Today evil in the form of a suicide bomber ended the lives of ten people. They were tourists to Istanbul, there to see the wonders of the city once named Constantinople. Just two months ago, I stood on the very spot it happened — a dozen times I walked through it to explore beyond the concentrated historic sites of Sultanahmet.
It is there, beside the German Fountain (photo below), that nine German tourists and one Peruvian lost their lives.
This is the first time that news of terror pulled me immediately to the place and the people, the first time I could envision what is usually distant and unimaginable. The videos taken immediately at the scene, smoke from the blast still dissipating, showed horrified vendors and shopkeepers who witnessed parts of bodies as they fled. I cannot, I will not, imagine their deaths — I choose to think of their lives.
I think too, of the Syrian refugees scattered throughout the city of 14 million, choked from their homeland to sit cross-legged on the sidewalks silently pleading for help. They need it to survive, but their downcast eyes hint of shame when help is given. How compounded will be the prejudices against them now, considering the bomber is thought to be of ISIS, and of Syria?
They are the innocent Syrians, those unaffiliated with politics or war, forced from their home country lest they too be coerced into fighting for radical militias, or die like their friends and neighbors from explosives, chemical weapons, or starvation. An increasing number of the world’s population is biased against them because some of their countrymen have yielded to evil. Despite Turkey’s relatively limited resources, Turkey welcomed them when many countries have not. Today terror struck in the city they found refuge. How much more can the hospitable Turks and Syrian refugees bear?
I think of the people who were born and raised in Istanbul, who live and work and have their being in a country where war spills into it by virtue of geography — of Sofije, the middle aged women who warmly patted my back each morning as she poured my coffee, her smile and eyes bright with surprise the day I learned a few words of Turkish, “Günaydın/Good morning, Sofije. Teşekkür ederim/ Thank you”; who embraced me and kissed my cheek the day I left.
This is the view from the rooftop of the hotel where Sofije works. That’s how close the hotel is to the Blue Mosque, just steps from today’s violence. Will travelers still come to stay? Will Sofije lose her job, if not? Will she be able to feed her family, considering she lives in a nation whose average annual salary is only $9000 USD?
I think of the shop owners and workers; the restaurants and staff; Turkish Airlines, with its rare high quality and low prices; the museums and mosques who keep safe and allow the world to see 4000 years of human history. Terror in the heart of tourism is new for Turkey; terror elsewhere in Turkey is not. Over 100 people lost their lives in a suicide bombing at a peace rally in Ankara in October, nearly the same number as lost their lives in Paris in November. People will still visit Paris, London, New York City, and Boston after the attacks there, but will they go to Istanbul? Saturated with media reports of violence in the Mideast, will Westerners think Turkey is too near the region to consider travel there? Will terrorism win and keep visitors away?
Two months ago all Turks I met welcomed me without prejudice or restrictions. They treated me with utmost respect and trust. This couple invited me to their family meal, fed me, and hugged me farewell when I left, all without a common language. Will Istanbul stay the way it is now — the way it used to be for all of us not long ago — will their open-hearted welcome to all people continue? Will terrorism win and leave us fearing and fighting each other in the aftermath?
I, for one, am determined that terrorism not turn me against those who are innocent. I am Christian, Turkey is mostly Muslim in faith. That seems to be irrelevant to God, who had me praying for the people and nation of Turkey every waking hour for three days before the bombing, woke me last night at the very hour the bomb was detonated, and continues to lead me to stand for peace, protection, healing, and provision for the people of Turkey today. Would God summon a person across the world to pray in advance of an act of terror if all were hopeless?
He knows. He cares. He sees. He is greater than evil. It is through us that He exercises His power to overcome evil with good. He has solutions for us, if we will listen. As has always been, and is still today, our God needs people to not wilt in fear, but to arise in faith.