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Turkey

 

.Turkey - 2002

The Reverend Doctor James Wiberg

The annual meeting of the AICEMEA (The Int. Conf of Churches in Europe, the Middle East and Africa) held in Antalya, Turkey this year was the occasion for a seminar on the "cradle of Christianity." Biblical scholar Mark Wilson, Director of a Research Institute specializing in ancient Anatolian archaeological sites offered participants an amazing depth of wisdom and insight regarding the travels and ministry of the Apostle Paul and the seven churches of the Book of Revelation. Sites that we visited in Turkey included many of the missionary stations where the first Christian congregations were organized: Antioch of Syria, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, Laodicea, Hierapolis, Colossae, Smyrna and of course, Ephesus where the Austrians particularly have been active for more than 100 years and have made this ancient Roman site a superb open air museum. Here in Ephesus are the ruins of one of the great libraries of Rome---the Celsus library and the great theater [see picture] seating 30,000 people where the riots broke out following Paul's preaching and forced his departure from the city. A group of Korean pastors and their spouses whom we met while touring the theater joined us in singing some of our great Christian hymns from the center of the stage to demonstrate the marvelous acoustics of these theaters. The strains of "How Great thou Art" and "O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing My Great Redeemer's Praise" resounded where once people clamored for Paul's death. 

We walked Roman roads, surveyed kilometer long ruins of Roman aqueducts, took off our shoes and admired the splendor of the mosques, rode buses and flew in planes in order to cover the ground that Paul walked in the course of months and years; we stood amazed at the size of the Hagia Sophia, the great basilica of the Christian era, built by Justinian with the claim, "Solomon, I have outdone you," ringing in our ears, reminding us again of the dangers of too much collusion with stately endeavors. The achievements, however, of Roman engineering and construction still cause us to marvel and admire this ancient civilization---even running water and toilets in the homes and in public places, sewer systems under the streets, a system to flow water down the main surface of the street for cleaning purposes, the ingenious cultural and educational uses of the bath house systems. But then, there were those many gods and their temples which the great Apostle Paul had to face as he addressed them cleverly by identifying the "unknown God" of the Greek religious tradition as Jesus of Nazareth who has now become the one and only God. As ministers of the Gospel we prayed together in St. Peter's church in Antioch, near the border with Syria, a cave church that according to the tradition, was used by the early Christians in that city, and where the name "Christian" was first applied to followers of "the Way." It was also the alleged site where Peter and Paul disagreed over the issue of table fellowship between Jews and Gentiles (cf. Galatians 2:11ff), where Barnabas joined Paul for his journey west to plant churches in the Roman province of Asia, the western part of modern-day Anatolia. We gathered as a group of representatives from many congregations in Europe, the Middle East and in Africa to listen to the words of Art Beals, a Presbyterian Consultant with their Board for World Missions. It was 7:00 a.m. on a beautiful sunny morning with the rays of light glistening across the sand swept beach of the Mediterranean near Antalya. The unforgettable moments of peace and calm, a respite from the hectic pace of our lives back home, brought new refreshment to us as we listened to the words of our Lord telling Peter and the other disciples to put their nets on the other side of the boat for a great catch of fish. What inspiration those words are for those of us who seek to proclaim the Gospel. Jesus stands with us in our attempts to fish for people. If one program or event does not work, then let us move on and try something else. "Courageous Faith"......that was the theme of our time together. Take heart, keep casting out the nets. God's spirit is with you. 

After the Conference, some of us stayed on for an additional three-day tour of Cappadocia, the high plateau in central Anatolia that was such an important center of Christianity in the fourth century. There, at Caesarea (modern-day Kayseri), Bishop Basil, his younger brother Gregory of Nyssa, their sister Macrina, and their mutual friend Gregory of Nazianzus articulated the doctrine of the Trinity that was ratified by the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325 and gave us our Nicene Creed. In this area of Anatolia the landscape is something like that from outer space. One of our group members commented that "Star Wars" could have been filmed here. There are deep gorges cut into the flat plateaus and in the gorges 100's of caves have been hollowed out of the "tufa" or soft volcanic rock. Underground cities and cave churches populate the entire area. Estimates are that 30,000 people could live underground for six months, thus fending off the invading Arabs, Mongols or marauding tribes. Many of these underground churches have well-preserved frescoes dating back to the 12th- 13th centuries. Thanks to the Christian and Muslim iconoclasts of the seventh century, (those who do not believe in painting or sculpting any image of human beings as aids in worship), many of the frescoes have the eyes or faces obliterated, but otherwise retain their brilliant colors. 

Everywhere you go in modern Turkey today, the presence of the founder of the Republic, Attaturk, is immortalized in sculpture and stone. As a secular state, Turkish citizens are proud of their place between east and west. Most people we encountered were gregarious and friendly, naturally wanting our business, but also eager for contact with the west. Sadly, following the mass population exchanges between Greece and Turkey after the Lausanne Treaty of 1924, very few Christians are left in Cappadocia or any other part of Turkey. No more than 2% of the population counts itself as Christian, most whom are Syrian Orthodox believers. 

Modern Turkey has a right to bill itself as "the other Holy Land". When you consider that much of early Christianity, including the writing of the majority of the books of our New Testament happened there, there is ample reason for us to consider Turkey as a place for experiential Christian learning and pilgrimage. The St. Paul Cultural Center in Antalya, our hosts for the conference, opened their doors and showered their hospitality upon us. We joined the international congregation of Antlaya, led by James and Renate Bultema for Sunday worship and dinner and heard about the many programs of a cultural nature which help to build bridges to Turkish people. In a land where only about 60% of the people actually practice their Muslim faith, there is plenty of room for the nets to be cast. May God's people find ways to continue to proclaim the Gospel in this new and modern secular state. 

Luray and I have been touched by the warmth and friendliness of the people of Turkey. It is also one of the more beautiful countries we have visited. This is only a brief taste of our experience and I would be delighted to share more with those of you who are interested (including our group experience in a Turkish bath, if you talk to us privately). I need much more time to reflect on our experience and to put the names on my pictures, but I want to express our gratitude to the congregation for supporting us in this annual journey. The opportunity to be with other pastoral staff from many different international congregations is an important part of our supportive systems. Since most of us do not have clergy peer fellowship like we did in our homelands, these annual conferences are important times of spiritual renewal, fellowship with colleagues, and new learning experiences.
                                    

Turkey - May 2001

Louise Carlson

Our short visit to Turkey began with a rainy day in Istanbul.  That was not too hard to cope with since most of the sights we visited there were indoors:  The Blue Mosque,  St. Sophia's and the Topkapi Palace.  We were inundated with vendors selling books, post cards and umbrellas,  so shopping was not a problem.  The rains let up while we had our Turkish lunch in an open-air restaurant.  It had a roof, so it would not have been a problem anyway, except for a strong wind.  This was another of our very interesting eating adventures while on the trip.  It's not Midwest cuisine, that's for sure!  [Ed. note:  see Greece for insert].

After our day in Athens we sailed for Kusadasi, which is the port from which tours to Ephesus leave.  What an interesting stop that was!  To think that this was a huge thriving city when Paul was on his missionary journeys is amazing.  And the parts of the buildings that they have been able to reconstruct from the jumbled piles of rubble are incredible.  Also amazing were the notes about sewage systems and aqueducts in place at that time. You have to see it to believe it.  The city is spread out over many, many acres.  Every turn takes you to another fantastic view.  [Ed note:  See Greece for remainder of trip]

 

Turkey - July 1989

Vicky Blitz


Istanbul, it seemed to me, was the most oppressive place I have ever been. Perhaps, it was because it was a very hot day and we saw so many local women in those awful black robes and veils. Perhaps, it was because we had come from one of my favorite of all places on earth, awesome, enchanting, Greece. Perhaps, it was because, it seemed to me, to be a dirty place. Perhaps, I was just hot and tired and my knee was bothering me.

Our cruise ship entered the Dardanelle's, where the British had once been involved in a great Naval battle. Because my father (U.S. Navy for 31 years) had mentioned it so often, I set my alarm clock for five in the morning so that I wouldn't miss anything. But, guess what, folks! There isn't any thing to see. What ever was I thinking? It's just an enormously wide expanse of ocean, large enough for a great Naval battle. That's all!

After lunch, our ship went through the Sea of Marmora, which I ignored completely. In the late afternoon, I was up on deck, however, for Istanbul and took too many pictures of the skyline as we passed by and went up through the Bosphorus Straights. We went far enough to see the Black Sea in the distance, but then turned around, went back, and finally docked at Istanbul.

 I had signed up for the "night out" ($40.00) and we were loaded onto busses and taken to an enormous hall, where we were seated at tables for dinner and a floor show. I do not exaggerate when I say, there seemed to be about 2,000 people crammed into the area. I was grateful that our table was close to the exit, so that, had there been a fire, I planned to be the first out the door. We had a very good Turkish dinner and the floor show included three belly dancers, two troops of folk dancers, one magician and THEN, the hit of the evening.

A very charismatic Turkish couple took the stage. They were very good singers but their forte was the ability to ENTERTAIN and they were VERY funny. First, they established which countries were represented in the audience. Then they sang a song from each country, with audience participation. The crowd was mostly tour groups. However, there were one or two or three people, only, from Japan, South Korea, Mexico and Greece, so they had to go on stage while their songs were being sung, and they brought down the house. It is truly amazing to me how, with so many different countries, this Turkish couple could find common ground for laughter. May I reiterate; I always go to these optional side trips. They are always well worth the price.

We boarded the bus again and our guide had the driver take us over the bridge to the Asian side of the City. We were each given a certificate indicating that we had been on both the European and the Asian continents while in the city of Istanbul.

We covered a lot of territory the next day and saw many interesting things, including the priceless treasures and jewels at the Topkapi Palace. But I was most fascinated by the incredibly beautiful mosques, covered with millions of tiny little mosaic tiles. The Souleymanie Mosque is the largest in the city and was built in only seven years. Islamics do not believe in drinking and the artist, who made their stained glass windows, couldn't work without his bottle, so they gave him special permission to carry it with him as he worked.

 Hagia Sophia is also an astounding piece of art. But my favorite was Sultan Ahmet's Blue Mosque. It is the only one in the world that has six minarets. Actually, there HAD been another mosque with six minarets, but Ahmet bought them off and paid them to tear down one of their minarets so the Blue Mosque could have that distinction.

There were two interesting moments, both occurring outside a mosque. The first was when we saw a man walking a bear down the street, on a leash, on his hind legs (the bear, of course). For the other, refer to the picture of the little boy in the cape and crown. Babies are not circumcised in this country until they are older. And it is quite the ceremony, and they make a big deal out of it. He gets to wear a cape and a crown all day, and go to the mosque and have his picture taken. We just happened to luck into being there at the right moment. You will see his mother and younger brother in the background of the picture.

The highlight of Turkey was, most certainly, the ancient Roman city of Ephesus, which is now being reconstructed by teams of archeologists from several countries. Our ship docked in the port of Kusadasi and we took a half hour bus trip to our destination. What an interesting place! We strolled down, through that marble city with our tour guide, for one of the most exciting historical commentaries, I have ever heard. We were told that Ephesus was the largest excavation in the the world.

The city was begun in the third century B.C., to serve as sea port. John, the disciple, was preaching there in the nineties A.D. and started his church. By the fifth century A.D. the river was silting over and, as the docks became farther and farther from the city street, it became an undesirable port. Today, the river is five miles from the city. Add to their port problems, malaria was beginning to be of concern. If that wasn't enough, they began experiencing earth quakes that destroyed their temples and they began to believe Christianity was right and God must be trying to tell them something. So, according to our guide, they simply walked away from this now ruined city, which had once been so beautiful, leaving behind their money and jewels to show their sincerity to God. Pardon me if I'm a bit skeptical.

 However, today you can see the Roman Bath, the Agora (public meeting place), the hospital, the two stories high Fountain of Trageon, Hadrian's Temple (second century), the amphitheatre (still being used for concerts), the mosaic tiled floors of residences, Celcus Library across the street from the brothel, etc. Interesting to note, the brothel was larger then the library, even though the library was the third largest paper library in the world at that time, and there was an under ground tunnel connecting the two. The library was built facing the east to catch the morning light, so they could read their paper scrolls, without having to burn torches and get soot all over the walls and ceilings.  As you can see from the picture (right), we were there in the afternoon, and therefore the sun has moved around to the back of the library.

 To our amusement, we learned the custom surrounding the public potty. We viewed a three hole marble toilet, where gentlemen could sit and talk, which faced a gold fish pond, behind which was a small stage for the musicians. We were told that, on cold mornings, it was the custom to send one's servants ahead, to sit on the three holer to warm it up. I found this all very difficult to believe, but the evidence was right there in front of us, and three of our guys even tried it out, as you can see.

Yes, if you are ever in the neighborhood, the ancient city of Ephesus in most certainly a "must see".

THINK GLOBALLY - ACT LOCALLY - PRAY FOR WORLD PEACE