It is approximately 1:00 am when the bus pulls into the service center and I file out behind the women wearing headscarves. I am a spectacle, to be sure. I pay to use the Turkish toilet, remembering the awkward squat this set up requires and one particular time on a ferry boat while 7 months pregnant when I exited wet.
The driver honks, signaling us to hurry along. We’re bound for a bus depot in the middle of Anatolia surrounded by villages and sheep. I’ve never been this far east. A few hours later, still dark, the depot lights appear and I see my friend, standing in the parking lot beneath a cloud of cigarette smoke, next to all the waiting Turkish men. Relief washes over me as my body empties adrenaline. Part one of this long and lonely journey is ending and I’m still alive.
We navigate pot-holed dirt roads by moonlight toward the village where the believer lives. Her faith is rare even if her conversion story is not: she had a dream. I will hear all the details in a few hours, perched atop her divan with my friend and another American, the three of us trying to understand her heavily accented Turkish. But for now, we have to find the right village, the right cottage with the sheep penned in front, and catch a few hours of sleep. I can barely remember what time my body thinks it is. Did I leave Seattle yesterday? The day before?
I have returned to this land I love for a thesis project that I am still working out in my head. It is 2009 and micro-loans, cottage industries, and social enterprises are new and exciting. Somehow, my American friend who still lives in Turkey has met Hale, our precious hostess who followed the man in her dreams to a church in the capital city. Now, a lone Christian with a fire to evangelize, she has started a small business with the village women. As they sit together to bead jewelry that my friend will sell in the States, Hale weaves in her faith.
On paper, my role on this trip is to advise based on what I’ve studied in grad school and help document the work as a wannabe humanitarian photographer. But in between planning and arriving, my philosophy has shifted. I am struggling with a model that depends on an American market. I am struggling with making Hale the subject of my images, rather than the author. And as we tour the village in the light of day, meeting all the artisans, I struggle with offering too much hope. I fear being saviors from the west.
I have returned despite my confusion, but also because of it. Hale’s muddy sheep pen, that I must traverse to use the outdoor squatty potty, is the closest to poverty I’ve come in this land. It is a welcome change from the college campuses I spent my time on when I lived in the largest city. Discussing business as mission is also a welcome change from my previously narrow focus. I need to separate my jaded experience of ministry from the people and this place. I have come to redeem. But there’s more.
I have not returned for my thesis, nor my friend, nor Hale’s remarkable story. I’ve returned because two years prior, I left weary and cynical. I doubted there was a person in this nation who would respond to the gospel. My worth had tangled with success metrics. Without conviction about my guiding principles, my purpose waned.
I limped out of ministry and out of this country, confused and depleted. It has taken two years, but I’ve started to come back to life.
If I’m honest, I’ve traveled to this remote village because I suspect the new energy I feel around empowering unseen women is God’s movement in me. When I booked my ticket, I’m not sure I even realized what it is I’m after. That I’m chasing passion.
I wake to loaves of bread, olives, watermelon, fresh cheese and Fanta. Hale is chatty and excited to introduce us to everyone. Her husband is on a tractor out front, herding the sheep past the gate, through town, to the grass they will graze today. Part two of the journey has commenced.
Beth Bruno is passionate about issues of injustice and a global sisterhood. Often, this looks like curating the stories and work of incredible women and calling her two teen daughters at least once a day to “come watch this.” Married for 23 years, she and her husband share a love for dark chocolate, dark coffee, and bold wine, among other passions. Their son is headed to college so Beth is not thinking about it by nursing an obsession with Turkish hot air balloons and European villages on her Instagram feed.