Common Questions Asked of Our Work in Turkey

Common Questions Asked of Our Work in Turkey

Ken and Betty Frank – Turkey

We have just completed a six-month Home Assignment in the USA. The statistics show that we gave a total of 67 programs, both separately and as a couple, to various church and church-related groups, both in Southern California and in New England, and especially in Connecticut.

We found that the members of the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) came up with the same Frequently Asked Questions about Turkey, the Middle East, Islam and Muslims, and our work. Here are some of them…

We have just completed a six-month Home Assignment in the USA. The statistics show that we gave a total of 67 programs, both separately and as a couple, to various church and church-related groups, both in Southern California and in New England, and especially in Connecticut.

We found that the members of the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) came up with the same Frequently Asked Questions about Turkey, the Middle East, Islam and Muslims, and our work. Here are some of them…

Question: Do you feel safe in Turkey?
Reply: Yes. The mostly threatening daily factor is the traffic of Istanbul. It is over-crowded, both in terms of vehicles and pedestrians on the street. Many drivers seem reckless. The crowding forces them to drive and park in pedestrian areas. Sometimes the numbers of people who are shopping leads to pedestrian gridlock. But on the other hand the Los Angeles freeways are also pretty frightening.

Question: Are Muslim extremists gaining ground in Turkey?
Reply: No. The Turkish government, which is secular and democratic, is highly sensitive to religious extremism and cracks down swiftly on those who use violence or advocate the overthrow of the state. The Turkish military sees itself as the guardian of Turkish secularism and has not hesitated to speak out or even take action if it thinks civilians are not doing enough to prevent religious extremism.

Question: How are you treated as American Christians?
Reply:
Very well. We find most Turks treat us in a respectful and friendly way as individuals and not as a labeled category. We always have felt welcome. Other foreigners report the same thing. We are free to worship and to talk openly with our friends and neighbors about religious matters. But the “American” part of our identity often provokes brotherly/sisterly lectures to us about the errors of US foreign policy in the Middle East, and especially in Iraq. The enormous goodwill toward the USA immediately following 9/11 has unfortunately been squandered by the US through its global use of violence against Muslim populations — a violence that appears to be nothing more than revenge.

Question: Will Turkey join the European Union?
Reply:
We can’t tell. The issue has been unresolved since Turkey first applied, in 1961. It seems to us to be a matter of living with diversity. Europeans need to decide that they will live and work with Muslims on an equal basis, and Turks should accept that they will promote a more pluralist civil society. These are questions of political will on both sides. Turkey is part European and part Middle Eastern. It is always changing, as cultures and nations do, but it will never be all one or all the other.

Question: Why don’t we hear Muslim leaders condemn terrorism and extremists?
Reply:
The voices are there. When we googled “fatwa against terrorism,” we got 13,600 hits (without the quotes there were 572,000). You’ll find vast numbers of denunciations of violence and terror by Muslims leaders. A fatwa is a ruling or legal opinion from an Islamic scholar. Since there is no centralized, international priestly hierarchy in Islam, many Muslims turn to local scholars for guidance in daily living.

Question: What do you do in Turkey?
Reply:
A dozen different things, and no day is the same. We deal with education and health administration, refugees, earthquake survivors, ecumenical church leaders, library and archives and research, and Christian-Muslim dialogue. We answered this question in detail in a previous letter,  “What Do We Do?”

Question:  How are women treated in Turkey?
Reply:
Turkey’s sub-cultures are mostly patriarchal, like in the US, with the same kinds of issues women face under patriarchy. This topic deserves a full letter we will write soon. Meanwhile, we recommend an interview with Leila Ahmed on American Public Media Radio entitled,  “Muslim Women and Other Misunderstandings.”

Every day in Turkey brings its opportunities and chances to increase understanding between people, to implement more compassion and work for greater fairness, and to show others the love that God has shown us in the lives of admirable Christians and Muslims. Probably the hardest thing is always to keep a sense of humor!

Peace,
Ken & Betty Frank
Ken & Betty Frank serve as missionaries with the American Board in Istanbul, Turkey.  They share the job of General Secretary of the American Board.  They also serve on the board of the Istanbul Interparish Migrant Program (IIMP).