Woman to Woman Reflection on the Istanbul Interparish Migrant Program, Turkey
Donna Webster, Director of Women’s Ministries, Christian Church in VA
On the front lawn of Snowville Christian Church which my husband pastors, there stands a sign that speaks to the church’s mission; the mission of hospitality. As our congregation welcomes new visitors from neighboring communities, I often think about the Gospel of Peter and the Book of Job. Peter calls us to “practice hospitality ungrudgingly to one another” (1 Pet. 4:9), while Job puts it this way: “I have [willingly, graciously] opened my doors to the wayfarer” (Job 31:32). But after spending two weeks in Turkey on behalf of our Region, and visiting with a refugee and immigrant program called the Istanbul Interparish Migrant Program (IIMP), I find myself fixated on the scripture that comes from the Book Of Hebrew; Hebrews 13:1-2. The scripture tells us, all of us, we should “let brotherly love continue,” being careful not to neglect “to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” As I have reread this scripture many times since my return, I also think of the words that have been found on several billboards across the nation, “What part of “love your neighbor” do you not understand?
At IIMP, we met and visited with refugees from several bordering countries (Turkey borders Georgia, Armenia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Greece, Bulgaria, and Azerbaijan). Our guide was Betty Frank, our Global Ministries missionary to Turkey. Betty introduced us to Cathy Phillips, the program’s director and her volunteer staff. The program primarily serves families with women and children.
Betty arranged for us to arrive at 11:00 a.m. We entered a beautiful brick courtyard, were served a big bowl of homemade lentil soup and bread, and Betty asked us to select a refugee family to talk to during lunch. I chose a family from Nigeria. I talked with the aunt, a woman around 55 yrs of age, her niece, of about 33 years of age, and the niece’s two small children-boys of around 5 and7. The family all spoke English. I learned later that language interpretation is always an issue there. The main languages used on a regular basis are English, French, Amharic and Arabic. She said she worked in an office in Nigeria but here in Turkey it’s hard to find a job because of her refugee status (refugees are not allowed to work in Turkey,) and the Turkish culture whereby most women, except professional women, stay at-home. Survival must be tough for my new found Christian sister, but I saw a sense of peace within her. I attributed her peace to her faith in Jesus and also her relationship with IIMP. At the end of the exchange, we took several pictures; one with her and her two boys, and one with the four of us. She asked me for my email address, I gave it to her and she said once she got settled and found a computer, she would write. I, in turn promised to email her photos of the visit.
I have been thinking about her and the other refugees since my return. What a blessing that this program exists. IIMP provides refugees, immigrants and migrants, language classes, a weekly meal, a $35.00 monthly meal subsidy, clothes, medical assistance and legal help finding a county in which to settle or assistance returning home. With nutrition always at risk, the children’s vitamins Disciple Women provided during the visit were a blessing (The vitamins were collected as a pre-mission project among regions).
I left IIMP with a sense of gladness knowing that our offerings to Global Ministries provides quality ministry and experienced people such as Betty and Ken Frank, our missionaries assigned to Turkey. The work they, the staff and the volunteers do to help the “wayfarer” at IIMP is exactly what God must have had in mind. I was more than pleased when we, Disciples Women, selected this program as an upcoming spring project.
The Woman to Woman Program is Woman-to-Woman is sponsored by the International Disciples Women’s Ministries and administered through the Office of Disciples Women, a ministry of Disciples Home Missions, in conjunction with the Division of Overseas Ministries.
Woman-to-Woman responds to the call for church women to experience solidarity with one another, to affirm the unity of the church in Jesus Christ and to join the common struggle for justice and peace in the world today. These international, ecumenical and personal experiences encourage faithful women to see the world through new eyes and bring that perspective back to their congregation and community.