Life was never boring when my husband David and I were living in Turkey. Difficult, eventful, yes — but never boring!
Waiting on the railway platform at Izmir, returning from my weekly visit supporting expatriate children being home-schooled, a friendly village woman chatted to me about the impossibility of her buying local high-priced meat and cheese.
I felt a pang of guilt when, as the train approached, she slipped a bag of parsley into my hand. How often I had experienced the generosity of the poor.
But then to board the train! The second-hand rolling stock purchased from Italy did not match Turkish platform heights, so it was necessary to climb down onto the line, walk across the track, and haul myself up into the carriage.
Two art student girls called to me from their carriage window. They were returning home to their small town of Aydin — a journey they made several times a week.
We had become acquainted some weeks earlier, and each Wednesday at the same time we spent the one and a half hour journey in conversation — before I alighted at Selçuk (Ephesus) where David lectured at the newly established Bible College for Turkish believers.
The students had presented me with gifts of their sketches. Halfway into the journey all the passengers would share fruit, sandwiches, etc. I soon learned to bring along some food to pool into the common feast.
These girls, living as they were in a secular republic with strong Muslim influences, were like most young people in Turkey — thinking through many issues.
They were happy to receive New Testaments and listen to Christian ethics and doctrines applied to their personal and world problems.
I alighted and walked under the ancient Roman aqueduct outside the station, their cries of goodbye still reaching my ears until the train disappeared from view.
As it was dark, the storks were sleeping safely in their high roosting places on the tall pillars of the aqueduct. Around 15 March, with singular regularity each year, they would return from Africa.
I loved to meditate on the probability that the ancestors of these storks were safely nesting in the same place when the apostles Paul and John lived in Ephesus — Paul as a missionary, reasoning in the house of Tyrannus, and John as the reputed leader of the early church there.
Certainly, the storks had their nests, then as now, on the tall columns at the Temple of Diana — one of the wonders of the ancient world. But Diana’s temple is in ruins and her glory and worship are long gone.
On one occasion during a brief visit from Istanbul, when I was ill and resting in one of Selçuk’s boarding houses, my husband asked the poor village lady who cleaned for the owner, to visit me.
‘Lord,’ I prayed, ‘what good am I lying here — ill, homesick and missing my children in England — to do any good to anyone’s soul?’
The young wife and mother kneeled by my bed and asked why I wept. ‘I long to see my daughter.’
To my utter amazement, she too started to sob — uncontrollably. ‘Oh how blessed she is to have your love. My mother pushes me away when I visit her in the village saying she cannot cope with me and my two sons.
‘My husband beats me and we are very poor. Everyone tells me my two young sons are naughty and not clever at school. I’m worthless. How I wish I was loved by a mother like you.’
Her grief acted as a catalyst to shake me out of self-pity. My prayer was heard. The Lord Jesus was showing me some of the heart needs of these precious women.
I told her: ‘Jesus who is my Lord and Saviour said that one soul is worth more than the world. God has given you two souls to care for … If God has entrusted two souls to you, can you be worthless?’
From these and other words of Christ she took encouragement and gained hope to go on. She wanted to learn more of this wonderful Person, who showed such respect for women, and what his coming into the world had accomplished.
As women, we have such a privilege to minister to one another’s needs. May we be given wisdom in doing so, with spiritual eyes to see and spiritual ears to hear, in all our providential meetings