In late September I boarded a jet that was the first of two flights on my way to visit Turkey. Upon landing in Istanbul, Shirley Myers, my travel buddy, and I were picked up in a luxurious limousine, complete with shocking pink interior, and whisked away to our fabulous hotel, The Ottoman Legacy. Built in 1911, the Legacy is featured on the Turkish 20 lira bill. We were immediately immersed in the history and beauty of Istanbul. We also had the great good fortune to be in the middle of a wonderful shopping district near the Grand Bazaar.

After orientation and dinner on the first night, we fell into bed exhausted. At 5:55 the next morning, I was awakened by the sound of the Islamic Call to Prayer from the “New Mosque” whose foundation was laid in 1597 C.E. The call is haunting and beautiful, it resounds from every minaret in cities, towns and villages, and is the first of five calls to prayer recited each day by a muezzin who is specially trained to call the faithful to prayer.

The Call to Prayer is universal and never varies. Its first call in Arabic is, “God is the Greatest, God is the Greatest,” followed by, “I bear witness that there is none worthy of worship except God.”

As I listened to the city stir to life, I added my own prayers of God’s greatness and echoed the affirmation that I, too, bear witness that there is none worthy of worship except God. The Call to Prayer was a fitting and appropriate start to each day for me.

During the almost two weeks of my Turkish adventure, which unfortunately also included a visit to the hospital in Cappadocia, was steeped in an exploration of the history and culture of the people who inhabited this ancient country that forms part of the heart of Christian, Islamic and Jewish traditions.

I was awestruck while visiting the remains of ancient Troy, seeing the caves that have been occupied by families in Cappadocia for centuries and visiting the ancient spa at Pamukkale, where Cleopatra soaked in the hot springs.

But by far, the greatest experience of the trip was exploring Istanbul, formerly Constantinople. It is steeped in history and filled with the same sights, smells and sounds that have infused it with life for millennia. We shopped at the Grand Bazaar amidst the joyous, lively haggling of gold sellers, rug merchants and silk traders.

I closed my eyes and was transported to the ancient days of Byzantium; the spice market is as it existed long ago sending the aroma of exotic spices through the air. Women in modern dress walked side-by-side with women in burkas, engaged in lively conversation. Imams walked to and from the mosque as they carried out their holy duties.

At the same time, the world intruded on our sojourn through history in the form of a new outbreak of war in the Middle East on our last Saturday in Turkey. The war felt very close to us as we nervously waited to take off from Istanbul International Airport. Two airports in nearby Syria were bombed the morning we departed. We were happy once we were on our way to Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris and finally on U.S. soil again in New York.

I am blessed to have made this journey and blessed to be safely home once again.

In Christ,

Pastor Sharon