Working for Peace with Muslims and Christians
…Gift of Unexpected Grace
…Gift of Unexpected Grace
I’d been in Turkey about fifteen years, working as a school librarian and worshipping with a tiny congregation of Christians amidst the sea of Muslims that make up modern Turkey. I took part in their prayer group led by Cemal*, a Turk of Syrian ancestry who was so committed to his faith that many regional Christians came to depend upon him. When his wife, who had briefly converted to Christianity, returned to Islam and sought a divorce, he refused for the sake of their six children. She, however, convinced a close police friend that Cemal was a fanatic and mentally ill, signing a complaint against him. The Police Department sent a squad to take Cemal to the mental hospital. In Turkey in those days, it was common for Christians to have phones tapped and to expect that there would be undercover spies in worship meetings. But Cemal’s Christian brothers never expected that their leader would be taken away from them on a false charge of fanaticism and mental illness.
“You’re our only hope, as a foreigner whom they will listen to,” one of his closest friends said to me.
“Hospital officials won’t listen to us at all. Please go and plead for his release.” It was risky to challenge the decision of the Police Department, but not fully understanding the consequences, I agreed to go. I carefully listed many reasons Cemal should be returned to his home, then went to the hospital to talk with the head doctor. He brought me before eight or ten men in a conference room. They began to ask me very detailed questions about myself, my relationship with Cemal and my perceptions of what is considered normal behavior in Turkish and American cultures.
After twenty-some minutes of this, one announced “He’s well!”
I thought “Is the doctor talking about Cemal or about me?” Then I realized that among those questioning me were psychiatric staff, and that they had finally confirmed that it was I that was not a nut case; the head doctor in fact put a note on file that the hospital had released Cemal and would refuse to admit him if a complaint were brought against him again.
I did face a very angry backlash from the Vice Principal over security (who had heard from the police) when I got back to my school. But fortunately I didn’t lose my job over it. I was able to stay on in Turkey to benefit from Christians there who were far ahead of me in commitment and in understanding of what faith means in tough times.
*not his real name.
– by Judith Favor
You're our only hope, as a foreigner whom they will listen to
Doug Wallace graduated from Pomona College, Claremont, CA then received a masters in Library Science from U C Berkeley and later a masters in History from Wichita State University. For 27 years he served in the American Board School (UCC) in Istanbul, Turkey as librarian and intense outreach to Christian Refugees from Iran, Iraq, and Armenia and especially from Nigeria. He entered Pilgrim Place in 2003 and did extensive volunteer work for 12 years in Prison Library, mailing books to prisoners world wide, providing 420 inmates material each week.
– by Constance Waddell