How would you describe the work of our partner in Turkey?
Uskudar American Academy was founded in 1876 by missionaries of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. The school was established in partnership with the Armenian community and was dedicated to giving quality education to girls. Though most of the students were Armenians, some of the students were Greek, Jewish and a few were Muslim. Today Uskudar American Academy is a 5-year high school with 800 students. Though most of the students and faculty are Muslim, some are Christian and Jewish. The school provides a high quality of education with a multilingual, multiethnic and international outlook. Our graduates go on to make a difference in the world.
The objectives of UAA as stated on the school’s website:
“The whole art of teaching is only the art of awakening the natural curiosity of the mind.” Anatole France (French author)
The aim is for students taught at Üsküdar American Academy to become inquisitive, self-confident individuals who take pleasure from learning and who have the linguistic, scientific and cultural knowledge and skills to live in any society in Turkey or elsewhere in the world. Our school has never veered from the path of its philosophy and objectives, and its academic program is prepared with the aim of ensuring that its graduates are:
EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATORS WHO:
- Are skilled and articulate communicators in multiple languages.
- Understand, analyze, and interpret what is read, seen, or heard.
- Write for different purposes and audiences.
HEALTHY INDIVIDUALS WHO:
- Maintain balanced lifestyles that are physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually healthy.
- Explore their own talents, motivations, and interests.
- Demonstrate confidence, motivation, and self-reliance.
COLLABORATIVE CONTRIBUTORS WHO:
- Work effectively as constructive members of a group as a leader or team member.
- Understand group dynamics and select appropriate methods to attain a goal.
- Develop strong listening skills.
- Understand, respect, and articulate the perspectives of others.
COMPLEX THINKERS WHO:
- Are numerically literate and able to interpret information presented in a variety of formats.
- Use critical and logical thinking skills.
- Are creative in generating ideas and solutions.
- Collect, evaluate, synthesize, and apply information and knowledge.
- Select and use appropriate technology to achieve specific goals.
GLOBAL CITIZENS WHO:
- Reflect Atatürk’s principles.
- Are conscious of and develop a respect for world cultures and religions, including their art, music and literature.
- Comprehend the impact of major trends within history.
- Demonstrate concern and respect for others and the environment.
- Function as productive, ethical, and contributing members of the global community.
How does your work fit with the mission of our partner?
I am working with partners that are for the most part Muslim. It is living the witness of a Christian as a minority. It is being in solidarity with Christians, Muslims and Jews who affirm the importance of a multicultural and multilingual education for the youth of Turkey. As Turkey repositions itself in the heart of the issues of the Middle East, I am more aware of interfaith dimensions of my work as well as the importance of a deeper historical and sociological dimension of the people of the region. Education of the youth is tremendously important. To have worked with youth in Turkey for over 30 years I have been privileged to see the impacts their lives are having all around me. In these last days, as many of our graduates have been protesting in Taksim Square, I value even more the basic 5 objectives Uskudar American Academy holds for its graduates. I am also privileged to be working with a truly caring faculty as we work together to bring the best out of one another. My predecessors would be proud of what our schools are doing today. Within the last year, Founders Day has been established by one of our graduates and a teacher and dean of one of our schools. Founders Day honors the legacy of the American Board and brings together schools in Turkey, Greece and Lebanon. Tears came to my eyes as I listened to Turkish, Greek and Arabic being spoken on the bus. There is a rich legacy in the region and it is now up to the people of the region to honor the best elements of service, as the fulfillment of individual potential. God gives each and every one of us gifts. It is for us to develop these gifts and to offer them back to God.
What led you to engage in this calling?
I had a chance to do an interview on this topic with the UCC's publication, Common Lot, you can read that here (pdf).
Are there passages that have special meaning in your daily work?
Luke 12:48 – I have had a great deal given to me and I work with youth who have material comfort. It is for us to give back to society.
Luke 19:41-44 – I at times despair over the state of humankind and weep with Jesus
Philippians 2:1-11 – This ancient hymn puts everything in perspective for me when I get caught up in my own world
Romans 8:18-21 – We need to care for all of creation
The Book of Acts with Paul’s missionary journey throughout Asia Minor
What are some of the challenges that Turkey is facing?
The youth need our prayers as they face an increasingly complicated life with economic and social challenges
The people of Turkey need our prayers as they enter a new phase in their development as a democratic republic and fight for freedom of expression
Those who are a minority need our prayers so that they do not constantly face stereotyping and hostility from the majority
Migrants and refugees who enter Turkey by the thousands from Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Nigeria, Ghana, Somalia, The Sudan, Armenia, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and numerous other countries … they need our prayers
We need to pray for wisdom and vision in the leadership of our institutions, of our countries, of our religious institutions
We pray for tolerance and working together for the common good of humanity and of all of creation
What is a lesson you have learned from the people of Turkey that you feel should be shared with churches in the U.S.?
Hospitality and the importance of community … when a person enters your office, your store, your home, they become the most important person in the world. This is hospitality and it is very profound. I remember when a Turkish friend of mine moved to the USA and I asked him his opinion of Americans. He said that even though Americans are very friendly, they appear to be lonely. Have our personal agendas and the individual at all costs mentality taken away so much of our community and our common humanity? When the church lights are switched off and the front door is locked within a half hour of the closing of the church service, and the lonely elderly widow is standing outside the door with no one at home, where has community failed her? For a day may come when we are that elderly widow or widower standing outside the door with no one to share a meal with. Hospitality is inclusive and concerned.
Which books have been useful for developing your understanding of Turkey?
- A Shameful Act: The Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility
- Turkey Unveiled: A History of Modern Turkey
- Sons of the Conquerors: The Rise of the Turkic World
- Crescent and Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds
- Birds Without Wings
- Biblical Sites in Turkey
- A Short History of Byzantium
- The Ottomans: Dissolving Images
- The Ottoman Turks: An Introductory History to 1923
- A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East
Which films have influenced your understanding of your work?
- For education: Dead Poets Society
- For the meaning of redemption: Dead Man Walking
- Turkish Film dealing with the Kurds:Yol
- Turkish film depicting the hardships people faced when a border was established between Turkey and Syria: Propaganda