I met many in Turkey. I believe that we humans live in and through stories, and so here are a few pieces from my time in the beautiful city of Istanbul.
There is a priest in Turkey who is swamped by his duties to the church and the school in which he teaches. Nevertheless, he managed to connect me to seven of my nine interviews, all free of any charge or gift. Furthermore, he opened his home to me, checked in on me throughout my stay, and shared much of his heart and wisdom with me, which is one of the most precious gifts one can give.
There is also a hospitable Turkish man who dreams of living in Costa Rica, in order to (1) get away from the current government and (2) because he plain loves traveling the world and experiencing people. On my last night in the city, he gave me the necklace he had around his neck. I am wearing it now as I write.
One can also find a Kurdish man whom I met early on during my stay, whose favorite phrase is “rock n’ roll,” and spent much time with me swimming in the Sea of Marmara and wandering around the city. He was arrested at the age of seventeen for uttering his mother tongue outside of his school. During this two-month ordeal, he spent ten days being tortured with electric shocks. He endured all this unjust suffering as a result of simply speaking the Kurdish language, which was banned in Turkey until 1991. Now, he has forgiven the government, citing the forgiveness mandated and made possible by his Christian faith.
In the Taksim area, there lives a Syrian man who fled Damascus at the end of 2013, a month after his wife emigrated to San Antonio because she finally received a visa. He hasn’t seen her since them. Almost two years. After major disappointment in Jordan, he is praying that he will receive a visa soon while he works as a translator in Turkey. He refuses to allow this circumstance to stifle him; instead he is working to serve his fellow Syrian refugees that number about 330,000 in Istanbul.
What is the common bond between each of these unique backgrounds and stories, and my relationship to them? Friendship. These men, along with many other men and women I met throughout my time in Istanbul, I now count as friends. Instead of saying “goodbye,” I prefer to say; “I’ll see you when I see you.” I do not know if I will meet some of these people again in this life. However, I deeply desire to, and am praying this hope will be made reality one day.
I will treasure all of these friendships and the stories I heard from them and created with them as long as I love, and I look forward to the day (hopefully) where we will meet again.
They also share another bond: their nation was recently attacked. On Saturday, two bombs exploded at the central train station in Ankara, the capital city of Turkey, which is mere hours away from Istanbul by train. This horrific event took place during a peaceful protest by the Peoples Democratic Party (HDP), a pro-Kurdish political party. As it stands now, almost 100 people were killed and 245 people wounded. 48 of those survivors are currently in critical condition.
My Kurdish friend lost fifteen people from his hometown, three of which he knew personally. The priest reached out to me Saturday morning with these words; “You see what goes on…anywhere…anytime…anyone…no safety.” Even as I repeat them, tears are welling up in my eyes. These are my friends, and they have lost friends. They do not feel safe in their home, and this is an experience that is largely alien to me.
This is a hard world. It is a broken world. And, this brokenness runs deep. It is everywhere: be it in the civil war in Syria, the race riots in America spurred on by systemic racism, sex slavery that is that is driven by industries like pornography, bombings in Ankara, and the current violent clashes between Israelis and Palestinians in the Holy Land.
In the last ten days, just kilometers from where I am sitting right now, at least 27 Palestinians have been killed and approximately 1,900 injured. Furthermore, 4 Israelis have been killed along with at least 67 injured. All of these numbers stem from clashes in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza. Years of fighting back and forth, oppression, and separation have boiled over once again into open violence.
It is one thing to have these problems pop up in your news and another to experience limitation in travel, the necessity of bomb shelters, and the reality of such hate-filled violence that exists in the world. However, I think I ought to begin to get used to these contexts, for I believe that I may end up working in places like this long-term. This is a realization that has materialized more fully in my travels, and is one that ultimately excites me, but I look towards with a sober mind. All in all, I am safe and well here in Haifa, and my heart is in a very good place. I do not feel in danger, for I know I am right were I am supposed to be.
One of my favorite bands is called Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors, and I had the chance to see them live in Greenville with one of my best friends, Tom Bove, before I shipped out. About halfway through the concert, Drew Holcomb stopped the concert and talked a bit about the world we call home. His brother, he said, worked with an NGO in an African country. The depth of poverty and brokenness there deeply impacted Drew, and he made a statement along these lines, “Sometimes, when I look at the world, all I see is darkness, and that sometimes leads me to despair. However, I see music as my way of seeking to shoot ‘arrows of light’ into that darkness.”
Right now, I taste a tiny bit of that darkness through the experiences of my friends in Turkey and the people that surround me here in the Holy Land. It sometimes leads me to despair. There are problems like this all over the world that may lead us to question the possibility of positive change.
However, we each have a choice. We can either allow these realities to paralyze us, or we can choose to shoot our own, “arrows of light” into the darkness we face.
What arrows do you hold in your quiver? What weapons do you hold when you are confronted with hate? Will you respond with fear, racism, ostracism, xenophobia, and ultimately violence? Or, will you seek to take the road of the peacemaker, seeking to reconcile and restore the brokenness we face?
There are no easy answers to these problems, and I do not claim to have any or all of them in my young, limited understanding of this world. But, may we continue to do the hard work of trying to find the answers.
It is not easy. But, in my opinion, nothing worth it is ever easy. Let’s endeavor to shoot some light together, and labor to see some of this darkness disappear in the light of day.