I try and walk every day with my aim of accomplishing at least 10,000 paces.

Ten thousands paces is a number bandied about as a good, healthy goal, but this first came about as a marketing name for a Japanese pedometer (!). Since then most studies since have endorsed this as a reasonable goal for most – too much for some, too little for others, but conventionally it is good as a broad ‘rule of thumb’ guide.

In any event, my goal is 10,000+ per day, but not in a legalistic, ‘absolutely must accomplish’ manner.

I have a variety of routes around the city and I endeavour to accomplish various tasks in the course of my travels.

In my ramblings I have observed a variety of things including Urban Renewal projects whereby older, weary, unsafe apartment buildings are being systematically rendered into dust and debris to be replaced by new, modern, earthquake-resistant constructions. I have seen the river reduced to a stinking, green morass due to the lack of water at the height of summer and I’ve seen it swelling with the prodigious abundance caused by torrential rains in the winter months. I’ve observed the Water Authority digging and laying a large pipe in the base of the river. I do not know why it has been laid, or to what purpose it will be put – but after two years, it now lies, buried and hidden in the bottom of the riverbed. And, there are banners displayed about town ‘promising’ that the river will be returned to its blue, non-reeking past by next summer (2018).

And, in my meanderings, I came across some renovations of the ground floor corner, front and side garden of an apartment building – something was being prepared. Over the course of weeks, slowly stone cladding was laid on the floor in the front and side of the building, the corresponding walls of the building were decorated with a brick façade and the corner section, the bit that is actually in the fabric of the apartment building, a service counter and various pieces of equipment were installed.

All of that is normal enough, but what caught my eye was the lack of, er, well, a ceiling, a protective roof and exterior walls with doors, in the place where the front and side gardens had been – that is, 75% of the footprint of the shop was exposed to the elements.

I had discerned that it was destined to be a coffee shop, providing light snacks and a selection of hot and cold beverages. But, at the end of the day, there was no way to ‘close up shop’, it was fully exposed.

I thought, surely, they will put shutters up, or a screen, or bars or something around the essential food preparation area which is situated in the building… but, alas, there were no shutters, no fittings for bars nor any way to enclose this area at the end of the business day.

Strange” I thought.

The day of their Grand Opening came and went, and the cafe / coffee shop was, wide open and unrestrained.

I must say that I found this rather intriguing.

Finally, I could contain myself no more and I broke my walk and stepped up – there really was no ‘in’ to step into, and I enquired as to what they do when the business of the day is over.

The answer was simplicity itself: “One of the employees stays on the premises overnight – he becomes a night watchman.”

I realised, then, that like many things in Turkey, they were ‘open’ but the project was not yet completed.

A good example of this is our local airport. For years there were visible works. The runway, the access road, some diverse buildings. But once they had all the absolutely essential elements in place – the electronics, radar, airport fire brigade, runway, lights, support systems, all the indispensable and vital elements, they constructed a small, basic building to act as a temporary terminal and ‘opened’ the airport.

It would be two years before the proper, large, modern terminal would be constructed and ready.

As time passed, they added to the simple two lane road connecting the airport to the main road with an additional second, parallel road and so, when fully finished, it formed a four lane divided carriageway.

In the initial phase, there were few flights, and so they could work all the kinks and teething problems out before it was fully completed and more passengers would be flowing through on a daily basis.

Very clever methinks.

Turks have truly mastered the phased construction methodology and so things are up and functioning before they are fully finished. And so, in a similar manner, those creating this coffee shop brought it up to an acceptable level, and together with a night watchman, they opened for business.

But the finishing of the shop would slowly continue over the course on the following year.

They opened in summer, when it literally, never rains in Antakya – yes, you may get a very rare, once in a blue moon, rain, but it really is a unique exception. However, before the onset of September, when at sometime in that month the first rain of autumn / winter will descend, they arranged for some retractable, high quality – luxury – roof awnings to be installed. They have built in lights and are extremely well made.

They are electrically powered retractable roof awnings – they open and close at the push of a button. It was clear this ‘retractable’ roof would provide the essential protection in the winter months from both the drizzly rains and the torrential flooding downpours. Of course, in the summer months, they will provide blessèd relief from the intense, scorching, Antiochean sun.

Additionally, these ‘retractable roof awnings’ also enabled the coffee shop / cafe to be considered ‘outdoors’ and hence exempt from the ‘indoor smoking ban’; the customers are free to imbibe in their smoking addiction. This is a massive business plus because smoking has been banned inside restaurants since July 2009. And, remarkably, this ban has been universally respected.

Since that time all enclosed restaurants, cafes, coffee shops and such are smoke-free in Turkey. Whilst this has been greatly appreciated by the growing numbers of non-smokers in society, it has left the smokers frustrated and fuming.

But, here, in this cafe, those ensnared by the entanglements of tobacco, are free to sit, relishing in the beverage (non-alcoholic) of their choice and engage in a relaxed, comfortable chat, and, in this outside-in cafe, if they so desire, they can light up at any point it takes their fancy or are forced to by the power of their tobacco craving.

This is a unique selling feature.

In time walls consisting of powered glass panels, which could automatically be raised or lowered, were fitted. These formed the exterior walls. These can be raised, to protect from the rains or the driving, bitter, cold winds of winter and lowered, to allow the delightfully cooling breezes of summer to pass through the shop.

They even fitted proper, lockable doors to the front of the shop.

At the end of the major works, the coffee shop / cafe is now weather tight, and the need for a night watchman is greatly diminished. The need is diminished, but they still have a night watchman, I asked, for although the shop is enclosed and the roof is made of a strong, sturdy , flexible awning material, it could still be pierced.

At the very least now, with the walls, firmly in the ‘up’ position at night and the roof tightly closed and weathertight, it is a more secure proposition – and a more amenable locale for the watchman to, er, well, watch in…

As the months passed, they have continued to polish and refine the interior décor. They have installed misting fans for the summer, fancy, mosaic like lights for decorative lighting and special, under-table heaters to provide directed heat for the patrons in winter.

The shop, now, after the passage of time, actually a fair amount of time, has been completed and the space is fully fitting out. Now, when I see tradesmen, it is not something new being fitted, but essential maintenance to ensure that all continues to function as desired.

I find it interesting to note that even when the walls are fully up and the roof is tightly closed, people freely smoke… To my eye, and nose, the space is now fully ‘enclosed’ and feels like ‘inside’. I ponder if it is still ‘legal’ to light up. I wonder if the space would now be more accurately described as ‘indoors’. I suppose it can be argued that the space is still to be identified as ‘outdoors’ for at the push of a button or two, it can easily be wholly outdoors.

Regardless as to the legal technicalities, at the end of the day, functionally, it is treated as a smoking friendly zone.

I tend to frequent this particular establishment, not because of the smoking or the freedom to light up – I find the revolting stench of cigarette smoke decidedly off-putting – but because I have developed a rapport with the owners and the staff. I come by – generally at off times – when there are few other patrons and precious little smoke fouling that air. Oh, and they make a rather nice de-caffeinated cappuccino.

It seems that I am the only customer who enjoys a nice de-caffeinated beverage. I asked.

There are times when it is cold, cloudy, a light rain mizzling and the retractable roof and glass walls are all tightly closed up, and the cigarette smoke, lazily drifts in the space and it is inescapable.

Well, I grew up in a time and in a home where my mum and dad smoked. My early working life was before the current enlightened era; in those days everyone, all smokers smoked everywhere, unrestricted, inside, outside, work places, offices, buses, cafes, restaurants, absolutely everywhere.

Seriously, it was not that it seemed or felt like it was ‘everywhere’, it really was everywhere.

I do not enjoy the obnoxious, gagging, stench, but I am not driven away by it either – in the old days, you had to accommodate it as it was inescapable and I guess I just fall into old habits.

In any event, as I said, I tend to go at times when there are few patrons – so, even if the roof and walls are fully buttoned up, often, although not always, I can be blissfully unaware of anyone smoking.

Over the time that I’ve been going there, I’ve noticed that there are some people who seem to be always ‘there’. I assumed they are either partners in the business or backers of the enterprise or relatives of the owners.

As we have recognised one another, we have chatted, and they have come to know this crazy foreigner who comes and sits and writes away over a hot cuppa and I have come to recognise the various players.

In the course of our time together, I have discerned that they are of the Sunni division of Islam – the more orthodox branch.

They, in turn, have learned that I am both a Christian and that I am associated with a local Christian fellowship here in Antakya.

Recently, I was sitting, enjoying my beverage, doing some writing, when an individual who once, for a period of time, had come to our fellowship, approached and sat down beside me.

She is a single mum and is struggling with her teenage son. What single mum, or, for that matter, what married mum doesn’t have struggles with their teenage son?

She shared some of her struggles and a recent event when she, in frustration and anger, stumbled and struck her son in exasperation and helplessness and his general, surly attitude. She was asking what she should do.

Well, in my world view, the problem is neither unusual nor is there an easy, ‘off the shelf solution’ that can be drawn upon to sort things out.

I was open and honest with her and told her where, I believe, real help, real hope, real solutions can be found. Be warned, if you ask me, you get my answers.

So, I found myself, in this coffee shop, telling her Where and in Whom the answers can be found. I spoke candidly, frankly, honestly and sometimes rather bluntly…

I was sincerely speaking with her irregardless of the staff and one of the owners/backers being nearby… in any event, in Turkey, very little is done secretly.

I was sitting in the coffee shop, writing, when she came to me. I was visible. I was available. She approached me, shared a wee bit of her burden and asked her questions. I responded and answered her.

This, I believe, is all part of being ‘Light’ and ‘Salt’ in our world. Not doing something ‘special’ but going about our normal lives, and being who we are in Christ. Remembering: “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,” 1 Peter 3:15 NIVUK

What will she do? I do not know, that is for her to decide.

Often our lives, like this coffee shop, which, although not complete and all tricked out, was open for business, and so, we, are alive and functioning and interacting with one another, although we are not complete nor finished, there is still an on-going work in our lives – always learning, ever changing.

I know this is true in my life.

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.

Antakya is rather unique among the cities of Turkey. The population that makes up this neglected backwater is strangely cosmopolitan.

The city consists of a mixture of Sunni Turks, Alevi Arabs, Kurds, Greek Orthodox Christians, a minute Jewish population, oh, and now a disproportionate number of Syrian refugee Sunni Arabs. Additionally, the imprint and influence of the time when this area was part of the French Mandate are still discernible.

For a cheap and cheerful explanation of the various religious divisions in Turkey, please refer to this blog: The Religious Make-up of Turkey 

Now in this region there is a preponderance of small – about 36 – 96 square feet – white-washed, often domed, structures. You will see them decorating hill tops, positioned by streams, found in lonely fields, situated by roads, and they are even liberally scattered throughout the old section of Antakya city.

I noted one such white-washed structure that is situated on an isolated patch on the banks of the Asi River – known in ancient times as the Orontes River.

In time, the ‘powers that be’ decided to cast a bridge over the river right at that point.

2010-08-28-Antioch-P1140594-ziyaret-1.jpgHowever, this small structure, white-washed with green highlights, capped with a small dome, was positioned right at the planned bridgehead.

What was to be done?” I wondered to myself.

Would they knock the structure down or shift it somewhere else?” I pondered and watched as the project advanced.

In time, the bridge was thrown across the river and the wee structure continued to defiantly stand where it has historically stood. The four lane approach road was built on the opposite shore.

Then, when the time came to build the approach road on the side with the structure, they built one half of the road on the right side of the structure, and the other on the left side – the structure, untouched, unmoved, unfazed and somewhat marooned, now in the middle of the four lane road – remained exactly where it always has been.

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It seems it was too important, or too sacred, to be demolished or even removed to a nearby location. Those who wish to visit this structure will need to negotiate at least two lanes of flowing traffic to gain access.

It was long after this incident that I noticed that this structure has a strange and unique feature. It seems that there was a tree growing in that place and when the structure was constructed the tree, the living tree, was simply incorporated into the building; it continues to this day to grow in, through and out of the building.

These wee white-washed structures, scattered all over this region, are small Alevi shrines.

These buildings have been built over time and have been constructed over the graves of various ‘saints’. These saints can be a ‘holy man’ a ‘sheikh’, ‘a teacher’ or even a ‘Christian saint’ of old.

These structures are almost invariably painted white and most frequently boast a small dome.

Inside the shrines there is a large raised coffin-like structure. This internal feature is plastered over and painted white. It is believed that it has been constructed over the physical grave of the honoured individual. This sarcophagus-like structure is often draped with cloth, green blankets, normal Turkish flags, Green flags or other fabric. The floors are often covered in carpets. The whitewashed walls can be decorated with posters, pictures of Ali, Koranic verses and other writings both in Turkish (Latin) script and Arabic script. These structures are considered ‘holy spaces’. Shoes are strictly left outside.

Within the shrines copies of the Koran and other religious books, teachings, commentaries, and even, occasionally, a New Testament can be found. Local tradition declares that anything left in a Shrine should not be removed.

More often than not, it is the local people who maintain the Shrine – those living nearby or have a special connection with the shrine. Indeed, the structures have initially been built by local people at their own expense – these buildings are outside of the remit of the Religion Department of the government. It is the local people who ensure it is painted, maintained, cleaned and cared for. The door, usually a stout, strong steel door, is closed and locked but opened up on Fridays and other special days and times as according to the Alevi calendar and local tradition. Some can be open on multiple days, but always under the watchful eye of the key holder and self-appointed caretaker of the shrine.

To my limited knowledge no services or other events are planned or executed there – these locales are for individual acts of worship as people reach out to find help in their time of need.

Sometimes you will stumble on a Shrine which is just the grave of the ‘saint’ which has been surrounded by a high wall – but even these, over time, become enclosed and covered.

What do people do at a Shrine?

To the best of my knowledge, you will find no reference whatsoever to shrines within the Koran – these are extra-Koranic structures, functions and activities. They are an expression of Alevi belief and a desire to engage with God.

At these shrines, people will come to pray. Some will come and make a vow to God. Others will make a sacrifice of a chicken, sheep or something else. Others will burn incense. Still others will read the books held within. (For one account of such an individual who read a New Testament in a Shrine – can be read here.)  

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It is a place to try and make a connection with God, to find solace, to lay out your petition, to seek for assistance, to seek redress for a wrong that has been done to you, to pour out your heart, to find help when you need it most.

Interestingly, burning incense plays a prominent part in the lives and devotion of the local Alevi community.

Confession time: I am not aware of the significance that the Alevi community put on the burning of incense, nor which type of incense is burned, nor when it is burned, nor for how long, nor why and with what meaning.

In an evening in the summer, it is not unheard of to have the heady scent of burning incense to be carried on the breeze and onto our terrace.

In the course of my daily constitutional, I have noted a local florist who perpetually burns incense outside his shop whenever he is open. I do not know how much it is costing him, but there is always a censer piled high with burning incense in the front of his shop, pouring forth its pungent scent and wafted along by the breeze.

It is my observation that people in Turkey are very industrious, innovative and hard working. If they can not find a job, they will seek employment wherever and however they can – creating a job where needed, or meeting a need in society. To explore this aspect of Turkish society, you can read this blog here.

For instance, if there is a road where traffic is routinely queued up, during the hot summer months, individuals will walk amongst the waiting traffic selling cold bottled water.

When there is a sudden downpour in the city, catching all unawares, diligent individuals will be out on the streets selling brollies.

Have you ever been caught without a tissue? There will be someone offering small packages of tissues for sale.

As you go about your business, maybe, just maybe, you may wonder how much you weigh… well there is a chap, with his scale on the side of the road ready to answer that question.

If you live in a city and you have a carpet with a frayed edge – never fear, for before long a lorry will slowly come down your street offering to collect your carpet, stich it up with the machine mounted on the back of the lorry and return it to you immediately.

This is the same for the knife sharpener. He has his sharping wheel mounted in a wooden stand which he rolls down the street offering to sharpen all your knives.

Do you need a photocopy? Or do you require some document to be laminated? A man pushing a small cart or converted pram, with a small electricity generator will come by, offering on-the-spot photocopy and lamination services.

Fresh milk and I mean really fresh, unpasteurised milk, plastic kitchenware, fruit and vegetables, these all will make their appearance in your street, as will a man pushing a wheel barrow full of fresh mint and parsley. If you desire to buy bulk onions, the onion seller will sell you a great bag of onions, weighing them with the scales on the back of his vehicle. Clothes, carpets, blankets, shoes, cloth, fruit, vegetables, water melon, well, just about everything will sooner or later go past your door. And for your cast offs, the rag-and-bones man will also pass by your door announcing his services.

And here in Antakya, in this community with a large Alevi population, an enterprising individual takes a hand-held censer with the fragrant, burning incense producing copious amounts of potent smoke flowing along behind him as he walks the street. If you are feeling the need to be blessed, he will stop and wave it before you, the sweet smell flowing over you, and you will give him a wee bit of money for his service. He goes down the street and various business will call him to come and bless their shop, the incense wafting in, and he will also receive a small remuneration for his efforts. You can see him at a distance, the great cloud of incense billowing out behind him declaring his presence as he searches those who desire his services.

It appears that someone will endeavour to try and meet even your spiritual needs on the streets of Antakya.

Nevertheless that void, that longing, that desire to ‘know’ God continues unabated, unrequited and untouched by the fragment smell of incense.

The answer to the longing in the heart of man is not found in shrines, full of dead men’s bones, nor in sacrifice – the blood of chickens or sheep, nor in the making and keeping of vows, nor in tying of votive offerings on special trees or special places, nor in inhaling or bathing in the heady scent of incense. It is not within these activities, as well-meaning as they may be performed, that intimacy with God can be found.

This natural, human, inner longing for intimacy with God is attainable, but like so much in life, it is not on our terms or according to what we desire or what we, in our wisdom, have decided is the Way to attain intimacy with God.

True intimacy is a two way street, it does not occur in a vacuum, nor in a void, nor it is imposed from one side on another. Both parties come together in a mutually acceptable manner.

God, Himself, has intervened in human history; the Almighty has physically entered human history and laid out His Way for mankind to know Him and experience intimacy with the Divine.

This is the Way that He Himself has initiated, and He deals with our weaknesses, our errors and mistakes and, let’s be blunt, our ‘sins’ …and takes care of this otherwise insurmountable impediment to intimacy with Pure, Holy, Righteous God.  It is in walking in His way that we can actually ‘taste and see that God is good’, that we can personally know Him and know His power and experience His Love in our lives. That we can know and receive and revel in the Love of God.

On my morning constitutional, I noticed that in spite of it being a significant holiday in Turkey, the water company was out with a JCB and parts and things.  

It seems there was a water leak.  

As I continue my walk, I came past the bottom of the hill below where the JCB was parked and noted that there was a large quantity of water freely flowing down from the leak – a good thing they are working to make things right, even on a holiday. 

The next day, there was just a gravelly spot on the road to declare where the leak had been. The hill was liberally decorated with dirt and dried mud from the overflow.

On the following day, I am sitting in a wee coffee shop at the bottom of the hill when I see horizontal water spray flying down the hill.

Now this caught my attention.

Slowly a Fire appliance came into view; a tanker truck – it carts the water to accompany the other fire fighting appliances and ensures a constant source of water.

Today, in service to the local council, they were slowly driving down the hill spraying the road with a set of high pressure water nozzles at the front of the lorry.

Slowly coming down the hill, they drove all the dirt, dust, stones before them. The roadway is left free of debris; clean and spotless.

The appliance then stopped in front of the coffee shop and released a fire hose. With this the two firefighters began spraying the street, driving the accumulated dirt, mud and stones along the road and towards the storm drain.

They cleaned in front of the coffee shop, they cleaned the pavement in front of the shop. They sprayed, with diminished force, the ten or so planters full of colourful flowers in front of the coffee shop.

They were diligent, hard working, pressing on to make all clean and ship-shape.

I found the process reminiscent of the circle of life. They were called out because of a water leak which had besmirched the roadway. They cleaned the road by driving the muddy, soil laden water into the water drains; where, in the fullness of time, they will become clogged requiring a crew to come out and clear the drain, soiling the street which will require the Fire Brigade to once again come and clean the street.

And after all this diligent, hard work… the two firefighters (er, street cleaners?) came into the coffee shop for their full Turkish breakfast          

The street is clean… until the drain needs to be cleared… and then the cycle will repeat itself.

No action, no activity seems to occur in isolation.  

Actions need to be seen, to be assessed, in their context. The activity that I am about to engage in: what are the natural repercussions; what will naturally result; what are the responsibilities; what are the consequences.

Hmm, I need to bear that in mind…

I enjoy history, old photos, old travelogues, old stones, basically, things that are old and the older the better.

We have come across some old photos of Antakya which clearly depict the extent of the old town, pinned up tight to the skirt of the mountain rising to the south and hemmed in by the Asi (ancient Orontes) River to the north.

In days past – throughout the history of the city – buildings were constructed to the best of local knowledge of construction, and as is always the case, according to  available resources.  Many of the older buildings made liberal use of, shall we say, pre-existing building materials.

It has been a constant throughout history that old, decrepit, abandoned or damaged buildings have formed a source for building materials – suitable stones, arches, door lintels and supports being readily retrieved and re-purposed.

This ancient tradition goes contrary to our new, modern sensitivities to maintain and preserve these examples of the former.  But, throughout history, old buildings were viewed as valuable resources to be exploited.

A stroll through the old quarter of the city of Antakya will amply demonstrate this practice over centuries.  Many building will have lower courses of finely finished large stone blocks, superbly fitted together.  Then, as you look further up the walls, you see a change to less well finished stones which are not well set together, and, often, the upper sections will be formed from uncut, unfinished field stones mortared together.

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If I try to ‘read’ such a building, I may be forgiven for hypothesising that the lowest parts are the remains of the oldest building (maybe 100 years, 500 years, a thousand years….), and people reused the extant old walls in-situ, then, building on top with whatever other stones could be scavenged and reused and finally, the upper courses in the wall consisting of field stone, unfinished and simply mortared into place in the wall.

That is common among the old buildings of Antakya.  However, for the past sixty odd years or more, the modern inclinations of the inhabitants has been to abandon these old stone built houses constructed around private courtyards and to build with concrete and to go up in three, four, five, or even six stories, forming modern high rise apartment buildings.

A generation has turned their backs on the old, stone build courtyard houses preferring these ‘modern’ concrete boxes.

Of course, it is possible to accommodate many more people in the same building plot when you build up.

Okay.

I understand this.

However, when it is considered that this is an active earthquake area and for the past sixty years these buildings, these modern high-rise buildings, have been constructed, er, well, using the knowledge and building methodology adapted from single story buildings, we come to a point of concern.

These high-rises were built to meet an ‘aspiration’ to be modern.

They were built to meet a housing need.

Many were built, simply to turn a profit.

They were built to look nice.

They were built with a form of reinforcing steel, but of a smooth, outdated style which is not now used; the concrete was generally created by a pile of aggregate being dumped in front of the building under construction, water was added and cement dumped on top of the pile of aggregate and then the pile would be hand shovelled and turned over until it was considered ‘mixed’.  Then the cement would be shovelled in to old tin cheese containers, and then hand carried on the workmen’s shoulders to wherever the ‘pour’ was happening.  If on the top floor, they would lug all the concrete so mixed, trudging up the stairs to where the pour was happening.

There was no quality control on the cement mixture nor the effectiveness of the ‘pour’.  It is a sad fact that often insufficient steel was employed and the steel that was used was of the wrong style.  When you combine that with the poor quality cement mixes,  the result is buildings which looked good (plaster is a master of disguise) but are structurally suspect.

In those days there was less awareness of the building requirements which would enable a building to withstand the powerful forces of earthquakes which, from time to time, rock this particular part of our terrestrial ball.

These apartment buildings were built.  People moved in.  A generation has been raised within their walls.

But now the modern question is: “What do you do with these extant, existing, occupied structures which are inherently defective and vulnerable to earthquake damage and even catastrophic failure?”

There was an earthquake in 1997 which violently shook Antakya and reminded all citizens abiding here that Antakya has been utterly destroyed by earthquakes numerous times throughout its long history.

This was followed by the 1999 earthquake near Istanbul, which was centred near the town of Izmit, and devastated tens of thousands of houses, high rises and buildings – with over 17,000 fatalities.  The images of this earthquake exhibited scenes of rows upon rows of high rise apartment buildings collapsed, leaning over, pancaked and others  left standing but being inherently uninhabitable.

What was truly shocking was in the midst of this general, extensive destruction there would be the odd building, built to the building code and standing proud and true in the midst of the great devastation and death.

This highlighted that in many ways this was a man-made disaster.

Especially since that devastating earthquake of 1999, building methodology and practices have been brought into sharp focus.

Consequently, there has been a greater emphasis on the building code (which was good) – and the enforcement thereof (which was lacking).

Additionally, considering the vast amounts of old, substandard housing stock, there has been a real concerted effort to replace the worst, the most vulnerable buildings, with new proper, sturdy, strong buildings.

This national programme is called ‘Urban Renewal’ and it is a government scheme to assist in the tearing down of older, vulnerable  buildings and replacing them with new high-rise buildings, built to modern building codes and able to withstand – as much as anything built by man can – the effects of earthquakes.

Of course this is a costly business.  All the occupants must leave and be housed elsewhere.  The old concrete monolith must be totally torn down and then a new building erected in its place.

Often, from what I’ve observed, a four story building is rebuilt as five stories (five stories rebuilt as six and so on), the contractor having possession of the extra flats created and sells them as part of their fee in doing the work.

Sometimes the existing flats are rebuilt, but smaller, allowing the creation of additional flats that the builder can sell as part of their remuneration for the building work.

And I notice that the age-old process of stripping a building of the valuable bits continues.  Near where I am sitting a five storey building has been emptied and is about to come down.  There are men removing windows, any and all metal – basically anything of value – before the process of reducing the building commences.

Once the ‘recyclables’ have been reclaimed, then the work of reducing the building in earnest begins.

As this is occurring in many places in the city as I write, I have a general picture of the process.

Firstly the building is isolated by a high fence; a basic metal frame and sheets of corrugated metal.

After the scavenging, men enter the building and, using jack hammers, open up large holes in the floors of the larger rooms – creating voids to allow building debris to fall through the building.  They sometimes jack-hammer some of the balconies away.

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When the building has been thusly prepared, a tracked JCB with a hydraulic jackhammer fitted on the boom is hoisted to the top of the building.  I’ve never been present at this stage, but I assume a very large crane is brought in to lift the JCB to the pinnacle of the building.

Once there the operator sits in the cab and systematically jackhammers the floor out from underneath the machine he is operating.

How they move down to the next floor, I do not know.  I see the machines on the top floors.  I hear them hammering away.  I see the upper floor shrinking as they destroy it from above.  And I see the building getting shorter and shorter.  I’ve never been there when the JCB made the transition to a lower floor.

However it is accomplished, in this way the debris falls down, around, in and through the openings in the building.  When the building is reduced to a mound of debris two or so stories tall, the smaller machine is replaced by a very large, tracked JCB with a huge hydraulic jackhammer which continues the demolition process.

Finally, they replace the jackhammer with a big bucket and load the shattered debris into dumper lorries and cart it off.  The reinforcing steel is separated, collected, and compacted as much as they can with the JCB and then loaded into lorries for recycling.

At the end of the process, a new building plot has been created.  The old is gone.  What can be recycled, as in the ancient tradition, has been redeemed and removed.

After a suitable passage of time – is it for permissions, or checks or, well, I do not know, planning permission… the rebuilding process commences.

Modern, proper reinforcing steel, modern curtain walls and other structural principles are all diligently applied.  The cement is all proper, ready-mix, made to order and quality controlled.  The cement is  pumped up from ground level with massive concrete pumping lorries to wherever the pour is happening, ensuring a good, continuous pour.  Workmen with vibrator devices ensure the cement flows and fills all voids and is a good pour.

The new buildings will be substantially stronger and more resistant to the violent forces released by earthquakes.

When the process is all said and done, the former owners take possession of their new flats.  The builder takes possession of the new flats created and sells them.  And a neighbourhood which was slowly becoming dowdy, being amply littered with older, sadder, shakier buildings is slowly rebuilt with new, taller, smarter, stronger, stylish buildings.

True Urban Renewal transpires.

This causes me to think that as a follower of the ‘Way’, I have embarked on a process which doesn’t attempt to clean up and strengthen what was in my life, but like ‘Urban Renewal’, actually calls for the removal of the old, the substandard, the weak, and like the rusted and inadequate steel and poor quality concrete – it all must go, it can not be redeemed, can not be strengthened, can not be made right.  The only recourse is to demolish right down to and including the foundation and then to rebuild, correctly, from below ground level upwards.

My life is not subject to renovation or improvements – but the absolute removal of the weak and defective and a rebuilding, a making new, from below the foundations all the way up is underway.

With ‘Urban Renewal’ things do always go as planned.  If you would like to read a bit more of this blog, there is more below… or you could stop now.  The choice is yours…  Click Here for a wee bit more…

 

(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.

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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.