Things have changed.
Well, that is always true, things are always changing.
When we first arrived in this pleasant town of Antakya, the local fellowship was hosting various music, drama and other kinds of groups who would come and perform and in a myriad of venues and a myriad of ways, endevouring to share the Good News.
A wide range of venues were utilised and many hundreds and over the years, thousands, of people were exposed to one degree or another to the Good News.
Then there a change, a somewhat dramatic change with the advent of the so called ‘Arab Spring’ which brought revolt, turmoil, anarchy, chaos, terror and war to many of our neighbouring countries. One victim was our next door neighbour Syria.
As the violence, dread and consequences of war made its impact on greater and greater swaths of land in Syria, people began to flee over the border, sometimes in a controlled manner, but often in a helter-skelter fashion, in a very uncontrolled way. Some have been housed in official, governement controlled and administered camps. Others have eschewed the camps and opted to live in rented accommodation in various villiages, towns and cities. Others have sought shelter in whatever is available, often created out of tarpaulins stretched over a make-shift frame with the occupants engaged in grunt-farm labour.
The influx of so many displaced people, some innocent – fleeing for safety, some looking for advantage – trying to stay ahead of the game, some active perpetrators of the violence – seeking temporary relief before they return to continue their ferocious acts and some that you find in any society – the mish-mash, good-bad-ugly-reprehensible-beautiful, all of them, are now equally up-rooted and seeking refuge in a foreign country.
They speak Arabic, we speak Turkish. Whilst it is true that some of the displaced are Turkmen and so can communicate (Turkmen and Turkish are related languages), and others are Kurds and they can communicate with the Kurdish speaking Turkish minority here, by-and-large they can not communicate with the vast multitude of people they are surrounded by.
The troubles in Syria can, in a broad-brush sense, be summed up as a sectarian or religious dispute – Sunni verses Shi’ite. When these displaced people arrive here they do not leave their conflicts, disagreements, bias, prejudice and discrimination behind. These they have brought with them and have introduced into the host country.
Things have changed. They always do. One of the ramifications to these changes is that the openness and freedom which the fellowship enjoyed in hosting concerts and such, has evaporated. Because the groups that come are foreign, there is an onus on the various departments of State to ensure their safety. Because of the new, unpredictable mix, this is much harder to do. Therefore, the easiest and the surest means you can do, to guarantee the safety of these foreign groups, is to deny them permission – if they don’t come, the risk is removed, hence they have banned all such activities.
Well, outside, in the streets on public property.
We have two shopping malls in Antakya. They are new. One, the largest, is in the very heart of the city – with lots of casual visitors. The management was approached with a view of hosting one of the current touring groups (the groups comprises a world class uni-cyclist, an illusionist, and a dance performer).
The shopping mall agreed. Now, as the fellowship is not hosting the event, it was clear, as it was explained to me, that the normal sharing would be expunged from the performance.
So, in a venue on the basement level, but overlooked by balconies on all four sides and for three floors above, with loud, lively, throbbing music, both to energise and drive the performances and also to attract a crowd, the show began.
First the uni-cyclist, then the illusionist – and part of the illusionist’s presentation was him telling why he got involved in being an illusionist in the first place….and this included his testimony which included the Good News.
Well, in this venue, I wasn’t expecting that – but it was well done and a clear presentation. I was pleased they did it, and a bit concerned with any potential backlash.
Then we had some dance, then the uni-cyclist told his story which also focused on the Good News. Finally, the finale, the uni-cyclist doing the most dramatic part of his routine ending with the extremely high uni-cycle bringing him up near the viewers on the floor above – quite impressive.
As I mentioned, I was under the impression, as it was expressed to me, that this would just be a rather ‘secular’ version of their show. The testimony of my eyes and ears declared that there was still a clear presentation of the Good News, twice in fact.
The organiser told me afterwards that over the years he has seen a change: they don’t have the strong opposition as before, but nor do, they have the same interest they encountered in the past – now the response is marked by a more general, all-round, apathy.
So, the evening was very encouraging, the opportunities are still there; and discouraging as people seem to be indifferent to the message, neither getting hostile, nor interested.
Yes, things have changed, not in a way that I would like. But then, things are still changing, we aren’t at the end of things, yet…
Tomorrow things will be different – maybe the interest will return and be greater, or maybe the opposition, or maybe something other, only time will tell…
Things have changed, and things are changing….