Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Dove and The White Tree

Being back home is surreal. It's almost like I never left, the calendar just jumped ahead a month. Aside from my office location changing, work is right where I left it, and things around the house are the same. And everyone is behaving as if things are normal, wondering cursorily how my trip was, but are content to hear me say that it was great.

This has made it really hard to be back. Now that I'm mostly over jet lag, some part of me is expecting life to pick up and suddenly have the same level of intensity that the last month has had, with a clear sense of purpose and well-defined goals and end-results in mind, plus weekend trips to exotic places. But that's not going to happen... life happens in the day-to-day, in the mundane... it can't always be intense--I've burnt myself out that way before.

Even so, I've found myself depressed, although I suppose that's to be expected. My last month was indeed a great time, and I learned a lot, received lots of praise for my efforts and generosity while I was there, and made some new friends. Now suddenly I'm disconnected from all that and have to get reconnected back home.

Thankfully, God has provided some good counsel, in the form of my good friend Jason and of my parents. My parents have experienced this "re-entry" phenomenon before, and suggested that it was important for me to write about my experiences and specifically about what I've learned and how this last month might influence the future course of my life. Also, they suggested I set up a time and place to share more of the details about my trip for people who are interested... and that's something I can definitely do through my church.

In the meantime, God is reminding me of some of the anchors he's given me in the past. One of them is the dove. While I was in college I started noticing the call of the dove. It's always been a soothing and comforting sound to me, and it seemed like every time I walked out the door to go to class I'd hear that call. I started to associate that call with God constantly saying, "I love you", reflecting his unchanging love for me.

The other is The White Tree, symbolic of the life of the king and the royal line of Gondor in The Lord of the Rings. At some point while I was living in California this took on meaning for me in relation to my identity in Christ. Because of Christ's work on the cross, I have been adopted into God's family. I have been made a part of the royal family of God. I am a noble in his kingdom. I have full rights as a son, access to the resources of heaven. How awesome is that?

So how should I face the days ahead? How do I do the mundane, day-to-day when it seems like life ought to be far more exciting, esp. as a son of the King? Hasn't he designed me for greater things? Things just seem bleak now--great... I get to grow in maturity now... woohoo. I'm not particularly thrilled to wait x number of years to get to where I need to be for what's next.

But waking up or walking out the door in the midst of those thoughts recently, I heard the call of the dove, which I hadn't in quite a while. "I love you." Remember? This state you're in right now is pretty normal, don't worry. I'm here with you. You can enjoy work--you're good at what you do. You can connect with people here--I've given you a great community of people. Life won't be boring.

Even so, I've had trouble getting out of bed the last few mornings. What's the point? Can I really do this? I don't think I can. No, I can't handle this--get me out of here! I dragged myself through a couple days of work and then made it to the Indy House of Prayer last night. Receiving prayer there, God met me again and gave me a stern reminder.
"Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does" (Js. 1:22-25).
Remember who you are, who I've made you to be? You look into the perfect law that gives freedom, but then walk away and forget what you look like! It's true. The symbol of The White Tree meant enough for me to get it tattooed on my arm to remind me of who I am (along with a reference to Psalm 1--I will be like a tree planted by streams of water). I know the truth, I know the scriptures, but do I actually live accordingly? Often not.

So it seems I do I have something clear to work on, and there's no shortage of battles to fight here. The more I walk in my identity in Christ, the more I step out in faith according to the truth, the more I boldly speak it, the more I'll see God at work. No, life won't be boring. And there's no reason for me to think that God doesn't have exciting plans for me in the future. I can be praying even now that God will direct my paths and open and close doors. Maybe I'll be back in Turkey sooner than I think.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Trabzon Pictures

I had a really great Trip to Trabzon this past weekend! I don't have time to write much about it now, but I wanted to make sure I posted links to the photos I took while I was there.

Day 1 - Trabzon
Day 2 - Trabzon / Sümela Monastery

I'm writing this now from the Dallas/Ft. Worth airport, waiting for my flight back to Indy. I've been on the road a long time (esp. if you include my trip back to Istanbul yesterday), and I'm very tired. I will have more thoughts later, but for now it's all I can do to head to my gate...

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Winding Down...

Well, I'm nearing the end of my trip. It's been a full and rewarding time. I've participated in a conference, spent two and a half weeks working hard on a website redesign and taken two weekend trips, and now I'm at the airport waiting for a flight for my final weekend excursion to the Black Sea coast city of Trabzon. Unless the British Airways crew strike results in my flight being canceled on Monday, I will be back in the U.S. next week. Wild.

I've been pushing pretty hard the last few days, trying to get things to a good place with the website, but unfortunately there are still too many loose ends to launch it before I go. My perfectionist side is disappointed, but we'll get things wrapped up before too long. All in all it's been a success, with a new design in place and a new back-end structure set up to facilitate future maintenance. I'm happy with it, and I believe my host here is as well.

I've learned a lot on this trip. On a technical level, I've had to dig into the inner workings of the Joomla content management system and learn how to customize and create new modules. The project has given me consulting experience as well, from working with my host to develop an Internet strategy (based on guidelines we learned at the conference I attended) to working with my designer friend back in the States to develop the design and a new logo. This is experience I'll likely be able to use elsewhere in the future.

In addition, I've had the chance to see what it's like to work in a faith-based context and to see some of the vision and potential for using technology to reach people in a meaningful way. I've had many interesting conversations about the cultural dynamics in this country and how they differ from the West. And I've had a whole month to re-acclimate to living in the main country in which I grew up.

I've really enjoyed my time here, and all these influences and experiences definitely have me thinking about how I can come back in the future. I'm praying that God will lead me and give me wisdom... who knows what the future holds? Is it possible He has a longer-term application of these and my past experiences in mind? Am I even at a stage of life right now where I should consider that?

I've got a lot to consider, but right now it can wait--I'm gonna be a tourist now. I've been looking forward to this final trip since before I got here. I'll be going further east than I've ever been, both within Turkey and within Asia. I have very little idea of what to expect, and I'm excited. One thing I did find out after I bought my plane ticket and was looking for a place to stay is that apparently Trabzon is quite a hub for Russian prostitutes, or "Natashas". Good to know. Apparently there are hotels to avoid.

Fortunately, just as I was heading out the door, a couple people at the office where I've been working told me they had friends in Trabzon that I should hook up with while I'm there. They made a phone call, and now I have a couple people I've never met expecting me and possibly providing a place for me to stay. I have access to a pretty awesome network here!

Well, it's time to board, so here we go on another adventure. I'll be sure to take pictures...

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Changes come... bring the whole thing down...

Today I'm in Ankara, the capital city of this country, and the city where I grew up here in Turkey. It's not exceptional in the way cities go, but it's full of familiar places for me, and it was a lot of fun to stroll around downtown and see many of my old stomping grounds. Unfortunately, I forgot to bring my camera along today, so I won't be able to show you pictures, at least not any that I've taken.

One of the things I noticed this time moreso than in the past was the number of abandoned building projects. There are various structures, from massive malls to smaller streetside shopping areas that are just huge skeletons or are standing empty, a sign that the hard times are hitting worldwide.

Apparently there has been a shift away from some of the traditional hangouts to these big new shopping malls. That had started to happen before my family left the country, but it sounds like the trend has continued. As a result older parts of town are suffering, like the mall attached to the iconic Space Needle-like structure, which was the first mall of its kind in the city.

Well, I suppose these things happen... things don't stay the way you remember them, and life goes on. In fact, life is continuing back home in Indiana as I speak. Weird.

One other different thing I noticed, an indicator of the shift in culture here, even as the malls grow in influence... on the bus I took here from Istanbul, an overnight bus, men and women are not allowed to sit next to each other. When I mentioned that to my hosts in Istanbul they said yep, things are becoming more conservative. This multiple continent-spanning country definitely encompasses an intriguing tug-of-war.

Tomorrow evening I will be returning to Istanbul to finish up our work on the website over the following three days. That's the goal. Lord willing, I will still be able to do some traveling after that. Then we'll get to see whether or not my British Airways flights back to the States will be affected by the ongoing crew strikes... this could be fun!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Skiing Thoughts

This past weekend I got to go skiing at Uludağ (pronounced oo-loo-dah), the first place I learned to ski back in 3rd grade. I found an all-inclusive ski tour package for the weekend and got two good days of skiing in. The skiing was a lot of fun--during a wobbly first hour or so I remembered how to ride, then I found some steeper slopes, explored and worked on my technique. I'm nice and sore now, but it was a good workout, and I was able to relax with a dip in the hotel's warm pool after the first day. All my meals were included and served at the hotel, and the spread was plentiful and filling.

But I'm a little sad about the trip. I had a great time skiing, but I was alone for most of the time, and that made it difficult. It felt lonely to be there without a group of friends of my own like just about everyone else that was there. It appeared that I was the only foreigner at my hotel, and while my Turkish is decent, the cultural barrier (as well as the more insular nature of the wealthier strata of society that were represented there) didn't lead to many natural acquaintances. I probably could have tried harder, but I was tired in the evening and didn't feel like going out anyplace where that would be easier.

I've also been wrestling with a sense of guilt over taking this trip at all. The process of arranging it was a distraction while working on Thursday and I had to quit early on Friday in order to pack for the weekend. That time can be made up, but the bigger issue for me is that I feel like I shifted from a service mode into a self-serving mode, as though the work I'm doing here was secondary, just an excuse to go see exotic parts of the world and spend money on myself.

I know part of that is just religious accusations, but I definitely felt convicted as I started thinking about what I was going to do my final week here when I'd planned more vacation time. If we don't get to where we need to on the website project this week, but then I just go off to see the sights, something seems to be wrong about that. What did I really come over here to do?

And so I'm realigning my priorities. If that means canceling my plans for next week (which were vague anyway), that's ok. God is giving me all sorts of great experiences right where I'm at, and there will be other times to see the sights, and it will be better if I'm with people. So I guess I'll have to start recruiting for next time. ;) This evening I was reminded of the simple joy of being with friends as I enjoyed a glass of wine with my hosts here, and I'm looking forward to more such opportunities.

And Thank God that He is the redeemer of clouded motives, that He's patient with us, that He still blesses us with good things, including new friends and new experiences, even in the midst of our inconsistency. I am still confident of this, I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Alive and Staying Well

To all of you who have asked how I'm doing, thanks! I'm fine. The earthquake that struck in Turkey yesterday hit over 1000km away and could not be felt in Istanbul. I found out about it when I got into the office, and today it was all over the papers.

Any earthquake news is a big deal here because there have been some incredibly devastating quakes that hit this country not too long ago. In August 1999, a 7+ magnitude quake hit the western coast of Turkey in the middle of the night. I remember waking up in Ankara, a few hundred miles to the east, and feeling like my bedroom was rolling back and forth like a skateboard on a halfpipe.

It was crazy to watch things unfold in the following days. Estimates at the time suggested 30,000+ had died. International aid flowed in much like it has in Haiti recently. The local church here dove in to help and was recognized in a very positive light as they helped set up tents and kitchens and later more permanent dwellings. In the end the death toll settled at nearly 18,000.

That said, even though I experienced the quake and even though I knew many people, including my family, who worked with the earthquake victims in the aftermath, it remained a distant thing for me. I left the country not too long after the quake to return to school. I saw some of the damage and continuing relief efforts a few months later, but in many ways it all remains in my memory as TV images and numbers. The trauma here must have been huge.

And it seems to be continuing all over the world. Have you noticed how many significant earthquakes there have been in the past few months? California, Haiti, Chile, Turkey, all over 6+ magnitude in the last two months (see the full list). It's pretty crazy. Kind of makes our time feel short, doesn't it?


Things have been going well on the web project the last couple days. I've been working from an office on the Asian side of the city, while staying with my host on the European side. It's a pretty awesome commute. I get to cross the Bosphorus on a boat twice every day and see some of the world's most historic sites out the window on the way. It's quite a privilege.

This morning it was rainy and cold like it was yesterday. On the boat during the crossing, men selling tea and other hot drinks walk through the ailing calling out what they have to sell. Yesterday I bought a cup of "salep", a sweet rice-based hot drink with cinnamon on top. This morning my host suggested we stop at Starbucks after the crossing. Yes, Starbucks. It's a treat here. And it was freaky walking into the place, because I immediately felt transported back to America. I ordered my tall half-caf, no-whip mocha just like in the States and got the same drink I would there. Bizarre.

Anyone want me to bring them back a Starbucks mug that says Istanbul on it? They're $12, so pony up.

Thanks for reading,

P.S. If you're the praying sort, we could use some prayer for health here. My host's son has a really bad cough, so please pray that he would heal quickly and that it wouldn't spread. Thanks for your support!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Touristing and Church

Well, I got all my pictures from yesterday posted! I've captioned them nicely so you'll know what you're looking at. It was a really tiring day, trekking around everywhere in the cold and the rain, but the sights were rewarding, and at the end of the day (after my camera battery died) we got to go to the Grand Bazaar and do some shopping. We had an excellent guide who knew the right people and got us some amazing deals.

After getting back to the home where I'll be staying for the rest my time in Istanbul, we relaxed and popped in the movie The Blindside, which I hadn't seen yet (and no, it's not out on DVD yet... this is Turkey :).

Today I slept in, then went to a Turkish church with my host. I was pleased that I was able to track with the sermon, which was on the end of Eph. 6 and focused on prayer. It was a good (and convicting) message... I know I spent far too little time praying for anyone / anything but myself, and I need a lot of grace to move beyond myself and pray for the spread of the gospel and for the needs of others.

We did get to walk around the spice bazaar today, and the picture you see here I took while avoiding getting hit by all the people crowding around each seller. There are a few more pictures on Facebook.

Thanks for reading!