Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Days 3 & 4 in Istanbul

Jeff and I met with D. and A., veteran "workers" in Turkey. Through their in-the-trenches insights and my casual observations from touring around the old city, we discovered a few things about this place:

1. Essentially everyone is culturally Muslim (obviously).

2. The Muslims proselytize using booklets and spiritual guides in their mosques.

3. They brush their hands back and forth to express something that is denied or dismissed. (its hard to explain this)

4. Even though Constantinople (Istanbul) was the seat of the Christian church for over 1,000 years, any remnants of Christianity was erased. We saw one church (St. Sophia, now a historical monument converted to a mosque) and some Byzantine ruins. The rest is covered over or wiped clean. There are only about 3,500 Christians in this country (Turkey) of 70 million. Jeff and I had a great discussion with D. and A. over plates of fish. "What about the "Lamps" of the Seven Churches of Revelation; have they been removed?" D. explained that there are two believers in one of those cities (Smyrna), and handfuls of the faithful in the others. The city associated with modern day Ephesus, Selcuk, has about 150 practicing Christians. "If the Lamps haven't been removed, they are only dimly lit." A "church" here in Turkey is comprised of perhaps 8 people and a lay leader. Some of these pastors are the fruit of D. and A.'s work in the 80's and 90's.

5. Honor and Shame run deep here. B. reminded us that this is a Shame-based culture.

6. The people are generally noble (proud) and they don't want a hand out. A friendly Turk helped us get the right ferry token and I wanted to pay for his token also (only $1), he wouldn't take it. This is understandable, but we even tried to tip the taxi driver more and he wouldn't take it!

7. I've seen people selling packages of Kleenex, but no beggars.

8. There is no persecution here but there is certainly harassment. Each person is assigned an identification card that states one's religion. One Christian young girl applied several times for a driver's license. Her request was rejected each time because her identification card indicated that she was a Christian. A friend of hers inquired with the agency's supervisor who upheld the denial for a license based on her religion. D. and A. said that Christians lose jobs or are denied work because of their faith. There is no overt persecution, but the Turkish government does make it hard to proclaim Jesus.

9. Years ago, the Turkish government legitimized churches that own a building (usually decrepit older structures). Most of those churches are the old brands of orthodoxy. The real hurdle here is that any other church without a building is not legitimate. Protestantism is viewed as a kind of cult.

10. The Grand Bazaar is...bazaar! (see pic) This underground Turkish flea market features hundreds of meters of windy, shop-lined walkways. Vendors aggressively hawked and bartered their wares, everything from jeans and perfume to scarves, rugs, and jewelry. Rather than allowing myself to get annoyed by these persistent salesmen, I decided to go on the offensive, and it was fun! One teen tried to get me to come into his shop to sell me some jeans. He had the fashionable jeans with factory stress marks (holes) in the legs. I asked him why I would want to buy jeans with holes? He laughed, kind of.

Next stop: catch the red-eye to Astana, Kazakhstan.

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