Shen-gul is 39 years old. She lives at the Havza Residential Facility. She’s lived there for the past 13 years. 10 years before that she lived at the Saray Orphanage and Rehabilitation Center in Girl’s Unit 3. She is a paraplegic who was abandoned by her father. After her mother died, no one at home would or could care for her. Years ago while sitting drinking tea with her at the orphanage I was privileged to listen to her tell me about her life, losses and dreams. We became friends and she became a member of the Kardelen Mercy Teams along with several of the other women and girls who lived with her in Girl’s Unit 3.

Shen-gul impressed me with her kind spirit. She was soft-spoken and attentive to the feelings and words of others. She watched us work, listened to our banter in the Continuous Care units when we were taking children out of cribs and into the Kardelen Care room for play or feeding. She asked to be able to bring along another of the orphans she had a particular relationship with. She and little Dilek together chose one of the children who were tied up in their beds to do special feeding and play activities with. Every afternoon, they’d arrive from their ward, found in a building several hundred yards up a broken-up concrete pathway. Since Dilek could walk, she’d help push Shen-gul’s chair. They’d first come to our room to pick up a bowl of yogurt and pureed fruit. Then they’d go to the CC1 building, roll up to Ali’s crib and begin their ministrations.

First, they would check to see if he needed a diaper change, and if so they’d clean him up and prepare him for their special time together. At that time, Dilek was only 10 years old and had been diagnosed with diabetes besides having a developmental disability. She saw little Ali as if he were her little brother on whom she would lavish her attention. Shen-gul viewed both these children almost as if they were own and treated them with tender loving attention. Concerned when they were ill or not feeding well, overjoyed when they giggled or smiled.

One of the greatest joys I experienced while we were in that phase of our work at the orphanage was to watch these abandoned, poor, rejected and weak individuals live in such obvious harmony and joy. What they shared was priceless!

Which is why it was so excruciatingly difficult to witness their separation one year later. For reasons which I won’t write up on this blog but which are clearly described in my book “Cry Out”, from one day to the next, the entire group of women who were our On-Site Team were shipped with only a few hours warning to the Havza Residential Facility some 6 hours drive away.

I’ll never forget Shen-gul’s muffled sobbing as she shook her head in disbelief. “My Dilek! My Dilek! Who will care for you? Who will make sure that you get your insulin shots? Who will make sure that you eat when you should? My Dilek, my little daughter!!”

One of the staff members had been assigned to take Dilek to another part of the orphanage so that she would not be there when Shen-gul, along with the others in her ward, was unceremoniously thrown onto the faded blue bus and driven off to Havza.

For days and weeks, we mourned the loss of these friends, but never so severely as when Dilek would come to the door of the Kardelen Room and ask if we knew when Shen-gul Abla was coming back. No one told her the truth and we could only say what we knew which was “ We don’t know.”

Shen-gul has never been brought back, despite her repeated requests to be brought to Ankara to see her dear “daughter.” As a ward of the State, she has had not rights regarding freedom of movement and is, for all intents and purposes a prisoner not only of her body but also in an institution.

Kardelen Mercy Teams hired Nessy and Jimmy to make sure that those who were sent away to another back-woods facility would not go unattended or be abused. Over the years Nessy has done an incredible job in being a surrogate mother for these physically disabled young adults. Her connection with us as foreigners and Christians however has meant that many times she’s run into cruel and threatening opposition by others who work at Havza. Just this past year she was falsely accused of hurting a resident by the very person who had done the deed. Nessy had come upon this female government employee/administrator kicking and screaming at a naked man who was clearly mentally disabled. When Nessy shouted at her to stop and then pulled her away from the man, the woman, fearing possible repercussions made a complaint against Nessy. Nessy was summarily dismissed.

Kardelen Mercy Teams started a prayer and donations campaign to help pay legal expenses after she was encouraged to hired a lawyer to defend her. The other residents—to a man—signed a petition to have her re-instated, praising her of the people in the entire facility who really showed love and compassion for them. The judge was impressed and signed an order to have her re-instated there at least for the duration of all legal proceedings. These typically can go on fro several months.

Last month, when I was travelling and speaking on behalf of our teams (KMT), I got an urgent Skype call from Nina who regularly speaks to Nessy and Shen-gul over the phone. She needed my O.K. to make an emergency trip to Havza.

“Nessy just phoned and said that Shen-gul is in the local hospital; that her leg has several vascular problems and that she has gangrene. They are going to amputate her leg in two days. I need to drive up there and talk to the doctors.

“When I went to the Lord about this problem, I got the distinct sense that her leg could be saved and that I needed to be there to advocate for her.”

“But Nina,” I replied. “You are too weak. (Nina is also paraplegic) You couldn’t possibly do this on your own.”

“No, You’re right,” she said. “I’m taking Terri with me (Nina’s younger 20-something sister) and I’ve just phoned Harry in D. (a city in the southeast of Turkey). He’s going to join us. He knows Havza from past visits and he cares about what happens to Shen-gul. “

Relieved to hear that she wasn’t going to attempt this trip on her own, I transferred the only money we had in the Kardelen account at the time–$300—for her initial travel expenses and said that we’d have to trust that money would come in to pay the bills that would accrue. We prayed together and I heard nothing more from her for several days.

“Norita Abla,” Nina and I were de-briefing after I returned to Ankara. “ May Allah never leave any of us without family or support. It is soooooo good that we went when we did.

“After getting a written permission from the local police that I wasn’t a terrorist …. I know… You just have to laugh or cry at the ridiculousness of it all in this paranoid place, I went to find Shen-gul at the local state hospital. The doctors and nurses pretty much had left her on her own and she was in filthy sheets and cold and hungry. Tuuba and Nessy did what they could to make her comfortable while I went off to talk to the doctor.

“Harry and I could tell right away that he saw Shen-gul as a useless ward of the state and that the sooner he amputated her leg the sooner she’d be sent back to the home. He knew very little and Harry’s work in the university hospital as a Physical therapist assistant came in so handy in understanding Shen-gul’s condition.

“Harry phoned his doctor friend at the hospital where he worked and explained the situation. This doctor said that we should try to get her to a larger training hospital in Samsun—the larger city an hour and half away on the Black Sea coast.

“The doctor in charge in Havza said that he couldn’t release Shen-gul to us. Since she was a state ward, she was his responsibility. But when we argued that she might be able to get better treatment in Samsun, he took offense and became obstinately obstructive.

“It was all I could do to keep Harry from hauling off and punching the guy, believe me. But I kept my cool and then finally the doctor said that if we were willing to sign on a paper saying that should Shen-gul die we were willing to take the responsibility, then he’d release her to us.

“At first, I got scared. What if she died? We’d surely go to prison until the issue was solved legally. But I knew that she was in a desperate situation and that I had to take that risk. So I signed.

“Then we needed to find an ambulance which would take her. Normally that would have cost us an arm and a leg, so I had to see if I could get someone to help out.

As in past experiences I went to see the mayor of the town. He was extremely gracious and listened respectfully to my plea for my friend.

“ ‘ Nina Hanum,’ he said. ‘ I am so pleased by what you are doing for your friend and I will make an ambulance available to take Shen-gul to Samsun at no charge. And I will make sure that whenever you want to you can go to visit her at the home. It’s a shame that you have experienced such opposition from officials in the past.’ “

“We got Shen-gul to Samsun where we talked to the specialist. When we explained the situation, he said that with a surgery he thought her leg could be saved but that it would be costly.

“Even though Shen-gul is a ward of the State, the State will only pay for amputations, not vascular surgery, so we needed to be willing to pay the extra fees. Believe me, Norita Abla; you would have done the same if you were in my position. I took my credit card and after haggling about the price and bringing it down from $15,000 to $5,000 I gave the go-ahead. The money will come in. God is in this. I know it.

The surgeon called in two of his experienced colleagues—I mean, these guys are university professors—and they worked on Shen-gul’s leg for over five hours. BUT THEY SAVED HER LEG. Every day now she is getting stronger and I’m over the moon with joy. ”

And so am I.

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What about The Snowdrop ministry?

The snowdrop's Blog

Sojourning in a Different Land

Earlier this year my sister wrote me that my friend Joni Eareckson Tada had spoken in chapel at Westmont College, the liberal arts college I graduated from way back when. I got on line and was able to view her talk from my kitchen table in Ankara, Turkey. As she finished with a challenge to students to be salt and light and servants among those who are impacted by life-changing disabilities, I kept crying out “Yes, LORD. Yes, LORD!” I began to pray for the ones who were hearing from the Holy Spirit about their futures and for the ones who had yet to hear the call but would one day.

Thirty-one years ago God spoke to my husband and me to be his witnesses to a world where the revelation of Jesus as LORD, His mission, His love were, for the vast majority of…

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Little Furkan, Prayer, and a Kardelen Mercy Team

Two years ago, due to a generous donation from a local charity organization, we were able to give 6-year-old Furkan a specially designed and fitted wheelchair. Born with some physical as well as mental special needs,, he’s as sweet and lovely a boy as anyone could hope to meet.

Yesterday, after receiving a desperate cry for help from his mother, the team began a prayer chain on Facebook, and served as advocates at the local hospital to save his life.

Directed by a friend of a friend to contact this boy and his family, one of our Kardelen Mercy Teams made their first visit. They found a spotless tiny apartment on the fifth floor. His mother loved her son but was absolutely clueless about the possibility of him ever changing, improving, or learning anything. He and she lived essentially separated from any outside contact other than the few relatives who would visit. Mom carried Furkan on her back whenever she needed to go to the doctor.

Our team then committed themselves to helping both mother and son leave their virtual isolation and hopeless mindset. First, they made regular visits, taking each weekly visit as an opportunity to help the mother learn what she could do which would enhance the health, strength and morale of Furkan. He made observable moves forward which in turn meant a light was turned on in his mom. She became fully engaged and continued on the massaging, feeding, non-verbal communication techniques with her son.

We were all thrilled when we received the donation for 10 special chairs. Immediately, the team assessed his seating and positioning need (with the help of our volunteer American physical therapist), then brought and seated him in his first ever wheelchair—one, by the way, which is designed in such a way that it is adjustable to suit his growth.

But Furkan’s physical condition when we first found him was pretty dire. Lack of proper seating and treatment meant that his spinal curvature was severe. He, like our dear Birol and Bushra, is always in need of help to make sure that his lungs stay free. A common cold is deadly for these children. A month ago his mother rushed him to the hospital to try to save his life. He couldn’t catch his breath and he couldn’t fight the infection.

This hospital is the largest public hospital in the city. Anytime day or night you will find hundreds of people milling around outside, crowding the emergency wards, camping out in the rooms of those who have come for some kind of treatment. It’s a nightmare for someone who has no money or connections. —And Furkan has neither.

After three weeks of Furkan lingering between life and death in one bed of a crowded ward, we learned that the doctors had told the mother that they need a special oxygen tank, hospital bed, and medications. Our team member phoned me to ask my advice and if we had the funds to buy the things. Having been in this situation many times before with our Mercy Teams I told her that I had heard that the government has publically promised to buy those necessary items for those whose income levels are below poverty level. “That’s what I thought, Norita Abla,” she answered, “But this poor mom has been told another story by the doctors here. “I’m going in now and relieve the mother for a day. I’ll be his day nurse (Turkish care system custom) while she goes home and gets some rest. I want to see for myself what’s happening.”

An hour later she phoned to ask for prayer. “Furkan is turning blue; his breathing machine keeps buzzing and turning off. No one is coming to look in on him. His mom is sitting here next to me crying her eyes out, sure he’s going to die.”

“Yes,” I answered. “I just saw your post on Facebook. “ We prayed together at that point over the phone. “Go back in to Furkan if you can get in, lay your hands on him and ask the Lord to intervene.” She said that she would and would call me back in a couple of hours to let me know what had happened.

When I answered her phone call the next time, I heard a smile coming through. “Before, I went in to be with Furkan,” she said. “I had to ask for permission to get in to his room. When they asked who I was, I put on my ‘official” hat and announced that I was a volunteer worker under the Department of Social Work of the city and had come to check out the situation of one of our families.

“Norita, you should have seen the look on her face, the phone calls which resulted, the doctors who poured out of their offices—all to rush to Furkan’s side. I went into the room, laid my hands on his chest and asked –in a loud voice–the Lord God to instill mercy in the hearts of the nurses and doctors. They worked away to make sure his machine was working; they gave new medication and his fever broke. They were polite and attentive and when I asked about government provisions for the breathing machine and for medications, they immediately said that yes, they would provide those free of charge, but that he still needed a special bed which they would have to buy.

“ I then spent the next few minutes training his mother, Kezban, in how to get the collected phlegm out of his lungs by patting his back—something I’d often have to do when we worked at the orphanage. Nobody at the hospital had done that the whole month he’d been in the bed. Sometimes, it’s just the simplest things that make the biggest difference.”

Furkan is daily showing improvement. He’s been moved to a single room out of intensive care. He’s peaceful now and his mother is now aware that hundreds of people prayed for her son and that they are not alone, but loved. This afternoon when I spoke with the team, Kezban’s voice rang out in the background. “Thanks be to God for you all!


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Come Holy Spirit

Holy Spirit, Come

Yesterday at our Kardelen group birthday party, Nina pulled me aside in the hall.

In the playroom the crowd had gathered. Serap, had braved traffic and possible elevator shut-downs to drive her motorized wheelchair from her home to Streams of Mercy Center. Ata and Muberra’s mom, Rabiya, had brought them all the way from the other side of town with the bus. The twins with Cerebral Palsy, Tugba and Tugce, were picked up by Metin from the church in the van along with their mother, Selin and their tiny sister, Kubra. Selin told me later that the girls, who are wheelchair-bound, had not been out of their home in over eight months and were so excited to be there.

While a visiting group of volunteer young people from South Africa, “danced” with the kids and their moms and the other Kardelen staff, I listened as Nina shared a happy story with me.

“Norita Abla,” she laughed. “ Yesterday, you should have been here at the Center. We had a blast.” She was referring to the wheelchair distribution project she was running. Along with Dr. S. she had assessed and measured a number of her friends who, like her, were unable to walk and needed special chairs, and the day before they’d gathered to receive their new chairs. Since she’d needed some strong arms to help transfer the kids, we’d arranged for three of the visitor—two African men and one Korean guy—to come too.

“We were having a nice time trying to communicate with each other without knowing the languages when Damla’s mother came to the door with Damla hanging onto her back. You know about Damla, right?” she asked then continued. “She was adopted by a couple who couldn’t have kids when she was a baby; later they discovered that she had several disabilities—but they loved her completely and refused to send her away to the orphanage. Now she is 12 and shooting up and gaining so much weight they are having trouble getting her anywhere. She didn’t have a wheelchair so the donation you got was perfect.”

“Anyway…. We no sooner open the door when Damla sees that the room is full of strangers and what’s worse, there are two Africans there. She has never been in close proximity to an African before and all the other strangers in the room must have scared her terribly. Because she began to scream and twist and try to get her mother to take her back down and out of the building.”

No matter what I said to her or what her mother said, she was not going to stop making a scene. The atmosphere got really tense.

“What could we do? I had no idea so began to pray for her. The guys saw me and Dr. S. too, and they began to pray in their own languages.
“Believe me, it was amazing. Within literally a few seconds, she calmed down. Then she allowed her mother to bring her inside the Center and into the playroom. We prepared her new chair and the guys seated her.

“No sooner was she seated that she began to laugh. Norita, I mean deep, big laughing. Whatever tension there had been disappeared and her laughter was infectious. Within seconds we were all laughing really hard. Dr. S. calmed down long enough o crack a joke in Turkish and then off we were again laughing.”

Nina explained that Damla’s stiff and extended legs had easily bent when Dr. S. applied the pressure he knew to use as a physical therapist. She was totally relaxed. Her mother then had told her that Damla had, as far, as she’d experienced, never laughed so freely nor been so relaxed.

“It had to be, Norita, because when the distribution was finished and all the others had been fitted and seated, Damla was the last one to go. She was determined to stay in that room where she’d been touched so beautifully. We had to persuade her to leave with the promise that we’d bring her back again for more ‘Fun.’

“Boy, do I love my job.” Nina smiled broadly before wheeling herself back into the noisy party-room intent on taking pictures of Philpy, the black African who was improvising at that point, creating a Xhosa/Turkish fusion dance to the beat of Turkish drums and Saz.

“I do too, Nina,” I whispered, then slipping into the counseling room I just had to thank the One who was in charge. “You’re the best, Holy Spirit.”

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The Kingdom of God Suffers Violence

Gas canister
Lynching noose
Molotov Cocktail
Butcher’s knife

Somewhere today

Los Angeles
HIndu Kush

Somewhere else tomorrow
Same same it seems

But not the same
Never the same

“When you see these things come to pass…”
“Consider the fig tree…”
The beginning of the end
The end is the Beginning
And so we declare
Death is done for
Dawn sends its early light
And we stand in hope and expectation.
Even so, Maranatha.


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There’s Whole Lot of Shakin’ Goin’ On

“….let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” Hebrews 12:28,29

August 17, 1999

Ken and I have flown to the cultural capital of Turkey, Istanbul, to attend a conference. From time to time we would gather with other Christians from various nations to spend time in corporate worship, prayer and reflection. I so looked forward to these special events. Invariably I came away from such times with renewed faith and determination. I often still need to be reminded that God called me to advocate for the abandoned and disabled, and it is at these types of conferences that I often hear something which helps me make new steps forward in this work.

Istanbul is one of the most magnificent cities in the world. Set at the mouth of the narrow waterway connecting the Marmara Sea and the larger Black Sea, its rich history and cultures make it such a primary world-class travel destination. Ruins, museums, and monuments abound giving testimony to its resilience and variety.

Modern-day Istanbul, crowded, polluted, and chaotic as it is with its population of nearly 15 million, still holds a fascination for me and every time I visit, I can’t wait to get down to the waterfront to watch the ferries and massive cargo ships vie for right of way on the Bosporus straits dividing the city between Asia and Europe.

Tourists love this place. The places-to-visit list is endless with ancient churches, mosques, and palaces open to the public and the crowds of tour guides who stand hawking their linguistic expertise and historical knowledge at the gates of each site.

The week before we had hosted special educator friends from Los Angeles in Ankara where they served with us out at the orphanage. When Paula, Carol and Doris booked their flights, I suggested they take a few days before leaving to see the sites of old Istanbul. They’d arrived in town and were staying at a small hotel situated a short walk from one of the most visited museum squares in the old city, Sultan Ahmet Square.

Not going as tourists, we looked for less expensive housing and were thankful when friends of our arranged for us to stay and house-sit an apartment– the home of friends of theirs.

Ko and Jan-suk met us at the door of the building with the keys and led us up the five flights of narrow stairs into a nicely furnished place. They showed us where to put our backpacks, the note from the owner regarding water, phone line and power, and after settling in, we prepared to leave to find a restaurant near-by in the city center.

Before we walked out though, I was struck by the presence of a large display in the corner of the living room.

Staring at me like a life-sized effigy of Darth Vader, a complete display of Korean martial arts armor sat in the corner. The helmet, body armor, shield gauntlets and weapons gleamed menacingly in black.. When I asked about them, Ko explained that his friends are martial arts experts and as such, wanted to share their passion with neighbors and friends who might not understand what this sport is all about.

“It’s an easy way to engage people in conversation here. Turks love taekwondo and judo.”

I had no such interest; in fact, I found the display a bit off-putting but was willing to regard the home-owners’ decorating choice as a tribute to cross-cultural preference, “Different strokes for different folks, but what would some of my interior decorator friends think, “ I chuckled to myself.

It was extremely hot and unbearably humid that evening. After a late supper, we decided to get to sleep and wake up early to get to the pre-conference prayer session. But getting to sleep was a challenge. Still restless, I got up at about 2 a.m., got a drink of water, and migrated with a sheet out to the living room. Maybe it was the closeness of the small bedroom, a foreign pillow, sounds from the open windows—I don’t know—which were keeping me from sleeping deeply. In any case, I felt a bit less uncomfortable as I stretched out on the sofa.

The next thing I knew the entire building was shaking and swaying. I fell off the sofa. Climbing onto my knees I shouted , “Dear Lord Jesus, keep this building up! Keep this building up!” The swaying, shuddering and shaking went on and on. I could hear the sound of glass breaking, and screaming through the open windows. The apartment building was in a densely built up area of the city so your neighbors were less than twenty feet away.

As Ken stumbled into the room from the bedroom, the power was cut. Out of this darkness, we heard another large “Boom!”. Just missing the glass coffee table, “Darth Vader” had crashed, helmet and weapons scattering over the tiled floor.

We uttered a short prayer of thanksgiving and decided we needed to leave the building as quickly as possible should an aftershock do more damage. I was starting to shake but Ken, amazingly calm in this emergency, told me to get my shoes on and get out. Realizing we might need water, he put his shoes on—better to avoid getting cut by broken glass—and walked into the kitchen to get a bottle of water.

I was charged with getting the keys and getting out. But neither of us could remember where we put the keys. We must not leave the place unlocked—looters were always out and about after an earthquake, so we needed the keys. Ken handed me his cell phone and with the little green light from that I started looking around the flat, finally finding the set of keys in the bed(!). We rushed out the door together.

Everyone else in the building has already evacuated, it appeared. We walked down the narrow stairwell in the pitch black, again using the cell phone light to help and reached the front door.

“Oh no, oh no,” I started to panic. “The latch lock on the front door is jammed. When the power is cut, the lock stays locked!” I then began imagining the entire building coming crashing down on us as we stood there so close to freedom.

Ken reached over to the handle and wrenched the electrically operated lock open with a “bang.” We scrambled outside to the parking lot behind the building where everyone in the neighborhood had gathered. Except for a few children calling out to their friends, everyone was silent. It was very eerie.

We began walking to the seaside where the hotel for the conference was. Except for a few broken cement blocks here and there we saw no major damage, but the question foremost in our minds was “Where was the epicenter? That was one long quake—we figured it shook for more than 45 seconds. Somewhere damage had happened. Where? How much? Have people died, buildings collapsed?”

Both of us realized that we needed to phone family.

“I felt it too, Mom. That’s why I’m up,” Katrina, back in Ankara was fine. “Michael slept through it though. People are outside on the street right now. What should we do? Oh wait, the neighbors are at the door shouting for us to leave the building.” She hung up, then phoned us again

After re-assuring her that we were o.k. we told her to listen to the others in the neighborhood and that we’d get in touch with her as soon as we were settled at the hotel.

We phoned my mom in Los Angeles. “We’re o.k. You are going to hear about an earthquake in Turkey that just happened, but don’t worry, we’re all o.k.” Just as my startled mother began to ask to ask more questions, the connection broke. The whole system went down, jammed as thousands try to contact loved ones.

We decided to walk the mile and a half down to the hotel where the conference was scheduled to take place. Hundreds of people are out on the streets, many wandering around in their pajamas. We stopped to listen in with a group of about fifteen people crowded around a car. The radio news let us all know. “An earthquake of 7.4 magnitude has hit the Marmara region of Turkey. One building is reported collapsed with thirty casualties.”

“Wow,” I thought. “Only one building and thirty casualties? That’s bad but at least it’s not as bad as it could have been. It sure felt worse than that.”

August 17, 1999

Aftershocks waken us just as the sun begins to rise. The front desk is crowded with people, conference attendees from other countries in the region. We listen as they tell of just arriving at the Ataturk International Airport at 3a.m. only to be rocked nearly off their feet.

I am beginning to feel very disjointed at that moment. People are coming into the hotel excited about the upcoming gathering; I am being summoned to meetings where those of us who are musicians will practice together to prepare for the event. We will be leading the group of nearly 500 people in singing and exuberant worship. Most of these people are not from Turkey nor are they aware of the national crisis which is unfolding.

Just across the room from the main desk is a large-screen television. The local stations have suspended all regular programming and every network is showing footage of row after room of collapsed apartment buildings. The news broadcasters are trying hard not to cry on screen, and the toll of suspected dead reaches into the thousands before the morning is over.

The hotel employees manning the reception were working with the new guests coming in to the conference. They tried hard to understand the questions posed in English while answering in Turkish. Ken and I managed to get the attention of the man and woman in charge of distributing hotel room keys. They looked ready to collapse.

In Turkish I offered my condolences for what had happened to his people and land this night; then we asked him if he was affected.

“Oh Ma’am, I’m so upset and don’t know what to do. Actually there is nothing I can do. I was on night duty here last night, but I’m from a section of town that was completely destroyed. I can’t get through to my family. I have no idea if they were crushed or survived or what.” And he started to cry.

“My friend,” Ken grabbed his hand and I took his other one. “Almighty God is great and powerful and listens when we pray. May we pray for you and your loved ones?”

He nodded and closed his eyes. “Lord, Creator of Heaven and earth, you know where this man’s family is right now. You know how his heart aches and what fears he carries there. We ask you, in Jesus’ Name, to especially protect them wherever they are and to help him have peace and be re-united with them soon. Amen”

In typical Turkish fashion, he wiped his face with both hands to indicate that he was in agreement with this prayer and then looked at us, calm having returned. “Thank you, thank you” he continued, “You have no idea how I needed that just now. I feel something strange now, a peace about this. Thank you.”

He excused himself to get back to serving the in- coming guests.

Later in the morning, while we sat on the patio as part of the welcoming group for other new arrivals, another employee, this time a young waitress came up to serve us some tea. As she set down our glasses she blurted, “I know about you. You prayed for Yahya and his family. Please, will you pray for me and mine? I, too, am separated from them, and there is no way I can get the twenty miles I need to go to get re-united with them. I don’t know their state. I can’t stand it…” and she began shaking before bursting into tears.

As we prayed for her, she, too, welcomed the peace and sense of God’s presence at that moment. We looked up to find more of the staff of the hotel wanting to be prayed for. We knew of one other couple there who spoke the language, called them over and before long the tea tables had become little prayer cells.

The organizers of the gathering decided not to cancel the event but rather to make it a time where all those gathered could intercede in prayer and tears for the traumatized nation.

I have no idea just what the long-term effect of these prayers is going to be, but I sensed strongly that it was God’s plan for us to be here at this time in history.

My California friends joined us that afternoon to tell us how the LORD had used them in their hotel. No strangers to earthquakes, they remained fairly cool and collected when the hotel owner of the place they were staying at came banging on everyone’s doors telling them to evacuate immediately.

“The Lord is our shelter and refuge,” Carol had told him. “Do not fear. We will be fine and so will you.”

“Inshallah” he replied then later as they all sat on the curb outside in the dark facing Hagia Sophia and The Blue Mosque, he scooted over to sit next to her.

“How can you be so confident that God is with you?” he asked sincerely. She was able to give him a reason for “the hope that was in her: Jesus, the same, yesterday, today and forever.

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Palace of the Poor

A couple of evenings ago I was invited to a wedding. The brother of S., one of my staff from Saray, was marrying and there was going to be a mid-week party at the local city park. A colorful, dance-filled evening under the stars proved to be yet another reason why I love living here. We danced folk dances from several of the ethnic groups which make up this country, hugged and kissed long-time no-see friends and generally enjoyed the event. Only one aspect of the evening triggered some negative emotions. Sitting at three tables set aside for v.i.p’s were a number of the administrators from Saray, the residential facility found on the outskirts of Ankara.

Some refused to acknowledge my greetings. Others nodded civilly and turned their heads away. But a few came up to me to ask if Kardelen was still active in the city. They seemed genuinely happy to hear that we were now serving families who in the past would have abandoned their children because of their disabilities to live or die out at Saray.

“Much has changed,” I said to Dr. B. after she asked about the work. “But we are seeing the expansion of the good work in ways we had not been able to foresee so many years ago.”  After I sat down I began to reflect on that statement. Much, much, much has changed.


In 1997 my friends, Harriet, and Jane, visited a state-run orphanage for children with disabilities—Saray (Palace) Rehabilitation and Orphanage Center. What they’d seen had brought them to their knees in prayer.

I knew nothing about their visit, but I was being prepared to hear a new word of direction from the LORD.

As a volunteer of a local charity, my contribution was to visit needy institutions and make suggestions about possible donations.

Looking for good projects to support is a challenge, and so we were often getting tips from Turkish friends about places to visit. One day in 1995 Audrey asked me to try to get in touch with a state-run orphanage.

“This place, Saray, is supposedly a very big campus on the road near the airport. My friend, Mrs. Melis from the Turkish Children’s Benefit Association, thinks we might be able to help them.”

It would be two years, however, before I could ever get onto the campus.

“Hello, this is Norita Erickson. I’m calling on behalf of the Bluebird Charity. We’d like to come and visit your orphanage with an eye to bringing donations if possible. When and how can we do this?” I phoned the public relations office of the orphanage.

“ Why, that is very nice. Don’t bother coming out on your own. We’ll send a minibus to pick you up and bring your group out. Would Wednesday at 10am be ok? What’s a good meeting point?” The woman on the other end was friendly.

“Well, pick us up—we should be about seven women—at the base of the Atakule (the newly-built “space needle”-type tower and super-modern shopping mall in south Ankara).”

Wednesday, we gathered to wait for our transportation. We waited for nearly an hour. I phoned the office to be told that there was a mix up and that they meant to meet us a month later at the appointed time.

A month later we stood on the sidewalk waiting once more. Again, no minibus showed up. I phoned again from home (this was before mobile phones in Ankara), I was unable to speak to the person who had made the initial appointment nor could I connect over the next several days  to anyone who knew what I was talking about.

At the next Bluebird meeting Audry told us that she’d heard from Mrs. Melis that we should forget trying to get into that place. We were foreigner ,and Turks did not want help from us for this particular “palace”. The director, a political appointee, was a member of the far-right nationalist party, and, on principle, they did not need non-Turkish money or goods. It became apparent that they had deliberately stood us up.

Later I learned that the orphanage was a political football. In the beginning it was used by the prime minister to bolster his appeal at the ballot box as well as to make political mileage for Turkey in the eyes of the foreign dignitaries he’d bring to visit there on their way in or out of the city. Saray was built very close to the airport expressly as a “showcase” for Turkey’s modern social services. But dignitary visits were few and far between and could be setup with a unit or two to look good for the visitor.

When the winds of politics changed, the directorship of the institution changed as well as the directorship of the Department of Social Services the government agency under which all care institutions are managed. There was constant turn-over in the administration. Tragically the various directors have little understanding of humane treatment or rehabilitation for the disabled—never mind the name of the orphanage (Saray REHABILITATION and Care Center. )

We shrugged out collective shoulders and moved on to other places. I put Saray out of my mind.

Two years passed until it came to mind again for no other reason than that I was planning on going to a committee meeting and was considering  potential new projects.

“I’ll just take the bus out to Saray tomorrow and walk in. What can they do to me? I need to know what’s there.” I told myself.

Arriving unannounced I asked a young man sitting on the front steps where the Director’s office was. He brought me into an office where I asked the secretary if I could see the director. Flustered, she phoned him and then after a few moments ushered me into the typical “mudur” (director’s) large ostentatiously decorated room. I introduced myself and asked for a tour. To my relief, the ruling political party had recently changed; the new director now appeared quite happy to have foreigners visit and was all too pleased to take me around.

The facility was spread out and comprised of staff housing, an administrative and classroom structure, several dorm buildings, a small clinic, and a large three-story building. That structure housed children and young adults with all sorts of disabilities, both physical as well as developmental. My tour guide informed me that there were approximately 400 children between the ages of 6 months to 16 years of age living under the care of the state in Saray.

“All orphans?”

“No,” he replied. “95% of the wards actually have families, but their mothers and fathers have abandoned them to our care. Some of the families have several children and can’t afford a disabled child, since both have to work; other parents believe we can do a better job at caring than they can. Still other parents leave their children in the garden of the mosque or at the door of the local police station with no note or contact address.”

He showed me a newly produced video which showed Saray to be a wonderful place to send a child with a disability. Featured was the ceramics and carpet-weaving rooms. Footage showed two boys with Downs Syndrome and several developmentally disabled young ladies working away in the rooms and learning skills which would be useful in the marketplace. Another teenager who had no legs was interviewed. This young man talked about how happy he was to be able to make paintings. The camera zoomed in on his skilled artwork.

Another shot took the viewer out to a grassy field where boys were playing soccer. These boys appeared to be normal children and when I asked about that, the director conceded that 50 of the residents were, in fact, healthy children who had come in from the outlying villages and were sent to the local schools. Some of them were bonafide orphans, as well.

“There is presently a waiting list of 3,000 families with children who suffer from disabilities to get in here,” he announced proudly.

“This must be a pretty wonderful place,” I thought. “That video is impressive.”

Then we went outside to tour the grounds.

Although only 10 years old as a facility, it was already in a state of disintegration. Peeling paint and broken walkways, weeds and glass from broken windows littered the ground and on a hill between two of the buildings several lamp posts and rounded cement igloo-like structures with no apparent purpose were scattered. When I asked what those structures were, the director told me that the original plan for the orphanage called for a children’s petting zoo. Nothing had come of those plans and was not likely to in the near future.

“Never mind,” he said. “You must see our rehabilitation and exercise room.” We walked through wooden double doors, down a dank and smelly corridor, up a flight of cement stairs and into a brightly painted and well-heated and decorated gym. Stocked with every type of physical therapy equipment in attractive primary colors, everything looked new and shiny and ready to serve dozens of children.

There were no children there, however.

The year before I’d visited a private mother/child rehab center in the center of town which was a third of the size and filled with the activity of mothers, children and therapists. At that place there had been lots of happy noise when we brought in the play “plastic ball pool”.

In contrast this gym was silent and empty. When we walked in unannounced, the staff– twelve of them all in white medical jackets denoting their professional status as therapists–rushed out of the office where they’d been sitting drinking tea and reading the newspaper.

“Where are the children?’ I asked politely, “You have a very beautiful place here.”

“Oh, it’s lunch break. They’ll be here after lunch.” The head therapist explained. It was 10:30 am– a long time before mealtime.

They showed me the rooms with all the various special therapy work-out equipment, the room filled with normal workout equipment, and the office. One of the therapists was dressed plainly under her white jacket and had her head covered with a scarf. She immediately took it off when she saw the director. In those days as a government employee she was forbidden from wearing the headscarf. She walked with a pronounced congenital hip limp. In contrast, another therapist was dressed in very striking modern sport clothes and was obviously wearing a lot of makeup.

When I asked them if they enjoyed their work, they started complaining– first, it was the number of children they were supposed to see daily; then it was about the poor policies of the government, then they began to speak about the other personnel—too many uneducated, gossips around and too little intellectual stimulation. Although I was shocked by the absence of children, I nodded and then apologized that I’d come at a time when they couldn’t show me their work. I promised to return.

In the years ensuing I have never seen more than two children being helped in that gym at a time. I’ve returned at all hours of the working day to discover the same therapists sitting and drinking tea and rushing out of their office to greet me with all sorts of explanations as to why there are no children there. They are still the living example of the anomaly that is “Saray Rehabilitation and Care Center” –over thirty “qualified” social workers, doctors, physical therapists and psychologists in charge of over a hundred unskilled workers. The educated ones spend the overwhelming majority of their time behind desks, pushing papers, drinking tea and complaining about their lot in life.

I was escorted from that posh and colorful unit into the rest of the C Block which I now call “The Labyrinth.” Down corridors and up stairs and around corners it seemed as if there were unit after unit of children and young adults shuffled away behind double doors, either lying on the broken concrete floor, scooting around on their backsides, pressing their unwashed faces against broken glass door windows, or just sitting in worn upholstered armchairs staring out into space and hardly paying attention to anything. One or two units had a TV set attached to the ceiling and blaring away in the corner.

I was escorted into the “Spastic” unit—so named because one or two of the children in that unit had cerebral palsy.  Thirty or so kids between the ages of five and ten huddled together on a mattress sitting against the wall. The large day room was unfurnished, cold, and drafty. The windows had been thrown open to air out the room. When I approached the children I could see why the “care-givers’’ had needed to do that. The smell of urine and body odor emanated nearly overpowered me.

Three of the children could walk, and they ran to me, threw their arms around me and pulled me to the ground. These children could not speak but expressed their desperate need for hugs and kisses and attention in ways which overwhelmed. I looked around for my escort. He’d slipped out the door.

I pulled myself up and, since they would not let go, managed to drag us all over to where the other children remained on the ground. Some of these kids could speak but were unable to walk. I met Yunus and Cuneyt and Cansu, all of whom in spite of their spasticity showed remarkable intelligence and enthusiasm. I met eight-year old Murat who smiled broadly and asked if I’d brought them any candy. I told him that I hadn’t this time but would surely bring something the next time. All the while the other little ones held on for dear life. As I reached for them, trying to keep my balance, my hands grew wet from their soaked pj bottoms. My stomach lurched, but I was not going to let on that I was feeling nauseous from the sights and sounds; those kids did not need me to reject them. They needed love.

Out of nowhere it seemed, a little boy came charging at us and pinched whomever he could get his hands on. When the main social worker in charge of this unit, Mr. Halil, emerged from his back corridor office, saw this, he came running over to rescue me.

“We’ve got to be really careful with that one—he’s small for sure but can draw blood in no time. “

“What’s the ‘pincher’s’ name? ” I asked after being escorted out of the big room and into his office down the corridor.

“Uh, uh, let me see,” he rummaged through some papers on his desk. “That’s Cem.”

“What about the names of the kids who were clinging to me?”

After another glance at a list, “Their names were Kader, Jamal, and Ninety-eight.”


“Yes,” he answered matter-of-factly as he put away his papers neatly and called an aid to bring us tea. The aid was one of the older children who was also an orphanage resident but able to make tea and bring it around to the personnel in charge.

After ten minutes he showed me the other rooms attached to this unit. All I can remember of that visit were wet corridor floors, the smell of sewage and the chilled air. When I asked Mr. Halil what we could buy for the children that would be helpful, he replied that blankets were always needed as were educational toys. When asked if any kids had wheelchairs, he replied that several of them needed chairs as well as special chairs. The concrete floor of the day room was neither comfortable, warm nor hygienic.

So much was needed it was hard to know what to recommend to my charity committee.

The Director had disappeared. In his place, Y. and N., the assistant directors of the orphanage had come to direct me to another block, the D section for the most severely handicapped children. Out the front door of the C Block we passed several lampposts set in the oddest configuration on a broad field. When I looked more closely at the field I could just make out between high-growing weeds and bushes what looked like little rectangles built onto the field.

“Oh that field was going to be a miniature golf course for our older mentally disabled children” Yuksel answered my question and then continued “The money ran out to finish the course and too many other pressing needs came up to bother with that now. You see those little white bunker-like structures at the top of the hill?” I nodded that the director had explained the petting zoo concept. Understanding began to dawn.

Although there are many wonderful ideas and plans in the minds of idealistic social workers , in actual fact little long-term research or planning existed to give crucial basic care for the weakest and neediest of Turkey. This lack of planning and follow-through unfortunately is a pattern all too evident in modernizing Turkey. The current regime has curried favor with a good percentage of the population just because they have completed projects conceived and begun but left half-finished years earlier.

I walked into D Block.

The stench of vomit, filth, and sweat nearly made me gag. Loud cries , moans of those little ones  caused me to turn to Y. in alarm. His look of sheepish shame, “Yes, this is too bad, but we don’t have enough care-givers to look after them. It’s a good thing they are handicapped because they don’t feel anything anyway.”

I was speechless. This man had just told me he was a psychologist.

I stared at the children bound in their metal beds, hands tied so tightly with cotton tights or rags to the crib sides that they’d ballooned out into purplish, gray throbbing masses. So many of the children had also been tied around their middle. When I looked closer I could see stomachs bloated above the rag “belts”.

“What is wrong with them?” I asked myself and then realized with horror that these children had all been bottle-fed while lying flat on their backs. No one had burped them, and they were all bloated with gas following the hurried feedings. As I went from crib to crib, I saw and heard the same thing: vomit-encrusted children crying or moaning.

I ran out the door to discover the “caregivers”, nonchalantly drinking their tea and smoking. They looked at me and shrugged when I asked them to look after the hurting ones– tightly bound into the small beds because there was no one to care for or play with them. No one to make sure that they received adequate food or water.

They were growing children who wanted “OUT” but who because of their special needs required careful monitoring. The institution hadn’t hired enough basic care-givers to properly feed and bathe the bed-ridden children, let alone play with them. The ones who were hired were out in the hallway drinking tea–the less educated version of the therapists sitting in the gym two hundred yards away.

Afraid I was going to throw up, I mumbled a hurried excuse and ran out of Saray.

At home, I fell on the floor and cried out in shock and anger, “ Father God, how could You show me this? Isn’t my life here difficult enough without you showing this to me? What do you expect of me? This is an impossible hell-hole.” My heavenly Father let me rant but was silent.

Maybe the cold winter visit to Saray, maybe the emotional upheaval of seeing and experiencing so much suffering brought it on, I can not say, but two weeks later, I came down with a bad case of the flu. Feverish and aching I took to bed and tried to get some sleep and comfort, but those precious things eluded me.

At that time our apartment was insufficiently heated. Every evening we’d heat up the living room with a kerosene heater. We’d eat, play games, pray and watch TV in that room. Just before bed we’d turn off the heater, rush out of the room to our bedrooms where we’d try to get dressed for bed as quickly as possible and snuggle down in our feather comforters. Sometimes I’d put a hot water bottle in a few minutes before bed-time, and before too many minutes we were warm, cozy and asleep.

That night I was anything but sleepy, but exhausted none the less. About 3 am, I got out of bed, shuffled in my slippers and robe to the now ice-cold living room. Curled up in a quilt in my “prayer chair” (an arm chair which sometimes afforded me a view of west Ankara,) I felt as if every bone and joint were aching. I couldn’t get comfortable. All of a sudden I was overcome with a feeling of abject loneliness and desolation. I began to sob. I hurt so much. Then in my mind’s eye, I saw the children in the wards, and it was as if I were feeling and experiencing what they felt. I became one of them. But soon I understood that God was speaking to me: these sobs, these cries, were birthed out of the broken heart of my Heavenly Father. The Holy Spirit was weeping.

After several minutes of deep crying, the desolate sensation passed, and I was transported. I saw a large grassy area with trees and animals and smiling children sitting up; there were adults there too who I identified as parents and care-givers. All were sitting together in little groups enjoying the sunshine and the fresh breeze.

“You are to do this. Rescue and restore.”

As is often the case when God speaks to me, I argued in protest.
“I can’t do this. It is too great and too impossible “

“Nothing is impossible. Just trust me.”

At that point I knew it was too late a night and I was in no state to fully understand what had just happened so got back into bed and promptly fell asleep.

The next morning I woke up feeling fresh and excited. What had happened the night before was real and compelling so I woke my husband to tell him of this new commission. Still half-asleep, he yawned, “Oh Norita, you and your visions” and turned over to try to get a few more winks. I knew he was thinking of my involvement with Turkish children’s camps, and the bookstore I’d started a year before.

I pinched him in the arm, “Come on, no, It’s real. Something amazing and scary happened last night. God wants to help poor disabled children and their families here. I know it. He’s going to use us.”

And “Kardelen” was conceived.

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