The weather report for Monday, 27 March called for overcast, cloudy skies. However, this being Antakya, the weather was lightly, slightly overcast, bordering on sunny.
As we had a good-sized, eager team from America, the loading of the lorry was done in an quick and efficient manner.
With a full complement of individuals to assist, drive and translate, all bases covered, we headed out to the fields up the valley from Antakya, just past and under the jurisdiction of the town of Kırıkhan.
When we arrived at Kırıkhan we picked up two individuals assigned to us by the local Social Welfare Department. For a number of weeks now, we have picked these two young men up. They are well presented, clean shaven, in their early twenties, but neither has even a basic GCSE equivalent qualification. One is slim and taller and the other is shorter, and, well, rounder.
In the beginning we did not know why they were to accompany us. When E, the elder’s wife and the head of the Syrian Refugee work in our fellowship, queried the reason why they were to accompany us, she was told they were there “to help and assist in the distribution”.
This was somewhat incongruous with their activities as they never lent a helping hand, rather, they stood around and watched, took photos, played with their phones and chatted to each other. In stark contrast, our lorry driver, who is only contracted to drive his lorry, happily and willingly helps in the distribution, handing down the bags and really helpful in a variety of ways.
On one occasion, the tall ‘helper’ wanted to see what was in the bags we were distributing and so we happily let him select the bag he wanted to open, and peruse the contents.
In the course of the distribution, it is our practice to stop for a meal break, and our ‘helpers’ have broken bread with us.
On this day we collected our ‘helpers’ and headed out to the first encampment of the day, situated on a barren corner of a field at the conjunction of two field roads.
This encampment was on my list, but the team hadn’t been there this season, so there was an underlying disconnect – if they haven’t been there, how is it on my list?
As we worked our way through who was there, and how many souls made up the various families and providing the appropriate amount of foodstuffs, they, as people are wont to do when receiving something, began to express their gratitude to us. This was also the encampment where the child was, the one who had the devastating skin disease and had lost all his fingers and toes, and who was suffering terribly. Because Sovereign Lord, in His Love and Grace used us to help the lad and his family – he is now receiving treatment in Antalya – other relatives, still residing in this encampment, once again expressed their heartfelt gratitude to us.
Now, from the beginning, when people expressed gratitude to us, our response has always been to declare that the assistance, the provision, that which is coming from our hands, is first and foremost the provision of our Loving God; often we will say “give thanks to Jesus”; additionally we declare that the provision has been enabled by the giving of Christians and various churches from around the world. Not overbearing, but a clear, simple declaration of truth.
And so, at this, our first encampment of the day, as people were expressing gratitude, we, as we do, once again clearly made known the source of the food stuffs they had received.
This was repeated a few times at this encampment as it came up a few times.
Now, one of our ‘helpers’ over heard all this, it seems for the first time.
This stumbled him greatly. He accepts that it is acceptable for us to help people – but in his view, it is wholly unacceptable for us to “advertise” (his word not mine) that we are Christians and to say that these provisions come from Churches.
I find this rather bizarre because on the following day, as I was on my morning constitutional, I walked past the Council buildings here in Antakya and there on the pavement were seven or eight boxes that I concluded were food aid as there was a list of the contents (food items) on the side plus, in rather large print, the name of the Council. They are, by the same token, likewise making ‘advertisement’ by identifying from whence the aid comes.
I dare say it would be apparent that the problem was not so much the ‘advertisement’, but the mentioning of ‘Christians’ and ‘Churches’ that was the cause of his ‘offence’.
And so, we are now exposed to the true nature of our so-called ‘helpers’, more ‘auditors’ than ‘helpers’.
Now, in Turkish culture, if there is a problem, generally speaking, you will not directly confront someone yourself, but, using a third party, you will let your thoughts be known. In this instance, this method was employed and one of our number was charged with telling E to cease and desist in proclaiming that we are Christians and that this aid comes from Christians and Churches – in the ‘offended one’s view’ – to stop making ‘advertisement’.
This she flatly refused to accept, arguing that the ‘helpers’ did not have the authority to make such a restriction, that there is freedom of religion in Turkey, that we have been doing this from the beginning of this work and that we would continue to do so.
This, it is fair to say, did not go down well with the ‘offended one’ and his companion. Therefore, the ‘two’ retreated and proceeded to ring their manger and to inform him that we were ‘making advertisement’ and we ‘would not desist from doing so’. The manager – the regional director of Social Welfare Department, so informed, declared that he was sending the rural police, the Gendarme, to come out and “stop us”.
Whilst they were making their phone call, E also took advantage at this time to ring one of the people she had talked to in the regional office, the Document Comptroller – a key individual who is the gate keeper of the work that flows to the regional Governor – a central and influential position. He is also a very religious Muslim, and in their previous meeting, E had shared her faith very openly with him. That occurred in the district governors office during a previous occasion when she spoke about what we are engaged in, with the regional governor, and various managers, including the director of Social Welfare. She delineated to the Document Comptroller the current situation as raised by our ‘helpers’ and requested his assistance.
We began our distribution.
The ‘two’, muttering to each other, stood off to one side, watching, not hostile, but not happy either. The one who seemed to be most offended seemed to be ‘righteously indignant’ that we were using aid distribution to ‘advertise’ who we are and from whence the aid comes.
I approached them to engage in conversation with them and they informed me that in the Koran it declares that “when doing good, your right hand should not know what your left hand is doing”. I found this an interesting quote. I found it a remarkably interesting quote.
Indeed, after our return and on further investigation, it seems that there is no such reference in the Koran (it may be in the Hadith – ‘the Sayings’, I do not know, but it is not in the Koran proper) but it is clearly in the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ as recorded in the New Testament. His quote to me was very interesting. I muse, “Was he inadvertently quoting from the New Testament in his opposition to Christians?”
Anyway, back at the encampment, the ‘helpers’ suggested we say something innocuous and ambiguous – the unstated result would be that the hearers would be ignorant that Christians have anything to do with it. Again, they unintentionally and subtly declared that the point of stumbling is not in making ‘advertisement’ but in the nature of the advertisement.
The stumbling blocks were the words ‘Christian’ and ‘Churches’.
It always amazes me how profoundly sensitive and deeply insecure they are, that a simple mention of the source of the aid is deeply offensive. This may arise from a deeply inbred insecurity about their own beliefs or as an example of the spiritual warfare that we are engaged in, or a mix of the two.
As we were distributing the aid, we were, at the same time, awaiting the arrival of the rural police, the Gendarme.
It is true to say that things had not been running to schedule on this day, and our mid-day meal break was going to be an hour or so late – this is in no-wise noteworthy, truly it is of no importance for the healthy amongst us, but it definitely was not good news for the diabetic amongst us who needs to ingest sustenance at regular intervals.
Alas, my blood sugar was in decline.
It was when we finished our distribution and the next item on our schedule was our delayed meal break, that I noted the bright blue Gendarme vehicle on the road coming into the village. I was not alone in noting it as our two ‘helpers’ were on active look-out for it.
On catching a glimpse of the Gendarme vehicle, one of the ‘two’, the one who was the ‘informer’ and the ‘offended one’ ran off to intercept the Gendarme least they carry on looking for us up the road.
It is the most I’ve seen him do in the time he has been with us.
He intercepted and collected the vehicle and it made its way down the ratty old side track to the location of our distribution.
Two officer class or at least, senior NCO class individuals alighted, followed by a scrawny looking conscript whose task it was to guard the vehicle and be ready for ‘trouble’, holding, as he was, a rather large rifle.
The Gendarme strode over, sour, stern expressions on their faces.
Turkey is dealing with many extremely serious problems; a Kurdish uprising and associated violence and terrorist acts, the presence of millions of Syrian refugees – some of whom are not the ‘cream of society’ and hence prone to doing wrong, others who are active adherents to IS and its bloody ideology, plus all the normal policing problems in a border area related to smuggling, AND YET… and yet… here they are, armed and ready to deal with the threat that some people engaged in a ‘good work’, occupied with helping the disadvantaged, vulnerable, destitute individuals, and in the course of doing this are mentioning, or speaking of being Christians and that the aid comes from Christians and Churches…
Truly, I am speechless.
Nevertheless, the Gendarme are there, looking serious, and taking it very seriously indeed, and the two of them together take an aggressive tone and approach declaring that we “can not do this”.
One individual, whether it was the ‘specialist’ with the Gendarme or the ‘informer’ – the ‘offended helper’, I do not recall, but they declared that ‘we can not do this’ and E immediately confronted him and declared to his face that she is not listening to him as he is clearly ignorant of the law.
She boldly declared that as a Turk she has the right to share her faith with whomsoever she chooses and they can do nothing about that – it is her right. She confidently stated that she could call all the Syrians over and present the Good News to them, in front of the Gendarme and that they could not arrest her as it is her legal right to share her faith.
She also stated that we have been helping Syrian refugee field workers for three years and declared that all thoughout that time we have clearly proclaimed who we are and from whence the aid is coming.
She also explained, that although she has this legal right to openly share her faith, that we have not taken advantage of these vulnerable people – we have assisted openly, freely without let or hinderance, only declaring the source when it is appropriate, that the nature and source of this assistance would be honestly known.
The Gendarme wanted to examine the contents of a distribution bag, and so one was selected at random, opened up and the contents scrutinised. Rice, beans, sugar, tea, oil, bulgar wheat, macaroni, soap, salt, lentils – all very dangerous items in the wrong hands…
Finally, the phone call that the gendarme were waiting for came through – we think from the district governor’s office. After the call, the senior gendarme turned, his visage now smiling and friendly, and he declared that there was no problem and we were free to carry on.
The ‘two’ – our assigned ‘helpers’- were intimately involved in all these discussions, they were, after all, both the ‘informant’ and the ‘offended party’. They heard the defence as presented by E, and as well, that the Gendarme did not counter it nor attempt to refute or deny it. They observed that the Gendarme did not arrest us, nor compel us to desist in speaking of being ‘Christians’ and the ‘Church’.
This interlude with the Gendarme now concluded, we loaded everyone into our vehicles, including the ‘two’, our ‘helpers’, who are to accompany us in our distribution, and, as we declared, made our way to our luncheon location. My chosen venue for lunch was a tree by the side of the road about a kilometre up the road, halfway between two encampments. The Gendarme followed us there.
We stopped to eat.
The Gendarme, after pausing and after we offered to share our food with them (declined), continued on their way to other, more serious, business. We tucked into the lunch provisions: black olives, bread, sliced tmates, cheese, luncheon meat and ayran (a yogurt drink).
On this occasion, the ‘two’ declined to join with us – but as we insisted that they have something, they did accept the ayran drink.
From there we went to the third encampment of the day and then on to the final one. The ‘two’, as is their customary practice, were idly standing around, watching.
At the last encampment, I spoke again with them, not about what had transpired, just, friendly chatting with them. Hopefully, demonstrating the love, compassion and Grace of God. There was a goat pen at this encampment and one, the ‘informer’ – the ‘offended one’ – explained how he has experience with animals from his childhood in a local village and he put his finger through the wire and the goat suckled it. He did this a number of times. Then he did it again and the goat bit him. Undeterred, he did it again with another goat, and this one drew blood. At this point he desisted.
This was what I had intended to be our penultimate encampment, but everything was distributed and with nothing left in any of the vehicles, we prepared to depart and return to Antakya. As we have done in weeks past, the ‘two’ then moved from our vehicle to the lorry. The lorry driver drops them off on his way through Kırıkhan and we take all of our people back in the van. It gives the ‘two’ a good opportunity to talk about us, and to have a quiet word and query our lorry driver.
Over the course of the day, it was revealed by various ones that, it seems, there has been a number of complaints about us, not just from the ‘two’ who accompanied us, but from others as well. As you would expect, the complaints are made by ‘anonymous’ sources.
It is clear that the complaints do not arise from the recipients of the assistance, nor from the gang-masters who organise and manage the work of the Syrian refugee field workers. If the gang-masters didn’t want us, they could simply say so. They are the ones who have to organise and ensure that the recipients are brought back to the encampment when we do the distribution as we do not just dump a load of aid ‘by faith’ – we check ID and family composition at each distribution. The gang-masters actively facilitate our distribution.
Therefore, the query arises, from whence do the complaints arise?
I dare say, it is likely to be from those (religious individuals) who are stumbled, offended and frightened by the fact that Christians are doing ‘good works’. Christians, just doing the good works, is a stumbling block.
If we acted like them and were only helping our co-religionists, that would be okay. They would understand that. In their eyes, we would be the same as them, for this is what they would do. But Christians helping suffering Muslims, this is prima facie offensive and wrong. The fact that we are open and honest about from whence the aid comes, is compounding the offence, adding insult to injury.
Additionally, it is probably true that there are Turks who are not receiving assistance and hence are jealous and complain. In this case, they would be basically reflecting the attitude, “If you aren’t helping me, you shouldn’t help them.” The fact that, as citizens they have automatic access to much state aid, and, at the end of the day, their simple living conditions are still light years ahead of people living under canvas in a muddy field notwithstanding.
In any event, whatever the motive, the ‘complainers’ are patently content that if we are stopped that the consequence will be that the hungry will remain hungry, that the children will not receive adequate sustenance, that those dwelling in primitive shelters in the fields and with insufficient clothing, that their suffering will continue unabated. They are content with the suffering of their co-religionists RATHER than suffering the indignity of allowing Christians to help, aid, assist, and assisting without let or hinderance, without some ‘requirements’ being fulfilled by the recipients.
Clearly, what we are involved in, is aid on the basis of ‘grace’ and not right, nor race, nor religion, nor language – grace (undeserved, unearned, unmerited favour) – motivated by the Love of God.
Indeed, if the ‘complainers’ want us to cease and desist in our activities, if they were prepared to step into the breech and meet the need and from their own pockets and their own resources go out and with their own physical efforts go and help their co-religionists – I would have no problem. We would happily desist.
Sadly, however, they want us to stop – but they are not willing to pick up the task, to meet the need. They are content for the deprived to be deprived, the disadvantaged to remain disadvantaged, for the suffering to suffer…
God is not.
Eternal shame on them – this not as a curse, this not as a prayer, this is not a wish or desire, but this is the natural conclusion of their actions.
Western nations turning away refugees to maintain their lovely life style should also take note…