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A summer holiday – with a difference

October 1998
Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul, Turkey
see image info

One summer’s morning, in the early hours, a small group of us arrived, bleary-eyed and a little bewildered, at the airport in Turkey. Our Bible studies during our stay in Turkey were to be in the book of Esther, when, morning by morning, we were reminded of God’s hand of providence in the lives of his people, in Shushan and the king’s provinces. By big and seemingly small events, by placing the right people in the right place at the right time, by overturning events completely, God works out his eternal purposes.

The seven-hour bus ride that followed was awful, as we hurtled down windy mountain roads, overtook on hairpin bends and experienced the bus’s ineffective air-conditioning system. Yet, safely arrived that night with friends, we rejoiced with the psalmist, ‘Make a joyful shout to God, all the earth! … All the earth shall worship you and sing praises to you’ (Psalm 66).

A shopkeeper

This time we aimed to meet with those Turkish people who had previously shown interest in the Word of God. It was therefore a special answer to prayer to meet N again at his souvenir shop on the first full day, and also to renew friendship with K, who turned up at the shop as we drank coffee and chatted. During the course of the fortnight we were enabled to speak at greater length about the gospel with these two men and their wives. N had married P last spring, and Maureen was able to get acquainted with her. P opened up on the difficulties of being a woman in this area of Turkey. It is like being in prison, where you are not free to walk out by yourself. There is nobody with whom to share ideas and opinions. This is why books are very important to N and P. We were thrilled to learn that they had read the Christian books we had left with them previously.

On our last day in that area we went to N’s shop to say goodbye. He told us about his childhood hometown in the East of Turkey, where people of many religions mix together. We asked him what he believes. He said he is a non-practising Muslim. He was honest enough to admit that he is afraid to repent, because it would mean forsaking his favourite sins. But once again we left him with Christian literature.

New Testaments

K invited us to his home one afternoon and we sat on the balcony with his wife and teenage son, eating cake and an abundance of fruit and, most importantly, talking about spiritual things. We were encouraged by the conversation, and very thankful for Maureen’s perfect Turkish! K is a highly intellectual man, interested in the truth, but finds it hard to accept that everyone is born in sin. He believes that ‘sin’ comes from one’s environment and also that ‘Utopia’ is around the corner. However, he was thirsty for more books: one of the first things he asked us was, ‘Have you brought any more books?’ We gave him A. Martin’s What is a biblical Christian? and J. Packer’s Knowing God, both translated into Turkish. K and his wife introduced us to a retired lady teacher in his neighbourhood, to whom they had given a New Testament!

One afternoon at K’s shop we met a soldier, related to one of the shop assistants. We had hardly been introduced to him when he asked us for a New Testament. He told us that in only a few days time he and his family were being posted to Istanbul. Our paths had crossed at just the right time.

We then went on our way to the hill-side family. This time, not only the girls and the mother, but also the father, wanted to spend time talking with us. It was interesting to hear him speak about the Korean War. Then, for some reason, he began talking about snakes. We mentioned the Bible’s account of the Israelites being bitten by snakes and God’s way of healing them through the bronze snake on the pole. We also talked about how the serpent deceived Eve in the Garden of Eden and then about salvation through Christ. At this point one of the girls said, ‘We only follow the Koran’. The conversation drifted onto other matters and we spent pleasant hours with them.

On our last evening, our friend Z and his colleague took us up to a village on a mountainside. We sat with them, looking down upon a panoramic view over the lake and talking about all manner of things. Z loves philosophy, and is too open to too many ideas. We were pleased when he told us he had read the New Testament that we gave him last time, but he said he could not find any answers there. This is probably because he is not asking the right questions.

Christ’s delight

That night we walked down the mountain by the light of the moon, with the canopy of stars above the lake gleaming in the moonlight and the mountains towering above us. How great is God who has made all this! At creation the Son of God’s delight was with the sons of men (Proverbs 8:31). God sees all these people and is not willing that any should perish. He will lovingly save his precious people from destruction.