Report on my trip to Turkey 2/29/12 through 4/23/12 – Valerie Bowman
I headed back to Turkey at the end of February, 2012 after being away for 49 years. My father was stationed in Turkey in early 1960’s. When we returned to the United States I was in my early teens but a seed had been planted in my heart. My love for the country was reawakened as our parish began to pray and look for opportunities to serve in areas where God was already at work. With continued prayer and discussions, our parish voted to adopt the unreached Zaza’s of eastern Turkey. God had begun awakening the seed he planted in my heart and was calling me to go there to see his hand at work. My mission this trip was to meet the people, understand the culture, and begin to learn the language.
After arrival in Istanbul and an overnight stay, Ryan, Dr. K, and I caught an early morning flight to Diyarbakir. From there we rented a car and traveled through mountains that were rugged and magnificent. As we traveled further into the mountains towards Tunceli, the snow and ice increased. We stopped for a visit with a friend along the way and during cay heard haunting personal stories of imprisonment, unfair treatment by the government, and torture. The pain runs deep in their souls and the memories are lasting. Only God can heal these deep wounds. We continued our journey towards Ovacik on increasingly snow covered narrow roads, with fearful passing of larger vehicles. The long travel time in the car gave opportunity for conversation and prayer. We checked into our hotel in a city overwhelmed by 3 meters of snow. People were struggling to get around and make pathways to get in and out of their homes. After a meal at the hotel, we visited with another family as we conversed long into the evening over cay in a room heated by a wood stove. I rested well that night from accumulated excitement and travel.
After a wonderful Turkish breakfast, I played with children (and learned language) while my traveling companions met with the governor. We then traveled into the village area which was buried in snow. Hay was being delivered along the road side and being transported into the village to feed livestock. We walked in shoulder wide pathways with snow over our heads. We were warmly welcomed into a home and were served a wonderful meal of cheese, olives, greens, honey, bread, and warm cay. We visited and Dr. K discussed X-rays with one of the family members who had a persistent cough. As we left we checked the livestock being kept in the lower areas of the home. Each day they brought the cattle through these snow pathways to get water. The hay that was being delivered would sustain them until a thaw would allow for grazing. I was surprised at how well they were dealing with the extreme weather conditions along with the anticipation of further problems of flooding from the melting snow. Our lengthy visits allowed for relationship building and opportunities for sharing the gospel. Their simplicity of living and gracious hospitality was incredible. We left gifts of sox and warm gloves wherever we visited.
Traveling icy roads with major pot holes made an interesting ride back to Diyarbakir. We stopped along the way to meet more friends at a cafe and visited over a cup of salep. We stopped later in the evening for a wonderful trout dinner. It was interesting that television is a big part of the culture and was on in most of the restaurants and homes where we stopped. The extensive travel to these remote areas allowed opportunity for Ryan and Dr. K to communicate, pray, and plan. Our group of tired travelers checked into the hotel ready for a hot bath and a nights rest. Sunday David joined our group. After breakfast at the hotel we attended an amazing worship at the evangelical church. Not even understanding the language well, I could feel God’s presence among the worshipers. There was fellowship with cay afterwards around a wood stove. While some attended a meeting, I visited with some of the Turkish families. As usual there were some beautiful Turkish children and I had fun picking up more language as we played games. We enjoyed a delicious pot of soup kept warm on the wood stove which they served up with wonderful Turkish bread.
David and I left the group as we traveled by bus into the southern village area. We arrived late in the evening at a tribal leaders home and were offered a wonderful meal of bread, cheeses, tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, and honey served by the women. We talked with the men upstairs and had wonderful Turkish coffee. I later went downstairs to be with the women. The teenage girls were a delight. We talked (well communicated in the way you talk when you use sign language and find words you can both understand), ate cake, and drank cay until midnight. They wondered if I were there to teach them. I asked if they wanted to learn English or if they wanted me to teach them about Jesus. They said they knew about Jesus. How wonderful it would be to remain there and be able to share the gospel. My beautiful girls gave me a scarf and showed me how to tie it around my head.
Monday morning we ate a traditional Turkish breakfast and went over to the marble shop where the men work. After cay and conversation, we got a ride to the bus station to begin our travel to Gaziantep. With travel we had to change buses and on our second bus struck up a conversation with a lady going to our city. Her son met her at the station and offered us a ride further into our area of town. We caught another bus to the area where we were staying. As we were walking from the bus stop we were offered a ride so that we then had only a few blocks to walk with our suitcases. Public transportation and walking are a part of life here and it felt good to stretch our legs after the long bus rides. I realized as well that the good fortune of our getting rides was just the normal helpfulness and hospitality of this country. Our host had a wonderful dinner of lentil stew, yogurt, and chickpea wraps. We had pleasant conversation and then retired for the night. My room was upstairs and had been used as a sanctuary for worship. This was where I stayed for the next several weeks. David left the next morning to join another group coming to Turkey.
I began to settle into a new routine in this city of over a million people. A railway system and gas lines were being put in so streets and sidewalks were torn up. Watching your footings with so much construction made it interesting as I walked to the market and found my way around the area. I loved the opportunity to interact with shop keepers as well as purchase wonderful food at the Pazar. There are always lots of people on the street as few folks have cars. You sometimes see the same faces as people go through their daily routine with children going to school, shoppers going to the nearby stores, vendors making deliveries, workmen constructing buildings, street cleaners sweeping, recyclers gathering from dumpsters, and even the fire department putting out a nearby fire. Fresh bread from the market was irresistible. The people I was able to speak with were very happy to have jobs. My day to day routine was just helping out. My construction background came in handy as we put together a wardrobe cabinet, enclosed a balcony with plastic and lattice to keep pigeons out, and shared the supervision and cleanup of running new gas lines and radiator pipes throughout the home. In my spare time I continued to learn language using Mango Languages from the internet, posted to my blog, read from my hosts library, met and prayed with workers who came to our home, phoned home way too many times to find out why my bank was continuing to deny access to my bank account!!!, shopped at the market for the daily needs, checked out the many building projects going on all around us, and interacted with those I encountered in the neighborhood. There were opportunities to travel by bus to areas around the city to shop and savor the great food.
Coal shortages caused our heat to be turned off and gas had not yet been connected. We gathered around an electric heater most days to stay out of the workers ways and keep warm. It was a mixed blessing as it gave us great opportunities to get know one another better, to study His word, to pray, and to spend time in worship. Where there is no church you find yourself in worship and prayer mode most of the day. Our first Sunday worship we gathered together to read the Word, pray, and sing hymns. On another occasion we celebrated a very meaningful Eucharist with crackers and grape juice as we remembered our Lord Jesus Christ.
Workmen continued to come and drill through concrete and tile to run new lines for all the radiators. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to see their construction methods. We ask them each day when they would finish and they indicate in a day or two but some days they would show up and some days they didn’t. It kept us tied to the house each day as we need to be there to let them in. It was interesting as a project manager to see how they accomplished their work. They disturbed every room of the house and the cleanup of dust from the drilling was staggering each day. The cold winter was not over and there was no heat in our building as well as many others. One morning it was only 44 degrees inside. The fellow supervising our work brought a new baby girl home but without heat the baby became sick and had to go to the hospital. I found a nice yarn shop in my explorations so crocheted a little blanket to help keep her warm. The heater during the day, hot tea, a big pot of soup, and our warm comforters made life more comfortable. The sun came out for the first time in a week and I realized there were beautiful mountains surrounding us. When we went out, we would walk on the sunny side of the street to keep warm. We also took advantage of the warmth to wash clothes and dry them on the balcony.
The gas furnace finally arrived, but several trips to the government office had not yet allowed the papers to be stamped so that the meter could be connected. Spring will come before bureaucracy allows connections but what a comfort for next winter. As I left for Izmir, I felt better prepared to function on my own. Purchasing air tickets, doing banking, getting around on public transportation, communicating, understanding the culture, and being built up spiritually in this place, made me comfortable in moving on independently. Leaving new precious friends was difficult.
I left Gaziantep on March 23rd and had good travels to Izmir where workers met me at the airport. After showing me around the city and getting me acquainted with the metro system, they left me in an apartment in a Kurdish community. I was staying in a worker apartment while she was away dealing with a family death. The Kurdish family that owned the building adopted me and looked after me very lovingly every chance they could. They were a husband and wife with four delightful young adult/teenage children. They are believers and were one of the first families to come to faith at the Lighthouse Church. The area was congested with old buildings and there was trash and building debris everywhere on the street. The streets were always filled with people coming and going. Children played in the streets and vacant lots. Shops and a Pazars were within quick walking distance. The metro was only a 15 minute walk and the bus stop just a few blocks away. Public transportation made getting around the city very easy. I prefer the Izban railway to the buses, which are rather jolting. The Turks have a great respect for the elderly and I was always offered a seat on public transportation. There was also a lot of walking which was enjoyable.
My landlord’s wife fed me at least 5 times a day. I asked her to teach me to cook their delicious foods. She made simple meals of beans, vegetables, and rice. She was learning to read so we read the book of John together which helped me with language pronunciation. Internet connections until to this point were regular for my language learning but now it was intermittent and I had to rely on just listening to them speak. Most days I would go out to prayer walk, purchase anything I needed, or walk to transportation if I were going into the city. At home the women take their housework seriously and bring rugs, bedding, and laundry out onto balconies for airing and drying. They work hard scrubbing floors, caring for children, cooking, and doing the shopping. My landlord works hard each day doing repairs and painting and rarely comes home before dark. Their four children stay busy with school work. One of the daughters was studying for her entry exam to the university. We prayed for her success on the exam but the day she took the exam she indicated that she did not have time to even start the math section of the exam. Not a good thing but prayer was answered as she did okay and did passed so will have a better future. Evenings are taken up with family time and frequent visits from neighbors and friends. Evenings were very entertaining. Visitors were lively and were served tea and frequently stayed until midnight. Some were quite entertaining with native music being played and the young people dancing cultural dances. If singing occurred it usually ended with the young girls playing guitar and singing Turkish worship songs. The kids would love to sit and eat sunflower seeds (there is a trick to opening those with your teeth!).
My first Sunday in Izmir, I caught the Railway into town to worship at an Anglican Church in Alsancack. It was a meaningful service with several international visitors. There was a nice fellowship afterward with the young men of the parish washing the teacups and cleaning up afterward. I took a stroll into the city and came across a wonderful Pazar with an amazing abundance of produce that took over about 10 city blocks. There were wonderful cafes where good smells filled the air. Beyond that was the water front, where people were just walking and enjoying the beautiful day. I went back to the church in the afternoon where the evangelical Lighthouse Church meets. I prayed with a group who meet an hour before each worship service to pray for all parts of that day’s worship. The two hour worship service was amazing with many seekers present. There was lively worship done in Turkish with headphones for English translation. Prayer was offered afterward and many seekers came forward in tears to ask for prayer having never before heard a message of hope.
It was wonderful to see this international community of workers coming together to share the gospel, disciple new believers, and pray. Teams would rotate duties but there was an enormous amount of work that was needed. They did bible studies, small family groups, Alpha Courses, prayer groups, youth groups, children’s groups, a ‘so you want to be married’ course for young adults, an ‘extend your tent pegs’ evangelism course, as well as discipleship to bring up new believers to serve and lead in the church. Teaching and learning were ongoing in this maturing church.
In the midst of my getting settled in my landlord slipped from his ladder while working and the power saw in his hand fell and took a huge chunk out of his left jaw. He was taken to the hospital, stitched him up, and sent him home. I had been there almost a week and had observed how things were done. This became a golden opportunity for me to help serve them. We got busy with going back and forth to the hospital to get bandages changed on his face and care for him. Many people came by to check on him. When church friends came by we prayed, even in the presence of those who did not believe. Visitors in their culture do not just drop in and leave. They stay for at least tea if not a meal and some even stayed overnight. During this family crisis we became quite bonded and they became my family. Hasan’s face did heal with no infection and by the time I left, the scar was getting less noticeable.
The second month of my visit was beginning and as the situation settled down, a routine developed. Tuesday and Thursday we met at the church to worship and pray starting at 8:30 AM and it frequently lasted several hours. We would then open the sanctuary and keep it open until 2:30 PM for visitors. We would have minimally 20 people and often more than that. Many had not been inside a church. Some were tourists or neighbors. Others were just walking by and came in. Sometimes a teacher would bring her classroom for a visit. We would talk with the visitors (frequently they would talk for an hour) and give them a Turkish bible or other books. During quiet times I would ask those I was with to tell me the stories of how they came to faith. Most talked about dreams and visions and there were many amazing stories of how God had been at work in their lives. As we waited for visitors we would read scripture aloud (usually in Turkish) or pray aloud. One of my tasks was to organize music in a new file cabinet, alphabetized by Turkish title, put the music in file folders, make notes about how many copies were need so we would have enough copies for worship, and make a cross reference ledger to the English title (another good way to learn language!!). There were several weekends that we had permission to do a book table on the street and over 100 bibles plus other books were given out. Unfortunately we ran out of bibles and the source from which we had gotten them was no longer available. It was going to take thousands of dollars to get bibles printed and we needed them immediately. Those of us at the church office prayed for the folks at the book table while printing more invitations for our Easter Service. Frequently, after our work was done, we would go to a little 5 Lira restaurant and get a wonderful meal. The owner of the restaurant liked having Christians come and had been to the church several times. I helped with one of the youth groups on Tuesday nights. We were doing bible stories and skits to help them remember the bible stories. One night we improvised skits by doing news media interviews of the Samaritan Women story. The kids had amazing memories for retaining the details of the story. Doing this drama was a fun tool to help them learn these bible stories. I loved the way these kids would pray and share their faith.
My routine with the family became helping with meals and housework. I continued to read the bible with Hatun to help her improve her reading. At times she would communicate her past history and talk about milking the 100 sheep their family had. Every now and then I would get an internet connection and get caught up on personal things. When we’d go shopping, Hatun would always introduce me as her mother and say with a giggle “Don’t we look alike?” With balmy weather we would sometimes walk in the evening and visit friends. She pointed out an area where she thought Zaza’s were living. Tea in the evening was like a special ritual as the two girls would serve. The two boys, would be around usually doing something funny or horse playing. Whenever there were guests the children will always come into the sitting room to greet and visit with them no matter how busy they were. Sometimes we would be invited to another friend’s home for tea or dinner. I was always included and found it difficult to have a moment to myself. They as a social culture were very concerned that I might feel lonely! I was surprised when Hasan decided to paint his house it took days to decide on the color because everyone had to be involved. We got haircuts together, dyed Hatun’s hair, climbed up on the roof to hang up clothes, exercised, and baked cakes for meeting refreshments. Best of all was learning to cook their wonderful foods. Sometimes it would be a whole day’s event. We did most of our cooking and eating while sitting on the floor often eating communally off the same plate or dipping out of the same bowl. There were several times that they allowed me to fix some American food for them.
I loved the sounds of their culture. The Imam’s call to worship was the first thing I heard each morning and then the rooster’s crow. There were always happy children’s voices to be heard from their playing on street. Horses would clip clop by with their carts and stray dogs would bark. There were many feral dogs and cats around even in the busiest parts of the city. The calliope sound of the school bell, chirping doorbells, vendors with carts shouting their wares, and a baaing lamb grazing in a vacant lot became familiar sounds. The pleasing smells of food cooking and these joyful sounds are sensations that draw you into their wonderful world. Traffic was a confusion of maneuvering with lots of horn honking. People are very conservative with their resources. Lights are not left burning unnecessarily, hot water heaters are only turned on for showers and then laundry is done afterward. Water after scrubbing floors is used to clean exterior hallways and then poured onto plants. Plumbing is old so paper products are put in a trash can. Most people don’t have cars as gasoline is around $10.00 per gallon. Meats are expensive so they eat lots of beans and rice. Vegetables and fruits are abundant, delicious, and cheap so you eat what is in season. The people are amazingly resourceful and in tune with nature, using scraps of material for all sorts of projects.
My house mate returned and as we became acquainted, I got involved with her ministries. One of her Turkish friends was really interested in understanding our faith. She frequently invited us to her home for meals (she was an amazing cook) and we would spend time talking. One evening her daughter was studying for an English exam and was having difficulty with some grammar rules. We tried to explain as best we could but neither of us could make a break through. We decided the best help we could be was to pray with her about it. I got an email when I got back home that she had made 100 on her exam!! My roommate was great with the kids on the street and we frequently would go outside to play with them. It led to us getting to know some of their mothers and we were invited to tea frequently. As the women sit on the sidewalk watching their children play, they knit and crochet beautiful slippers, amazing table decorations, sweaters, and detailed edging on their scarves. We also did a lot of prayer walking particularly around to the area. We would visit with shopkeepers and were often invited to sit and visit and have tea. It was a fun way to build relationships. We particularly liked pastry shops.
Psalm Sunday Services were wonderful. I attended both Anglican and Lighthouse Services. As Easter approached we became quite busy preparing for the service. There was a dramatization being done on the life of Jesus. The children were preparing to play music and sing along with the adult music team’s special music. We were doing lots of housekeeping for the expected visitors (we actually had 300 people come!!!), and food preparation for a reception after the service. Gifts of Christian books and videos were prepared as gifts for the newcomers. The worship with these new believers was magnificent. I often felt like I was at heaven’s gate. Worship started with 30 minutes of music in Turkish that was so joyful it made you tremble. There was scripture reading and teaching and more worship music as well as time for announcements, offerings, testimonies, and prayer. There was fellowship afterward to welcome and talk with newcomers. They are always invited to be with us again and we keep their names so that we can continue to pray for them.
I took advantage of some days to get around and see some sights and participate in events. I did go into Konak to a new Worship Center that had opened recently to hear Dan Wickwire speak. I rode the ferry around the Izmir Ports and took in some Pazar’s to shop for gifts for the 6 grandchildren. Hairpin turns through tight streets brought us to the top of Izmir’s Kadifekale ruins. Architectural digs were uncovering the large ancient city of Angora. A special day at Ephesus brought the history of our faith to life. Outside Ephesus I visited a Christian Camp for Turkish children. There were amazing projects there to become involved with including a prayer walking garden. A pool on the camp site is where many of the new believers are baptized. I also went into an area of Greek homes that were being restored. One of the workers there was doing a program of life skills to teach youth how to work on homes. I was able to spend some time with many of the workers in their home to learn more about the work they are doing. I also attended an evening memorial service for our brothers in Malatya who were martyred.
Our family went on a picnic the day before I left. We did chicken on the grill and had a big salad with fresh crusty bread at a nearby park. We then played soccer, took a walk, met some new folks whom we invited to our church, climbed trees, danced to music, and watched as a shepherd brought his flock back home for the night. Before we came home we brewed tea on the grill and had chocolate cake. The day I departed from Izmir was a holiday called Children’s Day. Most of the children had a day off from school and families would spend time with their children. The children dressed in their best clothes and many in native costumes.
At our morning prayer we all gave always gave thanks for the opportunity we have to work among the wonderful Turkish people and be in their beautiful country. We prayed for each region of Turkey and for the work that is needed to help the people in each area. The vast beauty of Turkey from its rugged mountains, lush valleys, and scenic waters were a wonder to behold along with the 3 meters of snow and a perfect spring. I packed my suitcase with a weaving that Hatun gave me (one of my most prized possessions) and some beautiful copper plates to be delivered to sell at a church bazaar. I had to leave some things behind to make the 20 kilos weight restriction (oh well, I will be back!). I also have a new family and dear friends here, so I now have a home in two places. I flew back to Istanbul and stayed with Ryan and family a few days. It was fun to play with the girls and give their parents a little break. After a two month stay, I departed from my beloved place. It’s amazing how simple and good life was. I lived out of a suitcase for two months and had everything I needed. I had the perfect freedom to love and serve the Lord and see His hand at work.