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June 25, 2009

Turkish Despatches – June 09 5: Having enemies, loving enemies

by quaesitor

After lunch yesterday, and before our next meeting, one of my Turkish friends and I wandered through the mayhem of Beşiktaş’ backstreets. In the middle of the market place is an old Greek Orthodox church (they have a web presence of sorts here). You’d miss it if you didn’t know it was there – the only indication is a chi-rho symbol above the lintel of an old door set deep in a white-washed wall. Apparently, there is a cool, tree-covered courtyard on the other side (see right), which is no doubt a real refuge from the fierceness of the midday sun.

But I say ‘apparently’ because we never made it through the door. The Muslim shopkeeper next door advised us that the church never receives visitors but we tried our luck anyway. And there was just a voice on the intercom who said “we’re closed – we only take visitors from 9-11 on Sunday mornings”.

Now if you know anything about the fate of Orthodox Christians since the fall of the ottoman Empire, then you’ll know that this siege mentality is entirely understandable. 1000s upon 1000s of ethnic Greeks were forcibly removed from the new Turkey (see despatch 3) – and having been a large, thriving community, the Istanbul Greek community is now minuscule.

But one thing that has changed is that Turkey is experiencing the relatively new phenomenon of Turkish Christians (if an Ottoman Muslim converted, he/she was simply executed as was the one who evangelised). And they face incomprehension, opposition, and sometimes vicious hostility. I’ve touched on this in a number of previous blog posts, of course.

But as various people have related their experiences of all of this to me, i’ve been greatly impressed by people’s willingness to face suffering. That it will happen goes without saying here. But how you respond to it… well that’s a different matter. In Antakya, one believer described the nightmare the family have because of their neighbour: Constant abuse and insults shouted from the upstairs rooftop living area. To which the believer said, we have to love him. The reason is obvious: even though we might be treated as enemies, Jesus commands us to love our enemies.

And then it struck me like a thunderbolt. It’s completely obvious – and I’m sure you’ve thought of it often. But i’m slow of brain and it had never occurred to me. In order to love your enemies, you’ve got to have enemies! Of course, I DO NOT mean we go out looking for enemies! Jesus is simply getting at the point that people in the world treat us as their enemies. And you will only have that if you are out there. You see:

  • Loving your enemies is a discipleship imperative that you can only obey WHEN YOU HAVE ENEMIES.
  • And you’ll only have enemies if you are out there trying to do your best to live for Christ, flaws and all.
  • And you can only show your love for those who treat you like this if you try to be in relationship with your enemies..

I understand the siege mentality completely. And I can so easily see myself succumbing to it. But a locked door and an intercom will never provide opportunities to love, however hostile the people we encounter are.

My Turkish brothers and sisters have showed me that – and i have found that a profound challenge.

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