Monday, August 21, 2006
I was invited to attend an Interfaith Dialogue Trip to Turkey with the Foundation For Intercultural Dialogue in June of this year. I was invited to attend because of my passion for working in interfaith. It truly was a trip of a lifetime!
On this trip were 17 individuals of varied backgrounds and spiritual beliefs: Five ministers ... one Baptist preacher, one Christian pastor, one College Minister, one Catholic priest and ... me, an interfaith minister. We also had an Arizona State Representative, two college professors, one a professor of Aramaic and one a professor of political science, two kindergarten teachers, a geologist, a business man, as well as a poet and Art Conservator, spouses, three teenage sons and our Turkish guides. Amazingly, we all bonded and everyone got along very well.
There are so many wonderful things to share that I could literally take pages and pages to tell about the trip. I enjoyed seeing the sacred sites such as the Dolmabahce Palace which was amazing, the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sofia, the underground water system, the ancient Roman Ruins, the house where Mother Mary lived after Jesus' death until her death in Izmir, the tomb of Rumi, Cappadocia one of the places where St. Paul lived and preached, underground monasteries and living quarters where communities lived for up to six months at a time while under attack, the famous amphitheatre that was built with miraculous accoustics and so much more. We took boat rides on the river and the Mediterranean Sea that were spectacular. The entire ten days of the trip were filled with wonderful delights in sacred sites, architecture and experiences (such as shopping in the Grand Bazaar!), but my most favorite memories of all were the Turkish people. They truly were the most hospitable, delightful, generous people I have ever met. Every where we visited we were greeted so warmly and treated like royalty with lavish meals and showered with gifts. It was unbelievable! It became a humerous joke that every where we went they just kept feeding us and feeding us. It is tradition for the Turkist people to always offer Tea ... even in the Bazaar when shopping they offer Tea. One afternoon after we had just finished a huge lunch we were escorted to the shop of a Confectioner who was a friend of one of our guides. We were guided to his special upstairs room above his store. Everyone gathered around in a circle in this small but colorfully decorated room. When the shop owner came upstairs to greet us he immediately offered us tea and candy. We politely tried to decline explaining that we had just finished lunch. He just looked at us and then proclaimed "It is impossible to have nothing!" and we all roared with laughter. And that was the theme of our time there. Everyone fed us and took very good care of us!
One of the most special parts of the trip is that we had an opportunity to dine in the home of Turkish people and one night even slept over at a Turkish household. Even though there was a language barrier, (we did have interpretors), there was a bond of love and friendship between us and we all truly realized that it truly does not matter what language you speak, what color your skin is, what faith you practice ... we are all God's children and we truly are all connected. It was so beautiful to experience.
My most favorite memory of all is when we visited a little town called Nidge. We arrived at the school around dinner time to find families standing outside waiting for us. We were ushered into their cafeteria and seated at tables specially prepared for us. The tables were set up in a U shape and families were seated at tables all around us. We were then treated to a precious performance of the five and six year old children sharing native folk dances. The first one was with little boys and little girls in native costume. At the end of the dance one little boy whipped out an American flag and another little boy whipped out a Turkish flag ... then two fathers came forward and raised the little boys up high in the air bringing the two flags together to demonstrate our unity. It truly was moving and brought me to tears. We were then treated to performances by little boys in black pants and vests with white shirts and little fake mustaches doing traditions folk dances, then dances of little boys doing the whirling dervish dances, then little girls doing a Pom Pon routine. It was delightful and they were all so happy to see us. One little girl ran up to me and threw her arms around me and said "I love you" in Engligh to me. She was obviously so proud that she had learned to say something to me in English. I was touched. We were then treated to a demonstration of how they create special paintings and we each received one as a gift and we all took turns sharing our sentiments. After the evening we were escorted to Turkish families' homes to spend the night. Upon arriving at the home we sat in the living room to get acquainted and once again were offered more food and tea. We politely declined and once again were told that "It is impossible to have nothing", and were brought sacred "Zim Zim" water and sacred dates they received when they went on pilgrimage to Mecca, as well as watermelon, cake and other goodies. It was impossible to say no! But their kindness and hospitality were overwhelming.
In addition to their hospitality, it was inspiring to see people so dedicated to their faith. I had the opportunity to experience the "call to prayer" of the Muslim people and it was beautiful. The Muslim people pray five times a day and there are places to pray set up in work places, department stores, etc. When it is time to pray everyone stops what they are doing and kneels down and says their prayers. We were traveling on the road and in one instance our guides got out and knelt down and said their prayers in an open field along the highway. I truly was touched by the entire experience! The world needs to know how true Muslim people truly are!