(written January 2005)
The colour of the Bosphorous Strait, that narrow passage of water connecting the Black Sea in the north with the Mediterranean Sea in the South via the Sea of Marmara, the Dardanelle Strait and the Aegean Sea, reflects the changing moods of the sky. One day it is a deep, almost black blue, on another a light, cheery sky blue and on another, a rich turquoise blue.
Today the Bosphorous was a deep steel grey colour, the surface broken by choppy waves and decorated with sporadic white caps the colour brought on by the dirty grey clouds streaked with fuzzy black ribbons forming an image reminiscent of tattered old drapes caught on the hills on either side of the strait. The clouds were low, threatening and ominous, foreboding the impending onslaught. The wind, driven down from the north assaulted the house and howled through the balcony railings as some tormented beast trying to free itself from captivity and driven forward against its will.
Glancing to the north, up the strait towards the Black Sea, there was a large rain cloud, like an ancient battleship, settled in the middle of the channel filling the void and rubbing against the hills and clouds. Stealthily moving downstream, rain emptying from the bottom of the cloud formed great white sheets reaching from the bottom of the clouds to the troubled surface of the water, clogging the strait and obscuring everything in it’s path.
As it reached us, the opposite shore vanished from sight and all became engulfed in a grey world of cold, rain and wind. The house shook, the waters descended, and we could see nothing out the windows but rain and grey clouds to the accompaniment of the tormented gale.
As it slowly passed, plodding onwards, assaulting the old city to the south, the shore opposite us slowly and reluctantly emerged from the long white tendrils of falling rain trailing along behind the storm front. The ferries were once more visible and the life that was going on during the storm was again in sight before us.
Days before, when we returned to Istanbul, on the trip from the airport to the flat we asked a Turkish brother who had met us how things were in our absence. I was not in the least prepared for his response.
We were aware that there had been a large, legal distribution of New Testaments over the Christmas period: some 54,500 were given away on the streets of Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir. As this was a legal distribution, with all the required permissions, the police were present to ensure the freedom of those distributing the New Testaments. Great! Praise the Lord! Wonderful!
The counter-point to this tremendous outreach has been a virulent, public, sustained and extremely vocal reaction. Believers have been threatened, many feel intimidated. There has been a veritable flood of newspaper articles, television programmes and magazine articles some accurate, but most inaccurate that incite peoples’ emotions and engender much heat and smoke but precious little light.
Now nearly a month after the distribution I have before me three magazines, samples of what is still occurring in the press. One, on the front page, has the title ”What is the Goal of the Missionaries?” a full colour, nine page spread with photos of an church, elders, people, books, maps and comments by both believers and experts.
They begin by saying that there are 33 thousand house churches and 55 thousand believers – we wish it were true! And they claim that we stuff dollars in New Testaments; and have distributed 8 million so stuffed !
The second magazine has on the front page the title ”The Missionaries’ Plan for Turkey”. The third example is a full page article titled ”The Religious Problem in Turkey EU Relationship: Missionaries”. This article is laced with inaccuracies, exaggerations, distortions, misrepresentation and errors. The author is reflecting his own genuine beliefs, apprehensions and fears concerning missionaries, their practices, beliefs and goals. He is in error, but he writes from a position of respect and authority in the community.
In these articles the motives, methods, goals and desires are all grossly misunderstood and erroneously portrayed.
There is a storm raging, visibility is obscured, rain in driving down and the howling of the wind fills our ears. Life goes on, but you can not see, you can not move, you can not act as you did before the storm. This storm will pass but not just yet. Some of our brothers and sisters are intimidated and disturbed by the furore. Others are encouraged in the Lord.
The believers, local and foreign alike, none of us, are impervious to being influenced by such a torrent of attention. As winter storms come and then pass, so too, this current bout of frenetic activity will pass. Those who must weather the storm find refuge and trust in the Lord; there we can rest in Him, and be ever ready to give the reason for the hope that we have.
And also, as the Lord Jesus taught, we need to be ever ready to pray for our enemies; for those who speak ill of us with no cause; for those who do not know or understand, are ill-informed; for those who actively oppose us and wish our demise. Jesus said, “If your enemy is thirsty, give him a drink” – Our desire is that those who oppose us the most will taste and drink and drink deeply of the Fountain of Life, that well of Living Water.