IBC Helps Turkish Partners through Mission Trip
The first thing that caught my attention was the sheer size and population of Istanbul. Living in Paris, I’m used to the expanse of a global city, but Istanbul was a whole new kind of animal. Unlike other metropolitans I visited, Istanbul was very much a “lived space.” Paris and other European urban spaces seem very averse to people dwelling in one place too long, almost like a queue that you must keep walking through to the next destination. This wasn’t the case with Istanbul. Merchants at bazaars were conversing in Turkish while rolling barrels down the street. People fished off the bridge at the city park. The call to prayer blared over our rooftop coffee shop. Old men played cards while drinking the traditional tea late into the night. College students laid relaxed in the lawn between the blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. Even the cats, settled where they wanted, making a bin of lentils their bed. Istanbul was a lived space.
In addition to the city being a surprise, our team’s plan just a few weeks before had changed. Our objective had shifted to encouraging locals involved in fellowships in the areas and assisting in an ongoing food distribution program to displaced peoples. After arriving to Istanbul a few hours later than expected, we were surprised to see that a fellowship had stayed hours later in anticipation of greeting us. As we shared our testimonies, they also shared theirs. We heard story after story of decisions being made. Many also shared what it had cost them, as many of their families did not support their faith. It became clear, there was much more work to be done.
Their building was tucked away on a street corner, but this fellowship was boldly working in the city for the faith. The leader talked of doing street ministry on his off-day and responding to phone calls throughout the night answering questions about his beliefs. We remained in the city for several days and enjoyed time with some local believers. We discussed our faith, listened to their stories, and shared some amazing meals. They encouraged us greatly with their hospitality and friendship.
Next, we journeyed to Izmir (the former city of Smyrna). While there we visited Ephesus, which struck quite a contrast between these Biblical locations of antiquity and the present spiritual climate. In the midst of the area stands a cruciform church that not only informs locals of the Christian history of days past but also stands as an active center of faith itself. As visitors come through, the pastor openly shares the story of the Gospel as symbolized throughout the church. Our group assisted in the maintenance of the church and led several studies and times of sharing testimonies throughout the week. During the studies, we encountered a seeking college student who came ready with her questions about the faith. For the group and me, it was a great reminder of the communities around the world in need of addressing individuals just like her with a defense for the faith. As she had not yet come to believe, it was beautiful to see that many gathered at that study were in situations like her before and had heard and believed. We’re praying God continues to work in her heart.
With the church we distributed food to refugee communities, going into the mountainous outskirts to meet them where they lived. This brought back to our minds the needs in this community and even the difficulty in trying to meet needs. Nonetheless, this church persists in being a light in a hard place. As the Son was powerful in both word and deed, it was beautiful to see this fellowship being what they were called to be.
On trips like this, we often learn more than we actually “help.” That was certainly the case here. As Istanbul and other places in Turkey continue to be “lived spaces,” I’m encouraged and personally challenged to see those active in Kingdom work pointing to life — life abundant. Our hopes and thoughts are with all the friends we met as they continue to labor, trusting in Him for all things. And may we from afar not turn a blind eye to our fellow laborers around the world, for we truly have much to learn from their work and lives.
Justin Hendricks, Paris, France