In 2014 Cathryn Hoard, an American living in Ankara, was visiting Portland, OR and attended a one-day Godly Play workshop with Trainer Caryl Menkhus Creswell. Inspired by the experience, Cathryn was determined to introduce Godly Play to the small Christian community in Turkey. Cathryn is on the board of a publishing house, an organization called Kucak Ministries which provides resources for those in ministry with children. Kucak means “embrace,” and their logo depicts an adult with arms wrapped around a child. They run summer camps, provide Sunday School materials, and organize an annual children’s ministry conference. This year the annual retreat was held in Antalya, situated on the southern coast of Turkey. We were actually there at the same time as the G20 talks! There are about 5000 Protestant Christians living in Turkey. Cathryn and her husband Andy were wonderful hosts. They have lived in Turkey for 25 years and helped found the International Protestant Church of Ankara, which is a non-denominational church offering Sunday services in different languages for Turkish Christians and Christian immigrants from many different places, including Iran and Korea.
There were about 35 participants at the conference, and other than community worship the entire schedule from Thursday evening through midday Sunday was devoted to learning about Godly Play. I was able to provide a full session with The Great Family and subsequently two partial sessions in which I presented the Parable of the Good Shepherd with a work time and the Faces of Easter lesson followed by prayers and feast. I arrived a few days before the conference to give myself time to recover from jet lag and to help the Kujak office in Ankara put together lesson materials. I took with me what I could. They had copied the pictures which we colored and laminated and then cut out felt shapes and underlays. I was impressed that we put together five parables in one afternoon! We took one storage box from the office with the intention of locating gold wrapping paper on route to Antalya (an 8 hour drive). This turned out to be the most challenging task of all! We found every color other than gold, and I had to keep insisting that only gold would do! I took with me a gift from my church of the Faces of Easter. I gave them a gift of two sets of people of God figures, a small version of the Creation story, the Easter Mystery puzzle, and the Holy Family set. They pulled together a chain, white felt circles, candles, a snuffer, and blue felt. This meant it was possible to break into groups and to practice with about 12 lessons. It was clear that the practice and presentation times deeply engaged all the participants, and it made me feel that the time gathering materials ahead of the trip was well worth the effort. The group exhibited such a playful yet serious approach to this work. Laughter and animated conversation filled the space.
The two translators had read and translated all the lessons in the schedule before I arrived, and this made it effortless for me as a storyteller. As one person said, “the translation process flowed like water.” Kayra and Bacak (the translators) did not stop me once during the storytelling, and they translated the stories into Turkish easily as they were already familiar with the language of Godly Play. They were also able to easily translate the responses during the wondering as well. It was a little harder with plenary presentations, but they took time to be sure they understood the intention of words and expressions that I used and would ask clarifying questions if necessary. What a gift they were to this conference! The Turkish people also innately understand that “we have all the time that we need” as there was never any sign of impatience or frustration that the process took a long time since constant translation was necessary. The two phrases that were repeated by participants several times during that four days were: “Trust God, and trust the process,” and “We need a paradigm shift in Turkey.” I came away with more of an understanding of the cultural context within which this small Christian community is situated. Every morning at 5 a.m. the call to worship would sound from minarets around the city (often accompanied by howling dogs!) and again at certain times during the day. They come together as a community that feels a deep need to be grounded in a strong sense of Christian identity and connection with each other since they are a minority in this country. Some of them come from different places and cultures too. I don’t think I will ever hear the following words from the Exile and the Return, “the people began to understand that God was in this place, too. God’s presence came to them as they gathered to read the scriptures, to tell the old stories and to pray” or see the small group of wooden figures turned toward each other between the rivers without thinking of the remarkable group of people I met with in Turkey.
US Godly Play Foundation Trainer