Written by Betsy Haskins
For me, this powerful trip is about connections: a far deeper connection with Christ; a new amazing connection with new Christ followers around the world; a powerful connection with all my travel mates; and a far deeper connection in understanding what it actually means to be a follower of Christ.
As I worshipped, shared experiences, shared powerful prayer with new friends from around the world, I found a deeper sense of true commitment to Christ and to doing the work of Christ in this world. When I heard the experiences of those who have given everything to follow Christ, humility and love swelled within me-for these wonderful people, for the dedicated work that they do, for my church and church family and the opportunities that we have here. I hope to never take any of these blessings for granted again.
The worship and prayer concerts were very important to me, again in making intense connections to our new friends. Singing, listening to God’s Holy word, hearing a powerful message and praying with people that I have never met before, gave me the strong sense of connection to All Christ’s Followers, both here and around this good world.
Looking into their eyes and praying as one, is something I will cherish in my heart. People who will not be swayed by persecution from government, their neighbors or anyone are heroes and heroines as we march together as one in Lifting High the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Written by Jessica Long
One of the biggest ideas that impacted me during our pilgrimage was the concept of seeking God’s will first. We heard about it in sermons, from the nationals, partners and exiles that we met. Many times we assume that the good things, reasonable things, practical things that we want are what God wants, but God’s will works in God’s timing. Seeking his will (and letting go of our plans) brings us closer to him.
In worship, we learned about Saul who was impatient and decided that what he perceived as the need of the group (starting battle before the warriors wandered off) was more important than waiting on God’s prophet to come bless them. When they went ahead of God, things didn’t go so well and Saul’s reign as king started going downhill.
One exile we met, said that after having to flee his home country he was very worried about how he would continue to serve God. He had a good ministry in a dangerous country, but when he had to move to a safer place for the sake of his family he worried that he had lost his opportunity to serve God. God provided a new opportunity in the new place to share Jesus with people who would have been otherwise very difficult reach.
Seeking God’s will first relies on a firm knowledge that God will take care of our needs and that he loves us, even when it's hard to see where he is taking us.
Written by George Gutshall
I must admit that when I got on the plane at Dulles for our trip to Turkey I was not at all sure what to expect. Sure, I had a picture of what we would see during the “tourist” part of our trip – Bradley had provided us with links to videos about Istanbul, Pergamum, Smyrna, and Ephesus – but the meeting at the conference was a giant question mark for me. We had talked about the conference being a “once in a lifetime” and a “life changing” experience but I was having trouble taking these broad concepts and molding them into an “on the ground” expectation.”
The fact that the first session at conference dealt with security brought the program into focus. How often do we give any consideration to security in this country? We certainly don’t worry about being seen going to Church on Sundays here at Forest Hills or talking about our faith at the mall, or sharing our beliefs in each others’ homes. But for the people beside us during this entire program these concerns were very real – this truly had the potential to be “once in a lifetime experience” for them since they face the possibility of persecution and prosecution every day and everywhere they go.
It also did not take long at all to realize that the people we were going to spend the next several days with took Jesus very, very seriously when he commanded them to go and make disciples of all nations and to teach them the things he had said to them. These people were giving their all to share the Good News with hungry souls in conditions that we simply cannot imagine from our comfortable sofas, easy chairs or pews.
I guess it is pretty clear that our trip brought me to view the vast majority of our fellow attendees at the conference as true heroes. They sacrifice and risk so much for the benefit of those who seek out our God. And the trip also brings me to question my own faith and dedication to spreading the Good News in my everyday life and to question whether I can live up to the examples these people face every day. May God bless each and every one of them.
Written by Mary Alice Ferguson
The Mission Visioning Trip to Turkey was the experience of a lifetime. The opportunity to walk where early Christians began their worship of Christ, to hear scripture read that was written to these churches, and to attend the conference where so many committed Christians from oppressed countries risked so much to worship and learn together with groups such as ours was simply overwhelming. The fact that I was sharing these experiences with valued friends from Forest Hills Presbyterian Church enriched the experience even more. We discussed the events of each day along with the joys and expectations for the coming day. It was my great pleasure and privilege to share a room with Betsy Haskins. Her company made the trip even better. Our accommodations were excellent, and we found the Turkish food to be an added bonus. The opportunity to be a representative of our church family is a memory I will cherish the rest of my life.
My interaction with other conference participants was another highlight for me. A lovely lady from one country tried to teach me a few words of Russian. The conference agenda began at 8:00 am with praise and worship. Then workshops and information sessions continued until 9:00 p.m. At the conclusion of the day, our FHPC group met to review the day. Typically, we discussed the prayers, information, joys, blessings, and fellowship of the day.
Of great interest to me were the Bible Story Tellers. Their method of teaching the stories of the Bible was by oral stories. Often the listeners cannot read or do not have a Bible. The Bible stories allow them to hear the word of God and to retell these stories to others in the community. This method also had the advantage that no physical evidence of worship could be used against them.
Some Christians from a region in Asia worshipped amid danger in underground churches. Some served as dedicated missionaries. Each did their mission in a way that brought blessings to the recipient of the word of Christ.
One message that became clear to me was that the need in this region of Asia is great. However, the people bringing the message of Christ there are great in their strength and their commitment.
In the final analysis, there were people from many countries who spoke different languages and had different cultural and economic backgrounds. Each person was proud of their country. Each person was optimistic. The atmosphere of joy and serenity was hard to define. But above all, the greatest unifying factor was faith and love.
Now I am home in Virginia with my family and FHPC. I am in awe of all that I experienced. I am humbled by this opportunity to represent this congregation. I thank each of you for your prayers and support of this mission.
Written by Liza Moore
Liza Moore was willing to share her response to the following question that she was asked in an application for Inter-Varsity Small Group leader at the College of William Mary:
How did you become a Christian? Describe some of the key experiences that have shaped your faith.
I grew up going to church so pinpointing a moment can be difficult, but I will do my best to describe why I can't live without Jesus. I have always felt a strong connection between God and the outdoors. My first time when I actively remember feeling God tugging at me was at church camp, Camp Hat Creek, which I attended for a week in the summer from 3rd grade to 5th grade. Each night we would have vespers and that first year in 3rd grade I was super homesick and yet at vespers each night I was entirely comforted in worshiping God. In middle school I was confirmed at my home church and professed my faith in Jesus as my Savior, but of course, the story never stops there.
I went on ski-trip conferences in middle school in the NC mountains and mission trips to NC beach slums. I have visited many National Parks with my family and without fail I am stunned by God's creation. I attended Montreat youth conferences in the mountains of North Carolina. God and the outdoors yet again, seems to always click with me. Romans 8:38 says that nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. At each of these conferences, I would most likely end up in tears at some point, wondering why I have been so blessed and why God loves little old, selfish, stupid me. I would end up so overwhelmed by God's love for me that I (normally calloused to outward displays of emotion) would be in tears. I learned however, from these conferences and other activities that I will never fully understand why God loves me and wants me to know him, other than because I am His child, formed in His image with a desire for Him hardwired into my very soul. And since He loves me when I have done nothing to deserve His love, how can I (well all of us) respond in any other way than with unadulterated joy?
As a junior and senior in high school I began to more fully live into this joyous response to God's love for me. I led a bible study during lunch for senior year as well as worked regularly with the homeless in my town. Through my experience with Christ so far, I have been taught the value of every person: old, young, homeless, poor. I have been taught that if you are always comfortable, you are probably doing something wrong. I have been taught to not waste anything that I have been given or blessed with. I have been taught to seek God with all I have. I have been taught that following Jesus requires daily repentance and surrender. I look forward to the growth that my faith will have through leading a small group and I'm excited to see what God has in store.