Turkish Delight

IMG_20160407_133847 (1).jpg

Joey and his parents were among the very first arrivals of the day.  He is a little sweetheart with a big grin and chubby cheeks.  He gave me a big smile upon first meeting, and I knew that this was going to be a good time together for both of us.  Joey’s parents are Keith and Melody, and Melody’s parents, Paul and Paula are also here for the conference.

The rest of the attendees came in by twos and fours, until all had arrived from their various cities all over the world.  One person came all the way from Australia.  By the time the first session started, Joey was asleep in his stroller.  So I sat with him until he woke up, wanting dinner.  His mother fed him in the back of the conference room as I waited nearby.  Then I took Joey downstairs to his stroller and walked him around until he dozed off.  Keith had told me that Joey likes to ride in his stroller, and the bumpier the ground, the better he likes it.  Indeed, he loves a ride in his stroller.  I could hear roosters crowing nearby and chickens clucking proudly to announce a newly-laid egg.  There were turkeys gobbling somewhere on the hillside, too.  While the cattle were very evident up on the road, down here on the conference center grounds, we can neither see nor smell them.

IMG_20160404_163157 (2).jpg

In the course of walking around the grounds of the conference center, Joey and I came across a turtle making its arduous way across the driveway.  Joey didn’t see the turtle, of course, and being still awake and grumpy at that point, he wanted only to keep moving.  On a hillside nearby I saw sheep grazing.  One mama sheep moved a bit too far from her lambs, and I saw three lambs running and leaping to get back to her side.  It was incredibly cute.  It reminded me of myself as a child.  I used to run or skip almost everywhere I went.  I felt the Lord smile at the memory, too.  And the Holy Spirit reminded me of this passage:

The voice of my Beloved!  Behold, He comes leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills.  My Beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag, (Song of Songs 2:8-9a, NKJV, emphasis mine).

The Lord and I have something in common with the little lambs!

Joey eventually fell asleep, and I was able to sit a while.  In fact, he slept much of our first day together, which gave me plenty of time to just sit and reflect and talk with God.  Of course that’s prayer, but it was so friendly and informal that to call it prayer just seems wrong.  Whatever you call it, it was a very pleasant way to pass the time.

There was one thing I had prayed about before coming.  When I learned that I would be watching a baby, I prayed for a rocking chair.  Or a bouncy chair like my Ikea prayer chair.  What I got was something else, but it still works: a swing.  Joey isn’t interested in swinging with me, but once he has fallen asleep in his stroller I set it by the swing.  As I swing, I push the stroller back and forth with my foot.  And the weather has been so nice that I have been able to swing with Joey like this every day.

And in the meantime a white and orange kitty came to say hello, and to ask for a scratch behind the ear.  His black and gray companion acknowledged my presence with a look in my direction, then turned away with a swish of his tail.  High overhead a flock of storks glided in lazy circles before the lead bird chose a direction and flew off with the others trailing in no particular formation.  Under a flowering tree I saw four little white butterflies do a swirling, fluttery dance in celebration, it seemed, of the flowers.  I smiled, remembering how Kevin used to call the little white butterflies “flying popcorn.”  And Nina told me that in her native Colombia they call popcorn mais mariposa, butterfly corn.

IMG_20160404_095342 (2).jpg

In the course of walking Joey around the grounds, I began to notice and pick up bits of litter: candy wrappers, about a thousand cigarette butts, and about a thousand pieces of plastic.  When I told Melody she was thrilled and crowed to Grandma Paula: “Joey did his first community service project!”  Well, why not?  Since we’re walking around and around and around the grounds, we might as well pick up trash.

And thus passed the day and the next and the next in sweet delight.  I realized that I had needed this.  I had needed to really unplug and to spend time with God.  I had never imagined that I would get the chance to do that while babysitting.  Like I always say: God is good!

Turkey in the Straw

IMG_20160403_103204 (2).jpg

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.

IMG_20160406_125012 (1).jpg

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!

The Turkey has Landed

IMG_20160409_072651 (2).jpg

So far, Turkey is nothing like what I had expected.  My only other experience of Muslim majority countries has been in the Balkans, which still show many scars from war just two decades ago.  Granted, I have only seen the airport and the airport hotel so far, but even in just these two things, Turkey has surprised me.  The airport is nicer, cleaner, better organized than any of Milan’s airports.  It’s even nicer and cleaner than a lot of American airports.

The airport hotel is probably the nicest hotel I’ve ever stayed in—and at a cost far less than you would imagine.  The staff all speak English, and they are super-attentive and very courteous.  The hotel’s restaurant had a good variety of offerings, both international and local.  I always go for the local specialties whenever I visit a new place, so I had beef shish kebab with a yogurt dressing accompanied by a local wine.  The waiter offered me a bottle of the local wine, which was on sale for only Four Turkish Lira.  That makes it the cheapest wine I’ve ever had at about $1.40 a bottle.  However, I assured him that one glass was plenty for me.  The wine was very good, and complimented the meal nicely.

The next morning at breakfast, I was astounded to discover that the hotel brings in a fresh honeycomb each day for breakfast.  It was quite a nice breakfast.

Later, as I reflected on all this, I remembered that Turkey had applied for membership in the European Union.  The EU, however, had not wanted to open the floodgates for a Muslim invasion of Europe (ironic now, isn’t it?).  I had heard that Turkey had put forth a lot of effort to show itself a European country.  So I think what I’m seeing here is some of the fruits of that effort.  Turkey has actually made itself nicer, cleaner, and better organized that the European countries it had wanted to join.  At least from the little that I’ve seen so far.  It has been a real pleasure to visit here.  God is good!

Paneled Walls

In early 2006 I had a dream:

I was living in Italy then, and so I dreamed that I walked into an Italian coffee bar.  The coffee bar was filled with really nice people.  From across the room I saw a nice young man with dark wavy hair and liquid brown eyes.  He smiled at me and crossed the room.  He began speaking to me in English, and I wondered how he knew that I spoke English.

He said, “So what do you do here?” (meaning in Italy).  I said that I teach English.  At the time I was teaching English to children and “tithing” 100 percent of my earnings to missionaries.

So I asked, “What do you do?” and he said, “I’ll show you.”  So we left the coffee bar and he took me to a very small apartment nearby.  It was really just four walls.  Three of the walls were paneled in wood and the fourth was stucco.  The wood was warm and seemed alive, while the stucco was very cold and dead by contrast.

I said, “Wow!  You did this?” and he smiled and said, “Yeah, what do you call this work in Italian?”  I answered, pronouncing the challenging word perfectly: “Restaurazione.”

Then I asked, “And what about this wall?” indicating the stucco wall.  He reached up and pulled a piece of plaster off the wall, and behind it I could see the wood, but it was dried-out, dirty, and in bad need of attention.  He smiled and shrugged, “It’s a work in progress.”

That’s when I woke up knowing that this was Jesus, the Carpenter, and that He was showing me that I am the work in progress.

God gave me this dream before my life spiraled down into three long years of depression caused by empty nest and a failing marriage.  He knew that I would need to have this precious dream to hold onto.

Then in 2010, after the divorce and right about the time I returned to Italy as a missionary, I read Heaven in For Real.  The book is a young boy’s true account of visiting Heaven.  The book mentions Akiane Kramarik, a young Turkish girl who has been drawing visions of God and Heaven since she was four years old, and painting since she was seven.  I was astonished to see her portrait of Jesus titled Prince of Peace, which is just what Jesus looked like in my dream.

portrait-of-jesus (1)

About three years ago I asked Jesus why He asked me the Italian word for His apartment restoration work.  He said, “To give you the chance to shine!”  That made me laugh out loud.

Then just the other day I was looking in Ezekiel, which God has used many times to encourage me.  I saw the following:

There was a row of rooms along the outside wall; each room was 7 feet wide.  These side rooms were built in three levels, one above the other, with thirty rooms on each level. . . . were all paneled with wood, (Ezekiel 41:5-6 & 16a, emphasis mine).

These little rooms were the rooms for the priests to use during the term of their service.  I realized that they must have been just like the little apartment that Jesus had taken me to in the dream.  Then I got major holy goosebumps when I realized that He was telling me all along that I have a place in the Temple of God in Heaven.  God is good!

Missionaries Know

 

IMG_20160227_162130 (1).jpg

Missionaries know:

. . . how to connect without words.

. . . how to graciously (and gratefully) eat whatever is put in front of them.

. . . how to take cold showers.

. . . how to sleep in all sorts of circumstances.

. . . how to make the hours on a long flight pass.

. . . more than just their native language.

. . . how to make a faraway place feel like home.

. . . how to pack light, while bringing all the essentials.

. . . how to improvise.

. . . how to love the “unlovables.”

. . . how to pray through their problems.

. . . how to rejoice with the joyful and . . .

. . . how to cry with the sorrowful.

. . . how to get around in places where they don’t speak the language.

. . . how to raise a family in another culture.

. . . how to make friends.

. . . how to depend on God for everything.

. . . how to eat, travel, and live cheaply, without sacrificing the important things.

. . . how to tell you about their faith.

If you need to know how to do anything, ask a missionary.

Know God by Name – God My Peace

 

IMG_5852.JPG

For a Child is born to us, a Son is given to us.  The government will rest on His shoulders.  And He will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of PeaceHis government and its peace will never end.  He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity.  The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen! (Isaiah 9:6-7, emphasis mine).

Gideon built an altar to the Lord there and named it Yahweh-Shalom (which means “the Lord is peace”), (Judges 6:24, emphasis mine).

In both of these passages the word peace is shalom in the original Hebrew.  According to Strong’s[1] Shalom means so much more than peace.  Shalom encompasses completeness, wholeness, health, welfare, safety, soundness, tranquility, prosperity, perfectness, fullness, rest, harmony, the absence of agitation or discord, and of course peace.  So really, you could take that phrase from Judges (above) that says The Lord is Peace and you can replace it with any of these other words from Strong’s:

  • The Lord is Completeness – Anything that I lack, the Lord makes complete. And consider this: The Lord is Complete Peace.
  • The Lord is Wholeness – The Lord makes the broken places in my heart seamlessly whole.
  • The Lord is Health – And as His child, I can enjoy health. By his stripes 2000 years ago, I have been healed (1 Peter 2:24).  And consider this: The Lord is Complete Health.
  • The Lord is Welfare – As I look to Him, the Lord will not withhold from me any of my needs: food, clothing, and shelter.
  • The Lord is Safety – He will guard me as He guides me through each day in safety as I trust and follow Him.
  • The Lord is Soundness – The good things God gives me, He gives me for my good, and they are always good for me.
  • The Lord is Tranquility – The quietness and rest my soul needs are in the Lord.
  • The Lord is Prosperity – All the riches I need to live come from the Lord.
  • The Lord is Perfectness – I don’t have to strive to be perfect because my perfection is found in the Lord. He perfects me by His grace through the Holy Spirit as I submit to His leading.
  • The Lord is Fullness – In God I can enjoy fullness of every good thing: a full night’s sleep, full understanding of the things I need to know, and a full life.
  • The Lord is Rest – I can enjoy rest from all troubles. Even in the midst of trouble, the Lord is Rest.
  • The Lord is Harmony – My relationships can find harmony as I embrace God and let His love and harmony flow through me to others.
  • The Lord is the Absence of Agitation or Discord – God’s Shalom goes with me even in places or situations of agitation or discord.

In the Hebrew dictionary words are not listed alphabetically.  Rather, words are listed by their three-consonant root.  All words that share the same root are related.  Some of those relations are surprising, and yet make sense as you begin to understand the Hebraic mindset.  So here’s a nugget: the modern Hebrew word shelem is related to shalom[2], and means “to pay for.”  And shulam means “to be fully paid.”  So to that amazing list above, we can add this:

  • The Lord has Fully Paid – Jesus has fully paid the price for all my sins: past, present, and future.

Jesus is the only Source of Shalom in all its full meaning.  If you don’t know Jesus, ask Him today to come fill your heart with His presence, His Shalom.  As you surrender your heart and life to Him, you will find the Peace that exceeds all understanding[3]: Shalom!  God is good!

[1] Strong’s Concordance 7965.

[2] שׁﬥﬦ, only the vowels differ.

[3] Philippians 4:7.