I arrived in the late morning at the airport, having flown through the night.Â It is a 7 hour time difference.Â Going west is always harder, but the great seats made a huge difference.Â Then I found an ATM at the airport to fill my wallet with some Liras and hired a taxi.Â He didnâ€™t â€œspeak a da Englishâ€ but we managed to find our way to the hotel.Â I barely fit into the elevator!
Then Larry Milks, who coordinated the conference, and I headed for the Hagia Sofia, Ayasofia in Turkish, to do some site seeing.Â Since Istanbul is on theBosphorus Strait, one of the common modes of transportation is by ferry.Â For a buck a ride you can go from Europe to Asia in a few minutes.
Istanbul, formerly Byzantium, and later Constantinople, is Europeâ€™s most populous city and is the only metropolis to straddle two continents .Â Since we only had a couple of hours to see things we wanted to see one of the top attractions, theAyasofia. For over a thousand years it was the largest cathedral in Christendom, then it was a mosque, and now it is a museum.
When the Ottoman Turks conquered the city they plastered over the Christian mosaics. But recently teams of experts have restored the beautiful art. Here is a picture of Justinian and Constantine presenting the city and the cathedral to baby Jesus on Maryâ€™s lap.
We also saw the Blue Mosque a short walk away through beautiful gardens.Â I didnâ€™t go in but stayed outside and took some pictures.
The purpose of the trip was to conduct a conference for devoted Christians living and working in this region.Â I would love to show you their picture, but for security reasons cannot.Â I can show you our team though. Several came from a church in the UK to work with the children while their parents attended workshops and many of the school age kids were tested.
The rest of the team took turns conducting seminars and meeting one-on-one with parents to provide educational support and encouragement in a variety of ways.Â I did several family seminars and was the resident math expert.
Each morning the team met for breakfast and then trudged to the Turkish-American University offices for the day.Â I particularly enjoyed the breakfasts at the hotel.
In the evening we ventured abroad and tried different eateries.Â Yes that is baklava.Â Donâ€™t covet.
The last night we went to a fancy place overlooking the Bosphorus Strait.Â Even though they were advertising fish, I opted for a mix of kebabs.
This is all for the fun pictures and the travelogue. What I am writing now is at a different level. Often on these trips I am so focused on ministering that I donâ€™t get a chance to hear how God is working in this region and the personal stories of the people we have been sent to help. With that in mind I asked questions as often as I could. And while I was there I read some of the history of Turkey and the local paper. Here is one sentence packed with information. Turkey is a democratic, secular, unitary, constitutional republic whose political system was established in 1923 under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal AtatÃ¼rk, following the fall of the Ottoman Empire in the aftermath of World War I. At this time in history, the mighty Ottoman Empire was being referred to as the sickly nation. It was in danger of being divided up among the powerful nations of the world. Ataturk formed this independent nation, gave it a language, an economy, and an identity among other things. In one room where I was speaking there was a picture of Ataturk on one wall and George Washington across the room. He was their founder of their republic. Now move to today. Here is a nation that feels vulnerable amid allegations of Armenian genocide, deliberations with the Kurdish people, and entrance into the European Union. They have very real fears that there will be pressure from outside to give portions of land away to these groups and have their precious homeland, which they almost lost once, be like what has happened in the Balkan States. Turks fear that westerners are not pro-Turkey but are a threat to their existence. Because of this spirit of nationalism and other issues, westerners are not trusted, which makes it hard to minister. One man I sat next to on the flight back was a member of the UN. He referred to this nationalistic belief as â€œfundamental secularismâ€. This has become one of the obstacles in a addition to Islam. I saw very little religious garb compared to other nations I have visited. When you couple these strong beliefs it is no wonder in a country of 70 million people there are only 4 to 5 thousand believers. And it is a strategic country with the Middle east to the south, Russia to the north, Europe to the west, and Asia to the right. I have prayed off and on for this country for years, and have been stirred to pray for the nation, but also my new friends who are laboring valiantly for the King.