From July 16-27th, my husband and I, along with several other students and adults from our hometown of Eastman, GA, were able to embark on a journey. We got on a plane bound for Central Asia, making a short layover in Paris along the way. I will try to put into words what this trip meant for my husband and I in particular, but it's going to be difficult. There are so many people we met that will change us forever, so many moments that God showed His hand and provision...it's hard to put it all into words. My hope is that this will give you a glimpse into a little window of our lives and inspire you to go or send others, but most of all, pray to the Lord of the harvest that He will send workers and a great revival will come about.
After a 7 hour or so flight from Atlanta to Paris, we had an intentional long layover so we would have time to explore the city before our next flight. This was a dream come true for me! I had studied French in high school, so many of the sites that we were about to visit had been on my radar for quite a while. I particularly wanted to see the Eiffel Tower. I couldn't have been a more perfect day in Paris. The sun was shining, but there was a nice breeze blowing to make all of our moving around the city bearable. The tower was breathtaking...definitely living up to my expectations! : ) Due to our very limited time, we were only able to look at it from the outside and weren't able to go up. I guess we'll have to save that for another day! We took several metro stops ahead, stopping at the Arch de Triumph, Notre Dame, and a palace along the way...we were moving fast so we weren't able to get any pics of the inside. But I was definitely a happy girl to even get a little taste of Paris.
Next stop...Istanbul, Turkey. Many of you know our story about why Turkey is a special place in our hearts, but here's a little overview. Basically last year our family, minus Seth, went on a family trip to Baltimore, MD. Our last night there Joe took the kids for a swim. At the pool there was a lifeguard, a young man who was 19 years old, from Turkey. Joe had a short conversation with him, but an impression was made. Enough for us to seek him out the next morning and pass him a booklet with Joe's contact information on the back. Before we made it back to Georgia, our new friend was texting my husband. This began our journey and connection with Turkey. Our new friend ended up coming to visit us his last week in the states, and that sealed the deal. This guy was like part of our family. There was a connection made that crossed cultural and religious barriers. Over the course of the year, while he was back home and at college, we stayed in touch. He introduced us to his family members and friends as his "American family." At the end of last year we learned that there would be a group trip to Turkey scheduled for 2015 and we immediately wanted to go. No doubt. Thanks to many friends and family, the means to be on this trip were provided. Our hearts were already in love with this country, and the people in it, before we arrived.
Our first day in Istanbul we were put into groups and given an "Amazing Race" challenge. We had to navigate around the city, which included crossing, by ferry, from the Asian side of Turkey to the European side. We had to get lunch for ourselves, find a place to exchange money, perform tasks like buy and drink one of Turkey's popular beverages that tasted like sour milk, and eat some Turkish delight. I have to admit, I was a little nervous as I have no sense of direction, but thankfully Joe and some of the others in our group led us in the right direction! We saw some amazing places and it was also a great way to build our confidence in getting around the city. Our final meeting up place was at Sultanamet, an area of town that has the impressive Blue Mosque and the Aya Sofia, another religious building. We were later able to tour the inside of the Aya Sofia. It was amazing.
The Aya Sofia is such an interesting contrast to me. It was built during the Byzantine Empire as a place to worship and honor the Christian God. There is artwork, mosaics, and paintings that depict the cross, angels, Jesus, and other people in the Bible. When the land was conquered by the Turks, the Arabic script was added in several places in the building. You can easily see the large, round discs that were mounted on the side of the main room. We were told that Muslim art does not include pictures, but just fancy Arabic script from the Koran. Just as the Aya Sofia represents this religious contrast, so does other places in this country. All seven of the churches spoken of in the book of Revelation are all located in Turkey. There were also various missionary journeys taken by Paul in the New Testament, one of which was located in Troas, which is known as Alexandra-Troas in Turkey. We were actually able to visit this area of the country.
These are some of the ruins at Troas. This stone arch was actually built after the time of Paul, but it is still the area where he was. We drove quite a distance to reach this part of Turkey. As we drove up, there were no big signs that said, "Here is where Paul was!" We didn't expect that, but it gave us the opportunity to share to some of our Turkish friends why this area was significant to us. Even though it was only about an hour and a half away from their hometown, they had never been here or heard the story about it. The ruins were just off the side of the road...no fences or museums. We were able to explore all around.
Across the road from this archway was an area that students from the University of Ankara were excavating. This was really neat. They gave us 15 minutes to go into the area before they closed it up. The picture on the right was one of the pieces they have uncovered and had put in a big cage to protect from looters. There were several ornate pieces like this one. The view from the area was amazing. It was the first time I was able to go to a place that those in the Bible had walked and visited. My love of history and social studies combined with my love of God's Word was at a peak that day.
Another fun place we were able to visit was the ancient city of Troy and the ruins there. Our Turkish friends called it Truva. This is not the original wooden horse that was used in the story of Troy, but it was definitely a fun replica that we were able to climb inside of. Here is our group posed in front. Definitely a good time of fellowship with friends.
A big part of our trip was spent helping those who have been displaced from their home countries due to a variety of circumstances, often by war or because of their religious beliefs. By helping, I mean we were able to spend time with them, love on them, and even do some English classes. Some of these children are living in a place that is not their home, they are not able to go to school, and it's even hard for them to know how to communicate. It was a privilege to be able to push them on the swings, watch them swim in the sea, and play games with them. They are so smart, hungry for knowledge, and would listen and participate attentively as we were studying in a local park outside under a tree. If this doesn't offer perspective, I'm not sure what will. We are so very blessed in our country to have what we do. We take so much for granted.
For about three days of our trip we were also able to do a youth conference. This was another great opportunity to minister to a different group of young people (also from another country who were living in Turkey) who have a heart for God and want to learn, along with us, more about Him. I love that we could hear songs of worship in their language and through translators see our God span cultural and language differences. He is a God of the nations. This conference opened my eyes as well. God is at work in places that we don't even realize. While we are led to believe that people in some of these countries want to destroy us, God is working behind the scenes to give people life. I am so glad that He used this time to open my eyes to see what He is truly doing and give me a love for new brothers and sisters in Christ that I may never have met.
And one of the highlights of our trip! Seeing our dear friend, Tunc (pronounced Toonch), again and meeting his girlfriend (Pinar), sister (Simge--pronounced Sim-yay), and mother. This picture was taken soon after we met up and there was lots of love going around. I couldn't give them big enough hugs...my heart was bursting. We had a wonderful two days in their hometown of Canakkale, a beautiful city surrounded by water. It was very windy there, which gave us the consistent windblown look ; ). Tunc's family was so hospitable, providing us with a delicious meal cooked by Simge and a nice place to spend the night. I wish we would've had more time with them, but I'm grateful for the time we had. Our hope is that this is just the beginning of a beautiful relationship between all of us. I'm thankful for technology and the ability to stay in touch with them to send them our love from a distance. I'm hopeful that we will be able to see each other again in the future.
So that's our trip in a nutshell! I would love to share more details with any of you who are interested in more specific information. Just contact me personally so we can chat : ). We thoroughly enjoyed our time and we saw many people, places, and things that will impact us for a lifetime. Continue to pray for this part of the world and the people who live there. God bless!