A visit to Ankara

‘Group photo in church. from L-R Are Rev John Stevenson, Sadaf, Rev John Macleod, Saba,  Pastor Joseph Tark, Niloufar, Father Ebrahim’


A visit to Ankara

In 2015 Moffat Residents Rev John Stevenson and his wife Jane were invited to go to Ankara, the capital of Turkey to minister, on a temporary basis, to the congregation of St Nicholas of Myra, Anglican Church in the British Embassy. The previous priest Fr John Higgins and his wife Kay , having returned from a three year stint in the capital. There are a significant number of refugees from Iran, within the congregation of St Nicholas Church, who are supported in their worship and journeys of faith by Father Ebrahim, an Iranian Christian who is also a refugee. Rev John and Jane also became involved in providing food, in the form of sandwiches, for refugees, waiting all day for interviews, within the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR )compound. Rev John made a request to the Annandale Group of Episcopal Churches for funds and clothing to aid this work, and in particular to support Father Ebrahim in his work, not only in Ankara but with Iranian refugees throughout Turkey, and with the Christian ‘House Churches’ in Iran. The response was very generous, and money was sent out to Turkey.  During their final tour of duty, a new priest having at last been appointed, Rev John and Jane invited Rev John and Maggie Macleod from the Annandale Geoup of Churches to visit them in

Maggie and Jane unpacking and sorting clothes.
Maggie and Jane unpacking and sorting clothes.

Ankara to see the work that was being done and to meet FatherEbrahim and his Iranian flock, and the ‘sadwich-makers’. They were also asked to carry out hats, scarves, gloves and warm clothes for distribution to refugees.

Father Ebrahim accepting clothes
Father Ebrahim accepting clothes

The week before the visit a bomb went off in central Ankara killing many people. The week after the visit a bomb went off in central Ankara killing more people. Turkey is beset by internal war, by wars along its borders, by political strife, increasing sectarianism, suppression of free speech and vast numbers of migrants from all over the Middle and Far East. Ankara is a vibrant, bustling capital, with traffic that seems to have its own rules of the road, it is a welcoming city, filled with security forces.

17 Ankara St N

During their week’s visit Rev John and Maggie visited St Nicholas Church and took part in the Sunday morning service by leading intercessions and reading the lessons and Gospel. Maggie led the congregation in singing a Taize chant; being a member of the Scottish Servers’ Guild she was particularly pleased to talk to the teenage Iranian girls who were performing the roles of acolytes and servers during the service. Translations of the service, the readings and the sermon are provided for the Iranian Farsi speakers by Father Ebrahim.

Ankara St N

A visit was arranged to Margarita, an Italian lady, married to a Turkish national and a convert to Islam, who organises the making and delivery of sandwiches, juice, toys and clothes for babies and adults, to those waiting for interview in the UNHCR building.

Ankara sandwiches Mercedes

This was a very social occasion, at which the Rev Macleod was the only man! All the ladies came from different countries and backgrounds but were gathered in by Margarita from an amazingly multi-cultural mix of contacts throughout Ankara.The sandwiches, 120 to be made on the day of the visit, were made very systematically.

33 Ankara sandwiches [201880]

They were then packed up along with fruit drinks, toys etc and wheeled along the road in a shopping trolley known as the ‘Mercedes’. No filming was allowed in the UN Compound and the security was strict. The waiting room was filled with families waiting patiently for the all-important interview to determine refugee status. Children waited quietly, two little girls with burns to their hands and faces sat colouring at a table, a lone young woman wept silently, her husband was somewhere in Europe, but she didn’t know where. Food was gratefully accepted, toys were triumphantly displayed in small hands, shy young mothers had baby clothes and accessories pressed upon them by Margarita …. Most had waited months – years for this vital interview. If refugee status was granted they would be allowed to travel to another country and start a new life. But if they could not show that they were genuine refugees, or if the stories told by man and wife, in separate interviews, did not tally then they would have to start all over again and begin the lengthy process of reapplying.

The many gifts of clothing were given to Father Ebrahim and to Margarita. These came from all five churches in the Annandale Group, many were new and others handcrafted. All were received with much gratitude, Father Ebrahim was overwhelmed by the care and generosity shown by people so far away. Although in Ankara the sun was shining and the temperature like High Summer in Scotland, he knew of refugees in Trabzon, to the North on the Black Sea, where it was still Winter and where the warm clothes would be most welcome.

Sunset over Ankara

The lovely Iranian family whose beautiful, bright daughters were acolytes in St Nicholas church were waiting on tenterhooks to be told the date of their departure to Canada …. It had been put back by the influx of Syrian refugees, so they said. But the girls were looking forward with some trepidation, to a new life, they were looking forward to going back to school, they had not attended for four years. They had been given homes in a town outside Ankara, but there was no work for their parents, so the parents moved the family to the work in the city, but took them away from the school to which they were supposed to go in the town. The girls taught themselves English from the TV and the Internet.  They were fluent.

John Ankara St N