Last November I was in the Istanbul Ataturk Airport with a group of travelers on our way to Izmir, Turkey. We had been flying all night and were hurrying through the airport to catch our next flight. I was tired, hungry and slightly anxious about making the connection. Due to a number of factors we had a very small window to make our way through security, the visa checkpoint and the maze of the Istanbul airport.
One of our group members required a wheelchair, and I attached myself to her and her husband to be sure they were well cared for. At the visa checkpoint there was no space for a wheelchair to squeeze through so we needed to leave the wheelchair she was using on one side of the checkpoint and walk through to the other side where the very nice airport security guard gestured for us to take a seat on a bench. He spoke no English and we spoke no Turkish so we had to be content with gestures. The rest of the team were long gone, and we had no choice but to wait on this bench and hope that another wheelchair and guide would show up soon.
Announcements kept coming over the PA system, but of course we could not understand them. We did know that our flight was leaving very shortly. Eventually two other people came to our bench to await a wheelchair and escort as well, and again, we gestured and smiled but were unable to understand what was being said. Finally an escort with a wheelchair showed up and, speaking in Turkish, he started to help my friend into the chair. The other couple gestured to us, to the chair and to the escort. It seemed they had quite a discussion, but of course we could only imagine what was being said. After a few minutes, which seemed like hours, the escort took my friend in the wheelchair and we were off on a very exciting ride to our plane. When we arrived, we discovered they were holding the plane for us and tried to sit down without drawing attention to ourselves.
That brief experience gave me a glimpse of what it must be like to come to a country as an immigrant. Imagine never completely understanding what is being said, or never really knowing where things are or how things are done. In the airport I was fairly certain we would be fine, but nonetheless I felt anxious about making the flight and my mind was racing to figure out what I would do if the plane left without us. I felt stupid, a word that is not really allowed in my house but which perfectly describes how I felt at the time. No matter how hard I tried I could not understand what was being said. I was at the mercy of strangers, dependent on others for kindness and compassion. It was good for me.
During that time I was studying Paul’s letter to the early church in Ephesus. Paul wrote much on the importance of unity and welcoming the stranger. In Ephesians, Paul states, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
My little experience in the Istanbul airport was convicting. One of my goals for 2016 is to recognize moments when others may feel as I did, confused and anxious. It is my hope that I will be aware and able to live into Paul’s words as a bearer of love. We are, after all, all one family.
“There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” – Ephesians 4:5-6