Saturday, April 16, 2011

My Heart for Turkey

I bet you didn't know that Monday, April 18th, is the Global Day of Prayer for Turkey!  Maybe you wonder why I care so much about Turkey?  It's not my doing, really.  I dare to say it is God's!

My connection with Turkey started when I was 13 years old.  At my church youth group one evening we were told about an opportunity to become pen pals with someone from Turkey and I eagerly signed up.   I was assigned a 14 year old girl named Fatma and I'll never forget how excited I was the first time a letter arrived with a stamp postmarked  from TURKEY!!!  From my perspective at the time, Turkey was a far-away land, on the other side of the world, and I never even dreamed or imagined that I might go there some day. 

I remember in one letter Fatma told me that she hoped one day I could come to Turkey to visit her.  My mom and I just laughed at how absurd that sounded to us!  I remember saying, "Bless her heart, she actually thinks I might go there some day!"  I loved receiving Fatma's letters but it was difficult to understand the broken English and I'm sure it was even harder for her to try to understand my letters.  After about a year the letters ceased and we lost touch.  Even though we weren't corresponding any longer, I still thought of her often and prayed for her.  And Turkey continued to hold a place in my heart as the years passed.

Fast forward 6 years.  I had just turned 20 years old and was on a short-term training program with Mercy Ships on board the M/V Anastasis.  We were sailing through Europe as the ship was on a PR tour, raising funds, donations and personnel for their first African outreach in Togo.  Soon, I learned that there was a possibility that my team would be sent to Turkey for an outreach!  I remember my heart pounding and my mind racing as I immediately thought of Fatma.  I still had the same old address book from back then so I decided to send a postcard to that old address I had, not sure if Fatma and her family still lived there or not.  I wrote a short note telling her that I had never forgotten about her and that I MIGHT be coming to Turkey in a few months and IF I did, I would look for her!  There wasn't much more I could say because at that point I had asolutely no details.  I didn't even know if I would be assigned to the Turkey team or not.  I mailed the postcard from somewhere in Europe and hoped it would find its way to Fatma's hands.

Eventually I was thrilled to find out that I had been assigned to one of the 2 teams that would go to Turkey.  I loved the team I had been designated to and we began our training together and bonded quickly.  We later found out this team would be going to Diyarbakir, in the southeast of Turkey.  At some point in the process we began to hear rumblings that they might switch 2 team members between the two teams.  I just KNEW that they were going to ask ME to switch teams so I started to avoid our school leaders because I didn't want to give them the opportunity to ask me to be the one.  In hindsight I know God was preparing me so that when the time came, I would have the right response.  And, sure enough, one day they popped the question.  Would I switch teams to help accomodate the other team?  Reluctantly, I said that I really didn't want to but was willing if they needed me to do it.  And that's how I got assigned to the team that would go to Eskişehir, in the northwestern part of Turkey, the opposite region of the country!

A few months later, after a short stay in Istanbul, my team and I rode a bus, crossing the Bosphorus Bridge that connects Europe to Asia and several hours later arrived to the city of Eskişehir where we checked into the Hotel Şale.  As we walked into the reception area I noticed a huge, wall-sized map of Turkey on the wall.  I made a bee-line for the map and started looking for Fatma's town.  I had never seen a map of Turkey before that moment and I honestly feel that my eyes were supernaturally guided because in a matter of seconds I found exactly where we were and exactly where Fatma's town was!  Then I looked for Diyarbakir and I felt like I would cry.  All of the sudden I realized that all of the "switching teams" business had been orchestrated by God.  Fatma's town was only about 3 or 4 times closer to Eskişehir on the map than Diyarbakir was!  I realized that if I had gone on the Diyarbakir team as planned, I would have had zero chances of finding Fatma!

The three cities circled from N to S are Istanbul, Eskişehir and Alasehir, the cities I visited in Turkey.

One of my roommates, Angie, in our hotel room.

After we checked-in to the hotel we were famished so we ventured out to find a place to eat.  We had learned in our orientation that Turkey had segregated restaurants (I don't know if this is still true.)  Since restaurant after restaurant that we found was for men only, we had to continue our search for a "family restaurant".  We had noticed there were two guys following us around the whole night and we were a little freaked out by it.  At one point we had walked ourselves into a dead-end and had to turn around to go back the way we had come in and we ran right into these two guys!  Little did we know that they had seen us earlier when we were leaving the hotel and they decided to follow us to see if they could befriend us and practice their English!  Were we ever relieved!  So Hakan and Ergun took us to a family restaurant that night and fast became our friends/hosts/guides in Eskişehir!

Ergun and Hakan on the left and my teammates on the right:
 Tim, Sylvie, Dick, Clara and Angie. 
It was Hakan's birthday and we threw him a little party on top floor of the hotel.

At the movies with Hakan and Ergun.

I soon told Hakan about my quest to find Fatma and he helped me to send a telegram to her old address and day after day I waited to see if there might be a message left for me at the hotel.  After several days with no word I became discouraged and tried to be realistic and told myself not to get my hopes up too high.  One day when I was feeling sad about the whole thing, we walked in to the hotel lobby and the reception guy called me over and gave me a piece of paper with a phone message!  It had Fatma's name and telephone number and a note asking me to come visit her!! 

The guys who worked in Reception at the hotel.

I was ecstatic!  But first I had to get my team leaders permission to leave.  I think I was so naive that it never even dawned on me that they might not let me go!  As a matter of fact, looking back, I can't believe they DID let me go!  I have since talked to them about this and they agreed that although the circumstances seemed absurd, God gave them a great peace about letting me leave the team and travel to see Fatma.  As soon as I could recruit Hakan's help we went to the bus station and he helped me to call Fatma.  I remember hearing her voice answer the phone (I assumed it was her) and I said in a questioning voice, "Fatma?!".  She answered, "Karen?!" and we both squealed for a few seconds and then I had to pass the phone back to Hakan so he could have an actual conversation with her!  So, the two of them worked out the details of the trip, Hakan helped me buy my bus ticket, put me on the bus and told the bus driver where to let me off.

The bus was very nice and comfortable and I felt safe the whole time.  I was on cloud nine, I just couldn't believe that I was really going to see Fatma in person!  About 7 hours or so later the bus pulled off on the side of the road and the bus driver motioned to me that this was my stop.  It was dark already, around 8pm.  I got off into the night, the bus quickly unloaded passengers and luggage and continued on its way and I just waited for someone to claim me.  Finally after everyone had cleared away there was only a young girl and guy standing at a distance so I looked at them with my eyes wide as they shyly approached me and then the squealing and hugging began. "Fatma?!"...."Karen?!"  It was indeed Fatma and her brother, Ali.  From there we took a train for about an hour until we arrived to Fatma's town.  I later found out that there had been a misunderstanding about my arrival time.  They thought I was arriving at 8AM not they had been  there waiting for me the whole day!!  Oh, and by the way, I also found out that she did get the postcard!

Fatma and her brother, Ali.

Sharing a meal with Fatma and her parents.

Special days with Fatma.

I met aunts, uncles, cousins and friends!

 Fatma and her mom.

Fatma's grandma, in the middle...she was a fun and fiesty lady!

I spent that weekend with Fatma and her family and it was a dream-like, surreal experiences that forever marked my life! I will close this story for now but my Turkey story doesn't end here.  There are more stories, special people and memories but at least now you know how it all began!

If you would like to see more photos from my time in Turkey just CLICK HERE.

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