(written 7 June 2016)

I had to smile to myself…

It was like the saying in Britain, “you wait endlessly for a bus, and then three come at once”.

Well, for quite a while I’ve been mulling over the need that I feel we have for a Arabic-Turkish speaking translator, primarily on our distribution days. Often when we arrive at an encampment, we find that most of the people have been previously registered, but, there are always people who have moved on and new people who have come.

Without fluent Arabic and limited to using the few words of Arabic that some of us have picked up, or using a refugee’s weak Turkish, or leaning on some bi-lingual Turk that happens to be there as a translator, we get by. But it is not efficient, and it is not always certain that what we are saying and what they are understanding is anything more than two ships silently passing in the night.

But then this past distribution Monday, 30 May, we had, not just one, nor two, nor three, but four Arabic speakers. Wow!

Again I say ‘Wow!’

It was really nice to be able to get people organised, recognised and the new people registered with a minimum of hassle. In addition to this practical aspect of the work, there were a number of Arabic speakers free to dialogue with the people we met – to chat with them and when the questions arise, and the questions always arise, to give proper, full, intelligible answers.

It was great!

And, as in Britain, when it happens it is then followed by a time of waiting, once again, for it to occur all over again.

This is something we can pray for and work towards, that the Lord would provide a regular Arabic-Turkish translator on our distribution days (three Mondays a month).

Then on the following Sunday, one of our guest Arabic speakers was also our guest speaker for the Sunday Turkish fellowship meeting. He offered to speak in either English or Arabic as he is multi-lingual, but, unfortunately, he is not a Turkish speaker. And so, we chose for him to share in Arabic as we have a few people who only understand Arabic (honouring them) and then have it translated into Turkish (that the rest of us may understand).

This was a good experience for T. and I, for often, when the message is translated, it is most often translated from the ‘lingua-franca’ of the world, that is English. Therefore the norm is we get it twice, once in English and then again in Turkish. We get the double blessing – as long as we are not the one doing the translation.

But here we were in the normal experience of the Turks, who hear a foreign language, not understanding what was being said, followed by the translation. We found it to be a profoundly disjointed and chopped up experience and it was difficult maintaining concentration – oh, and it was a good message.

An additional hinderance to this translation mode of communication is sometimes the speaker over-speaks the translator, and we, who are tied to the translator to know what is being said, loose the meaning of what has just been said while the speaker is carrying on. Sometimes the translator, only really gets the meaning of what he is translating when he has finished his first go at it, and if the speaker allows him the time, he then takes a second run at it, in a more coherent manner. If the time has not been granted, we are left with the somewhat convoluted first translation.

So we were listening to half the speaking and trying to piece together the disjointed message when 12:00 came around. Now, normally, there is nothing particularly special about 12:00 noon, but today, was, well… special.

As the Monday following this particular Sunday was the first day of the fasting month of Ramadan, at 12:00, the cannon, which is fired daily, in the evening marking the end of the fast for that day, was fired.

Why did they fire it before the start of Ramadan and why in the middle of the day? Dunno…

But it was fired. It was loud. It is a cannon after all. It is intended to be heard over a large area as it will be marking the end of the fast and the time when the fasting population can smoke, drink and eat.

Our poor, American speaker was not expecting that. Well, of a truth, none of us were really expecting it. The reverberating sound of the not distance ‘explosion’ broke his cadence and his delivery faltered as he glanced over toward the window. He was visibly disturbed…

To be fair, the interpreter, a local brother, also seemed to be disturbed having been caught off guard by the sudden, very loud ‘boom’.

And for the Syrian refugee couple (Arabic speaking), that sound was all too familiar to them and they, too, were visible stressed by it.

It was not so much the second boom a little bit later, but the third BOOM that seemed to cause the speaker real pause.

The elder, told him to carry on and that it was nothing – he recognising both the timing (day before the commencement of Ramadan), and the sound – he has heard it multiple times in his years in this city). And the speaker carried on.

Oh, and there were no more booms.

I do not know if they were testing the cannon, or if it is marking the day before the commencement of Ramadan or whatever, but my initial reaction was ‘that is a typical Antakyian ‘boom’’ – like we hear every Ramadan – and from time to time throughout the year. Unlike our Syrian refugee couple, we have never had the unfortunate experience of hearing a genuine explosion as in war or terrorist event, and so my ignorance, in this case was a blessing – my assumption was that it was nothing to be concerned about…however if it had then been followed by a multitude of sirens or an intensification of booms…well that would signify something very different.

Then, a week and a day following that positive Monday distribution, on Tuesday, 7 June, we found ourselves minimally staffed for the ministry to the children at the Haven of Love and Kindness – the tent we have pitched at the location of a cluster of Syrian refugee field workers.

We have been spoilt  by groups that have come expressly to assist in this work and so we have often had a large number of people helping, organising, facilitating the activities and playing with the children. It is only in comparison to these visiting groups that we were minimally staffed, we had sufficient to administer our normal programme – but we felt the difference.

As always, the first order of business on arrival was to organise some games for the children so they could, well… play like children.

playing with water balloons

This is then followed up by school lessons in Arabic: as we have been doing for many months now, we continue with a Syrian refugee couple, who are by trade teachers, who we have engaged to teach the children (in Arabic) the basic subjects – reading, writing, arithmetic.

I was not sure what today’s lessons were about, but I do know that at one point he was teaching the 3 times table.

Then we provided a meal for the children – on that day, in the first week of Ramadan, one in three of the children were keeping the Fast, so they put the food, drink, and dessert in their bags or tucked away so they could have it later, some time around 20:00 when the daily fast ends.

Lunch at their student's desks
At Lunch

Then after clean up, we play some more games with the children.

After all they have seen, and in spite of their squalid living conditions and in the face of the often, very ‘grown up’ responsibilities they must carry, we desire to provide them with a brief moment in time when they can, once again, simply be children doing ‘children’ things – playing with a ball, skipping rope, laughing, running, playing…

But that day, on our arrival at the Haven, the Arabic speaking teachers – who are camped in front of our tent – told us that the local Gendarme had come, asking many questions about our tent, what we do, who we are, and also taking copies of their ID papers. The Gendarme told them they would be back at 11:00 to speak with us.

So, duly informed, we set about our normal routine. Games were organised, and right at 11:00 a black Fiat Doblo-like vehicle pulled up and a commander and a ‘specialist’ alighted and came over to where we were.

There, standing under the blazing Antakyian sun, the commander with his specialist at his side, dressed as they were in their camouflage fatigues, hats and with pistols in camouflage holsters at their hips, began asking us a stream of questions:  Who are we? Where do we live?   What is our organisation? – church, huh.   Where is your head office?  and so on…

As the commander was speaking, it was then, for the first time I heard someone in authority expressly and clearly say, “We are afraid that you are proselytising,” and later he added that he was afraid we were… “forcing people to become Christians”.

If only he knew and understood how profoundly difficult it is to see someone come to faith in Jesus Christ – if only he could grasp the hardness of the soil and the resistance to the message, then he would not have been so afraid.

Indeed, this is indicative of how much the message of Jesus Christ is feared – the power of His name – and how little faith they have in their own people to stay true to the dominant religion.

What made this even more poignant for me on that day was the sad news that there was another terror attack in Istanbul, this time on a police bus, killing eleven. This was Muslim-on-Muslim violence. And here is this man – a Gendarme commander – sincerely expressing his ‘fear’ that we are engaged in Christian propaganda and trying to convert people to Christianity.

Important Note: being involved in Christian propaganda – sharing your faith, declaring the Good News – is not illegal in Turkey.

I felt that, rather than expending time, energy and resources focused on the activities of the few Christians in Turkey – and, by the way, what we do, we do in the open, for all to see – that they should be expending their efforts on that which is surely the greater danger, caused by their fellow-religionists; those with guns, bombs, hate and murder in their hearts and minds and hands.

At one point he asked if I would be willing to go back to their office to photocopy my passport….. I had no comprehension of why he would make this proposal.

I counter-suggested, and I think they routinely do this, that they take a photo of my passport there and then. After which they simply pulled out a smartphone and photographed the passport ID page and my last entrance into Turkey stamp. Why then, should we go to the office to copy my passport…??

Duly recorded, they admonished us to ‘get permission’ from the Kaymakamlık (very roughly translated as: ‘head official of a district’) to do what we are doing and have been doing, openly, for more than a year and a half.

Not sure what we shall do with this advice. It is highly unlikely that the local ‘head official of a district’ would grant such permission – if we actually need permission – as it would be viewed as endorsing or encouraging the work of a church in proselytising – regardless of what we actually do, that is how it would be viewed by the general population – politically, not something that is easily or casually done.

For more than a year and a half we have been engaged, firstly in food aid, and more latterly, in addition to the food aid, the ministry to children in the Haven. It is most likely that we shall continue as we have been, with a clear conscience.

For those of you, who, like me, are a product of a culture wherein the rules are there to be kept, ‘work hard and you will be rewarded’, ‘keep your nose clean and all will be well’, etc…. this response, of just ‘carrying on’ in the face of such advice, may seem wrong, and unscriptural and again, just plain WRONG.

This is a very different culture with different rules governing behaviour. Here there is often no ‘way’ in which you can abide by the rules – there is no provision. Everything is set up for the Muslim majority and if you are Christian, well, you do not fit the rules, clauses, conditions or general application of the rules. For example, there is no way, method or procedure to ‘register’ your church. Nor is there any way to have a ‘legal entity’ for your church – a church, as a church, can not purchase property in the ‘name of the church’. There are rules and guidelines, but constructed for the majority with no acknowledgement even, of any other entity. Hence, many of the basics that we take for granted in our home cultures simple do not exist here….

So, living in this context and in the absence of any way forward, we strive to be obedient to the Lord as best we can.

Hence we continue, not in a cocky, arrogant manner, strutting about proclaiming, ‘we are obeying God not man’, but knowing that we are unable, in this instance, to abide by the rules, and so, following the higher ‘law of God’ we will serve, we will aid, we will help, we will labour, we will demonstrate the Love of God as best we can; we will humbly expend ourselves in the service of others until either the Lord says “cease” or we are unable to continue (recognising that if we are ‘unable’ it is still under the sovereignty of Almighty God).

The prayers of the saints with us in this regard is not just appreciated, it is essential.  We are in a spiritual battle and the forces of darkness are arrayed against us. But we stand by the grace of God, motivated by the Love of God and in the power of God.

So, as we pray together, and as we, here on the ground, seek to obey the Lord of Life, may all see the difference between the servants of Christ, and the servants who are delivering their daily toll of hate, misery, killing, bombing, intolerance and death.

May this ‘hard soil’ be broken up and be fruitful to life, healing, peace and love – in God.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.