Mapping our route...
Istanbul is an amazing city. Split into an European and Asian side by the Bosporus Sea Street it provides shelter to approximately 16 million people. We arrived at our small hotel in the old touristic part on the European side of the city and we had time to rest. Right next to our hotel was a mosque and the one minaret was towering past our window. I was sharing a small room with two dilapidated single beds and a new friend from Durban - an Indian man named Rocky.
Our rest was short lived because we were rudely woken up by the sound of the call to prayer from the mosque. The loudspeaker was right in front of our room window! During those first days in Istanbul the call to prayer gave me chills down my spine every time the sound washed like rolling thunder over the entire city!
Our first assignment was to split into three teams of four each and to plan our outreach. The plan was to travel through Turkey in three teams. We would travel by public transport from town to town and look for people who will accept a "gift" in the form of a Turkish New Testament wrapped in gift paper from us.
In 1995 the Turkish Protestant Church was not legal. Turkish believers were a small minority group persecuted for their faith. To be a Turk is to be a Muslim and Turkey was 99,9% Muslim. Freedom of Religion was protected by the secular Constitution but no proselytizing was allowed. Although giving a gift to an accepting friend could not be seen as proselytizing, there were foreigners deported in those days because they were propagating a false belief.
After the teams were finalized each team was given a map of Turkey and send to separate rooms to prayerfully consider the route they will follow over the next two weeks. I was skeptical. Being from conservative reformed background I found myself among some evangelicals and pentecostalist and I was out of my comfort zone!
Our team retreated to a room and we laid the map open before us. We started praying with our eyes open looking at the map in front of us. As we prayed my team members started to communicate what they sensed the Holy Spirit were revealing to them. Soon we had a two week route circling from Istanbul to Ankara, Cappadocia, Antakya (Antioch), Denizli (near Laodicea) , Izmir (Smirna), Selchuk (Ephesus), Bursa and back to Istanbul. I was amazed but not fully convinced. I was sure that the other teams will most likely cover the same route as it has many of the touristic venues included.
When we gathered together each team shared the route that they decided upon. When were done we had three circular routes mapped out, not one over-lapping and covering the Central and Western part of the country, the Central plateau and the North -Western Black Sea Region. I knew I was witnessing the work of the Holy Spirit and it filled me with great anticipation for the time ahead.
The next day a long serving missionary from Bursa came and gave us more background on Turkish customs and culture. He also brought more Turkish New Testaments and we divided it between the three teams. We were now ready for the outreach to start!