A few weeks ago, the Christian women of
Istanbul came together for the Women's World Day of Prayer featuring Cameroon. The website for the World Day of Prayer (http://www.worlddayofprayer.net/ ) describes this yearly celebration in March as a "global, ecumenical movement of informed prayer and prayerful action where Christian women of many traditions come together to observe a common day of prayer each year, and who, in many countries, have a continuing relationship in prayer and service." Since a different group of women write the worship service each year, Christian women from 170 countries can learn and share the concerns of women in one particular country. By deepening understanding and encouraging empathy, Christian women need not feel isolated but can reach out globally and ecumenically to their sisters in faith around the world.
Christian women of Istanbul from diverse traditions have been coming together since 1962 to translate into Turkish and to celebrate the Women's World Day of Prayer. Istanbul has an extremely small yet amazingly diverse group of Christians, including Orthodox, Catholic and Protestants. Every year a different church in Istanbul hosts the worship service. This year we were in a Chaldean church. The priest of the church welcomed us before we launched into passages describing life in Cameroon, scriptural passages and songs. We were fortunate to have two women from Cameroon who were particularly interested in the slide show displaying photos of the people and places of Cameroon.
The scriptural passages were taken from Isaiah 42:10-17 and from Acts 16:16-34. Part of the Acts reading was read in Turkish, Chaldean, English, Armenian, French, Greek, German, Arabic, Italian and Assyrian. It was adapted to the life context of the Christian women who wrote the service. The comments focused on the treatment, exploitation and challenges facing girls in Cameroon.
I could not help but think of how some girls are treated in Turkey. The girls in my school are lucky because they have parents who believe in them and sacrifice to educate them. This is certainly not the story in all parts of Turkey (and the world) where one does not "waste" resources on girls. A problem still exists in parts of Turkey where girls are not sent to school. A few years ago there was an effort in Turkey on behalf of the Turkish Ministry of Education and UNICEF to send girls to school. The project was called "HAYDI KIZLAR OKULA", roughly meaning, "Come on Girls, Let's Go to School". This campaign has resulted in an increased enrollment of 74,500 girls during the same time 52,800 more boys were enrolled. Information taken from the UNICEF website http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/Turkey.html
The small Chaldean Church was full that Saturday afternoon with women from many nations and many faith traditions. For those few hours we shared the stories of the Cameroonian people and we personally related parts of their story to our story. We were bonded together in worship and prayer for a brief period of time before we walked out the door to resume our individual lives. I could appreciate, though, the faith that does bind us.
I want to end this by quoting the Invocation of this worship service.
God, you are our refuge and strength, ever ready to help, strengthen, guide and enlighten us in times of joy and sadness. Though the earth is shaken and the mountains fall into the ocean depth, though the seas roar and rage and the hills are shaken by violence, O God, we know that you are near. We will not be afraid when drought persists and deserts bear no more oats, when floods, landslides, and other disasters are destroying our land. Come Holy Spirit; breathe upon the nations of the world and upon all living things. Fill all with your power and love. Lift up our hearts and bless us. AMEN
Selam / Shalom / Peace be upon you
Alison Stendahl serves with the Near East Mission, Istanbul, Turkey. She is Academic Dean of and a math teacher at Uskudar American Academy in Istanbul Turkey.