The Words of the Mas Family
Message From Turkey
Raymond J. Mas
September 3, 1999
With much help from Heaven, our tribe finally arrived back in Turkey, after a one-year absence. We come at a time of great anguish and pain for our nation, as it seeks to rebuild after a devastating earthquake. The earthquake hit two days before our scheduled departure. We had no idea how our brothers and sisters were, or if they were even still alive. Phone lines were either down or jammed, and all efforts to reach anyone failed. We searched our hearts in desperation for what to do. At one point we nearly postponed our trip. But, at nearly the last moment we received an email message from one of our members here, confirming that everyone was fine. I later learned that the area where the National Messiahs live lies atop hard bedrock, and is fairly impervious to earthquakes.
As some of you may know, Turkey is the modern descendant of the Ottoman Empire, which for 600 years was both the temporal and spiritual center of Islam. Islam rose to power in this nation in the 15th century, defeating the already decadent and crumbling Byzantine Empire. St. Paul walked here, and Pauline Christianity was born in this land, drenched with the blood of martyrs. The seven churches of Revelations are all here. St. John of Revelations lived here, and it is said that Mother Mary spent the last few years of her life here, brought here by St. John whom Jesus charged to take care of his mother. Ephesus, where Paul preached for two years is here, as is Paul's birthplace, Tarsus. Haran is also here, and many people say that Noah's Ark lies here atop Mr. Ararat. The legendary Tigris and Euphrates rivers begin their journey through ancient Mesopotamia here.
My first week back here was spent on assignment for the World & I (while my wife and children braved the hardships of setting up a new home in Istanbul). The Turkish government, even in the midst of so much chaos, very graciously hosted me on a tour of Christian holy sites (which are largely in southern Turkey, far from the quake's epicenter). For me it became more than just a magazine assignment. Visiting these places, made holy by the blood and sacrifice of so many martyrs, I felt their anguish, their sorrow that in this land, where they had given the last breath of their life, almost nothing remains of the foundation they had laid. As I climbed through these age-old hills, and gazed at the remnants of ancient Christianity, I prayed for these noble souls. I told them that their sacrifice had not been forgotten, that now was the time of their liberation, now was the time to lay aside their bitterness, anger and resentment. Tears gushed from my eyes, as I thanked them for the offering they had made, and as I recalled that they had longed for this day, even hoped that it would come in their lifetimes, the day of the return of the Lord. That day had finally come, I told them. Neither God, nor Jesus had forgotten them. Now was the time, I told them, to work harder than they ever had on this earth. Now was the time of the harvest, I told them. Now, they must not miss this chance. I called upon them to help us in our mission here in Turkey, and to guide their Christian descendants everywhere to the True Parents.
While on my tour I discovered the Muslims hold Mother Mary in very high regard. The house where Mary lived and died is now a Catholic shrine, officially sanctioned by Pope John Paul II (he will visit it next year). As my car took a turn on the winding mountain road to Mary's house, (which stands high on a hill about six miles outside the ancient city of Ephesus) I was greeted by a huge statue of Mary. The sight jolted me. I had never seen such an overtly Christian shrine in Turkey. In fact, it was brand new, and was part of the ongoing preparations of the Third Millennium of Christianity celebrations next year. Arriving at the house, I saw both Muslims and Christians praying together, calling upon Mary to heal their sickness, bring them fortune in life, or bless their marriage, or their business. Realizing the power of Mary here, I called upon her to work for the unity of Christians and Muslims.
Every evening, as I would return to my hotel from the often exhausting treks into remote hills, I would switch on the TV only to be greeted with the horrifying, heartbreaking images of the earthquake's devastation, not only to buildings but to the human soul. Turkey has not been an easy place for our missionaries, and it has taken its toll on the faith and sprit of many who came before us. But, watching these miserable people, I could only feel God's overwhelming pain, sorrow and pity. Perhaps this earthquake was a necessary indemnity condition for this nation to overcome the sins of its past. Yet, knowing this did not make it any easier to endure the searing images of human suffering that will forever remain with me. How much more anguish had Heavenly Father felt when he brought down the Flood Judgement?
There are still aftershocks, and many people cannot even sleep at night. Even a heavy truck passing by the building makes some people shake with fear. Inevitably, the quake has done more than shake the country physically. It has shaken many in the nation to the very spiritual core. There is much discussion about whether or not this was the will of God. Turks are a fatalistic lot, and many do think this way. Others say it is judgement for the nation's sins. The more skeptical, secular people call it an act of nature, and accuse unscrupulous contractors of building death traps.
Yet, beyond all of this there is a new spirit in this land. Many people are more visibly patient with each other. Whether or not they suffered directly from the earthquake, nearly everyone has a relative or friend who has died, or at the very least lost everything they have. Many here have been touched by the generous offers of help from so many nations, but especially from old archival Greece. A man interviewed on the street in Izmit, epicenter of the earthquake, said he now considered the Greeks his brothers, something I thought I might never hear coming from an ordinary Turk. Greece, which has been blocking European Union aid to Turkey for years, has now announced that they will lift their veto, and there is even speculation that they will lift their veto to Turkey joining the EU. Sadly, all this could probably not have come about without something as awful as a killer earthquake.
As I reflect back upon these eventful, incredible weeks, I cannot help but feel deeply grateful to the True Parents for this mission. No matter what hardships it may bring, the blessings we have far outweigh them. We can walk with the Lord while he is still on this earth. What greater blessing is there than this? We are hoping that this tragedy, which has torn open people's hearts, will allow us a chance to enter them, and that this will mark a new beginning for our movement here, and for God's providence in the Middle East.
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