Beside one of the beautiful Bosphorus bays in Istanbul lies the Bebek Park, where one can sit and watch large ships passing to and from the Black Sea. In the spring, steep wooded hills are ablaze with the red blossom of ‘Judas’ trees — which symbolise to Armenians the blood of the traitor Judas.
In 1967, only a few months after we arrived in Turkey as missionaries, we befriended a poor family who lived in a small shed in this park. Each evening I visited them and was welcomed into their hovel, lit by an oil lamp.
After tea served in tiny tea glasses and the usual exchange of warm conversation, I would read to them from Pilgrim’s Progress, which had recently been translated. The family loved the story and spiritual allegory, but when I explained the work of Jesus Christ for our salvation, they became offended and assured me they were Muslims.
David and I prayed earnestly for the people of Bebek where we lived. Though outwardly religious, most were materialistic, worldly and indifferent to their souls’ needs.
One June day at about five o’clock, after pleading in prayer for the Lord to speak to these people, the sky became unusually black. Within minutes there was a prolonged, torrential downpour with hailstones the size of large marbles.
The steep road outside our wooden house soon became a river, fed by water cascading down the steep hills above us. Cellars were flooded, including the hall of our house.
I rushed upstairs with our baby son Jonathan to our elderly Armenian landlady as she screamed for help. Several panes of glass in her flat had been smashed by the impact of the hailstones.
‘Never in all my 75 years in Istanbul have I known a storm like this’, she wept. ‘It is the judgement of God!’ It was truly frightening, and the fearful wind left behind a trail of damage.
Immediately my mind went to our poor village family in their shed. What of their situation? Their two children must be soaking. So after the storm subsided we went into the park. There was complete chaos. Many trees had been blown down, including an enormous plane tree beside their home. But by God’s grace it had fallen not onto the shed but in the other direction.
Saturated but safe
The family were standing outside saturated but smiling, as we approached them. ‘Do you see how God has saved you from death?’ we asked, ‘and like pilgrims we must repent and be free from the city of destruction?’
‘Yes, yes’, they affirmed. We hugged each other tearfully and joyfully. We never saw them come to Christ but from then on there was a more sympathetic hearing of the Good News.
For days people were talking of God’s judgement on their sins. For us, these events were a confirmation the Lord had called us to minister in Turkey, and that he had a people there whom he would save.