Jesus was once asked, “who is my neighbour?” It’s the question I could not get out of my head in my recent visit to the Baptist Church in Adana, Turkey. Currently a congregation of 15 people, they have been serving those impacted by the earthquake in the south east of their region.
Our first visit was to the local hospital, delivering some hygiene products. We then drove around the corner to the Children’s Accident and Emergency ward where we dropped off some nappies. The team were welcomed as friends; after all, they have been visiting this hospital since the earthquake, caring for the injured, traumatised and regular patients.
However, our next stop was a further 100km away. A small city at the start of the significantly affected areas. As we drove into the first street, children waved at the arrival of the little blue van. We travelled around the city between the damaged homes, spaces where there used to be homes and tent villages of the now homeless local population. But it was not the football fields full of tents we had come to visit. Those living in official camps are well cared for by the municipality.
We came 100km for the families living in tents in the gardens of family members. We dropped off three boxes of food at the local stationery shop where three families would later collect them. A few more boxes at the sports cafe for others, where the local community leader pulls over in his car. It is these community leaders who are identifying those most in need in their localities. While large NGOs feed the masses, the Baptist community is travelling 100km to find those who are struggling the most and meeting their needs.
Jesus answers the question, “Who is my neighbour?” by telling the story of the Good Samaritan, a story of interracial, interfaith care. And of course, that is what is happening in Turkey. This small band of faithful Baptists serve their Muslim neighbours by travelling 100km to find the ones who are in need.
But the story does not end there. A further two-hours drive down the highway, we reach the city of Hatay; in the Bible, they called it Antioch. We have an appointment to meet the mayor. Hatay is possibly the worst affected city in Turkey, the devastation is overwhelming. Turkish Baptist Aid are sending mattresses to be placed in over 100 container homes in the town. We were visiting the mayor to ask if there was anything else we could help with.
The mayor, a moderate Muslim, had never heard of Baptists or Protestant Christians before. He was curious to hear the testimony of the team, especially those who had converted from Islam. Eventually, after a long conversation, he told us that they need 1,000 fabricated homes for people to live in. This would not solve the problem but along with the homes shipped from the World Cup in Qatar — the shipping container homes that were arriving 2 to a lorry — he might be able to start the work of rebuilding the city. He wants to get people out of tents before winter, and create a city of peace for Muslims, Jews, people of no faith and now this new group, the Baptists.
I can’t remember any other 48 hours of my life when my understanding of a simple biblical question was more stretched than by the practices of these few faithful witnesses. Jesus' other words are now ringing in my ears, “Go and do likewise.”