This is my third night sleeping in the brothel. In fact it is really a cheap hotel overlooking the Black Sea in a quiet little border town in Turkey, frequented mainly by truck drivers. The walls are paper-thin. Tonight two men have the room next to mine. By the sound of their voices one is young, about in his late teens or early twenties. He talks non-stop. The other one is more quiet, older and probably in his thirties.
“Oh Lord, I cannot bear this. How can YOU bear it 24 hours a day, not just listening but actually seeing all the evil of the world? How do You remain pure, uncontaminated, holy and retain Your joy? Sometimes in my spirit, I picture You crying non stop.”
I start singing to cover the sounds and as a witness. My voice croaks, falters, like trying to start an old car parked outside the whole night, on a cold morning: stopping, starting. I leave early the next morning for Georgia, bordering on the eastern side of Turkey.
I wake up at 06:00. I sing again. All is quiet in the room next to mine. At 07:00 I meet my new friend, Naditsa, a prostitute from Georgia, on the landing. She walks outside with me flagging down a taxi to drive me to the border. I die inside as I embrace her, kissing her on both cheeks, in front of all the merchants and passers-by. I know I am being classified as a prostitute.
Naditsa was the first person other than the manager of the hotel that I saw when I arrived three days ago. The manager very kindly put me in a back room instead of one of the front rooms overlooking the main road. There are no curtains in front of any of the windows, only a thin chiffon type covering, completely see-through.
I took the sheet off the second bed in my room and with my emergency sewing kit sewed it onto the chiffon curtain. In fact I only met Naditsa the next day when I saw her next door cleaning a room. I recognized her voice as the same person who visited the man who slept in that room the previous night. She invited me up to her room for coffee. For the next two mornings, I have the best Turkish coffee ever. There I meet Tanja, a small dark girl also from Georgia. She shares a small room in the middle of the landing with Naditsa. Tanja is quiet, like a squeezed out sponge, emotionless, never saying a word. Naditsa is like a wound-up toy, tightly wound up, large and blonde. I give them some literature in Georgian, New Testaments and other Christian books and tracts.
That night, my second night there, I walk past the room next to mine. I am on my way to the bathroom and I see a little old man lying on the bed. I turn around, dash back to my room and lock the door. He chases after me; stops short at the locked door. He tries to open it, starts banging on the door talking rapidly in Turkish. I keep quiet. He returns to his room mumbling and starts hammering on the wall shouting short bursts of sentences. I am afraid. There will be no help from anyone there. I bind all the evil forces in him in the name of Jesus. He becomes quiet, I think he fell asleep.
The next day I write down key words from my dictionary and go the manager to complain. I could not turn to him for help last night, because he is like nothing I have ever come across. He is like a person stripped of all moral values; quite attractive with watery blue eyes, but I sense inside he is weak and limp – soggy, with no strength.
“If this happens again I will call the police,” I threaten. There is a little old man in the office while I am complaining.
“Who was it?” he asks. I turn around and the little man is gone.
“It was him,” I say.
I want to get rid of all the literature because of the weight, except some Russian books. I decide to target the customers as well. I go up to my friends’ room. A man emerges from one of the adjacent rooms. I stop him and give him some literature. He starts talking about it. He is an Arab. Another man comes down the stairs. I had seen him the previous day coming down the same stairs. I give him a New Testament as well. He can speak a little English. He is a Turk. We talk for a long time, the five of us, in broken English, a little Turkish from my side and a lot of mime and pointing to colours to illustrate the Gospel: red for the blood of Jesus, dirt for the state of my heart and soul.
“There must be another prostitute upstairs,” I think after they left. I saw the Turk two mornings in a row descending the stairs one flight above Naditsa and Tanya’s room. I run up the stairs, taking them two at a time. I meet her, older than the others, dark haired, attractive, she is from Armenia.
“I have something for you,” I tell her excitedly. Before I left South Africa for Turkey, I went to the Bible Society to buy literature and felt led by the Holy Spirit to buy an Armenian New Testament, not knowing how or when I would be in or near Armenia. How amazing! I race down the stairs, grab the New Testament and race back up again. I give the book to her. She looks at the cover, recognizes the writing. Her whole face lights up. She talks excitedly to the other two, smiling from ear to ear. My heart overflows with joy! What an awesome God!
Later in the day when I come up to Naditsa and Tanja’s room again, I see Tanya preparing a syringe drawing fluid from a little brown vial. “What is this, some drug or medicine?” I wonder. It looks like she is preparing it for Naditsa.
The bathrooms are usually spotless, kept so by Naditsa. Now I use the squatting down toilet. There is a jug filled with water under the tap next to me for rinsing afterwards as there is no toilet paper. I always carry my own toilet paper. Today someone had diarrhea and some had splashed onto the jug and wall. “Oh Lord, I cannot bear this!”
The next morning before I leave I go the bathroom to brush my teeth and wash my face. Someone who chews tobacco was there before me and had cleared his nose and throat and had spat the contents in the basin. A blob of mucus mixed with tobacco grains lay in the basin. I feel my stomach heaving. I clench my toothbrush between my teeth. I do not want to put it down on the basin. My hands are free, enabling me to wash my face. I think back to the second night there when I felt that I could not endure it one more night.
“I must be crazy Lord; I am getting out of here!” I sense the Lord’s compassion for the people here, almost as if He were telling me that none of His children ever venture into these places to tell the people about Jesus.
“How will they hear the Good News?”
“For You, Lord Jesus, I will stay one more night!”
I think back to my own life of sexual brokenness, molested when I was three years old by an adult. This effectively messed up my life for more than fifty years. Only through the healing power of the Holy Spirit and the truth of Jesus did wholeness come. The enemy always attacks me on my emotional brokenness before leaving on an assignment though.
“Who do YOU think you are to be used of God? Look at this and that in your life that is still broken!” The problem is that he was usually right.
A Scripture the Lord gave me before leaving for Turkey was, “and in going they were healed” (Luke 17:14).
Early the next morning Naditsa phones for a taxi to pick me up in front of the hotel. Already many people are either milling around or bustling to various duties. The taxi picks up more passengers.
I pray all the way to the border between Turkey and Georgia. I have too much luggage; how will I carry it all, I can hardly manage. I do not know what awaits me at the border. I find these crossings difficult not knowing if border guards will make things difficult because they expect bribes or possible hassles with visas.
My Georgian visa was issued in a northern city in Turkey. A missionary accompanied me there. I tried to witness to the consul while the missionary translated for me. Halfway through the conversation, she stopped.
“I feel uncomfortable to translate the Gospel to this guy. He is clearly NOT a Georgian citizen and will therefore resent hearing the Gospel, being Turkish.”
I felt frustration. Several days later I felt the Holy Spirit prompting me to return to the consulate. “You have unfinished business there,” the Holy Spirits impressed on my heart.
I returned and gave the consul a Gospel of John, in the Georgian language. He was overcome with joy, kissed my hand and issued a three-month visa for my stay there. He was Georgian after all.
I do not know a single soul in Georgia; I have no accommodation and cannot afford to stay in a hotel. I heard that hotels are full anyhow, because of a war in the north of Georgia.
I share the taxi with a guy and a Turkish lady. She is enwrapped in a large coat, winter is starting, her head covered with the tradition scarf. There is a misunderstanding between the taxi driver and myself. I thought he said the trip to the border will cost one million lira (roughly USD3), now he says it is two million. I argue with him. The woman next to me takes up my case; she starts shouting at him. He gives in to the female pressure. She is also crossing the border and helps me with my luggage. I see a long, narrow building in front of me.
This must be the bus stop where we catch the bus to the border.
The lady from the taxi walks down the length of the building beckoning me to hand over my passport. This IS the border crossing. We pass through customs without problemsoH. Once through the Turkish customs, she pulls off the scarf. At the Georgian border a bus and scores of people wait patiently. The front group is pressing against the gate. Finally the guard lets three women through. Another one slips through and several of the ones staying behind shout at her. One puts her arm through the gate and pulls the escapee’s hair. I burst out laughing; just like two little children they are.
Finally, I pass through the custom’s control. As I walk to the baggage inspection building, I look up towards the welcoming sign written in Georgian.
What a peculiar language. It looks just like paper clips cut in half and turned in various directions.
I started handing out Russian and Georgian Christian literature even before crossing the border. I picked the literature up from the little priest at the Roman Catholic monastery further west.
“Are you a Baptist?” they all ask.
“No, but very similar.”
“Are you a Christian? Which church are you from?” I am totally in the dark as to why they ask the same questions, person after person.
I had found a travel book on Georgia at the Roman Catholic youth hostel where I stayed in Trabzon wherein travelers are warned against paying any extra money to the police upon exiting the border post. Sure enough, with my stamped passport I walk past the last booth with two police officers in it. They ask me for an additional amount in US dollars. I question them and insist on a receipt. Finally they wave me through.
I find to my relief that there is a direct route by minibus to the capitol, Tbilisi. I buy a ticket and walk around the area while I wait until 11:30. I hand out more literature, freely now because there are no restrictions this side of the border. Finally our journey starts. The minibus is packed to capacity. I hand out books, New Testaments and other literature in Russian and Georgian. The same questions are asked again regarding denomination. I give the same answers. I notice one woman shuddering at the mention of the word ‘Baptist’.
The people read intently. One lady behind me reads out loud for more than an hour from the Gospel of John. There is total silence from the passengers, all listening. I feel a deep sense of fulfillment at bringing the Word to these people. Another lady behind me keeps on sucking in her breath through her teeth making little sounds in her throat.
These words are obviously touching her very deeply.
Eventually I notice that she does it every time we go around a corner, or get too close to a car. We are climbing higher and higher up a mountain on a narrow road. I turn around and pray for her. Even though she cannot speak English, the Holy Spirit will do what is necessary for her. She stops doing it and even starts talking and laughing with some of the passengers.
Later we stop for lunch and I see her swirling her Turkish coffee dregs around in her cup staring intently at it. She mutters all the time and after that settles into a deep gloom for the rest of the journey.
I relax and enjoy the magnificent scenery. The trees are painted vivid autumn colours from bright red to deep gold. I had read that there are still brown bear and antelope roaming freely in the mountains.
Quietness settles on the passengers; each lost in thought. I am anxious. What awaits me in Georgia? My thoughts go back to my troubled childhood. Who am I to think that I could be an instrument in the hands of the Living God? Yet times without number He has confirmed that I am in His will.
To read more about these and other adventures in faith, you can buy A Reckless Faith.