Openness in Istanbul

April 23, 2001

Today’s BBC World report that unidentified gunmen were holding guests hostage in a hotel in Istanbul arrested my attention as I brushed my teeth this morning. Mention of a number of hostages being held in a 5th floor conference room glued me to the TV. For, just a few days ago, I had joined an intrepid bunch of DTS students for a few days in an Istanbul hotel. We had had teaching sessions in the roof-top meeting place in the heart of historic Constantinople.

I relaxed, however, when the reporter referred to the “luxury” hotel – hardly the word for Hotel Pamphylia! Apparently the gunmen were Chechens, drawing global attention to their ongoing ‘seige’ by the Russians. Now, at the end of the day, the kidnappers are in police custody.

However, my thoughts had been jerked away from Budapest, where I am writing this after a three-day consultation with around 50 of our YWAM leaders from Central Europe. I saw again in my mind’s eye the splendid panorama from the roof-top: the ferries scudding across the busy Bosphorus on our left between Europe and Asia; the great Topkapi Palace of the Ottoman sultans, set in spacious leafy grounds hiding the quarters of the sultans’ harem; the truly awesome dome of Saint Sophia, the ancient basilica built in the 4th century by Constantine; its comparably massive counterpoint, the six-minaret Blue Mosque; and beyond, the shimmering waters of the Marmara Sea dotted with anchored tankers awaiting a berth.

Not many DTS’s have such a breathtaking and historic backdrop! But, then again, not many DTS’s are like this one. The dream-child of Aimee Honchen of the International DTS Centre, this school is called the “Mobile DTS”. The students will traverse the Old Silk Road from Istanbul, across Turkey to Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan, and through the Central Asian republics to Almaty in Kazhakstan, almost on the Chinese border. Speakers will join them en route. They will follow in the footsteps of the Nestorians, the Persian Church which embarked on mission ventures beginning in the fourth century, taking them along the silk caravan routes across the central Asian plains and into China by the seventh century.

Aimee told me how open the spiritual climate seemed to be in Istanbul. Despite rioting crowds demanding better economic conditions, people seemed very open to talk about the gospel, she said. Could this be fruit of the Reconciliation Walk? Intrigued by the witness of the students, the wife of the hotel manager went out and bought herself a New Testament. Diego, a 24-year-old traveller from Ecuador who met the team in the city, and sat in on the sessions I taught. He committed himself to the Lord just this weekend, and now wants to do a DTS.

On Good Friday, the school took “church” to the streets. They worshipped in the large square between Saint Sophia and the Blue Mosque, reading out loud the story of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, and then celebrating communion. A police officer appeared. He turned out to be the Chief of Police, who later took Aimee and another school leader to dinner, plying them with questions about the gospel for an hour and a half. “He just sat there shaking his head as if his whole world had just been rocked,” said Aimee.

Aimee asks us to pray for Diego, Barrin (the manager’s wife), and Nail, the chief of police. He’s probably got his hands full with Chechen rebels right now.

Till next week,

Jeff

Till next week,


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