall on the righteous and the unrighteousness alike. In this natural world, God Himself provides for people irregardless as to their personal integrity or honesty. So, in one sense, we need to be alert and take proper precautions, but, after all is said and done, it is the Lord’s concern and not ours…

Of course, in the course of this confusion, mistakes will be made. Not can be, or will possibly be, but they will be made… that, too, is a part of life.

At the same time, the recipients are desperate people, and I include all the recipients, even the ineligible and cheaters, and field work is tough and for the ones we are endeavouring to aid, they are living a hand-to-mouth existence, living in rude shelters, living in barren fields, without proper water provision and no proper toilets or washing facilities, with children and babies, in the unrelenting daily heat storm and at night persecuted by the onslaught of hordes of voracious mosquitoes.

What some may find incongruous is that people in such a desperate state, when they are receiving ‘grace’ (unmerited, unearned favour) – whether they acknowledge or recognise it as such or not – they can respond with an ‘entitlement’ attitude, as if they have ‘poverty and need’ and they ’trade’ that commodity for assistance, hence a feeling that they are ‘entitled’ to assistance. Where this attitude exists and I’m afraid, it is not as rare as one may think or wish, you may very well encounter in the place of ‘gratefulness’, a ‘grasping’ even ‘demanding’ attitude.

At this encampment, whether the bona-fide recipients or the suspected ineligible:

Not everyone was satisfied with what we provided.

Not everyone felt they had received their ‘right’… (?right?)

Not everyone felt, or at least, displayed, a modicum of ‘thankfulness’ nor ‘gratitude’… Some did for sure, but, in this encampment, this was by no means universal…

And one individual even proclaimed a ‘beddua’ – that is they pronounced a ‘curse’ upon us. Something to the effect of ‘may you be infected with cancer and die’.  I’m not sure of the exact words used, but there was no questioning what the intent of what was said was… It was a curse to our detriment.

Now my colleagues who have been doing this work, non-stop since the beginning, have encountered this in the past and their response is well established.

However, for me, this was a somewhat new experience – I’m not aware of being routinely cursed…

My initial response to such a one who made this statement was being freshly considered.

What do I want to do in response?

What do I feel would be the appropriate response?

Let me confess, my initial response wasn’t all that it should have been…

It seems that Jesus not only encountered this in His own life and ministry, but He knew that we, His followers, would as well.

He said, unequivocally, that we are to “bless those who curse you”.

I don’t think He was referring to a glib, cheap and cheerful, verbal, “God bless you”.

I believe, the Lord Jesus, the ‘Lord’ not the Suggester, or the Advisor, but the LORD, meant that we should actually do something that ‘blesses’ them.

It is inconceivable that we could just pray or say “God Bless you” and then go on our way, thinking that the will of God has been fully done…

For the Lord Jesus expressly states that if your enemy is thirsty, give them something to drink.

At no point, anywhere, will you find the Lord telling you that if your enemy is hungry, and they are ungrateful, and curse you and do not realise that what you are doing is an expression of the Love of God, you are then exempt from helping them, you are free to abandon them and leave them to their situation so that you can then concentrate on those who ‘appear’ to be grateful and provide for them…

The Lord Jesus Christ said: “if your enemy is hungry, feed him”.

Not a lot of wiggle-room there.

Some will say, “Well, we have no enemies, we love everyone,” – but that doesn’t absolve us of any of this responsibility – quite the contrary, it double downs on it – if we are to feed our enemies, then how much more should we do for those we do not consider ‘enemies’.

This momentary exchange at this encampment confronted me with an example of ‘Basic Christianity’. How I act and react in a situation such as this depicts clearly if I am acting according to Kingdom of God principles or according to this Worlds principles and the way of the ‘natural man’. My colleagues had long since been confronted with and dealt with these issues properly.

The intuitive, human response, when so cursed, is to write them off, to accept what they say, and let the natural consequences of their actions, of their words be their portion. The natural, human response is to leave them, not necessarily to verbally curse them, but to move on to those more receptive and who we think are more grateful.

We do not verbally curse them, but by denying food assistance, we are physically cursing them.

The lady so involved, for indeed it was a lady, did not ‘harm’ us in her vindictiveness, but if we end our aid, merely on the basis of words flung at us in her desperation, then we would inflict real harm on her, and her neighbours, and the children and the babies…

We would turn her empty curse, for it has no power over the children of God and repay it with a physical curse that will affect all in that encampment.

If anything else is needed to be said on this topic, let me turn our focus on how God treated us when we were enemies of God, when we were going our own headstrong, independent way, when we said whatever came into our mind and thence out our mouths, cursing and denying and defying Almighty God which was our norm….

What did God do, in the face of our repeated actions and declarations and rebellion? What was God’s response to us as we acted, repeatedly, doggedly, emphatically in this manner?

He sent His one and only Son to give Himself as a propitiation for our sins with the sole purpose to reconcile man, let me emphasise, ‘sinful man’, let me add ‘by nature a child of wrath’ man, let me say ‘spiritually dead in our own sins and transgressions’ man, His goal was to reconcile mankind with God……

That was His response to our rebellion and cursing and insurrection against Him.

Are we not called to be like Him?

If they curse us, should we not redouble our efforts to love them, serve them, and demonstrate the Love of God to them, whether or not they see it, accept it, acknowledge it and, indeed, to carry on in spite of their ‘cursing’… is that not what it means to be ‘like Christ’, is that not what it means to truly ‘serve’, is that not what it means practically, to love our enemies?

But this is particular encampment is rendered doubly complex, doubly convoluted, doubly difficult, for in this particular encampment and especially, with this individual gang master, it is rendered difficult, bordering on impossible, to distribute assistance in a fair and equitable manner.

If we suspend our activities with this encampment it is not because of empty words and a vindictive curse, but because of the dishonesty, cheating, misrepresentation and, let’s call it what it is, theft of the limited supply of food stuffs available for Syrian refugee field workers living under canvas.I said it was ‘rendered difficult’ and, well, life is difficult. I did say it was ‘bordering on impossible’ which is not the same as calling it impossible.

Once again we are reminded that it is our responsibility to follow our own guidelines – leaving ample room for mercy and grace – which means when we register people we need ID and also to see their face (of each person to be registered) – papers without a face will not be registered. We need to redouble our efforts to establish where people are living, maybe even taking the food stuffs to the various shelters.

Wisdom, as always is needed to know the way forward.

Our goal is not to hoard the assistance. Our goal is not to return to Antakya with ‘left over’ bags. Our goal is for all the essential food aid to be distributed to those in genuine need and according to our guidelines (always allowing for mercy and grace).

 

 

(written on 24 May 2016)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ah, the pre-war days….

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

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

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

Have things changed?

Undoubtedly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Having said all this….

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

Well, we do live in active earthquake region.

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

Now this could be construed as a more worrisome event.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(first written January 2010)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I needn’t have hurried.

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

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

Interesting…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No one was left looking at anyone’s back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(written August 2008)

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

He was right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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