It’s been about a month since we returned from Turkey, and while I have often thought about what to write about the trip, and how to write it, the time to do so has escaped me. Perhaps this is a good thing, as I am one to often speak (or in this case, type) without having fully thought things through. “…Slow to speak…” (James 1) is certainly one of those things that I am working on. My initial intention was to give a daily synopsis throughout the course of the trip. However, early on it was made clear that this was not to be- we were asked specifically to not do such things so as to maintain the ‘security’ of the trip. My first thoughts regarding ‘security’ related to safety for those (including us) involved with the conference. Unfortunately, certain classes at the conference which referenced ‘security of children’ would later affirm that belief. However, it became clear over the course of the trip that these folks had a much greater security that they appeared more concerned with maintaining: security in their opportunity to continue to love and change people over time. Certain things could threaten their security as it pertained to acceptance within given cultures and communities. Their concern with being ‘outed’ seemingly had less to do with ‘safety’, and more to do with the possibility of being separated from the people they were sent to love. Pretty incredible stuff.
In an effort to honor that ‘security’, I will try to (carefully) communicate what the trip meant to me. As the title infers, there were many things that I learned on this trip, and many that I re-learned (things that I know/knew, but had somehow become lost or watered down in my life). From these things, I hope that you are able to fill in any blanks you may have.
- You won’t ever again catch me standing and not singing any time I am in the congregation (and not playing). It is a privilege to be able to sing to your Savior and do so at a volume that communicates your praise and acknowledgement of the grace you have been given. For a publicly professing believer to merely be present during times of song is something I am no longer able to understand. Some people do not have this opportunity, and some willingly lay it down so that perhaps others may one day have it. If I/we can cheer for a college sports team, I/we can raise our voices for the grace and redemption that comes through the cross. Surely, the latter is more worthy of praise, recognition, and excitement.
- Along the same lines, your ability to openly share your testimony and that of the One who saved you is a privilege. I, for one, do not take advantage of that right enough. Yes, I believe that ideally, a relationship is established before one shares with another, but even then I have failed to take advantage of opportunities to simply interject with, “Let me tell you who changed my heart.” Many, if not all of those we served either were in situations where they did not have that right, or were not able to exercise it due to the social isolation that would have resulted in such behavior. The social isolation was not the fear, but the resulting inability to have the opportunity to love others and share the Savior the only way they could: with their lives. Their every day attitudes. Their every day body language. They way they treated one another in public. The way they treated strangers or service people in public. Which leads me to…
- It matters how believers carry themselves. This is not something that you or I am unaware of, but it is definitely one of those things that, especially in American culture, can quickly fade. The way we treat service people- waiters, they guy at Jiffy Lube, the seemingly indifferent Wal-Mart manager. The way we treat our children and/or spouses. Perhaps most importantly, the way we treat other believers. The “Grieving the Spirit” passage is followed by, what I believe, specifically grieves It: “…bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” And presumably when this occurs between believers. Each person I met treated each other with a keen awareness of this, even with those they perhaps were not in agreement with. Which reminds me…
- While I can appreciate ‘doctrine’, it is a beautiful thing to see a common, core, belief (in the Savior)overcome what can become differences between denominations due to what, at the end of eternity, amounts to minutiae. Trust me when I tell you that all of those who love others abroad are not of the same ilk! These were all people from different cultures, nations, denominations, and backgrounds who shared a common core belief. To have a week go by and not have a major ego struggle between those different parties over the ‘message’ or ‘ what the music should sound like’ or what order things were done in was both refreshing and humbling. Yes, there was structure. But there was also room and flexibility for things to change as needed. Room and flexibility for needs to be met as they arose.
- There was the reminder that ‘prayer by appointment’ is simply insufficient. If the only time I talked to my wife was at 6 in the morning and for a few minutes before every meal, it is safe to say that our relationship would not pass the test of time. Our relationship, to a degree, correlates with the amount of and nature of our communication. If I speak to her briefly a few times each day about generic matters, our relationship will be just that- generic. Deeper, more intimate conversations will lead to that type of relationship. In a different but equally effective way, spontaneous, short chats that ask for and value her input or simply let her know that I care for her and am thankful for her have a profound effect on our relationship. These same principles apply to prayer and the Man to whom you pray, and the people we served there reminded me of that. They didn’t need a ‘reason’ or a set time. They stopped what they were doing and did it. In the parking lot. In the restaurant. Wherever.
- There were some great conversations that happened between those of us who went to serve. I thank you for praying for each of us and our families. There was a great deal of encouragement, but also some opportunities for each of us to grow- meaning that there was some conflict- the impetus for growth. Each day we met and shared while the ones we served met and shared among themselves. Each of us took turns leading discussions, which in and of itself allowed us each to be out of our comfort zones. However, it was also a reminder of how essential we each are to one another, in the sense of ‘iron sharpening iron.’ Hearing a fresh perspective was challenging and rewarding. Hearing about the things that really matter to one another was something that I am not sure we had even done before! I guess it took us going half way around the world together to make that happen, but I am thankful that it did. As a result, I would like to think that we are all closer, and that we are all more sensitive to one another.
- Lastly, the power of nature and history was overwhelming- at least for me. On more than one occasion I actually got emotional just from some of the things we saw. The landscape. Ephesus. The tomb of St. John. The effect of the crusades. The Aegean sea. The craftsmanship in the ruins we visited. There are definitely treasures imprinted in my heart and mind as a result of having simply seen them. I thank you all for making that possible through your prayer and financial support.
Should you have questions, want more specifics, or even some pictures, I would be happy to share more with you. I just ask that you email me at firstname.lastname@example.org . I have learned that choosing to not openly share some things can be as powerful as choosing to do so.