// Finishing up in Istanbul//

Merhaba — Hello Everyone!

                Life in the past couple days has been extremely interesting and extremely colorful!  We’ve been able to experience the awakened passion of the Turkish people.  Because of the political activities of the past few days our plans have changed slightly.  Our original plan for Sunday was Street Work, but because of the demonstrations we chose to walk the streets and meditate on the work that so many have done before us and the work that is still to be done.  Our time spent walking was the perfect time to reflect on our time here in Turkey and to look forward to our traveling this week and next week.

We finished our two weeks of work today by splitting up the team into a group who went to continue the work with the Children’s Schools teaching English and a slightly smaller group who prepared a large meal for a meeting at a local organization.  There were two specific schools at which the team served.  Some of us taught the children songs like “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” and enjoyed learning the ABC’s in English AND sign language.  The creativity that we have seen in the Children’s English schools is extremely inspiring. (I know I speak for the whole team when I say that I am so thankful I already know English!)  The slightly smaller of the two groups enjoyed a morning of picking through the local markets to find the ingredients needed to concoct a meal large enough to feed a small army.  The chefs (Laurel, Hannah, and I) decided on spaghetti.  Who doesn’t like spaghetti?  The preparations for dinner took most of the afternoon, but it was definitely worth it in the end.  Each of the workers who attended the meal was also blessed by our culinary skills.  It was a relief to serve in a way that I felt directly related to.  When it came to today’s work – I can say that I was actually confident in my gifts! 

Tonight’s organizational meeting was enlightening and inspiring.  It was worth it to hear from workers around the city and the progress that each team has been making.  We have been blessed to have the chance to be influenced by these people, but it is amazing that we have also been an inspiration to the people here.  Our time here serves a twofold purpose.  Every direction that we look brings blessings to our team.

Our week of traveling begins in a few days and we are all very excited and ready to experience the colorful history of this beautiful country.  The team would like to add that we are all safe and taking the measures to stay as protected as possible.  Our thoughts go out to family at home. Peace to you all!

Caity

Boats filled with protesters, traveling free of charge to join in the demonstrations.

Boats filled with protesters, traveling free of charge to join in the demonstrations.

// Watching History//

We were awakened this morning at 2 am with the very loud sounds of the whole city suddenly banging on pots and pans, whooping and whistling. “What is going on we wondered?”  I wondered out into the streets and in very broken Turkish learned that there was a political event happening and the people were making a stand.  We tried to go back to bed, but the banging continued for the next hour, getting louder and stronger until it eventually died down.

We did not know it at the time, but soon learned that we are in the middle of watching history happen in Turkey! What first began as a quiet demonstration against a shopping mall being erected in the place of a famous park in Istanbul’s central area has now become the largest national protest since the new pro-Islamic government came into power in 2002.  We are all are safe and intrigued with the historic activity.  Turks young and old are protesting the against overt Islamic influence in the government. 

Today, we planned to visit some of the Islands off the coast of Istanbul, but we were unable to travel as all of the boats were occupied with taking demonstrators, free of charge, to the European side of Istanbul to join in the protest. Life is lively here, with great rejoicing in the streets. We don’t know what this will day will bring for the future of Turkey, but it is an interesting time for sure.

Laurel Watney

// Laughing at our Weaknesses//

Laurel and I are back in Turkey for the first time in 20 years—-this time with 8 Sterling College students! Twenty years ago there were less than 200 known Turkish believers in about 8 struggling fellowships. Today there are more than 5000 believers in 52 fellowships. Twenty years ago, just sharing your faith could be considered a risky act; this week our Sterling College team publically portrayed the redemptive story of JC in a dramatic mime before over 100 cheering Turks—-an inconceivable scenario 20 years ago! (And now, completely legal as well). Yet, as Taylor reminded us in his first blog, this is still the largest unreached nation on earth, in which less than 0.03 percent of Turks are believers.

If our dramatic presentation of the Good News was perhaps the high-point of our time here in Turkey, our clumsy attempts yesterday at teaching pre-schoolers English was, for some of us, the low point. In discussing our frustrations at feeling like bumbling, unneeded idiots, Blaine reminded us, as he led devotions last night, of the importance of glorying IN our weakness (Romans 5). Part of His purpose for us in Turkey is to discipline us in our insignificance by teaching us how to “suffer” (the quotes are an ironic reminder that we really have little idea of true suffering!) and rely on His Grace rather than our talents.  Blaine has also helped us to laugh at ourselves—-often rather loudly—-as we spend time in reflection and prayer each evening. Today, we are off to an English club in the poorer outskirts of Istanbul to have English conversations with adults. Pry that He would lead us into some deep conversations with eternal repercussions.

—Mark Watney.

// Good Morning Istanbul//

Well today was the first day that the team had to actually get up at a decent time and do something. And to my surprise this was accomplished pretty easily and smoothly. And we made it to our destination fashionably late which was very Turk of us. 

We started off the day with some more practice of the drama we have been learning over the prior days. 

After our drama training this morning we were able to hop on a train and head twords the east part of the city and we meet up with one of our contacts there. When we arrived we were split up into teams of two and we were instructed to hand out flyers for a seminar the area was hosting tonight. Caitlyn and I were paired up during this time and the two of us were able to get ourselves lost, and this was not the best feeling in the world. We knew were we where but we didn’t know how to get back to our meeting point. We both had no idea how to speak Turkish, and the nerves of trying to find directions using the language that neither of us knew was so nerve racking. But we were able to muster up some courage and found a couple of nice people that would point us in the right direction, and we made it back to our team just in time for ice cream. The time that we shared today while handing out flyers was a lot of fun and we shared a lot of laughs at the many people that wanted nothing to do with some pasty white Americans. 

My heart has started to fall for the people of Turkey and this amazing place. The seeds that will be sown and watered during this trip will glorify the kingdom more than we will ever know and I know deep down inside that Turkey will not always be the largest unreached country in the world.

In His Grip,

Blaine Pittman

P.S. The food in Turkey has been quite good. The team has found our new favorite place to get a cold refreshing drink. We don’t know what the name of the place is but to us it is called “That Juice Place”. At the juice place you can buy any number of different fresh squeezed fruit and vegetable drinks. The teams favorite by far is the fresh squeezed orange juice which only costs 1 Turkish Lyra which is the equivalent to 50 American Cents. So whenever the team stops by the juice place we always stop for a refreshing drink.

Night time view of the mosque behind some of the team!

Night time view of the mosque behind some of the team!

Visiting the New Mosque!

Visiting the New Mosque!

Team Photo!

Team Photo!

// One mosque, Two mosques, Red mosque, Blue mosque!//

Today was an exciting, yet exhausting day! We all got up around 10..well some of us got up a little bit later than that. We began our adventurous day by exchanging our money, which everything is cheaper here than it is back home. Then we all set sail on the vast Mediterranean Sea on a ginormous boat to head over to the European side of Turkey. While on the boat we had an amazing view of both the Asain and European sides of Turkey. Pictures can’t even capture the beauty of Istanbul, it’s something someone would need to see in person. Our day was filled with visiting mosques. The first mosque we came across was known as the “New Mosque” which wasn’t very new considering that it was built in 1597, but hey it’s whatever! We got the oppurtunity to go inside the New mosque and observe people as they prayed and worshiped, there was even a tourist section so that tourists could sit down and watch. It was a new and interesting experience for a lot of the team! The girls had to wear head coverings, and all of us had to take our shoes off as we entered the mosque. Our next stop was the Hagia Sophia mosque that was finished in 360 A.D. The Hagia Sophia started out as an Orthodox Church, and remained an Orthodox Church for about a thousand years, and then in 1453 it became a mosque and it remained a mosque for about 500 years, and then in 1935 it became a museum. The last mosque we visited was the blue mosque, but it wasn’t blue! The blue mosque was just as beautiful as the other two. Some of the team went inside to pray for the turkish people, while some of the team took a rest outside. After the last mosque we were all exhausted, and so we stopped by starbucks for some caffine, and then as soon as we had that caffine in us we attempted to go shopping, but the shops we wanted to go to were closed, so we decided to head back towards the boat. Before leaving the European side of Turkey we all grabbed some snackage food, and then got onto the boat. While traveling back to the Asian side it was dark outside, so the view was tremendous with all of the mosques lit up. We finally arrived back to our cozy little place that were staying at. Overall it was a great day! Tomorrow begins our training for outreaches. Peace and Blessings! Hosca Kal (Goodbye)!image

// Day One: Don’t Look at the Ladies//

Merhaba everyone! (Hello)

After a lot of flying the past two days, we’ve made it safely to Istanbul! Following our ten hour transatlantic flight, we enjoyed a 13 hour layover in Amsterdam, where we visited coffee shops, Old Town, some museums, ate some huge crepes, and even attended a Dutch mass. Parts of Amsterdam were incredibly beautiful and elaborate, with some nice antique buildings in the pedestrian areas. At the same time, we were all struck by how expensive the city is, as well as the openness of the culture (with marijuana and pornography both legal.) Though it was cold, the rain added a nice effect as we explored the cobblestone streets of Amsterdam. Many of us were exhausted when we made it back to the airport, so the floor made an adequate place to sleep until our departure at 8:30.

We arrived in Istanbul at around 12:30 am local time this morning (Wednesday.) If we thought we were going to make it all the way without a problem, that changed when we got to baggage claim and found that Jose Hilario Ramirez’s bag was missing. That delayed us quite a bit, but even when we were waiting to hear what the problem was, we couldn’t be bored with Blaine “Worldwide” Pittman around giving us entertainment. Finally, our driver spoke on the phone with baggage claim and told them our address and phone contact, proceeding to assure us that “it’s taken care of” (Still unsure if it actually is or not.) We took a private bus across Istanbul to the Asian side where our hostel is located, making a grand and bright-eyed entrance at 2:30am. 
-There are 52 churches across Turkey, 40 of them are in Istanbul
-That is compared to 30,000-40,000 mosques in Istanbul(1 mosque per 350 people in the whole country)
- Turkey is considered the largest unreached country in the world
Our accomodation is very nice and well-kept. We are amazed at how clean it is kept and how great the location is (free wifi doesn’t hurt either!)

Lots of flights and a late night led to a lot of sleep today; many of us didn’t wake up until after 2p.m. local time (about 8 hours ahead of central time). After a lazy “breakfast” we were met by a woman who taught us some of the Turkish language and culture. It was a great session that gave us a good perspective of the cultural taboos — namely (and hardest to follow throughout the day), that it’s not proper for people of the opposite sex to make eye contact on the street. This was put to the test when the woman gave us a scavenger hunt that allowed us to explore the area of Istanbul that we’re staying in. The guys and girls split up, and we set off in opposite directions to discover different things about the area. Istanbul is a gorgeous city, and many of the shops and restaurants are neat to experience. We enjoyed dinner at streetside shops, all of us experiencing the popular “döner” dish, while Bri had peynirli pide (a form of cheese bread). The cost was significantly lower than Amsterdam, and the food was really good! After completing the scavenger hunt, which included seeing a bull statue, talking to some Turks on the street, drinking some delicious freshly squeezed orange juice, and comparing Starbucks prices, the guys impulsively decided to take a sunset cruise around the Golden Horn inlet that divides the Asian and European parts of the city. Istanbul is absolutely beautiful at night while everything is lit up and busy. We thought it was crazy how many mosques there were just in that one area, and we’re looking forward to exploring them tomorrow as we do some sightseeing on the European side. While the guys enjoyed a romantic sunset cruise, the girls, of course, shopped. I don’t think I need to elaborate on that one. All in all, it was a great first day in Istanbul, even though it might have been difficult trying not to make eye contact with the ladies. We are having a solid time bonding with each other, laughing with each other, and encountering new people and a new culture.

At the same time that our hearts are joyous and anticipatory of what is to come, they are also saddened by the news of the deaths in OKC after the tornado that hit just after we flew out. 

On behalf of Blaine “Worldwide” Pittman, Jose “Hilario” Ramirez, Michaela “Fluff” Moore, Caitlyn “Caity” McCreight, Bri “Germany” Clayton, Nathan “Lookin sweet” Ehresman, Hannah “Tye-Dye” Lambert, Laurel “Gmail banned me” Watney, and Mark “Tech-Savvy” Watney, I’m TFair. Pictures to follow and we’ll keep you posted in the following days.