I met the Anna and Neal, the organizers of the conference, and Jan, their friend and co-facilitator, at the airport this morning. I am so glad that I did because the conference center was complicated and difficult to find even for Jan, who used to live in Turkey and speaks Turkish. Getting here involved a taxi, a ferry, and two minibuses—none of which appeared to have a single English-speaker on them. Add to that, the address is indecipherable, being a string of Turkish words with no discernible street or number. Which word is the name of the street? Which is the name of the town? I haven’t got a clue—and really, I still don’t know. But when Jan told the drivers where she wanted to go, they understood. I have had plenty of those experiences of traveling through countries, not knowing the language. At least I was always going to a very common place like the airport. So I was very thankful to have traveling companions, one of whom speaks Turkish. Otherwise, it would have been very difficult, if not impossible, to get here alone.
On the ferry ride we talked about our lives and ministries, and I let slip with the “M” word: missionaries. Jan leaned over and very kindly whispered, “We say ‘workers.’” Oops! They all live in Muslim-majority countries, so they’re used to speaking in code.
Later when we got onto the first minibus Jan told me that they are colloquially called dolmush, explaining that dolma is any kind of stuffed vegetable (pepper, eggplant, cabbage, tomatoes, or grape leaves), so the dolmush is stuffed with people like a vegetable. I love learning stuff like that.
The conference center is very remote. How remote? you ask. This remote: 1) our dolmush had to stop for a flock of sheep crossing the road. 2) The road the conference center is on is liberally strewn with hay and smells very much like the town where I was born: Hereford, Texas. Hereford was named for the cattle for a good reason because there are at least three enormous feedlots at the edge of town. Even on the extremely flat plains, you smell Hereford before you see it. With a human population of around 15,000, the cattle out-number the humans by something like 17 to 1. In a funny way, it felt like my life has come full-circle back to a familiar and stinky place. Turkey is very hilly, so we can’t actually smell the cattle, close as they are to the conference center because they are on the other side of the hill.
The conference center is on a lovely wildflower covered hillside overlooking the Sea of Marmara. Across the sea we can see the Asian side of Istanbul. Upon arriving, Anna sprang into action, figuring out room assignments. One of the critical considerations is my little charge, Joey. His mother told Anna that he’s not sleeping through the night. He’s got his days and nights switched. So that may make things very hard for his parents to sleep. Anna said that Joey’s grandparents are also attending the conference. So she assigned Joey and his parents a room at one end of the hall, with his grandparents as their only neighbor. I am in the room next to the grandparents. So that way, most of the attendees shouldn’t be disturbed if Joey cries in the night.
The rest of the day saw Anna, Neal, and Jan busily setting up the meeting room and preparing the timing for their various parts of the workshop. I helped set up the room, but that ended my usefulness until Joey arrives. For me, that is the hard part. But I have found some ways to make myself useful. Jan shared that her son is going to visit a church tomorrow in Lahore, and she wanted prayer for his safety. After the recent bombing of a church picnic there, it’s not surprising that she’s concerned. Timothy grew up in Turkey before moving to Pakistan as a missionary. So he knows how to be aware of his surroundings. Nevertheless, a mom can’t just stop caring for her kids. So I prayed with Jan for Timothy’s safety, as well as for the safety of the other people attending church in Lahore tomorrow. It was clear that she felt relieved by praying together for him.
The staff here speak only Turkish, so Jan has been our communication link. They have been very accommodating, bringing in everything we have needed, fixing the obvious heating problem, and preparing us delicious meals. So far, it has been very nice to be here. I can’t wait to meet little Joey and his parents. God is good!