Thursday, March 25, 2010

Istanbul, Turkey



Recently I took a trip to Istanbul, Turkey that proved to be absolutely amazing. Seeing as how I do not often write about my weekends off, I felt as though this was definitely a trip to write about.
As a staff in the Residence Life department at BFA, we get seven weekends off a year. This roughly averages to about one every five or six weeks. As an RA, I have every Monday off, therefore when I have a weekend off, I get to be away from the dorm Friday-Monday. The four day weekends are invaluable. They provide the opportunity to get away for a few days, to catch up on sleep, to travel, and to spend time with fellow RAs. Seeing as how travel in Europe is very inexpensive, I have made a concentrated effort to travel to different cities/countries on my weekends off. This past trip to Istanbul cost me roughly $220. That price includes airfare, lodging, food, and even a few souvenirs. The price of $220 was by far my most expensive trip, even though I have also traveled to Barcelona, Munich, and Paris to name a few. Istanbul proved to be a bit more expensive, but it was definitely worth every penny. The sights, the culture and the fellowship made this trip an unforgettable adventure.
Technically part of Istanbul is in Asia, therefore I have now technically been to Asia, which is a pretty cool claim. In my opinion, Istanbul was unlike any other city I have seen. To an extent, Paris, Barcelona, London are all similar in that they have the “big city” feel. Although, all are obviously special in their own way. The Eiffel Tower cannot compare to the Sagradia Familia, which is very different than Big Ben. However, Istanbul was far different than any other city I have been to. Istanbul has such a rich and fascinating history. Over the past 1,500 years the city has seen three different empires take control, each one leaving its’ own footprint. Not only that, but the religion of the city changed drastically over the course of time; from its original Christian heritage, then the Muslim influence infiltrated, and today there is a random blend, though Muslim is by far the most prominent. Monuments such as the Haggia Sophia depict the rich history, which was fascinating to see, then you simply cross the street and walk 200 yards and find the Blue Mosque, which was erected to “out-do” the Christians. In fact legend has it that after it was completed the architect stated, “Solomon, I have out done thee.”

The culture was so interesting for me to observe. As goofy as it sounds, simply riding the public transportation was absolutely fascinating. We easily crammed close to 30 people in a bus that had seats for maybe 15. I loved watching new patrons come on the bus, because they simply handed their money to the next person until it made its’ way up to the driver, then the driver collected, gave change, and passed it back down the line. This process could take up to five minutes, and money could change through 15 different hands. The culture was also fascinating in that there were so many people! We were told that Istanbul has somewhere between 15-18 million people, and the city limits are expanding by close to 75,000 people every year. Turkish people are very comfortable with crowds, and will in fact sit right next to you even if it is unnecessary, simply because they want the presence of someone else. Walking through the massive marketplace was thrilling, and full of people. It was something that won’t soon be forgotten.

Naturally the city has a lot to offer, but one of the best parts of the trip was the fellowship. For many of my weekends off I have traveled with the same group, which has been phenomenal. We all get along very well, and thoroughly enjoy traveling with each other. I am very thankful to have these friends, and will carry a lot of special memories with me from our travels together. While in Istanbul, we stayed with a family who has a daughter in her junior year at BFA. It was fascinating to stay with them and dialogue about their ministry and their lives in Turkey. Seeing as how Istanbul is a Muslim area they are not able to safely proclaim exactly why they are there. They are essentially “undercover” and use their daytime vocations to justify being there to the government. However, they use their vocations to interact with the people and then generate spiritual conversations from these interactions. It is a much different ministry than a church planter, or street evangelist, but is just as vital. I walked away from our weekend with them encouraged and excited knowing the work that was being done for the Kingdom of God.

If you ever have the opportunity to visit Istanbul, I would highly recommend it. However, if you are going to be doing any international traveling in the next few months, the first place you should visit is Kandern, Germany!

Here you see a few locals washing as they prepare to enter one of the mosques.

Here I am in front of the Haggia Sophia



This is our group: Timmy, Stephanie, Lizzy, Brandon, Tommy


Here I am where the ancient Byzantine stadium, "The Hippodrome" stood. Oddly enough, I wrote about this for a history paper at Grove City.


One night we found a Domino's Pizza shop. We couldn't help but stop for pizza. Good American pizza is hard to come by here in Europe. The picture barely catches Timmy's excitement.


Here the five of us are crammed into four seats in the back of the bus. It was a tight squeeze, but we just wanted to fit into the culture!



Friday, March 19, 2010

3.19.04


Since coming to Germany journaling has quickly become something I love to do. I don’t do it as often as I would like, but when I do have the diligence to sit down and put my heart on paper, it is wonderful, almost therapeutic. I like to write down my thoughts, desires, plans, prayer requests, struggles, etc. Just recently I finished all the pages in my journal, and received a brand new one, courteously from a package from my big brother! As I sat down to open the pages of a new journal, I continued a trademark to all my journals; I sit down and write a letter to each member of my immediate family. Not to sound morbid, but if I am to go to Heaven before them, I want to make sure I leave them with something. I want them to know how I have prayed for them, what I have enjoyed about our relationship, how they have blessed me, etc. Obviously it is my ultimate hope that they are fully aware of these things even while I am still here, but it never hurts to write these things down. Given the date, I wanted to “go public” with my latest letter to my sister, I don’t want to include everything I wrote, but wanted to show a little bit.
The following are random clips from my last journal entry:
How do I put on paper the amount of love I have for you? How can I accurately express how much you mean to me, and the joy you bring to my life? Whitney, you are precious. You are a fighter, you are full of strength and ability. Your spunky attitude, amazing smile, laughter, and personality make you a joy to be around. Whitney, I love you.

God has blessed me with the greatest sister in the world. There is a picture of Whitney, I have that is purposely placed in my Bible, in the book of John, at the start of the tenth chapter. It serves as a bookmark for my life verse which has been John 10:10 “…I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” The picture of Whitney constantly reminds me of God’s grace, God’s mercy, God’s blessings God’s mysterious ways, and God’s protection. Being around Whitney constantly encourages me to have life, and have it to the full. She has this bubbly personality that is attractive and contagious. Her imagination is unlike anyone else I know. Most of all, she is by far one of the greatest story tellers ever. If you have not been fortunate enough to hear one of her classic stories, I am sorry to say that you have missed out on some of the most confusing and bizarre, yet highly entertaining and hilarious five minuets ever.

To me, Whitney is a role model of strength, character and perseverance. Her strength and determination day in and day out provides me with energy and purpose. She has been called to run a difficult race, but her character doesn’t allow her to quit, which bolsters my faith. She has chosen to not give up and persevere, which provides me with hope. Her strength, gives me energy. Her character, faith. Her perseverance, hope.

Whitney, you are so beautiful and amazing. Thank you for being such an amazing person, and a wonderful sister. I miss you dearly, and I wish I could hang out with you today, and grab a cup of coffee with you. I love you. I know your struggles are big, but I know our God is bigger. I know your pain is overwhelming, but I know our Savior’s grace and mercy are sweeter. Here is a big hug from me to you. I know we have a big blue ocean between us, but I am confident you can feel the love of my embrace today. You pipsqueakin’ chicken little ;-)

Friday, March 12, 2010

Moving along

Things here in Germany keep moving at an accelerated pace. It is hard to believe that basketball season is already over, retreat has come and gone, and we are quickly nearing our first weekend of soccer games.
As I mentioned in my last post, we recently took the entire high school on a retreat. We loaded up 5 buses and headed to Feldberg, Germany. It was a GREAT weekend. We had a handful of students head up early Friday morning to go skiing/snowboarding. For those who were unable to go early on Friday, we also had the opportunity to go skiing/snowboarding on Saturday afternoon.
I wasn't able to go on Friday, but hit the slopes on Saturday. This was probably the highlight of the weekend for me. Friday night I got into a conversation with a few students and decided I would tag along with them on Saturday. It turned out that I was in a group of four other students, but the amazing thing is that none of the students were guys from Sonne. I had some sort of relationship with each student prior to Saturday, but I really felt like I was able to get to know this group of students better. The atmosphere of skiing/snowboarding made it very relaxing and low-key. I felt as though I was able to just hang out with them and be their friend, rather than an authority figure, or someone who has to constantly tell them what to do. The role change was quite relaxing and enjoyable. Following a full afternoon on the mountain, we went to one of the lodges for a cup of hot chocolate. Sitting around a table with those students, sipping some hot chocolate is a memory that will last for quite a while.


On the first night of the retreat our leaders broke the entire high school into 16 groups. There were roughly 10-12 students in each group, and the groups were a mixture of guys and girls. Each group was to select a Disney song, and come up with some type of choreography, and provide the entire high school with a singing and dancing rendition of the song. Below you will see some pictures from this activity, that was highly entertaining and enjoyable. I am so proud and impressed with our students in activities like this. They really do not care if they look stupid, they go out and have a good time, and laugh regardless of what they look like.






Lastly... SOCCER IS HERE!! On Monday and Tuesday we held tryouts, then announced our teams on Wednesday. We have a total of 30 girls for the JV and Varsity teams. I am so excited for the season, and very excited about the opportunity to coach. I will obviously love being on the soccer field again on a daily basis, but I am thrilled to work with this group of girls. I know they have a lot of talent and potential, yet I am even more excited about their character and who they are off the field.
It is going to be a great experience, and a great year. Our first game is March 20!

Thank you for keeping up to date on my blog. I have been a little rushed these past couple of days, so I apologize if this is a bit scattered.
As always I welcome your emails, and I would encourage you to read some of the other BFA blogs. I enjoy reading what my co-workers write, and I think they can enable you to get a more complete picture of everything going on here at BFA.

Love from Germany.
Tommy