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Taksim Area bombing

Emergency services inspect the area of the blast. Photograph: Burak Kara/Getty Images

A month earlier I was walking this very street in Istanbul.

Before noon on this Istanbul Saturday morning, a suicide bomber exploded, killing five people and injuring scores more in the very busy boulevard that forms the Taksim Square markets. Istiklal Street is the major path way through the heart of the district – the road we had just traversed over a dozen times in the first few days of our recent visit to Turkey (see the diagram in this Guardian article).

It was a lively, vibrant area filled with tourists and Turks of all ages going to work or play or dine. It seemed so far away emotionally as it was geographically from the Syrian border and the dynamics of war. Turkey is fighting battles on several fronts, including with its own very large Kurdish minority, who are increasingly finding this opportunity to demand their own oft-denied homeland that would threaten to take parts of Turkey and surrounding territories. Increasingly the world is asking “Who are the Kurds?

While friends and family wondered aloud about our sanity for vacationing in Turkey, the four of us who formed this intrepid troop, happily (naively) traipsed from Istanbul, down the west coast to old Ephesus, working our way east to Cappadocia.  All the while, experiencing the best of human nature: generosity, hospitality, safety, and fair bartering (can there be such a thing?).

At no time did I feel anxious that something bad might happen. But near the end of our trip, there had been a blast in the capital, Ankara, and now today’s blast in Istanbul show how very different things are becoming. The otherwise friendly Turks are already feeling the pinch of lost tourism, and I am afraid today’s explosion will further damage their economy.

There but for the grace of God, go I.

There were many highlights to the trip that now would sound trite in light of the recent tragedy. Like any trip with friends and family, the best is what you learn to appreciate in them, what you see in yourself, and what you find unexpectedly in strangers.

When we made our way back to Istanbul to complete our little loop in Turkey, we coincidentally (by great providence) booked a room from a resident Turk and his girlfriend, Jen Hartin, who had recently become very involved with “Small Projects Istanbul.”

Jen is with Urban Adventures who found us as her first customers for a tour they are creating to visit the “Olive Tree Community Education Centre.” This is part of Urban Adventures’ “In Focus Tours” – designed to go “under the tourist line” in order to meet workers, Syrians & other refugees at the centre.

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Image features our tour: In Focus: The Olive Tree of Istanbul

I recommend you read this interview with Shannon Kay, the Co-Director of Small Projects Istanbul (SPI) and the manager of the Olive Tree Centre in Istanbul. Originally from Melbourne, Australia, Shannon appeared to be characteristic of a person who originally came on an “internship” – only to find the place where her deep gladness met the world’s deep hunger.

This ambitious “little” project spun out from founder Karyn Thomas’ drive and desire – which is apparently infectious. While we were there, she was at Harvard being recognized with their “Women Inspiring Change” honours.

There but for the grace of God, go I

So here it is: I missed a bomb; caught a small project that fights above its weight class; and wonder what more is expected of me, and of us, now? Our church awaits our Syrian family to arrive, and increasingly we are being called to bring all forms of justice as an expression of the Author of a searching mercy.

As I said in “Do we get what we deserve?“:

In the end, we do not get what we deserve; we do not get what we think we are entitled to; we get grace.

May we recognize the grace and mercy of Our Lord.  This is more of that…

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