Where Their Feet Have Trod

Ken and Betty Frank - Turkey One of the experiences you probably enjoy at a summer camp is putting your feet on the earth. There's a pristine, untouched-by-human quality we soak up in the woods or mountains, something brought home by putting your feet on the soil, as though you are the first person, or one of the first people, to be in that place. As you walk along a path, encountering natural sights and smells and sounds, you can imagine you are trailblazing, that few have gone where you walk. This freshness and rawness makes for an invigorating break from city living.

One of the experiences you probably enjoy at a summer camp is putting your feet on the earth. There's a pristine, untouched-by-human quality we soak up in the woods or mountains, something brought home by putting your feet on the soil, as though you are the first person, or one of the first people, to be in that place. As you walk along a path, encountering natural sights and smells and sounds, you can imagine you are trailblazing, that few have gone where you walk. This freshness and rawness makes for an invigorating break from city living.

Precisely the reverse sensation comes to us when our feet walk the streets of Istanbul, or any of the great cities of the Middle East. The feeling of walking streets where humans have trod for thousands of years is humbling. It is this awareness that probably intrigued our predecessors in the 1800s, American Protestants who came to the "Lands of the Bible." (When we were in Sunday School, many of these lands were labeled "Asia Minor" in our books. They should have been labeled "Turkey.") There's even a temporary disorder we've heard of called "Jerusalem syndrome," where tourists to Jerusalem are so overcome by the thrill that they are walking where Jesus walked that their mental state becomes disoriented.

Today planeloads and boatloads of Christian tourists come to Turkey to see where St. Paul preached at Ephesus, to visit the sites of the Seven Churches mentioned in Revelations, or to walk in the footsteps of the apostles. The experience inspires many. In Istanbul we share the inspiration of walking daily where earlier and famous Christians trod. We live in the Kadikoy section of Istanbul, in an area called Chalcedon in ancient times--the site of famous historical Church Councils, and a site mentioned centuries before that in the writings of Strabo. We gaze at the skyline of Istanbul, with its outline of the famous St. Sophia church, now a museum, that was first built in the 500s.

But our feet in Turkey walk on top of many other civilizations, not only the Christian ones. We mentioned the Greeks and Romans whose roads we travel. The Hittites were there even before them. Then there are ubiquitous remains of the Ottoman civilization: huge imperial mosques, labyrinthine markets, old cemeteries, and so on, where we walk today, where millions have walked before us. Today's civilization of the modern secular Republic of Turkey now makes its own layers and paths on top of the past. And where we walk now, generations will later trod.

The grandeur and endurance of these ancient paths, and the examples set by the famous personages who walked these paths, push us to greater appreciation of life, of history, and of enduring values. We do feel that push. But it's mixed with something else, something that complicates the picture. Together with the glory of the past comes the horror of the past. Are we are doomed to repeat the errors of previous civilizations? Must every human endeavor come to ruin? As we tread the paths of the past, both feelings swirl around us--gloom and grandeur. Where lies our hope? It seems to lie within us and yet beyond us.

What we have seen in walking in these historical lands is the tremendous plurality of culture, religion, insights, and philosophies of which human beings are capable. We are pulled out of the limitations of our own upbringing, culture, and traditions, to absorb the impact of the record of humanity. To grasp this plurality is an experience of transcendence. To live this diversity is to be grateful that we, too, through our own particular Christian traditions, can express our longings for peace and harmony within history. 

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).