We returned to South Africa at the end of October 1999. We returned to Halfway House Midrand and stayed with friends in the congregation. We had a lot to share and our support group in the congregation made the necessary arrangements for us to give feedback during a Sunday service and to meet with small groups in the congregation. We had a burning desire in our hearts to return to Turkey and we pushed hard for meetings to explore the possibilities and to plan and strategize for a possible return.
Within two weeks after our arrival we were on our way to attend a church service. It was the 11th of November 1999 and we were listening to a radio program on our way to church. In one of the interviews it was announced that another 7,0+ magnitude earthquake had rocked Turkey. This time it was the Duzce valley at the foothills of the Bolu mountain range between Istanbul and Ankara that was most severely affected. We were shocked and we were heart-broken. We have seen the devastation around the sea of Marmara and we could not imagine a repeat of the same scenes!
It was with heavy hearts that we sat through the sermon. Our minds were in Turkey and we felt stuck. If we can just get back there!
When we left the church building that morning one of our friends came up to us. She had heard the news about the earthquake too. She made us an offer. If we want to go and participate in the relief work, she will pay our return air fare! Our hearts jumped with excitement at this news, That afternoon we started to make the necessary arrangements. Time was of the essence because the window for rescue and relief work is relatively short. We had to find caretakers for our children and make reservations for the flights.
During that time we were approached by an entrepreneur involved with Carewell South Africa. He designed a foldable kerosene cooker and offered us one to take with us and to see if this can be used in the tent cities. Within a few days everything was ready and we were on our way back to Turkey to do rescue and relief work for another week.
When we arrived in Turkey, we learned that all the roads were closed between Istanbul and the earthquake region. No normal traffic was allowed and the regular trains and buses were not running at all. We decided to take a detour to Ankara and to see what we can do in partnership with the churches in Ankara.
Our friends could not belief their eyes when we attended the church service at the International Protestant Church in Ankara that Sunday. It was not yet three weeks since they waived us good-bye, and now we were back. One of the elders invited us for lunch that Sunday. He was a trusted friend and during the lunch he asked us a lot of questions about our calling and commitment to the work in Turkey. When we left he asked me to come and see him in his office on the Tuesday.
We spent the Monday to see if we can find kerosene for the kerosene cooker we brought with us. We were excited that we have a very practical tool to present for usage in the tent cities. After an extended search we realized that we have misread the situation. Kerosene was not on sale in Turkey without a permit. It was considered as a harmful and dangerous substance and without this special permit kerosene could not be bought. The cooker wasn’t a bad idea, but it did not fit into the context.
On the Tuesday we went to see our friend at his place of work. He surprised us with a proposal. He told us that the International Protestant Church of Ankara established a relief fund to help earthquake victims. Money was pouring into the account and it was now time to find ways to spend the money responsibly on projects that will benefit the earthquake victims. All the foreign workers involved with the church was already committed to different tasks and duties and they were looking for someone to come and manage the funds and establish projects that would benefit the earthquake victims. They were offering me the role of project manager reporting to the Earthquake Relief Committee of Ankara. This committee comprised of representatives of the Turkish and International churches and they agreed to make the offer to me.
This was a big opportunity! Working with the churches in Turkey and serving them in this way was a dream come true. The role carried a stipend of $300 per month and the possibility of a work permit. We used our time in Ankara to get as much information as possible about this opportunity to return and serve in this way. We never got to the earthquake affected area during this visit, but our hearts were full and we could not wait to get home to share the information with our support group and church family.