"Until the suffering God concept is understood and assimilated, not many people are going to enjoy passionate love affairs with God or live worldly lives of prayer."
-William McNamara, OCSO, from "Mystical Passion: spirituality for a bored society." (New York: Paulist Press, 1977).
I guess I was ready for the invitation that came my way to take a trip with an able guide to the front lines of the scene of some of the world's most acute agony. Like many of us, I read the news with a sense of helplessness; news of violence and suffering half a world away, on top of the suffering that is to be found right around us here at home. To paraphrase a poem by Walter Brueggeman, I'd been feeling “moved by the mumbles of the gospel” amid the noise of the world's politics “even while tenured in [my] privilege.”i
At Diocesan Council meeting in late June, Bishop Rickel spoke to us about a man he'd just met - a Syriac Orthodox priest with roots in the Skagit Valley – who had come to his attention through the good people of Christ Episcopal Church in Anacortes. Bishop Rickel said: “A lot of times people will say to me, 'You just have to meet this person,' and in this case, it was really true.” He showed us a video that his staff had quickly made on the day Fr. Dale Johnson came to the Diocesan House. The video introduced Fr. Dale and his mission, called "Seeds of Hope", and the story behind it. I was intrigued by the invitation in it to join Fr. Dale on a mission to Southeast Turkey to meet refugees and help him develop his plan – made in response to a request from a refugee woman – to bring garden seeds to those refugees.
A little later Fr. Dale was the featured speaker at the Mt. Baker Regional Meeting in the Diocese. He told his story, which held us transfixed. At the end of the meeting I felt a stronger tug to accept the general invitation to join him on the trip.
After consultation with my wife and with my senior warden and some others, I found myself with a green light to follow this call. Then followed a meeting with Fr. Dale and three others from our diocese, and the planning was on.
Our “Seeds of Hope” delegation departed Seattle early the morning of September 8. With Fr. Dale were myself, Deacon Eric Johnson of Christ Church, Anacortes, Dale Ramerman of Christ Church, and Greg Rhodes of Church of the Good Shepherd, Vancouver, Washington. Alice Kapka of Christ Church, now living in Hungary as teacher, would join us in Istanbul.
Upon arrival in Istanbul by way of Toronto, we checked into our hotel, met Alice, just arrived from Budapest, and had dinner together down the street in the courtyard restaurant just outside St. Helena Chapel, the first English chapel to be built in Istanbul after the Reformation, and dedicated to the mother of Emperor Constantine, who was herself a Christian. Our table sat immediately beneath the stained glass window depicting her likeness. During dinner a band of young protestors processed loudly past. Fr. Dale explained that these protesters were Kurds protesting their oppression by the Turkish government.
We retired for the night. For some of us at least, it was not a restful night, as a disco beat from a nearby club steadily pulsed until 4 am from the alley below and voices of revelers pierced the night. The Hotel Londres is in the midst of an area known for shopping, restaurants, and nightlife.
In the morning I went to the fifth-floor rooftop cafe of the Hotel for some quiet time in the morning light which illumined the Bosphorus and the spread of Istanbul to the west. After a breakfast we made our way again to the airport to catch a 9:20 am 2-hour flight to Dyarbakir (the ancient city of Amida), a regional capital city in Southeast Turkey.