Monday, June 8, 2009

Home Sweet Home - Final Thoughts on Central Asia Trip

The team has been home for about 48 hours and I'm sure the rest of the team is settling back into the normalcy and routine of everyday life. Chuck is back behind the wheel of his UPS truck, I'm helping my patients get better, Greg is in his office tackling his next project, Leigh is preparing to complete her Master's Degree, and Jessica is packing up to move to Louisiana and start her new job as a PTA. As we all move forward with our lives, we can look back at this past week and know that we have made an eternal difference in the lives of many Turks. We have also grown closer together and will always share an unbreakable bond that was created during our time spent working in Central Asia.

As I returned home this evening from swimming lessons for Benjamin and Emmalee, I told my wife, Deborah, that I was already missing Istanbul and the people we had come to know. I found myself thinking about what I had been doing this time one week ago, and longing to be back there again. My wife said, "Lee, you definitely have a passion for the work you did over there." She is right. I love the city, I love the food, I love the work, and I love the people. The Lord has developed in me a passion for the Turks that is beyond my ability to fully comprehend. There is so much beauty, kindness, and generosity among the Turks. But unfortunately there is also a sense of hopelessness, darkness, and despair that comes from not having access to the way, the truth, and the life. There is a great need for many more workers to visit Central Asia and continue to sew seeds of truth that will reap an eternal harvest. Again, many thanks to everyone that supported our trip. Please feel free to ask me or any of the team members if you have any questions regarding our trip and adventures in Central Asia. Until we return to Turkey, may the Lord bless you and make His face shine upon you.

Friday, June 5, 2009

It's Been a Good Trip

Good evening to all of you back home that have been following my blog during my time in central Asia. My entry tonight will be a short one. It is 11:00 pm as I sit to type about today's happennings. I have to be up in 3 hours to get ready for the long trip back home. We have to leave for the airport at 3:00 am to make a 5:50 am flight. I still have to pack, shower, shave, etc before I sleep for a few hours. So let me apologize in advance for the bags under my eyes and the repeated yawning that you'll notice when I see most of you on Sunday.

We had a good day of sightseeing, buying souvenirs, and saying goodbyes during our final day in Istanbul. We began the day in the Grand Bazaar where you can see and purchase most any kind of knick-knack, article of clothing, or souvenir you can imagine. Next, we went to the Chora Church which is located in a more remote part of the city. It is much smaller that the Hagia Sophia, but has much more of the mosaic tile work still intact. It was quite beautiful. Next, we toured a UPS facility with Chuck's new found friends, where we had coffee and water as we visited for about an hour and a half. Our hosts were once again extremely gracious and for the second day in a row shuttled us around by private car (it was much more comfortable than the bus or subway) as we toured the city. After visiting the UPS office, our driver took us to the premier bakery in all of Istanbul so that we might stock up on the best baklava in all of Turkey. Those of you that get to sample this tasty pastry won't be disappointed. Finally, we had dinner with our host and some of their friends before returning home for the evening. It was a full and satisfying day. We even had a few opportunities to give out gifts as we saw the sights.

Since time is short, I will not post pictures tonight. I'll make one final update to the blog upon my return home. Until we come home, peace be with you and goodnight.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Rain, Rain, Go Away!

Today began with overcast skies that quickly turned into a light drizzle, that soon turned into a steady rain as the morning progressed. We toured a different part of the city and were able to meet more of the wonderful people that make Turkey such as fun place to visit. The people we encountered along the way were as gracious as always and we were able to give out 17-18 gifts during the morning. After lunch at the largest mall in Europe and better weather, we did a bit of sightseeing. You will see a few of the places we visited below. We even gave away another couple of gifts during our time in the mall and seeing the great historical sites of Instanbul.

After sightseeing for a few hours, we had time to buy a few collectable Turkish carpets from a fine man named Mustafa. He spent quite a bit of time showing us and telling us about dozens upon dozens of authentic Turkish carpets and killams. If you ever make the trip to central Asia, find Mustafa, you'll be glad you did. Even if you don't buy one thing from him, you'll treasure meeting and getting to know one of the nicest men you'll ever meet. After a bus and a subway ride back to our hotel, we had a 5-star dining experience courtesy of Chuck's herculean efforts to meet some fellow UPS bretheren here in Turkey. The experience was more than we (including Chuck) expected and one that we will not soon forget. I hope you enjoy the pictures below. We will have one more day in this magnificent city before we make the long journey home. Until tomorrow......

This picture is actually from the day before. I snapped this picture after we spent 15-20 minutes in this pleasant gentlemen's clothing shop. Leigh bought a houndstooth shirt (remember she is a UA graduate) and he gave her a necklace as a gift. We were able to share one of our gifts with him. He was so gracious and kind as are most of the Turks we encountered as we toured the city.

This picture was taken this morning as we gathered in the largest mall in Europe. We had spent the morning touring the city, giving out gifts, and dodging rain drops. It was the only bad weather we experienced during our entire time in central Asia. Greg, Leigh, and Chuck were able to stay dry with their colorful ponchos, although as I saw them I thought that somewhere there was a giant box of 64 Crayola crayons that was missing three colors. After a good lunch and a short rest in this mall, the rain stopped and we continued our tour of the city.

This is a view of the Blue Mosque, the most visited mosque in the city. It was built by Sultan Ahmed in the early 17th century (construction began in 1609) to compete with the Hagia Sophia which is nearby. It is called the Blue Mosque because of the more than 20,000 handcrafted blue ceramic tiles that adorn the interior of this mosque.

Here we are in front of the Hagia Sophia. It was built under the orders of Emperor Justinian between 532-537 AD. It was the world's largest cathedral for nearly 1,000 years until Constantinople was conquered by Ottoman Turks and ordered to be converted to a mosque by Sultan Mehmed in 1453. It remained a mosque until by order of Mustafa Ataturk, the founder and first president of the Republic of Turkey, it was turned into a museum in 1935.

Here Chuck is basking in the sweet glow of knowing he just became "the man." Through his UPS connections we were able to dine with the Director of UPS operations over all of Turkey. We dined at one of the finest Turkish restaurants in all of Istanbul. Our host, a man of obvious wealth, postion, and power, was inviting and a delight to get to know. Afterwards, we jokingly said that our host had enough money and power that at Chuck's request he could (with a snap of his fingers) have one us killed. Thankfully, Chuck spared our lives. I couldn't help but think that despite being mere moments away from death, I still have the joy of knowing the One who gives me life eternally. So, truth be told, I have a wealth and a power that cannot be measured by earthly standards.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

To Camlica and Back Again

Today we travelled to Camlica (which is pronunced Chaam - li-ja) on the Asian side of the city. It is the highest point in the city and you can see for miles in every direction. As far as the eye can see there is building after building. The city fades into the distance as the haze and the horizon converge over buildings that look like miniature models across the vast landscape. It was awe-inspiring to imagine the millions upon millions of people that we gazed upon as we looked over the city. More amazing, is that almost all these people have never heard the true story of the One who has sent us. Such darkness and despair in an area that once was central in the beginning of our faith.

We had great success in meeting many people in shops, restuarants, and other establishments as we hiked up to Camlica and (after lunch and resting) back down again. I believe 24 people received the gifts we had to offer. What joy there is in knowing that the Word will not come back void. Our deepest desire is that our gifts will be used by those that we gave them to, but also that the gifts might be passed along to co-workers, friends, and family members so that many more people are exposed to the One who has made this trip possible. As you remember us on our trip, specifically think about those who will be using our gifts and that they might open their hearts to the truth and the good news we have shared with them. Wouldn't it be wonderful to see more of our Turkish brothers and sisters on the other side of eternity. I hope you enjoy the pictures from today's travels. Until tomorrow, Iyi geceler, Yarin gorusuruz (Good night, See you tomorrow).

This was taken after we hiked up several kilometers to get to Camlica. This picture is of the Asian side of the city. In case you were wondering, those taller buildings are skycrapers. It was getting very hot, so after some water, rest, food, and meditating over this city we made the trek back down to the ports along the Bosphorus Strait.

Here you see Jessica and Leigh posing in a marble gazebo with some "cok guzel" (pronounced: Chak Goozel - very beautiful) roses hanging overhead. Actually I think the ladies were resting more than posing after the long hike up to Camlica.

This is a view back over to the European side of the city. Yes you can see more skycrapers and a large bridge on the left side of the picture. Where we caught the ferry back to the European side of the city was not too far from the bridge. And yes, we walked a majority of the way up and back down this mountainside. Our guide called it a "healthy walk." I think everyone on the team would chose a different word than "healthy." Words like "extremely long" or "marathon" come to mind. However, the walking allowed us to engage many Turks in conversation as we stopped along the way.

These four young girls were sitting in a park atop Camlica. They were very kind and sweet as they sat there looking out over the city in quiet conversation. Actually,there were three boys sitting near them trying to muster up enough nerve to talk with these lovely young girls. I guess young love is the same all over the world. It makes me glad that I am not a teenager.

Now that is what I call parallel parking! We noticed this car on our way back down the mountain from Camlica. I wanted to meet the driver that can fit a car in that tight of a space. In reality it was backed into that spot by a parking attendent. I hope the driver of this car wasn't planning on leaving soon, because there were three or four cars parked end-to-end without so much as 2 inches between them. Maybe the driver could get out his chainsaw and cut the tree down in order to leave.

I noticed the "34" license plate and for a fraction of a second thought, "Hey, they must be from Geneva County. I wonder if they are from Slocomb, Hartford, or maybe Samson." It must take a long time to commute from Geneva County, Alabama to Turkey. Talk about a high gas bill! Speaking of high gas bills, a gallon of gas in Turkey is about $12.oo.

Greg wanted to compare the Turkish version of KFC to the American version. It was good, but we all agreed that Colonel Sanders was better than Sultan Sanders in preparing some good 'ole southern fried chicken. We think the Turks left out a few of the spices in the original recipe.

Jessica and Leigh opted for the Pizza Hut that was located next to KFC. There opinion was that it was just about as good as back in the states. And they had an all you can eat pizza, pasta, and salad buffet. Thanks again Greg for making Chuck and I go to KFC!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Day one after The Great Race

On our first day after The Great Race we were able to see some different parts of the city than we visited last year. These "neighborhoods" were in older, less affluent parts of the city. We were able to engage many people in conversation even though we only came across 1-2 people that spoke any English at all. It seems this segment of the city was more open to receiving the gifts that we offered, and I believe that we handed out 20+ gifts (which is by far the most we have been able to hand out in one day including our visit last year) to various locals. So much thanks to Dad that opened doors, broke down language barriers, and softened hearts in advance of the team visiting this area of the city.

I have discovered that each of our team members has different talents when it comes to engaging the people we meet. Chuck is a warrior, he is constantly thinking of the people we are meeting. Chuck keeps his (and the team's) focus in the right place, as it would be easy to become discouraged otherwise. Greg has the talent of "sneakiness." Yes, that IS a talent! Remember the MacDonald's "Hamburglar." That's what I think I'm going to call Greg for the rest of the trip. He has knack for slying getting into conversations and engaging people that would seem next to impossible to accomplish. Jessica is full of joy. Her beaming smile puts most people we encounter as ease. Jessica "disarms" those that might otherwise put up a barrier to our obviously foriegn group. Leigh's talent is boldness. She seems to be the most easy-going, quietest person in the group. But when we "tour" the city, Leigh is the first to say, "Let's go in that store," or "Let's go talk to that person over there." She shows no fear and little apprehension on the streets of this huge city. I'm not sure what my talent is, you'll have to ask the rest of the team when we return. I think I have two talents - eating and encouragement. Speaking of eating, we are headed out to dinner. I'll post more later with pictures. Until later......

This picture is actually from the day before. We asked the waiter where to find the restroom so we could wash our hands. Well, he brought out what we thought was a bottle of hand sanitizer and squirted some in each of our hands. We proceeded to clean our hands and thanked our kind waiter for his help. We quickly noticed through our keen olfactory senses that the liquid did not smell like typical hand sanitizer. In fact it smelled like lemon-scented Pledge, but about 20 times stronger. Our hands smelled like Pledge for about four hours after our meal. We found out later that it is a Turkish custom and he hand given us perfume, not hand sanitizer. Needless to say, we will never forget our lemony-fresh meal that we enjoyed on this day.

I saw this man on the bus and had to take his picture. Someone notify Robin Williams that his long lost uncle is alive and well and living in central Asia. Joking aside, this man had a pleasant countenance and gave me a welcoming smile after I snapped this picture. I think I heard him say, "Nanu-Nanu" or maybe it was "Shazbot" as he got of the bus.

Chuck got a haircut from this kind and gentlemanly barber. He even stopped halfway through the haircut for Chuck and him to enjoy a glass of cay (tea). My question is, "How does Chuck have enough hair to require a haircut?" Chuck tried to get Jessica to sit in his barber's chair for a little trim, but surprisingly she refused.

I included this picture of me standing in front of the Batman Bufe (Buffet) for the sake of my older brother, Eric. He is somewhat of a Batman fanatic. I would say I have blackmail pictures of him bouncing on a hippity-hop (that was his Batmobile) in full Batman regalia from when he was a child, but he sees nothing remotely embarrassing about those photos. I wonder if Bruce Wayne has ever eaten at this establishment?

In this picture Greg, myself, and Chuck are standing guard at the old city wall that surrounded then "Constantinople" and dates back as far as the 7th century BC when the city was known as Byzantium. Many parts of the wall have been knocked down, rebuild, or fortified over the centuries as this ancient city fell under different rulers throughout the last 2,ooo+ years. This stretch of wall that we are on is still 17 kilometers long and looks as if could last another 2,000 years.

Here you see Leigh and Jessica standing at an opening in the wall that was used to shoot arrows or launch other weapons down upon invading enemies. It is hard to tell in the picture, but the opening sits on an angle which made it extremely difficult for enemies below to get anything in through the opening and kept those men on the wall extremely safe.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Great Race

Today we completed "The Great Race" which is essentially like a scavenger hunt with places we must visit, certain modes of transportation we must use, and specific tasks we must complete. It is all designed to accomplish two main goals - The first goal is to become familiar with the city and how to move about. Secondly, we are to interact with as many locals as possible in order to accomplish these tasks. Being tourists with very limited knowledge forces us to rely on His help and the graciousness of the people we interact with to find our way about the city.

After having ridden on a bus, a ferry, a metro (subway), a motorboat (smaller ferry), a dolmus (kind of a cross between a taxi and a van), and having walked for miles, we have much more confidence in our ability to move about this vast city. The next several days will be exciting as we seek to plant seeds of the Truth that will hopefully yield a harvest well beyond when we leave this beautiful place. I have posted a few pictures of the days events below. I hope you enjoy the pictures a fraction as much as we enjoyed experiencing them firsthand. Until tomorrow......

This picture is actually from the day before as we strolled along the Bosphorus Strait. We were at a dock that brought passengers across the straight from the Asian side of the city. The Bosphorus Strait connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara (which eventually connects with the Mediterranean Sea).

This appearred to be a big brother playing keep away from his little brother. It seems sibling rivalry/conflict knows no cultural boundaries. Eventually these young boys' father stepped in and broke up the squabble, leading the younger boy away with a firm hold on his arm.

We shared a dolmus with this lovely mother and her young son. He was more intersted in his ice cream bar than he was in us. Can you blame him? On that note, if you ever get a chance to try a Magnum Ice Cream Bar, DO NOT PASS IT UP! I highly recommend the chocolate/caramel flavor.

These three older gentlemen were having a quiet conversation on a bench near a playground. Perhaps they had grandchildren playing nearby? Regardless, how much wisdom could be gained from a conversation with these three wise men? But do they know "the way, the truth, and the life" or do they know the account of the "three wise men" or their very own lostness? Hopefully, with time more people like this will know the One who sent us.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Pictures of our trip to Central Asia

Me taking a picture of Leigh and Jessica taking pictures. Do we look like tourists or what?

Chuck and Greg looking for a place to sit down and eat. Notice that Chuck has his Alabama shirt on. But what you can't see is Greg's Auburn belt. And of course I have my Troy shirt on as well. Even half way around the world we have to represent our beloved universities. Go Trojans!

Here is the rest of the team posing in a square that is popular among tourists. Among the buildings behind the team is an opera/performing arts house. Jessica was excited to see that!
We are fresh off the plane and getting ready to look for a place to get some good local food. Truth be told, we ate at a place where the food was "outstanding."

Here is part of the gang as we are getting ready to load up and make the 3+ hour drive to the airport. We are excited about leaving, but dreading being cramped on an airplane for 8-9 hours. In total (with driving, security checkpoints, waiting in lines, and flying) it took about 25-26 hours to get from door-to-door. But the temporary discomfort fades as we have our minds on making eternal differences during our trip.