Some encampments of Syrian refugee field workers, cease-to-be, they close up shop and disappear in the wet, windy and bleak months of winter.

Good for them.

Living in the fields in winter is not a desirable nor attractive proposition. Life is hard and miserable in summer, and just plain deplorable in winter.

We have been encouraged when we go to provide some assistance to an encampment to find a barren field with just the debris, cast-offs and the detritus left by human habitation that proclaims that there was once an encampment there – but the encampment is no more. They have moved on and maybe, just maybe, to some better place, or, we must confess, sadly, it may be to an equally bleak site somewhere.

This day was our last visit to just such a place. There remains but a few families living in some farm buildings which means that those few remaining will enjoy relatively good accommodation. The main encampment is barren and deserted – workers will return in the spring when field work will again be plentiful.

Those who are remaining in this location, by and large, are dry, secure and have proper sanitation. When there is work, they will work.

However, these remaining Syrian refugee field workers, in spite of the benefits they have, will still be in need. On this, our last trip up the long and prone to being reduced to a hopeless quagmire of a track, our goal was to provide some assistance and to collect their phone numbers. For the remainder of the winter months, we will ring them and then draw nigh to their location – to the closest point where the roadway is sound. They will come to us – farm equipment will happily power through where road vehicles will become well and truly mired.

From there we made our way to the encampment we have named ‘the Grove’ due to the small stand of trees across the road from the encampment; there are no trees or bushes of any description within the actual encampment; it is rather barren.

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This encampment is situated on some high ground. I would not call it a hill, it is just a simple piece of higher ground. It is rocky and would be impossible to farm in its current state. The rocks in this region are large; I mean they are literally gargantuan – they can only be removed with large excavators. The majority of the rocks are buried in the ground, sometimes their heads, sometimes just their shoulders protruding from the soil. Shelters, as best as one can, must be placed around these boulders as they can not be shifted.

On the plus side, this higher, slightly lifted up location, at the very least, will not become a bog in the incessant rains of winter.

And, sadly, it appears that this encampment will be remaining in this remote location over the dark, damp days of winter. The prospects of living in rude shelters, exposed to the wind and rain through the long, dismal days of winter is truly appalling.

The headman in this encampment is from the area in eastern Turkey near the city of Urfa. He is a bilingual Turkish / Arabic speaker and his life occupation has always been a ‘field worker’. He is the headman in this encampment because he is the ‘gang-master’ and the residents of this encampment are his work force.

As the gang-master, he organises the field labour and provides a modicum of the essentials for the workers – it was up to him to find and arrange a place for the workers to pitch their shelters. He also will provide some source of water (often it can simply be a water bowser as in this encampment). I would say in most, not all, but most encampments, the gang-master will arrange a degree of electricity (most often illegally sourced by attaching wires to the passing electrical cables).

The electricity that may be supplied is not properly established. Most frequently you observe wires running over the floor, lying on and through the dirt and puddles. There is no fuse box or circuit breaker. Wires can be spliced together and protected from the elements and curious children with whatever tape-like material is to hand, even sellotape. I suppose if the wires get too hot and burn up, then that will function as a rudimentary fuse… of sorts…

It is up to the residents in the encampment to construct simple out-houses and some kind of structure to bathe in. The bathing structure will have a dirt floor as everything else has, but the tarpaulin will be stretched around and over to afford a degree of privacy to have a rudimentary sponge bath. For the winter months, they also manufacture some primitive shelters to act as kitchens.

IMG_3114We arrived at the Grove, and, as I have been doing recently, I did not drive into the encampment proper, but rather chose to stay on the roadway. The road at the entrance is wide enough for us to set up on the far side, and traffic – traffic is rather infrequent on this passageway – can easily pass by on the remaining side. The residents of the encampment come and stand in the road, hence not in the mud, for the distribution.

The lorry reversed up to the van and hence the vehicles were back to back. This created a separated area for the team to work in. This space together in concert with the simple barriers we bring with us, forms a division between those who are waiting to receive some assistance and the team who are organising and distributing the provision.

Separate from the regular food-stuffs distribution and as the result of some special gifts being provided, we have been enabled to give the children some milk or fruit drinks and a sweet snack.

We have been doing this at each encampment.

But this encampment is different.

This encampment is fundamentally and dramatically different.

The gang-master in this encampment tends to be an ill-tempered, peevish, quarrelsome individual. We witnessed at an earlier time, in a different location, this gang-master physically assaulting a man who he thought needed being put in his place. In all the time we have been engaged in this work, this was the one time where we have observed a fight, a brawl between two men.

This gang-master can be pleasant, but he can be bellicose, petty and, well, short-tempered and grouchy.

It must be said, he is not short-tempered or grouchy toward us; with us he tends to try to manipulate and use us, he tries to get more for himself and his greater family – oh, and also for his Syrian refugee field workers. He is not above lying to our faces, or saying that someone is no longer in the encampment, when they are still in residence. It appears he has done this in the past in order to deprive them of the assistance.

However, it must be remembered that the gang-master is the gate-keeper of the encampment. If we do not make an effort to work with him, he may deny us access to his encampment and the Syria refugee field workers in that encampment; he can be petty, and then it will be the adults, the children and the babies who will suffer…

Today this most bellicose and quarrelsome of gang-masters, was present along with his brother, also a gang-master, and it would appear that they have brought their two different groups of workers together, to this one location, to winter there together.

Sometimes brothers can be very different, but in this case, it is glaringly obvious that they are two peas in a pod. They resemble each other in their looks and mannerisms. And it seems, they resemble each other in temperament. It is apparent they have had hard lives, and the scars on their bodies and more importantly on their personalities is patently evident. Of all the people in the encampment, that is, 197 individuals of which there are 65 children under ten and 18 babies, they were the only two who walked about with sticks, functioning as truncheons, in their hands.

In the past they have brought their separate groups of Syrian refugee field workers together to winter together in one place. In fact, when they this did this a few years ago, at one location, it was felt by the local Turkish village that they were too close to the village and they were rejected and ejected – the villagers required them to relocate.

Yes, the Muslim villagers told the Muslim gang-masters, and the Muslim refugees to depart.

Their current location, situated on some higher ground, is at a distance from any other habitation… so the chances of this happening again are diminished.

I took a quick tour of the encampment, and there are many more people and shelters there than before – indeed it is self-apparent that the other brother has brought his Syrian refugee work force to winter here. This location is now roughly twice the size it was previously.

In the course of my walking tour, I also noted the gang-masters’ shelters. Yes, the gang-masters frequently live in the encampment with their charges.

IMG_3341I immediately recognised the gang-master’s shelters as they had liberally spread fresh, clean, large stone gravel under and around their shelters. No mud for them. The rain can drain nicely away and their shelter will be dry within. I even noted that they had placed wooden pallets inside their shelters, raising them off the floor and providing a healthier environment to pass the winter months.

IMG_3346Not so the other shelters surrounding theirs. They are pitched on the raw earth, hence dampness within the shelters is guaranteed.

As I mentioned, previously, this encampment, that is both the gang-master and the residents, had proven to be a bit of a challenge. We especially encountered difficulties when we attempted to have some activities with the children.

The Team have been going out once a week and playing with the children, organised games, painting, fun things for children that have experienced precious few ‘fun things’. We have provide milk and something to eat as well.

For most encampments this has been a very positive, pleasant experience.

Sadly, even I have noticed that the children in this encampment are all exceptionally filthy. In all of the encampments, all the children are dirty. This is not surprising after all, as there is no proper washing facilities in any of the encampments. But here, in this one, they were dirty to the extreme; clothes, hair, arms, hands, faces were all grimy beyond measure.

Today, as we set about our planned provision of assistance, we also made ready to give the children the special juice boxes together with a sweet treat.

IMG_3336Now, as we do at other encampments, we attempted to line the children up to receive the juice boxes and sweet treat.

In all the other encampments, once the line is established, we begin at the head of the line, and the line slowly advances towards us and all receive their portion in good time and all are happy; no one is left out, no one has extra.

Here, the children, and not a few aggressive mums with babes in their arms, seemed content to line up in a semblance of a line…

…that is until…

….until the juice boxes and sweets came forth.

Then the nicely formed line instantly dissolved, it disintegrated and all broke free and set siege to the two hapless young foreigners whose only crime was to be the ones holding the prize, the juice boxes and treats.

They were surrounded and besieged – children and some quite demanding, aggressive mums – with a thicket of out stretched arms coming at them from all angles accompanied by a cacophony of cries to give to me, to me, to me and the insistent, pleading, whining of the mums. All the while other hands were striving to snatch and steal their prizes from the boxes in the embrace of the foreigners…

The two young people were immediately overwhelmed and forced back four or five metres to the side of the lorry where they abandoned the task as impossible to do in an orderly, organised and fair way. The box of chocolate bars was desperately cast up onto the lorry, the box of juice boxes was pirated safely away.

In advance, I knew it would be difficult to give the juice boxes and sweets to the children in this encampment.

The previous time we attempted to do this, it was bad, not as bad as this, but it was bad. It, too, had ended in a premature cessation of distribution of juice boxes and sweets to the children as the swarm of children was rapidly descending into an unruly, riotous mob.

True confession time: on the last visit, I was attempting to distribute the juice boxes after the main attempt had failed, and my phone rang, it was the wife of our interpreter. Whilst I was suitably distracted, one determined little chap reached up and tore a juice box from within the box that I was holding protectively in my grasp… needless to say, being engaged on the phone, I was caught unawares and I automatically responded in an instinctive, natural, way and I immediately relieved the young thief of the pilfered juice box.

I was angry.

What can I say?

There was and is no excuse for my response!

I really felt bad for the wife of the interpreter who I was speaking with, when suddenly there was a loud exclamation and my attention became solely focused on dealing with my small thief. I felt bad for the lady on the phone, but, I confess, I did not feel bad for the young lad who had his prize in his hand only to have it forcibly snatched from his grasp.

Now to compound my un-Godly response, I made matters worse as later on, when I was able to achieve a more orderly distribution, that is, ‘orderly for this encampment’, of the juice boxes and sweets, and he presented himself to receive something, I specifically, knowingly, and on purpose, looked him in the eye and did NOT give him any.

This was my so-called ‘just’ response to his unsuccessful grasping theft. I am ashamed as I recount this event.

Where is Grace?

Where is forgiveness?

Where is compassion?

Where is love?

Where is a modicum of understanding of the situation he finds himself cast in?

Where indeed…

After the fact, I felt stricken in spirit for my callous and so-called ‘righteous’ response – the response of justice and law…fully ignoring grace, love and compassion.

And for me, as one who was fully undeserving of the Grace of God, the Love of God, the Mercy of God, I, who have ‘tasted and seen that the Lord is good’ to react in this way is a travesty of all that God has done for me – far more selfish and undeserving than that young lad had exhibited.

Again, my response and actions were far more selfish and undeserving than that young lad had exhibited.

He was desperate. He is actively living in truly appalling conditions of deprivation, hunger and suffering… and what is my excuse?

That was on our previous visit, this time I was determined not to make the same error. Mistakes are made, but, we can learn from them.

And this time it was far, far worse than the previous, difficult and contrary time.

Seeing the failure of the two young people to execute the distribution of the ‘special juice boxes and sweet treats’ for the children, I, once again, waded in to the fray, grabbing the juice boxes from the shaken young man. I was determined to effect some kind of distribution – gracious distribution – in spite of their rambunctious and riotous behaviour.

I forged into the teeming mass of the dirty, the neglected, the desperate children. Arms were vigorously, aggressively thrust up at me from all angles, voices cried out to gain my attention, the box in my arms was under constant, determined assault and I attempted to execute a gracious form of distribution.

As I was giving the juice boxes, I was aiming to prioritise the wee ones, the small, the weak, the ones unable to overcome their neighbour – and then I witnessed a larger child wrench the juice box from the grasp of the smaller child, I promptly wrenched it back and gave it to the smaller child – and then I gave the offender, the selfish bully, a juice box.

Why? Because of Grace, that is the unmerited, unearned, undeserved favour or blessing. Did he deserve it? No – but to get what you deserve is ‘justice’, not ‘grace’.

Scripture does not say in vain, love your enemies, bless them, do good to them… it does not make this conditional on their repentance or a change in their behaviour.

If your ‘enemy’ is thirsty, give him drink, if hungry, feed him.

It is rather straight forward and it is not difficult to understand. Sometimes we declare it difficult to do, but it is not difficult to understand – and these are the words of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The children (and a few aggressive mums) behaved as a rapacious horde of barbarians intent on taking and plundering and we strove to give them something to drink and something, special even, to eat.

In the course of this mini-distribution, I recognised my little thief from the previous time, still behaving as is his wont, as he has been taught and trained by all those around him, and I deliberately looked him in the eye, a look of recognition, and gave him a juice box.

There was one point where I bellowed. Oh, and I can be quite loud.

Regrettably, I have observed that more often than not, I can come across as angry, cross, upset. Truly, I am not, nor is it my intention. Actually, it is the furthest thing from my actually feelings. But, alas, it is how I am commonly perceived.

Nevertheless, in this situation I bellowed, knowingly. I was not upset. I was not angry. I was not frustrated.

What did I bellow?

Well, it was a bellow, a “AAAahhaHHHaa” like sound… they do not know English or Turkish, and I do not know Arabic, and my intention was to make a distraction in the raging mayhem.

There was an immediate, short-lived, positive effect in that they slowed down their physical assault on me. I was able to continue in my distribution.

But, soon, it was more than I could sustain and I had to bring it to a premature close. The aggressive ones were coming again and again, demanding, pleading, stretching forth their arms or attempting to snatch from the box in my embrace.

Some of the children received juice boxes and sweets, and many did not and some possessed more than their share.

Maybe next time we need to have several people doing the distribution, and dividing the horde – that way more, and more of the most vulnerable, will receive a wee blessing. Or, maybe, we should endeavour to include it with the food-stuffs, as part of the regular distribution.

Back at the van there were children who came and persistently begged, wheedled, connived and otherwise tried to gain possession of the treats.

Some of the children tried to force open the locked window in the van to gain possession of the treats. They were discouraged from this activity on several occasions. Finally I posted one of our foreign helpers to simply stand before the door to bring an end to these assaults on the vehicle.

This was proving to be a very difficult distribution, especially as we were dealing with a less than trustworthy gang-master, and the corporate conniving, lying, cheating, and grasping adults of the encampment only compounded matters.

Consequently, the distribution was taking a disproportionate amount of time and, with the passage of time, the door minder left his post by the vehicle.

The ever diligent and watchful children immediately launched another attempt on the window. They were able to force it fully open… and caused some damage in the process… for it was locked shut.

However, even opening the window did not put the prize within their grasp.

Once again I returned, and on my coming, the guilty parties became conspicuous by their absence and I was able to get the window shut.

In addition to those intent on assaulting the window, there was one little one who was conniving to get a juice box and sweet. Rather than getting angry, I would pick them up and cart them away from the distribution area, as you would your own child or more like your own grandchild where you indulge them and smile and have them smile as you truck them away.

More than juice boxes and sweets these children are yearning for some attention. They will take attention in any form, a shout, a slap, a smack with a stick, but of course, positive, non-violent attention is the pearl of great price.

I’m not about to beat anyone, nor shout at them in anger (been there, done that, repented) nor threaten physical violence upon them. I will scoop them up and in a positive manner, remove them from the immediate area.

So, now this wee one, trying to finagle a juice box or sweet, had a new game. They would come, I would pick them up, swing them happily about, and cart them away. Sometimes they would beat me back to the distribution area to start the process all over again.

Being in close proximity means there is a danger of head lice being transmitted – but they are more valuable and special than the danger and inconvenience of head lice.

The distribution at this encampment was not a pleasant experience for any in the team.

And on our departure, after fully completing our distribution (everyone receiving their allotted portion), one lady ran up to the reversing lorry, grabbed a bag of food-stuffs, and hoisted the bag, about ten kilos of basic food stuffs, out of the back, and made off with it. Our minder, from the local Social Assistance Department, was there, helping the lorry driver reverse and he tried to prevent her – to no avail.

In my experience, this has NEVER happened at any of the other encampments we have gone to over the course of the three years we have been going out among the fields to assist these refugees.

As we put this encampment firmly in the rear-view mirror, there was a general feeling of relief and also a palpable degree of exasperation…

It was striking that even our lorry driver, who acts and strives to a ‘part of the team’ – on that day he even joined our prayer time before headed out for the day – was of the opinion that we should ‘zero’ the whole encampment. ‘Zero’ is what we do when we make someone ‘inactive’ – historically this has always been due to their moving away.

And so an emotional, natural response would be to ‘zero’ the whole encampment due to their manner of behaviour, their lying, their cheating, their aggressive attitude, their demanding actions and the general, casual violence from the gang-master downwards to the smallest child.

It is a natural, human response to feel that “they are not worthy”.

We can easily compare them to other encampments where, for example, on the very same day, something fell from the vehicle and a child standing nearby swooped in to scoop it up and return it to its rightful place in the vehicle – he was striving to assist and help us. And again, on the same day, a young child was offered a juice box and they responded by saying they had already received theirs and went on their way.

It is very easy, very natural, to conclude that this encampment has declare themselves a pariah encampment – justifiably worthy to be avoided.

It would be so easy to declare that this particular encampment is too difficult, too hard to try and provide anything to them because of their contrary, aggressive, grasping behaviour. Indeed, as we go from encampment to encampment, if anyone will lie, and it can happen in other places, but it will definitely happen here; if anyone will attempt to present twice for provision, which can happen in other encampments, it will happen here, and, as we witnessed, if someone will steal out of the lorry, this simply has not happened in any other encampment, but it has happened here. Indeed, I think is is fair to say that if we looked, we could find another encampment which would be far easier to work with.

The natural, earned and deserved response, is to write off this difficult and contrary encampment – to ‘zero’ them, to leave them to their own devices, to avoid them like the plague, to treat them as the pariah they declare themselves to be…

That is the natural, human response, and what is the appropriate response from God’s perspective?

Let us recall that the world was at total, absolute enmity with God.

We, everyone, each of us, were going our own individual ways.

We declared, that is each and everyone of us, declared ourselves to be as ‘god’ in our lives – that is, the final authority in our lives. We lived according to our thoughts, our plans, our desires and our passions. We purported to be masters of our own fate, living, planning, executing, solving problems according to our own understanding and desires. The last word in our lives was from ourselves, our desires, our will – that which we determined.

And today our world is filled with sexual harassment (and worse), warring, killing, maiming, hurting, enslaving, cheating, abusing, using, harming, boasting, strutting and all the while mankind is making like all is well in our world.

We, each and every one of us, deserved and earned the right to reap that which we had so plentifully sowed.

God was under absolutely no compulsion to intervene.

God was not forced to make a way of ‘salvation’ and to offer it to any who would desire it.

God was not required to make a provision to enable undeserving man a way, a means to renew and re-establish a relationship with Almighty God – but He did.

But He did

He, by an act of His free will, expressed His Love, His Mercy and His Grace and provided for us that, which we did not, by any definition, remotely deserve.

God Almighty did this whist we were active enemies of God, being proud, arrogant, going our own ways with no thought nor regard for the Creator God, while we were in this state, God sent His one and only Son into the world that through Him we might have Life and Life to the full.

And, as those who have received this free gift of life, even eternal life in Christ, those who have been reconciled to God through the finished work alone of the Lord Jesus Christ, we have now been given the ministry of reconciliation, whereby we call our fellow man to be reconciled to God, and as scripture says, we are called to make our calling sure, and to be productive in our knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ; we are exhorted to put behind us the ‘old man’ and ‘its natural responses’ and to be re-made into the image of Christ, reflecting God’s values and God’s Love, God’s Grace, God’s Mercy and the Character of God in our lives.

Therefore, what then, can be our response to this rather contrary and difficult encampment, this encampment which will, naturally, experience rejection and be reviled by all in the world?

What, then, can be our response to these lying, cheating, demanding, ungrateful, conniving, violent people?

I can hear some voices articulating that, “Surely they must learn the consequences of their actions – how else will they learn and change…”

In other words, just like God left us to our fate, to the natural consequences of our actions that we might learn and change….

Except He didn’t!

He intervened, and He Himself established an example, sending His only Son, Jesus, who came teaching and then by sacrificing Himself, He completed and made a way that we may be fully reconciled with God. Through the Lord Jesus Christ, we, fallen, sinful, rebelling, proud and arrogant mankind may know God, learn directly from God and receive the Power of God to enable us to overcome temptation and sin in our lives, empowering us to live good, productive, clean, wholesome, pure, honest, lives with integrity.

Jesus, the Son of God, sacrificed Himself that we might live – and He calls us to follow Him, to be like Him, and, yes, to sacrifice ourselves that others might live…

I am convinced that this encampment should take the Number One place in our hearts – not because the people are so pleasant and such a delight to assist, not because they are a pleasure to be about, but, truly, because they, more than all the others, need to see the Love of God, the Grace of God, the Mercy of God lived out among them.

And how will they see and experience this?

God has called each one of us, He has given to each and every one of His children the ministry of Reconciliation. In fact the Lord Jesus Christ has declared that each and every one of His children are Light and Salt in this world.

People – and the people in this encampment – will only see the revelation of God, if we go, if we love, if we serve, if we forgive, if we are gracious, if we are compassionate, if we are patient, if we persevere, if we are kind and if we come back again and again and again… and give them that which they do not deserve.

Just as God has done in each and everyone of our lives to call us and bring us from our darkness to His light, from death to life, from slavery to my passions and desires to full freedom, so we need to be available to do the same for those we encounter.

I feel that this encampment needs to be our Number One encampment because of all the encampments we serve, they need the message, the testimony, that Almighty God loves the world, the whole world, including them and He has done all that is required that mankind, each and every one of us, regardless of who we are or what we have done, can know Him.

It is my conviction that this encampment needs to be our Number One because of all the encampments we serve, their need is the greatest.

All the encampments have a shared need of physical assistance.

All the encampments have a shared need to see and to know the Love of God.

All the encampments have the same needs; they are shared among them all.

But of all the encampments we serve,

this encampment is the darkest,

it is the dirtiest,

it has the most violence against the weakest members of their own encampment.

The only hope for them is the Good News.

The only hope for them is to know God.

The only hope for them is for them to taste and see that God is good.

The only hope for them is to receive the Grace of God, the unmerited, unearned, undeserved favour of God.

How will they know any of this if we, His children, write them off and avoid them as the plague, rejecting them, as they clearly deserve to be rejected, and if we abandon them to their chosen path and their chosen fate…

God didn’t do this with us…

….what, then, shall we do….

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.

2010-08-28 Antioch P1140593 ziyaret

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.

It was in the autumn of 2003, the weather was still very pleasantly hot in Istanbul. I needed to go somewhere new in the city and I had never been there before. To complicate matters, I was not really sure of the directions on how to get there. Istanbul is a huge city – it has great communications, bus, mini-bus, underground, ferries – large and small, cable car – it is really well serviced… but, there is always a ‘but’, the population has expanded beyond the capacity of even this broad, rich and varied public transportation system.

On this day I headed out to the banks of the Bosphorus Straight – that international water-way that divides the European side and the Asian side of the city of Istanbul, that salt-water passage that connects the Black Sea and the Marmara sea – near the harbour in Kadıköy (formerly known in ancient times as Chalcedon).  I entered the man-made maze created by the multifarious lanes and a myriad of bus stands, all filled with a teeming swarm of buses that make up this, one of the multitude of city bus stations in this mega-city.

This open air station is a continuously surging shoal of city and private buses, disgorging their human cargo and reloading for the next foray as they power forth into the maelstrom of Istanbul traffic. Each bus, council or private, is prominently proclaiming the name of their destination and their route designation on the front, sides and rear of the bus.

The problem for me is I did not know nor recognise any of these destinations nor did I have any idea of where they are located in the city nor what the numbers of the routes mean. All this very valuable information, which is full of meaning for the many and yet, sadly, devoid of any practical meaning to the uninitiated such as I.

I had been instructed and was diligently searching for the ‘14Y’ designation. My problem was, I was finding a significant number of buses with destinations beginning with 14 – but, alas, none ending in all-important ‘Y’.

Finally, I caught sight of ‘my’ bus, standing at its appointed spot, across the many lanes from where I was. On seeing it, I carefully, and yet as quickly as I could, made my way, doing my best to avoid the buses powering away from their stands and heading out into traffic and other buses prowling through the narrow lanes to arrive at their appointed resting places.

On attaining the correct stand, I entered ‘my bus’ and pressed my ‘Akbil’ (a Turkish name representing ‘White Ticket’) to be rewarded with the satisfying ‘bee-boop ’ which indicated that my ticket had been accepted. This ‘Akbil’ is kind of like a key fob, but the electronic head had been charged with some money and on every use the cost of the ticket is deducted from the total. Every time you press the key fob, you hear the comforting ‘Bee-boop’ and you know you have paid the cost of the ticket – no hassling with correct change and such, it has simply been deducted from my device – what a wonderful system!

As I sit waiting for the bus to depart, I ponder the fact that I had been rushing to find the bus as I absolutely abhor being in the position where I would arrive at the appointed spot in time to forlornly watch the tail-lights of the bus powering out of the station – I dread missing my bus by a minute. My motto – ‘better a half hour early than a half minute late’.

This day I was happily early. However, in my haste not to miss my bus, I had successfully missed my lunch. In fact, I hadn’t even brought a bottle of water to quench my thirst and there was no way that I was about to leave the bus to find water.

Then I observed man boarding the bus – he didn’t purchase a ticket – in his hand he was carrying a blue pail and in the pail, proper, sealed, bottled water which he was offering for sale. Once he has visited our bus, looking for custom, he would exit and board the next bus. This water seller isn’t sitting somewhere waiting for custom to seek him out or to go to him, he is proactively out, he is diligently searching for buyers, wherever they may be hiding. He is bringing his service to wherever custom may be found.

Now, on another day, at our flat in Idealtepe in Istanbul, I heard a strange noise emanating from the street outside our home – some kind of power machine making an unfamiliar and rather unusual sound. I looked out my window and there was a flat-bed lorry standing in the street. On the back was a large table and on one side was a machine. A man and a boy were manhandling a large runner type carpet onto the back of the lorry. They twisted and turned their awkward burden, to line it up and put it into the machine and then carefully they guided the edge through the machine. Two balls of cotton or twine or some other material magically spun and twirled as the thread was pulled off and into the machine. Powering all this was a small petrol powered electrical generator. The machine itself was stitching a proper, finely finished edge to the carpet.

Not leaving any opportunity ignored, this industrious individual has taken his lorry and offers not only repair work, but people can purchase a hall runner from him and get it cut to their own, unique specifications, and then have it machine finished, right there on the lorry, outside their home.

The carpet finisher isn’t in a shop, somewhere, waiting for you to come to him, rather, he has chosen to go out onto the streets and is actively seeking for custom.

Have you ever found yourself out and about when you remember that you need something photocopied?

That is not a problem here in Turkey. Of course you could go to a copy-shop and have it done there, or you could simply pause on the street corner where a man has a photocopier and a small electrical generator, both mounted on a small cart – he stands ever ready to do your photocopying right there on the street while you wait.

And if, by chance, you want it laminated, well, there is another chap standing nearby with a cart, generator and laminator – waiting to serve you.

They are out, pro-actively seeking custom.

Sitting in your home you become accustomed to various calls resonating through the streets. The dulcet tones of a lady singing “SeeepPPPpet VaaaarrrRRRR” and you know the lady peddling plastic kitchenware is making her way down your street.

Once or twice a day you will hear the sing-song call “EeeSSssskkkiiiiJJJJJiiiiiIII—ahhhHHHhh” – the rag and bones man is making his presence known.

Sometimes the caller has a distinctive call which I have been unable to distil down into recognisable words – but everyone recognises his call and everyone knows what he sells.

The call rings forth, sounding like “SoooOOOOOooootTttt” – ah, you say to yourself, the melon seller is going by.

In fact, the sound distils down to resemble the Turkish word for milk and bears no likeness that I can discern with the Turkish word for melon, but everyone understands his unique call and instinctively knows what he is peddling.

Another variant is to change the word order. For example normally you declare the equivalent of ‘Fresh Bread Rolls’ but what a local seller declares as he walks the streets is ‘Bread Rolls Fresh’. He has made it different to catch your attention and becomes his own unique, differentiating catch phrase.

This is true for virtually everything you will need. Everything may be a bit more expensive, or there may be less selection or it may not be as fresh as you would like, but, you could practically source everything you need from your own door step.

Bottled water, plastics, cleaning supplies, clothes, cloth, blankets, shoes, sheets, vegetables, cleaning supplies – and more than I can currently recall.

All brought to your door. Full service, and with a smile.

The Turkish attitude to employment is very pro-active. If someone hasn’t or cannot find a ‘normal’ job, they may be able to create a job, to meet a need, to fill a gap; to earn a crust. As it says in Proverbs: “The appetite of labourers works for them; their hunger drives them on.” Proverbs 16:26 NIVUK

For the rest of the population, yes, they can go to shops, malls, markets and other places to buy various things – but at the same time, there is a whole army of people bringing their goods and services to whomsoever, wherever they may be.

 

Ah, the mystery and the power of culture.

Culture is difficult to define because, well, it is ‘culturally defined’.

Culture is, I believe, a gift from God.  It relieves us from many mundane decisions in life.  We just ‘know’ what is acceptable and what is not… without thinking.

People sometimes query me on some aspects of Turkish culture:

“Why must you uncross your legs when you pray?”

“Why are crossed legs inappropriate?”

“Why is blowing your nose in public profoundly rude and offensive?”

“Why, when I have a cold, is it acceptable, a non-event, to continuously sniff, sniff, sniff?”

The simple answer, is “that is the Turkish, (cultural), way”.  But so often people are reticent to comply until they understand the ‘why’ and even then, I suspect that if the reason is not convincing enough, that they will feel free to reject the prevailing culture, opting, interestingly, for their own cultural norm.

Culture, generally, by-passes our conscious minds.  It is behaviour and values that we have learned as children and have become embedded in our hearts and minds.  They are not the result of reasoned thinking, deduction or conscious decisions.  They are, if you will, subconsciously inherited.

And they are powerful.

Culture is extremely persuasive and operating as it does underneath our conscious mind, the result is that we are more often than not, blissfully unaware of its very existence and yet all the while living according to its dictates.

For an inadequate example: if someone asks me what time it is, my natural answer will be a precise: “It is 10:36”.  My culture calls for and honours accuracy.

And then I come to this culture that seems to paint ‘word pictures’ that describe the scene, and include ancillary information but tend to be woefully inaccurate.

To the question of what time is it, the respondent, feeling it is late in the day and time is flying by, may well respond “It is 11:00” or if they feel there is much of the morning left, they may reply “It is 10:00”.  Broad-brush accurate, but patently and profoundly fuzzy and, well, inaccurate – after all it is 10:36 exactly.

So, when I ask a question, I prepare my heart for a non-accurate ‘word picture’ which both answers the question (generally) and gives an insight to the speakers feelings about it.

Now, when I am asked a question, my culture demands, requires me to answer ‘specifically and accurately’.  That is the way my culture was formed and it has an inescapable influence over me.  My reply will be highly accurate and utterly devoid of any emotional content, that part which gives a hint of how I feel about it.

Do I communicate?  Yes, but after a fashion.

Do I understand?  Yes, but there are times of frustration and struggle as I am stumbled by the patently obvious inaccuracies declared.  For the speaker, they are not ‘inaccuracies’ but the part that declares their feelings about their answer.

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…

(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…

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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.