December 2017

Winter, and by that, I mean an Antakian winter, has arrived.

There is no snow in the valley – very rarely is there snow in the valley. The Amanos mountains have had a dusting of snow on the upper reaches as has the impressive, soaring pinnacle of Kel Dağı (Turkish), Jebel Aqra (Arabic), Mount Casius (ancient). This limestone mountain rises 1,717 metres out of the sea near the mouth of the Asi river (Turkish) or Orontes river (ancient) on the Turkish-Syrian border. It is the dominant feature, being the highest mountain in the area. It too had been liberally dusted with snow. However, all this dusting of snow has since receded and vanished, but there still remains a distinct chill in the air.

An Antiochean winter is, thankfully, absent ice and a driving artic wind common in Europe and North America. Here we do not entertain the extremes of winter weather that are the norm there. Consequently, you may be tempted to think that winter here is rather pleasant.

I suppose, comparatively speaking, it is. But, we do not live ‘comparatively speaking’. The heating systems and the degree of insulation employed in the buildings is only a fraction of what is taken for granted in chillier climes. Hence the homes are cold, draughty, damp and oft-times miserable, resulting in an unbalanced mix of hot spots, too hot spots, cold spots and damp, dank mouldy spots.

Consequently, even for us city-dwellers, when the humidity is high, the cold becomes a penetrating, biting, piecing damp chill. The daily temperatures are only just above, or, on occasion, just below 0ºc… but to the ill-prepared, it is more than sufficient to cause hypothermia.

Slowly, natural gas is being rolled-out in the city, having arrived just a few years ago. Hence, it has only been in the last two or three years that people are converting from coal fired central heat boilers in the apartment buildings or the coal/wood/crushed and pressed olive pips that has traditionally fuelled stoves to heat homes and shops. This slow shift will aid in cleaning the air… but not everyone can change to natural gas and not everyone wants to.

The inescapable, natural consequence of heating with coal, and usually a rather poor grade of coal, is the oppressive, heavy, haze of choking, foul coal smoke which engulfs and smothers the hapless inhabitants. Often the stove pipes empty straight into the streets, the smoke rising no higher and settles in and flows down the streets in a thick, gagging fog.

Having said all that, city living is still a veritable ‘heaven’ compared to the conditions that the Syrian refugee field workers, living in their crude shelters of tarpaulin stretched over frames and pitched in barren fields, must endure. There the damp, the rain, the low brooding clouds, the wind and the inescapable mud means that winter is a profoundly difficult, health threatening, utterly miserable time. In poorly located encampments, the damp rises up directly within the shelters, seeps in at the edges, condensation pouring down the inside walls and dripping off the tarpaulin ceiling and results in an unhealthy environment more suited to frogs and mould than human beings.

For the human residents, better the heat, insects, creepy-crawlies, snakes, the ever present wind and the unrelenting back-breaking labour under the unforgiving scorching summer sun.

Well, let’s be frank, both are bad, but winter is worse.

This year a brother from Istanbul came and joined with us on one of our distributions. When he saw the state of the footwear of the children, those who were wearing any footwear at all, he saw that they were wearing sandals, flip-flops or undersized shoes with their feet hanging off the back side.

Photo from a bit earlier in the year, but please note their footwear…

All the footwear was in tatters. Some were wearing socks, many were not. Not a few of the children were barefoot.

But, winter has arrived. It has not drawn nigh, it is not at the door, it has truly come… things will continue as they are, getting worse in the depths of winter before the hope of spring dawns several months away.

I am wearing proper shoes, with proper socks, and I still feel the cold. Too many of these children are barefoot and the rest are in sandals, flip-flops or slip-ons.

Most are living in desolate fields, and when it rains, the inescapable mud is literally everywhere, and after the rains have passed, there remains puddles and the low spots where the water has accumulated it is extremely reticent to seep away.

Our visiting brother was touched by the love and compassion of God and on his return to his home, made inquiries and spoke with various ones and the Lord touched someone to provide the funds that would enable us to purchase winter footwear for the children. This was not a trivial act, can you imagine the cost of boots and socks for 299 children (under ten years of age)?

We went out and sourced acceptable quality footwear, in a variety of sizes to outfit the children, always striving to get the right balance of cost to value.

And so, recently, the Team did the first distribution of winter boots and socks – because of the slow nature of the task and the number of children and the diverse encampments, we calculated it would take at least three trips to the refugees to be able to get to everyone.

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The team went out to two of the largest encampments and fitted the boots; it was very slow going as you must fit the boots to each and every child to ensure a proper fit. And they are children… not always the easiest to organise and fit socks and boots onto…

In the course of fitting the boots, it became apparent that of the children who did have socks, that the socks were found to be sopping wet and ice cold. The children’s feet felt chilled to the bone.

The project was to provide two pairs of socks and a pair of new, water-proof boots for each child.

Now, as a general principle, when we go out to interact with the children, to play with them and such, we, normally do not inform the Social Assistance Department. It is our understanding that when we are engaged in some form of distribution, that we are constrained to contact them.

As we were ‘distributing’ boots, we informed them and they wanted to send a ‘minder’ along with us to monitor and, well, vet what we are doing.

The next ‘boot’ distribution was on a Thursday and the next encampment on the list to be visited was place we have named: Ağaçlık, that is ‘the Grove’. This has proven to be the most difficult, most challenging encampment we go to. For a detailed picture of this particular encampment, I recommend a blog describing this encampment – it can be read here.

Because of the difficult nature of this encampment, I, who normally do not go on these Thursday trips, offered to come along and assist. I felt, especially with this challenging encampment, that the more helpers the better.

E. loaded the van with a good selection of various sizes of boots and socks and then travelled an hour up the valley to our rendezvous location. There we picked up our minder – who turned out to be someone new.

This new minder seemed like a pleasant enough character. He is clean-cut, well shaved, well dressed, in his late twenties or early thirties. He is polite and easy to get along with.

We drove out to ‘the Grove’ encampment and I backed right into the encampment which recently I have been refraining from doing.

True Confession Time: I backed in, so vehicle would be near and our departure would be least encumbered, straight forward and, well, quick.

This encampment has nearly doubled in size as two gang-masters, who are brothers, have brought their separate Syrian refugee field workers together to winter on this bleak, rock strewn, isolated rise in the fields.

Our plan of action here was different than any of the other encampments where we have distributed boots and, to be frank, the people are easier to work with. Rather than have the people come to the van, and to fit and distribute there, here we felt the only way to control the process was to go from shelter to shelter and size and fit the boots at each shelter. This was inherently inefficient as we would go to a shelter, determine the boot sizes, and then someone would go to the van, collect the boots and socks, return, and when some boots did not fit, return to get the new size.

But, on the positive side, we would be dealing with one shelter – okay, sometimes two shelters – at a time, we would validate who belonged in the shelter and then fit the boots there and then.

Additionally, we also brought face paints with us to decorate each child after they have received their boots, fun for the children – and to identify to us those who had already received their boots; I did say this was a difficult encampment.

And yes, sadly, we did have some small children coming for boots (pushed along by their mums, who strove to remain out of sight, – the children themselves are innocent) and who, on examination, had the mark on their hands!

We divided ourselves into three separate entities. Two groups would go to the shelters, ensure we had just the inhabitants of the shelter and then we would collect the appropriate boots and socks from the van and fit them on the children. The third entity was charged with staying by the van, expediting our collection of boots and socks of various sizes and, regrettably, he was also charged with guarding the contents of the van.

Of the two groups going from shelter to shelter, one was led by our interpreter and the other, by E. In E’s group was our minder, who is also a bi-lingual, Turkish/Arabic speaker. He became our defacto interpreter for this group.

Throughout the time we were in the encampment, we would have men, women, teenagers coming and asking us for footwear also, as, alas, they too have very real needs. However, all we had was for the children. Some of the ladies were petite enough that, physically, they could have worn our largest child sized boots. However, the funds were given to provide for the children, and if you give to one adult, the rest will demand that we provide for them…

Whilst we are in the encampment, the sky was cloudless and the sun was brightly, warmly shining. The air was absolutely crystal clear – I mean really, really, unusually, spectacularly clear. And, for the first time at this distance, for me at least, I could see the dramatically tall mountain, Kel Dağı, down at the coasts, some 70+ kilometres away. Truly amazing!

It was a glorious day – a day when you are naturally inclined to smile.

But when my eyes shifted from the view, the sky, down to the encampment surrounding me, bathed as it was in the soft, pleasant sunlight of winter, there were puddles and inescapable mud was everywhere. The low spots were boggy. Some make-shift kitchens had active puddles inside.

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The ground was firm enough to walk on, but, I had to be careful as it was very slippery – a thin film of red mud lay on the surface everywhere. Simply walking across the encampment was fraught with danger as, without a moments notice, my feet could slip and slide beneath me.

My shoes and the bottom of my trousers were well muddied just from our short time in the encampment. You can imagine the state of those, especially the children who abide there, 24/7.

On completion of that encampment it was evident that God delights in answering prayer as we and many had interceded for our time in this particular encampment and it actually had gone quite well,. For comparison with our earlier encounter with this encampment, please refer this blog, click here.

This time, there was no shouting, no oppressive demanding, no tumult, no intimidation, no swarming mass, no mob of besieging children; truly it wasn’t too bad at all.

The smile on my face when we arrived, in the sun, enjoying the clear air and the amazing vistas before me, was still on my face as we climbed in the van and departed.

And, on our departure, as we still had a good number of boots left, not all sizes, but, an adequate number, we headed to a smaller encampment to carry on.

At this encampment we can be a bit more relaxed. The gang-master and his wife came out and they are trust-worthy and are always a delight to see. As they often do, they offered those of us who desired it, strong Turkish coffee served in a wee demitasse. A powerful pick-me-up and sometimes, when it is really strong, a kick-me-up.

We enjoy this particular encampment. We call it the ‘White House’ as the gang-master lives in this small village in a ‘white house’. He has arranged accommodation for his Syrian refugee field labourers here in the village. Mind you, they are living in old buildings, abandoned buildings, lean-tos and such – but better than a squalid tent in a barren field.

Also, the gang-master has a clean, easily accessible, Turkish style toilet, a wash basin with soap and, as I mentioned, they often give us Turkish tea or Turkish coffee. In all the other encampments there are no clean facilities where one can relieve oneself.

Here we were distributing the boots when someone thanked E for what we were doing, and E, rightly, corrected them, and explained that these boots are not coming from us, but from ‘Christians’ and ‘churches’ around the world….

…. and immediately our minder forcefully interjected “you can not say ‘churches’”…

E promptly, forcefully, but nicely, informed him that we do and we will…

He said, in that case stop what you are doing – you must stop the distribution – you cannot continue!”

Strange, strange, strange… methinks… we are providing needed essentials, we are not requiring people to listen to us, nor are we declaring their very real need for a Saviour, nor do we have a banner declaring we are Christians and representing Churches and the Lord Jesus Christ, nor is there a large cross painted on the vehicle or hanging from our necks, nor emblazoned on the back of our jackets, nor do we make a point to loudly, in your face, declare the truth that they all need to hear… nor do we engage in any polemics… we do not rail against the corruption, immorality, nor the actions and activities that have caused the grief of the refugees nor the source of all this darkness. We say nothing detrimental or negative.

We are called to ‘be light’, to ‘be salt’. Indeed, we are living testimonies. We are God’s Light in this a most dark area. Indeed, our God-given love and God-driven service to those who are not of our faith, is a powerful declaration to all – and, yes, by and large, they all know we are Christians.

But, if in conversation, we mention “church” or “Christian”, well, for the minder, a red line has been well and truly crossed, we have gone beyond the pale, we must be stopped!

It is not so much the minder himself, he is a man under authority. He has been expressly and clearly instructed, by his superior, to not allow us to speak in or of the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, nor to say that we are Christians and that Churches are involved. Never mind that churches are not required to assist and yet have free-will helped these strangers of a different faith.

At our minder’s imperative that we ‘cease and desist’, we began to attempt a dialogue with him. He immediately began by declaring that the Church is the active enemy, and that all the problems in the Middle East come from the United States – and herein is the rub, for many in this part of the world, the United States and the Church are seen as one.

Now, my mind, which attempts to be logical, has trouble squaring the circle whereby Muslims killing Muslims in this part of the world is the work of the U.S. …

But he was convinced.

He retorted:

“Who,” he asked, “is paying the money?”

Who is ‘pulling the strings’?”

Who is master-minding, organising and orchestrating it all?”

It has been my repeated experience that for far too many people living in this part of the world, the clear answer to all these questions is the United States.

As it really is not possible to dialogue with an ideologue… there really is no common reference point, there is no established base line for a frank discussion… the only recourse was to ring the minder’s boss.

This E promptly did…

The boss was adamantly of the opinion that we can not and must not, say we are ‘Christians’ or that the aid is coming from ‘churches’. For him, and as he is the head of his department, for his department, this is flatly unacceptable.

He went so far as to directly and openly say to E, “If you do not want these people to go without boots and if you do not want them to go hungry, then do not say you are from a church”.

Bizarrely, he seems to be extremely content for these impoverished people, these suffering refugees, these hapless individuals sheltering in barren fields, these people of the same faith as himself – his co-religioniststo go without boots and to go hungry rather than to have them receive aid and, from time to time, directly, hear us say the most frightening of words: “Christian” and “church”.

Unbelievable.

Remarkable.

What, in the world, is he so, instinctively, afraid of?

What does he expect to happen through the utterance of these two words?

E informed him that we have, are, and we will continue to declare from whence this assistance is coming. She pointedly said to do otherwise would be dishonest, to lie, the aid is not coming from us, by our hands at the end of the process maybe, but, she pointed out, we are Christians, motivated by the Love of God and the source the provision comes from Christians and Churches in other countries.

She declared we are called to be honest. We are called to ‘speak the Truth in love’.

Additionally, again addressing our part, we are called to love our neighbour, and currently our neighbours are these Syrian refugee field labourers – of an alien faith. So we take the provisions, that God has provided via Christians and Churches, and go out to where these people are living to ‘love our neighbour’.

And that is how it was left: he said his bit and we said ours.

He said categorically, “Do not say,” and we replied categorically, “We shall say.”

Where this tale shall end, we do not know… but we shall continue to be, to do and to say as we have… until we no longer are able…

Strangely, he had requested, and we provided some of the boots we had, for his department to distribute to the needy Syrians in the local town. And, in the past, he has requested and received some food-stuffs to distribute in the town to Syrian refugees.

It is noteworthy, and rather remarkable to me, that he seems to be happy to receive aid from Christians and from Churches, but not for the Syrians to hear from whence this aid arises. He knows. We declare it to him… repeatedly…

Again, I am gob-smacked…

…Why is he so, profoundly, viscerally sensitive to two mere words?

It must also be kept in mind that this is nor just ‘his’, but his attitude is indicative of the greater ‘fear’ and the greater negative and hostile attitude towards Christians in this land of the Bible by the vast majority of citizens living in this country.

I was out on my normal constitutional when I received a phone call that required me to return home. It wasn’t urgent or negative, just something I had with me that was required there and then.  It was a time sensitive need.

So I agreed that I would ‘power walk’ home – to arrive with the least delay. I often walk ‘quickly’ and this was just an impressive way to say that I wouldn’t dawdle, but I would walk with purpose and as quickly as a man of age and state can manage.

Normally, I try and walk a minimum of 10,000 paces a day – that is roughly 7 kilometres or approximately 4 ½ miles. Currently I’m at 75 contiguous days of hitting the target and basically, I have been hitting the target for the bulk of a year or so…the odd few days here and there where I have missed it.

So I set off at a quick but not murderous pace.

There weren’t many people about, so I basically had the footpath to myself. Hence, I applied myself to increasing my pace to my quickest rate.

Powering down the boardwalk, ahead of me, I saw a family, some ladies and children coming up the footpath and filling it from side to side. In order not to inconvenience them, nor slacken my pace, I opted to pass to my left, off the footpath where I would bypass them by utilising the verge.  The verge consists of some grass, some bedding areas with no plantings and some trees and the odd light standard.  It is rather narrow, separating the boardwalk from the roadway.

Many times previously, in like situations , I had performed this manoeuvre  and so I was expecting to power on by and loosing little momentum on my journey home.

Except things didn’t go exactly to plan.

Now I do not know the precise sequence of events, but at some point I must have tripped, or lost my footing, or made some other elemental, basic error.

The first that I knew that something was amiss was only as I was somewhat airborne and going down with no hope of stopping it.  

Out flew my hands to protect me as I plummeted. There didn’t seem to be anything else that I could do.

Oh, and I was tumbling off, or was it over, the verge and into the roadway.

Now, generally speaking, this is an extremely busy little road and drivers, when an opportunity presents itself, will power down the roadway with seemingly reckless abandon.  

It was, in fact, on this very road, just two years prior I was witness to a young girl being bowled over by an inattentive motorcyclist. The girl was wholly up-ended and the motorcyclist and his travelling companion were left skidding down the road independent of their motorcycle which was also skidding down the road.

Now, here I was, flying into the same roadway. Mind you, it was without the aid of a motorcycle, but it still was not the most desirable of destinations to be heading towards.

As with all these things, it happened incredibly quickly, literally, in the twinkling of an eye.

I’m down.

Face first.

When I hit, my left side took the brunt of the fall and my outstretched hands absorbed some of the violence of the impact. I was aware that my head did not come in contact with the road surface. My 65 kilos had come pell-mell from an upright, forward moving state to a prone and utterly stopped state in under a second or two at the most.

Things have happened rather unexpectedly and rather abruptly.

I’m lying there, gathering my thoughts, doing a quick check to see what is speaking the loudest to me, my left leg, hands, elbow, wrist… the list seems to be growing…I was generally occupied in taking stock.

I perceived that nothing was broken.

Oh, and I noted that there was no traffic this day – the road is strangely lacking its normal frenetic masses of traffic. Strange for a Saturday, or, better put, thankfully strange for a Saturday.

Hence, I haven’t been run over.

At the time, I would have preferred to lie there on the floor for a bit, just to collect myself.

But, virtually instantly, people have rushed to my aid. There is a lady in her twenties, a young lad of about ten or twelve – asking if I was alright. There was a middle aged council employee asking the same thing. Others were there, but my mind was somewhat preoccupied and my vision rather narrow. Many hands were outstretched to aid me to my feet.

I couldn’t say no to the assistance. I may have wished to lie there a bit longer and gather myself, but aid to pull me up, well that was not to be neglected. I appreciated the hands pulling me up. It would have been a slower and I dare say, a more painful experience, if I had attempted it on my own.

I thanked my helpers – there was a small crowd around me now.

Of course I was rather embarrassed. There was no real reason for my tumble. I was simply rushing. I was walking too fast and not being careful enough. No excuses.

Nevertheless, there was no end of people asking after me, offering assistance and ensuring I was okay.

I returned to the footpath and turned my steps, once again, towards home. I still needed to get there and I still needed to be there sooner rather than later – the basic equation on why I was heading home had not changed. It was a time sensitive situation.

My left leg was speaking to me in several places, both my palms were distressed, my right elbow was smarting, and my left wrist had things to say, but everything was functioning, and so I headed off, but at a rather diminished rate.

I still arrived home in good time – naturally, no record had been set. I surrendered the item that was in my possession and made my way into our home. My left wrist is reluctant to give me support, my left leg, is battered, banged and skinned in multiple places, but I am on the mend. No serious damage has been done.

But I think it is important to note that with all the violence that is happening in our world, with people demonising a whole society, culture and religion – I would like to point out that young and old, male and female, workmen and housewives all stopped what they were doing, they ceased going about on their own business and offered me, a complete and utter stranger aid and comfort without pause or hesitation. I know if I had needed water, it would have been procured. If I had needed other aid, it would have been provided.

Rarely in life are things black and white. Rarely are generalisations accurate for the individual. Rarely are caricatures even remotely helpful. Rarely can we extrapolate from the few and apply to the many and have anything remotely resembling reality or something that is in some way helpful – except maybe in reinforcing preconceived prejudices and biases.

All who were in the vicinity of my tumble, Sunni or Alevi, Turk or Syrian, (Muslims all) came to my aid, expressing concern and care and willing to do whatever was necessary for me in my time of need. All for a complete stranger.

The weather report for Monday, 27 March called for overcast, cloudy skies.  However, this being Antakya, the weather was lightly, slightly overcast, bordering on sunny.

As we had a good-sized, eager team from America, the loading of the lorry was done in an quick and efficient manner.

With a full complement of individuals to assist, drive and translate, all bases covered, we headed out to the fields up the valley from Antakya, just past and under the jurisdiction of the town of Kırıkhan.

When we arrived at Kırıkhan we picked up two individuals assigned to us by the local Social Welfare Department.  For a number of weeks now, we have picked these two young men up.  They are well presented, clean shaven, in their early twenties, but neither has even a basic GCSE equivalent qualification.  One is slim and taller and the other is shorter, and, well, rounder.

In the beginning we did not know why they were to accompany us.  When E, the elder’s wife and the head of the Syrian Refugee work in our fellowship, queried the reason why they were to accompany us, she was told they were there “to help and assist in the distribution”.

This was somewhat incongruous with their activities as they never lent a helping hand, rather, they stood around and watched, took photos, played with their phones and chatted to each other.  In stark contrast, our lorry driver, who is only contracted to drive his lorry, happily and willingly helps in the distribution, handing down the bags and really helpful in a variety of ways.

On one occasion, the tall ‘helper’ wanted to see what was in the bags we were distributing and so we happily let him select the bag he wanted to open, and peruse the contents.

In the course of the distribution, it is our practice to stop for a meal break, and our ‘helpers’ have broken bread with us.

On this day we collected our ‘helpers’ and headed out to the first encampment of the day, situated on a barren corner of a field at the conjunction of two field roads.

This encampment was on my list, but the team hadn’t been there this season, so there was an underlying disconnect – if they haven’t been there, how is it on my list?  

Therefore, when we arrived, it was a bit confused to say the least.  

As we worked our way through who was there, and how many souls made up the various families and providing the appropriate amount of foodstuffs, they, as people are wont to do when receiving something, began to express their gratitude to us.  This was also the encampment where the child was, the one who had the devastating skin disease and had lost all his fingers and toes, and who was suffering terribly.  Because Sovereign Lord, in His Love and Grace used us to help the lad and his family – he is now receiving treatment in Antalya – other relatives, still residing in this encampment, once again expressed their heartfelt gratitude to us.

Now, from the beginning, when people expressed gratitude to us, our response has always been to declare that the assistance, the provision, that which is coming from our hands, is first and foremost the provision of our Loving God; often we will say “give thanks to Jesus”; additionally we declare that the provision has been enabled by the giving of Christians and various churches from around the world.  Not overbearing, but a clear, simple declaration of truth.

And so, at this, our first encampment of the day, as people were expressing gratitude, we, as we do, once again clearly made known the source of the food stuffs they had received.

This was repeated a few times at this encampment as it came up a few times.

Now, one of our ‘helpers’ over heard all this, it seems for the first time.  

This stumbled him greatly.  He accepts that it is acceptable for us to help people – but in his view, it is wholly unacceptable for us to “advertise” (his word not mine) that we are Christians and to say that these provisions come from Churches.  

I find this rather bizarre because on the following day, as I was on my morning constitutional, I walked past the Council buildings here in Antakya and there on the pavement were seven or eight boxes that I concluded were food aid as there was a list of the contents (food items) on the side plus, in rather large print, the name of the Council.  They are, by the same token, likewise making ‘advertisement’ by identifying from whence the aid comes.

I dare say it would be apparent that the problem was not so much the ‘advertisement’, but the mentioning of ‘Christians’ and ‘Churches’ that was the cause of his ‘offence’.

And so, we are now exposed to the true nature of our so-called ‘helpers’, more ‘auditors’ than ‘helpers’.

Now, in Turkish culture, if there is a problem, generally speaking, you will not directly confront someone yourself, but, using a third party, you will let your thoughts be known.  In this instance, this method was employed and one of our number was charged with telling E to cease and desist in proclaiming that we are Christians and that this aid comes from Christians and Churches – in the ‘offended one’s view’ – to stop making ‘advertisement’.

This she flatly refused to accept, arguing that the ‘helpers’ did not have the authority to make such a restriction, that there is freedom of religion in Turkey, that we have been doing this from the beginning of this work and that we would continue to do so.

This, it is fair to say, did not go down well with the ‘offended one’ and his companion.  Therefore, the ‘two’ retreated and proceeded to ring their manger and to inform him that we were ‘making advertisement’ and we ‘would not desist from doing so’.  The manager – the regional director of Social Welfare Department, so informed, declared that he was sending the rural police, the Gendarme, to come out and “stop us”.

Whilst they were making their phone call, E also took advantage at this time to ring one of the people she had talked to in the regional office, the Document Comptroller – a key individual who is the gate keeper of the work that flows to the regional Governor – a central and influential position.  He is also a very religious Muslim, and in their previous meeting, E had shared her faith very openly with him.  That occurred in the district governors office during a previous occasion when she spoke about what we are engaged in, with the regional governor, and various managers, including the director of Social Welfare.  She delineated to the Document Comptroller the current situation as raised by our ‘helpers’ and requested his assistance.

This was all transpiring at the planned second encampment of the day.  

We began our distribution.  

The ‘two’, muttering to each other, stood off to one side, watching, not hostile, but not happy either.  The one who seemed to be most offended seemed to be ‘righteously indignant’ that we were using aid distribution to ‘advertise’ who we are and from whence the aid comes.

I approached them to engage in conversation with them and they informed me that in the Koran it declares that “when doing good, your right hand should not know what your left hand is doing”.  I found this an interesting quote.  I found it a remarkably interesting quote.  

Indeed, after our return and on further investigation, it seems that there is no such reference in the Koran (it may be in the Hadith – ‘the Sayings’, I do not know, but it is not in the Koran proper) but it is clearly in the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ as recorded in the New Testament.  His quote to me was very interesting.  I muse, “Was he inadvertently quoting from the New Testament in his opposition to Christians?”

Anyway, back at the encampment, the ‘helpers’ suggested we say something innocuous and ambiguous – the unstated result would be that the hearers would be ignorant that Christians have anything to do with it.  Again, they unintentionally and subtly declared that the point of stumbling is not in making ‘advertisement’ but in the nature of the advertisement.  

The stumbling blocks were the words ‘Christian’ and ‘Churches’.

It always amazes me how profoundly sensitive and deeply insecure they are, that a simple mention of the source of the aid is deeply offensive.  This may arise from a deeply inbred insecurity about their own beliefs or as an example of the spiritual warfare that we are engaged in, or a mix of the two.

As we were distributing the aid, we were, at the same time, awaiting the arrival of the rural police, the Gendarme.

It is true to say that things had not been running to schedule on this day, and our mid-day meal break was going to be an hour or so late – this is in no-wise noteworthy, truly it is of no importance for the healthy amongst us, but it definitely was not good news for the diabetic amongst us who needs to ingest sustenance at regular intervals.  

Alas, my blood sugar was in decline.

It was when we finished our distribution and the next item on our schedule was our delayed meal break, that I noted the bright blue Gendarme vehicle on the road coming into the village.  I was not alone in noting it as our two ‘helpers’ were on active look-out for it.

On catching a glimpse of the Gendarme vehicle, one of the ‘two’, the one who was the ‘informer’ and the ‘offended one’ ran off to intercept the Gendarme least they carry on looking for us up the road.  

It is the most I’ve seen him do in the time he has been with us.

He intercepted and collected the vehicle and it made its way down the ratty old side track to the location of our distribution.

Two officer class or at least, senior NCO class individuals alighted, followed by a scrawny looking conscript whose task it was to guard the vehicle and be ready for ‘trouble’, holding, as he was, a rather large rifle.

The Gendarme strode over, sour, stern expressions on their faces.

Turkey is dealing with many extremely serious problems; a Kurdish uprising and associated violence and terrorist acts, the presence of millions of Syrian refugees – some of whom are not the ‘cream of society’ and hence prone to doing wrong, others who are active adherents to IS and its bloody ideology, plus all the normal policing problems in a border area related to smuggling, AND YETand yet… here they are, armed and ready to deal with the threat that some people engaged in a ‘good work’, occupied with helping the disadvantaged, vulnerable, destitute individuals, and in the course of doing this are mentioning, or speaking of being Christians and that the aid comes from Christians and Churches

Truly, I am speechless.

Nevertheless, the Gendarme are there, looking serious, and taking it very seriously indeed, and the two of them together take an aggressive tone and approach declaring that we “can not do this”.

One individual, whether it was the ‘specialist’ with the Gendarme or the ‘informer’ – the ‘offended helper’, I do not recall, but they declared that ‘we can not do this’ and E immediately confronted him and declared to his face that she is not listening to him as he is clearly ignorant of the law.

She boldly declared that as a Turk she has the right to share her faith with whomsoever she chooses and they can do nothing about that – it is her right.  She confidently stated that she could call all the Syrians over and present the Good News to them, in front of the Gendarme and that they could not arrest her as it is her legal right to share her faith.

She also stated that we have been helping Syrian refugee field workers for three years and declared that all thoughout that time we have clearly proclaimed who we are and from whence the aid is coming.

She also explained, that although she has this legal right to openly share her faith, that we have not taken advantage of these vulnerable people – we have assisted openly, freely without let or hinderance, only declaring the source when it is appropriate, that the nature and source of this assistance would be honestly known.

The Gendarme wanted to examine the contents of a distribution bag, and so one was selected at random, opened up and the contents scrutinised.  Rice, beans, sugar, tea, oil, bulgar wheat, macaroni, soap, salt, lentils – all very dangerous items in the wrong hands…

Finally, the phone call that the gendarme were waiting for came through – we think from the district governor’s office.  After the call, the senior gendarme turned, his visage now smiling and friendly, and he declared that there was no problem and we were free to carry on.

The ‘two’ – our assigned ‘helpers’- were intimately involved in all these discussions, they were, after all, both the ‘informant’ and the ‘offended party’.  They heard the defence as presented by E, and as well, that the Gendarme did not counter it nor attempt to refute or deny it.  They observed that the Gendarme did not arrest us, nor compel us to desist in speaking of being ‘Christians’ and the ‘Church’.

This interlude with the Gendarme now concluded, we loaded everyone into our vehicles, including the ‘two’, our ‘helpers’, who are to accompany us in our distribution, and, as we declared, made our way to our luncheon location.  My chosen venue for lunch was a tree by the side of the road about a kilometre up the road, halfway between two encampments.  The Gendarme followed us there.

We stopped to eat.

The Gendarme, after pausing and after we offered to share our food with them (declined), continued on their way to other, more serious, business.  We tucked into the lunch provisions: black olives, bread, sliced tmates, cheese, luncheon meat and ayran (a yogurt drink).  

On this occasion, the ‘two’ declined to join with us – but as we insisted that they have something, they did accept the ayran drink.

From there we went to the third encampment of the day and then on to the final one.  The ‘two’, as is their customary practice, were idly standing around, watching.

At the last encampment, I spoke again with them, not about what had transpired, just, friendly chatting with them.  Hopefully, demonstrating the love, compassion and Grace of God.  There was a goat pen at this encampment and one, the ‘informer’ – the ‘offended one’ – explained how he has experience with animals from his childhood in a local village and he put his finger through the wire and the goat suckled it.  He did this a number of times.  Then he did it again and the goat bit him.  Undeterred, he did it again with another goat, and this one drew blood.  At this point he desisted.

This was what I had intended to be our penultimate encampment, but everything was distributed and with nothing left in any of the vehicles, we prepared to depart and return to Antakya.  As we have done in weeks past, the ‘two’ then moved from our vehicle to the lorry.  The lorry driver drops them off on his way through Kırıkhan and we take all of our people back in the van.  It gives the ‘two’ a good opportunity to talk about us, and to have a quiet word and query our lorry driver.

Over the course of the day, it was revealed by various ones that, it seems, there has been a number of complaints about us, not just from the ‘two’ who accompanied us, but from others as well.  As you would expect, the complaints are made by ‘anonymous’ sources.  

It is clear that the complaints do not arise from the recipients of the assistance, nor from the gang-masters who organise and manage the work of the Syrian refugee field workers.  If the gang-masters didn’t want us, they could simply say so.  They are the ones who have to organise and ensure that the recipients are brought back to the encampment when we do the distribution as we do not just dump a load of aid ‘by faith’ – we check ID and family composition at each distribution.  The gang-masters actively facilitate our distribution.

Therefore, the query arises, from whence do the complaints arise?  

I dare say, it is likely to be from those (religious individuals) who are stumbled, offended and frightened by the fact that Christians are doing ‘good works’.  Christians, just doing the good works, is a stumbling block.

If we acted like them and were only helping our co-religionists, that would be okay.  They would understand that.  In their eyes, we would be the same as them, for this is what they would do.  But Christians helping suffering Muslims, this is prima facie offensive and wrong.  The fact that we are open and honest about from whence the aid comes, is compounding the offence, adding insult to injury.  

Additionally, it is probably true that there are Turks who are not receiving assistance and hence are jealous and complain.  In this case, they would be basically reflecting the attitude, “If you aren’t helping me, you shouldn’t help them.”  The fact that, as citizens they have automatic access to much state aid, and, at the end of the day, their simple living conditions are still light years ahead of people living under canvas in a muddy field notwithstanding.

In any event, whatever the motive, the ‘complainers’ are patently content that if we are stopped that the consequence will be that the hungry will remain hungry, that the children will not receive adequate sustenance, that those dwelling in primitive shelters in the fields and with insufficient clothing, that their suffering will continue unabated.  They are content with the suffering of their co-religionists RATHER than suffering the indignity of allowing Christians to help, aid, assist, and assisting without let or hinderance, without some ‘requirements’ being fulfilled by the recipients.  

Clearly, what we are involved in, is aid on the basis of ‘grace’ and not right, nor race, nor religion, nor language – grace (undeserved, unearned, unmerited favour) – motivated by the Love of God.

Indeed, if the ‘complainers’ want us to cease and desist in our activities, if they were prepared to step into the breech and meet the need and from their own pockets and their own resources go out and with their own physical efforts go and help their co-religionists – I would have no problem.  We would happily desist.

Sadly, however, they want us to stop – but they are not willing to pick up the task, to meet the need.  They are content for the deprived to be deprived, the disadvantaged to remain disadvantaged, for the suffering to suffer…

God is not.  

Eternal shame on them – this not as a curse, this not as a prayer, this is not a wish or desire, but this is the natural conclusion of their actions. 

Western nations turning away refugees to maintain their lovely life style should also take note…

A week after our “informing” the Regional Health Department of a seriously ill Syrian refugee child, we arrived at his encampment to do our monthly aid distribution.  

This is the child detailed in an earlier blog who is suffering from a serious, debilitating and destructive skin disease and who is living in a make-shift shelter, in a rough and ready encampment, situated in a bald, barren field, two hours up the valley from Antakya.As we normally do, we set up on the edge of the encampment and began the distribution.

Of course, it was also our intention to revisit the ill child – to see how he is doing and how his treatment is progressing.

Elmas went over to his shelter to find him looking much better. He seemed happy to see her and made signs with the stumps of his hands, indicating the spreading of ointment and medicine on his arms.  He was now clothed in a long-sleeved shirt and long trousers, so those sores were no longer visible.  I suppose dressed thusly, it will protect the sores from the dirt and muck of the encampment.  I can not speak to the state of the sores on his arms and legs, but the masses of sores on his head are no longer weeping, appearing to be scabbed over.

Generally, he looked much improved – within the confines of his disease.  He seemed much better, even looking ‘happy’ to see Elmas.

On this visit we learned several things: the doctors are coming out regularly to see and treat the child and ‘the child’ is actually 15 years of age – we would have guessed him to be half that age.  We were also very relieved to see that he is no longer bound.

When we first came he was bound, whether to prevent him from causing harm to himself because of the pain and discomfort of the ravaging disease or whether to keep him from others in the encampment who might, naturally, fear being in contact with him, we do not know.  

But, we do know that on this visit, he was not bound.  

No doubt the regular visits of the doctor contributes to this as this would be totally unacceptable to a medical professional.

We also learned that his parents are Syrian refugee field ‘workers’ and not merely field ‘dwellers’.  The ill, disabled child, is by himself from when his parents depart, early in the morning, to the fields, until dusk when they return.  Without fingers and toes, the range of things he can not do for himself, especially living in the primitive circumstance of field dwelling is legion – he can not cook, drink, go to the loo on his own….  His uncle was in the encampment to keep an eye on him – but that was all.  His parents, the ones who are best placed to understand and care for him were, by necessity, off, labouring in the fields.

Rejoice with us that the Regional Health Department are true to their word, regularly visiting and treating this child.  Rejoice with us that the child has responded well to the treatment – his fingers and toes can not come back of course, but the pain, discomfort and the additional damage that would be caused by the untreated disease is at least being addressed and abated.

Please pray for him and the thousands of children living in similar circumstance as a result of the neighbouring conflict, strife, fighting and discord.

May all hear, and understand the Prince of Peace who changes hearts and lives and brings true, real peace.