June 9, 2009
On May 11th, my basketball mission trip to Turkey began. After an 8 hour flight, a 9 hour layover in Amsterdam, and another three hour flight, we finally reached Istanbul, Turkey. Our group consisted of two coaches, seven girls, eight guys, and one of their wives (who was dubbed as the team `mom’). Istanbul was a city resting on both Asia and Europe, and was home to about 15 million people. It was a huge city surrounding the Bosphorus canal, which connects both the Black and Mediterranean Seas. We planned on participating in a sportsfest at Bogazici University against teams from all over the world, interacting with students and other participants, reflecting God in the way that we played and acted, and experiencing a little bit of the Turkish culture.
On our first two days, we were able to recover from jet lag, practice at a local high school, and explore part of the city. The people in Turkey were very friendly and many spoke at least a little bit of English. In my opinion, the food wasn’t very appetizing, but some of the players liked it. One of their favorite dishes was lamb, which I wasn’t too keen on; I usually stuck with the chicken kabob with rice and beans (a safe meal). And although we were usually able to find something we liked at every restaurant, we had a Burger King around the corner from our hotel for when we began to miss the good ole’ American food too much. The day before our tournament began, the university provided all of the teams with a ferry ride that took as to some popular places in Istanbul such as the Hagia Sophia, the Grand Bazaar, and the Blue Masque. On that particular part of town, the prayer call was played about five times each day. Turkey is about 98 percent Muslim and each time this call was played, many of the Muslims would walk to the local masques to pray. It was sad to hear this call and see so many people praying and giving credit and praise to the wrong god. That night, we went to the opening ceremonies and parade of participants. Over the next four days, we played in the Sportsfest. Every morning we took a 45-minute bus ride across town to the university. We played all but one of our five games on an outside court where the crowd would multiply each time the Americans played. Because it was so hot and we could not drink the water in Turkey, we were constantly buying bottled water to keep us hydrated. Both our guy’s teams and us got first place in the tournament and won gold medals at the closing ceremonies. We defeated Bulgaria, Romania, the Bogazici team forfeited, Lebanon and Bulgaria once again in the championship. Most of the teams were very friendly so we usually took pictures, exchanged t-shirts, etc. after our games. We were able to talk to some students, guides, and players, and although they might not have been saved, they asked many questions about Christ and some surprisingly had never even heard the story of Jesus before.
After the tournament, we were able to do some sight seeing. We visited a breathtaking Rumeli’s fortress, and went back to the Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar to buy souvenirs. Although it seemed like we were always busy and had hardly any free time, everything was beautiful and exciting and we weren’t even able to see everything! While in Turkey, I saw some of the most breathtaking scenery I’ve ever seen in my life. Most of that is attributed to the final place we visited. On our second to last day, we took an hour-long plane ride to Izmir, (ancient name is Smyrna) where we visited the biblical town of Ephesus. We had a guided tour through this town’s ruins, which was the home of Luke and John, two of Jesus’ disciples. It was also where the Apostle Paul preached the good news to the masses and was arrested, and was also the city where Jesus’ mother, Mary, died. It was dated back to as far as 2000 B.C. and consisted of magnificent buildings and structures. The most outstanding was the Grand Theater where Paul had preached after being criticized after writing the letter of Ephesians. This arena could hold up to 24,000 people and it is still in fairly good condition. Ephesus was probably the highlight of my trip. It was amazing to see this ancient city and walk where some of the world’s most faithful and prominent Christians walked many years ago. That night, we stayed at a beautiful resort on the beach of the Aegean Sea. We returned the next morning, did a little bit more sightseeing, and went to bed early because our flight left at 5 A.M. on May 22nd.
My trip to Turkey was without a doubt a life changing experience. It was the farthest from home that I had ever been, and I often caught myself taking pictures of the same things over and over because I just couldn’t get enough! Everyone got along great and I made some awesome friends. The sad thing is that there is so much more work to be done in Turkey, other countries, as well as in the United States. With so many Muslims in Turkey, it’s simply impossible to reach that many people in so little time and it sometimes impossible that anyone ever will. But like a single match that can cause an enormous fire, I hope that we lit a spark in Turkey that can possibly spread and make a difference in many lives.
– Lindsay Welker
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