People frequently ask me if the areas of the world that I go into are dangerous, and if they are, do I ever have any concerns. I honestly try not to dwell on those concerns, or to worry about the potential danger. I have been in situations that were dangerous, but the fact that I am sitting here writing this story is testimony that I have always been OK. That isn’t to say that I am careless, or fool-hardy in going into these areas, in fact I always get as much information as I can about the area before I go. I am as prepared as I can possibly be. I also depend a great deal on God’s protection, which to date has always been ample. My desire is to serve God wholeheartedly, which really leaves no room for worrying about the circumstances or conditions of a particular mission trip. When Jesus called us to Go into all the world, He never promised it would be easy or safe—He actually said it would be hard and dangerous. But I do consider just how hard and how dangerous it could be before I go so that I can be as ready as possible for what ever comes my way.
My very first trip to Turkey was what could be considered a vision trip. I went with a group of men from Texas to explore the possibilities of beginning some kind of humanitarian aid if needed, and in my case it was in the form of dentistry. This was about five months before the earthquake devastated the region in August of 1999. We were very aware that it was illegal for us as Christians to go to the predominantly Muslim country and try to proselytize its people, so this trip was about exploring what may be perceived as needs by the Turkish people, and then try to set up ways to help. After meeting with Turks in Istanbul it became very apparent that they had their own system of credentialing and licensing dentists in Turkey, and they frankly didn’t need any help from the outside. This was in no way discouraging for me because that was what this trip was intended to determine, and I found out exactly what I needed to know. This vision trip was originally organized through contacts that I had in Albania, and instead of viewing it as a waste of time I really enjoyed getting to experience another culture. As it turned out, five months later a terrible earthquake hit Turkey, and those contacts that I had made in Istanbul opened the door for me to go in and set up clinics in the areas hardest hit by the destruction.
This time in Istanbul, however, was not without its dangers. There was, as there still is, a great deal of tension between the Kurdish people—who want their own land and country—and the Turks who possess that land. There was also some unrest between students and the government the Friday before I arrived. I say it was unrest, but it was actually a riot in which people were hurt. The next Friday afternoon I was walking through the streets in the Old City with an American business man I had met in Albania a few years before. He informed me of the previous weeks riots, which had actually taken place in the square we just happened to be entering. He said there was supposed to be another, even worse riot that same afternoon at about four o’clock. I asked where, and he said the very square we were walking through. I glanced at my watch. It was 3:55 PM. I then noticed police vehicles including a water canon tank, and shielded, helmeted police officers lining part of the square, and a large number of people gathering from every direction. My friend advised that we hurry and get out of there. We exited through the courtyard of a mosque, but before we reached the other side we began hearing the ruckus of chanting, angry sounding voices.
Istanbul is a huge city that I have been told can swell its population during working hours to nearly eighteen million people. It is on both sides of the Bosphorus so it has an Asian and a European side. While I was there, besides rioting students, the Kurds in order to humiliate the Turkish government set off five bombs around the city—mostly in tourist areas. I was not in any of those tourist areas at the time, so I was in no real danger, but I knew it was important to be vigilant, and to be careful where I went.
The day of the second riot in the square, two of those five bombs were detonated in two different places in the city. I got back to my hotel late, and decided to call my wife, Karen, and see how things were going at home, and to tell her I was OK and not to worry about me—yeah, right! It was midnight Istanbul time, and I figured that with the eight hour time difference it would be 4 PM in Wichita, and Karen would probably be home after getting the kids from school. This was before cell phones, so my phone call was made from my hotel room phone using a prepaid phone card. Remember those days? Well, Karen was not at home yet, but my teenage daughter Aubrey was. After a minute or so of asking questions and giving answers, I said to Aubrey, “You may have heard on the news that some bombs have gone off here in Istanbul. Two went off today, but be sure to tell mom that I wasn’t anywhere near them, and that I am OK, and I miss her and love her.”
I went to bed after hanging up with Aubrey, and fell asleep quickly not waking up until the morning prayer call at 5 AM. The call was being made right outside my window from the mosque minaret next door. The purpose of the call is to wake up the devout follower to start their day in prayer. I was wide awake—there is no way to sleep through one of those calls—so I also decided to use the time to pray. After the call ceased I thought it would be a good idea to call Karen again. It would be about 9:30 PM Wichita time so I figured that she would maybe have some time to herself after getting the kids into bed. I dialed the number from my phone card and then the necessary number to get my home. Karen answered. When she heard my voice she immediately went into a heart wrenching wail, and began nervously talking faster than any human should be able to about how she thought she was never going to see me again, and how horrible the last five hours had been. After I finally got her to calm down I found out that the message Aubrey had relayed to her was, “Dad called. He was in two bombs today, but he is OK.” I felt terrible for Karen. I really had no idea how horrible the last five hours had been for her, but I was thankful for the prayer call that prompted me to pray, and then call her when I did.
As you can probably imagine when I got home I had a nice father to daughter chat on the importance of conveying information accurately!
May God bless You until next time!