The bulk of today was spent on the bus. We had ground to cover if we wanted to conclude with a couple days in Istanbul as scheduled.
Breakfast: 7:30. Bags set out: 8:30. On bus: 8:50. Morning devotional: 8:55. Bus rolling: 9:00. We drove a short bit to the harbour of Cannakale, where we drove aboard a ferry to cross the Dardanelles to reach the Gallipoli Peninsula. From there, we were looking at 6 hours or so to Instanbul.
However, we had a few stops to make first.
The Gallipoli Peninsula is covered with a national park. If you’re a history buff, you may already know the name “Gallipoli”. I’d never heard it before. It’s a huge territory of memorial sites and cemeteries from WWI. It’s especially sacred ground to Australia and New Zealand who lost vast numbers of soldiers here when they aligned with Winston Churchill’s armies. Stops included a memorial site for the Turkish troops (then called the Ottoman empire), a cemetery for the ANZAC (Aussies and Kiwis) troops, and a spot where the trenches used in the battle for the shoreline had been restored enough to give you a sense of what the soldiers would have hidden in back in 1915.
A portion of our time was spent in silence. Charles had requested that. I needed no such prodding. Sites from battles and disasters silence me by themselves. There’s a heaviness and a stillness—even if I were in a chatty mood, it would simply be snuffed out in such moments. When I was a kid, I remember once having a terrible fear of war. I must have learned of the recruitment process that pulled young men into the world wars. Whatever my age at the time, the thought of being thrust into the middle of a war, where any moment could be one’s last—that was just too much for my young heart to bear. In some ways, it still is, and it makes me very grateful for having lived in peaceful lands during peaceful days. May my children enjoy the same.
Along the way, we had a lunch break at a gas station and café area by the highway. I ordered a plate of kofke, a fried meat dish something like mini hamburger patties. It was good enough to enjoy with a Coke. Cokes… they’ve become something of a staple during these days. We walk a lot, often in the heat of the day. I drink water most of the time, but there’s something about a cold Coke that just hits the spot. I’ll join a 12-step program when I get home and see if I can’t get myself straightened out again soon. Another little indulgence over here: Schweppes Bitter Lemon. Yum! This great little drink (still served in glass bottles) pops up in countries around the world for me. My first taste was in Zambia in 1997, and it’s been a recurring affair for me whenever opportunity presents itself. Today, I saw them. I bought two. One’s in my stomach. The other’s in my mini-bar fridge. Small pleasures…
While some of our crew tire of bus time, I must say that I am easy to please. I brought four books with me, three of which I really wanted to read. With our six hours today, I’ve now struck two of my list. “Paul: A Novel” by Walter Wangerin was a great read, particularly with us passing through many of the locations as I read. Today gave me time to finish Anne Rice’s autobiography “Called Out of Darkness”. In case you’ve never read her novels on the life of Christ, you seriously need to. They nudged me towards her autobiography, which describes her journey from faith to none and back to faith. To be frank, the first 120 pages were very slow reflections on her childhood. After that, it became what I had bought the book for.
With today’s events being fewer than usual, I’ll take a moment to say something else about the group I’ve been traveling with. I have been thoroughly blessed by three weeks (nearly) with these people. For one, they’ve been great traveling companions (nearly all the time!). For two, my soul has been blessed by sharing this trek with them. Our scheduled and unscheduled discussions have been enriched by the variety of people I’m with. In terms of church backgrounds, there are people from Alliance, Catholic, Orthodox, Reformed, Baptist, Pentecostal, Anglican, Nazarene, and one little Church of Christ fellow. And there might even be more that that! Ages range from 19-60’s, with myself being beneath the average age. There has been great chemistry within the group, and very minimal “rubbing moments”, which is something when you consider the closeness we’ve lived in for the past 18 days. I’ve been especially blessed to be traveling with three other pastors (two of whom have their wives with them). All three are old enough to be my father, and I feel fortunate for some of the conversations (from the very practical to the very abstract) we’ve had. They are godly men and faithful servants, who are serious about their roles within their churches and within Christ’s Kingdom. I’ve no doubt that I’m better for having crossed paths with these men/couples.
So here I am, on my thirty-second birthday, counting my blessings. I just got off the Skype with Shannon and a chattier-than-usual Emmanuelle, I had a small flood of emails in my inbox today, and I’m enjoying rich days in a once-in-a-lifetime Turkish experience. Truly, I am blessed, and I know it.
Good night from a grateful fellow in Istanbul.