Referring to the Earth Adlai Stevenson said, "We travel together, passengers on a little spaceship dependent ion its vulnerable supplies of air and soil: all committed for our safety to its security and peace, preserved from annihilation only by the care, the work, and I will say the love we give our fragile craft". After experiencing the institute for Interfaith Dialog trip to Turkey I can say the same thing about the interdependence of all of God's children. Without exception each one of us are bound together in this thing called lefe and it is our duty to work together for harmony.
I wish to express my sincere thanks to the Institute of Interfaith Dialog, its representatives in the United States, and its generous sponsors for giving me the opportunity to make an unforgettable journey. My experience touring Turkey from May 22 through June 1, 2005, will remain indelibly imprinted in my heart.
I hardly know where to begin as I remember so many impressions of Turkey - her beautiful countryside, coastline, and modern cities; her ancient history and rich culture; her warm and friendly people, their deep faith, and their vision of a brighter future for our world through peaceful dialog.
As a marketing practitioner in the Mississippi tourism industry, I was fascinated by the destinations we visited in various parts of the country. I began to wonder why I was unaware of the inspiring sites significant to my own religious heritage, the museums, the fine hotels, restaurants and bazaars, luminous marble cities abandoned by lost civilizations, and a gentle, natural beauty. It was exhilarating and enlightening to discover the wonders of Turkey from a tourist's perspective.
Mississippi is often called "The Hospitality State," and part of my job with the Jackson Convention & Visitors Bureau is to train hotel, restaurant, museum, and festival workers to provide the finest possible customer service and hospitality to our visitors. After visiting Turkey and encountering her people, I learned that our "famous" hospitality simply pales in comparison! Now, as I prepare lesson plans for workshops, I add stories of personal experiences during my trip to Turkey. These stories illustrate how the Turkish people demonstrate genuine warmth, respect, and tender loving care to strangers so that they feel perfectly welcome and comfortable.
One of the most remarkable aspects of our journey was meeting and dining with some of the IID sponsors. These individuals and businesses give unselfishly toward funding IID tours of Turkey, so that people from across the world may come to understand Turkish culture. Many of the same sponsors fund outstanding educational and healthcare programs in Turkey. This spirit of selfless giving to others is a potent force in the Muslim communities we visited.
And finally, to our dear friends, our Turkish guides and IID representatives who now live in America and strive to model the exemplary lives of the Prophets, of Rumi the Sufi, and of Fethullah Gulen, thank you. You are like long-lost members of my family - my brothers, my sons. You showed us all such kindness, patience, and humor from start to finish, how could we not love you? Indeed, how could we not love the people of Turkey after such an experience?
Linda Dianne Mann,
I've been back 10 days now, and still my head is swarming with thoughts, ideas, images and new understandings about Turkey, Islam, Fethullah Gulen, history and the Middle East.
I wanted to thank all so much for your tireless efforts to make our trip valuable. You certainly succeeded.
I was very grateful for the generosity and hospitality of all those who helped and supported the trip, and also for the opportunity to spend so much time in conversation with them, and with members of the team. It was a life-enriching experience for me.
I should add that I was very impressed with Turkey. I knew Anatolia was an important piece of real estate, but I was amazed to be there and to see just a small part of its incredible history, and contribution to the world. I was surprised to find Turkey such a vigorous, busy, modern nation, built on such a rich history.
I also was impressed with the Turkish people's friendliness, generosity and hospitality.
Again, thanks so much for this opportunity. I'll never view that part of the world the same again.
Bill Sherman, Tulsa World
Imagine an experience that transforms the way in which you understand the world!
As a guest of the Institute of Interfaith Dialogue to Turkey in December, 2004 I had such an experience. Turkey is an ancient land with all the splendor and revelation of its layers of history. We ate the delicious cuisine of the Turkish people and learned the charm of the tea ritual after dinner. I found my own spiritual life rekindled as I heard the call to prayer from the delicate minarets across the skies of dawn each day. And beneath all of the passion for life embedded in this country, there runs a river of authentic hospitality that cannot be ignored. A people who are so kind and generous gifted us with their lifestyle reveals gracious hospitality and devoted service to humanity. I was changed by this experience because I believe for the first time in my life I saw in action what I have always been taught: devotion to God, service to humanity. I celebrate Turkey and its people!
Dr. Barbara S. Boyd,
Director of Outreach/Faculty, Religious Studies Program,
University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma
As I write this nearly two months after our journey, my mind is still full of images of Turkey, a beautiful country with a rich history and culture. I was both humbled and honored by the gracious and generous hospitality that was extended to us and other members of the group by the hosts who accompanied us, and all who greeted and welcomed us with open arms. The deep commitment of the teachers, administrators, and sponsors of the schools and universities we visited amazed me. This pilgrimage was also a significant chapter in my journey of faith, especially our visits to Harran, home of Abraham, and Ephesus, where St. Paul preached and taught, and the nearby home of Mary, the mother of Jesus. My heart resonated with the call to prayer from the many mosques we saw and visited. Visiting the tomb of the mystic Muslim poet Rumi on the anniversary of his death and attending the celebration of the Whirling Dervishes of Rumi were unforgettable experiences. My wife and I very much enjoyed sharing this experience with the other members of our diverse and gifted group. As a Christian, this pilgrimage deepened my faith. It also enriched my understanding of and appreciation for Islam. I am very grateful to God for this wonderful experience.
Bishop, Floyd M. Schoenhals
Arkansas-Oklahoma Synod Evangelical Lutheran Church in America,
I loved Turkey. It was utterly paradoxical to current opinion in this country. The hospitality and generosity there were overflowing from arrival to journey's end. We crossed the Euphrates River, visited the caves of Abraham and Job and the tomb of Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi, attended the Sufi Ritual of Whirling Dervishes, walked the streets of 3,000 year-old Ephesus, visited the last (believed) dwelling of the Virgin Mary, walked the beaches of the Aegean and Mediterranean, visited the Hagia Sophia, said prayers in the Blue Mosque, roamed the Spice Markets, the Grand Bazaar and reservoirs under the streets of Istanbul and more.
Everywhere we went they served us tea and gave us gifts. The last night found us scattered throughout Istanbul for dinner in private homes where we were received as honored guests, served delicious food, and given more gifts. I would not hesitate to return and will do so whenever I can.
Robert E. Roberts D.D.S., Ph.D., M.S.W.
Executive Director Project Return of Louisiana, Inc.
For one whose formal education was not in anthropology, theology or history, this trip to Turkey was a high-impact, factually overwhelming, and perspective-changing experience. It provided a study of peoples of different religions and philosophies, ancient and modern, side by side.
My overall impression is that Turkey is a country that does not get the respect it deserves. The landscape is incredibly varied and picturesque, with snow-topped mountains, beautiful beaches and everything in between. The Turkish people offered us the warmest, most generous hospitality and the most healthy, tasty dishes I've ever enjoyed, meal after meal, day after day.
The determination and sacrifice of many Turks to transform their society into the cleanest, most orderly, value oriented, progressive society is to be respected. Our visits to schools brought us into contact with teachers and administrators who have been exceptionally successful in bringing out the best in their next generation. By providing models of well-educated, caring, principled, dynamic adults, their students came across as loved and cared for; they were happy, insatiable for knowledge and gregarious individuals.
The Turks we met impressed me as people who have integrated the best of Islamic values without ostentatious practice or declaration.
Traveling with fellow Americans of different faiths provided depth, joy and significance to the overall experience through shared insights at individual sites and all along the way. Each character in our entourage had their own ways of processing the details of this journey: photos, discussions, jokes, songs, running commentaries, new friends and prayers. Many of those moments are permanently imprinted in my mind and heart.
Islamic Society of Tulsa American Outreach
The trip to Turkey with the Institute of Interfaith Dialog is an experience that has altered who I am as a person. I have a transformed sense of connectedness with people, particularly people of different faiths and the people of Turkey, that I never predicted in my life. Moreover, the people we met in the schools and hospitals, and the sponsors of all the good and important work inspired by the teachings of Fethullah Gülen, are examples of true commitment and service like I have never seen or even heard of in my life.
I cannot imagine a more genuine expression of Islam than what I saw.
I cannot imagine a people of whom Turkey could be more proud.
The country itself is beautiful, and its Ottoman history is a testament to what is possible in terms of cooperation and support within the Abrahamic religions. Because of my trip to Turkey, I see there is no room for cynicism or resignation. I see there is cause for hope in the world.
Thank you for this trip, from the depths of my heart.
Dr. Jill Carroll,
Professor of Religiosity and Humanities,
Rice University Assistant Director,
Boniuk Center for the Study and Advancement of Religious Tolerance
You came to my office last year and began telling me about your community of Turkish Muslims. My every contact with you and your organization has meant growth, spiritually and intellectually, and friendship. My gratitude to you for taking time out of your work and life to introduce me to your amazing community.
I wish to thank you particularly for the invitation to travel to Turkey in December 2004. The entire experience was incredible. Whenever I tell the stories of what we experienced, I can hardly contain my own enthusiasm for everything we saw and felt. First, the trip was amazingly conceived. We did more in ten days that most groups do in twenty. We visited sites sacred to Muslims and Christians. You made certain that everyone on the trip had the opportunity to visit sites important to them. Thank you for your sensitivity. We saw a number of beautiful elementary and secondary schools, universities and hospitals. Although we were tourists, we were treated like old friends. Perhaps the most wondrous part of the entire trip was the relationships we established with Turkish people and their children. I will never forget the enthusiasm and brightness of the children we met in Gaziantep, Sanliurfa, Izmir and Istanbul, just to name a few of the stops we made. As I have said to several since our trip, we saw our own children in the smiles and bright eyes of the Turkish boys and girls. Second, all our hosts were well prepared, intelligent, and extremely helpful. They treated us as if we were VIPS. Seldom have I seen such effective coordination of so many elements. I have never known people so attentive to our needs and so dedicated to making the trip a success. Indeed all the travel and accommodations were first class. Every aspect of the trip was well conceived and well executed by caring, faithful members of your community. I must admit that I have never experienced hospitality the way Turkish people demonstrate it. Although Christians often talk about hospitality, I saw your people living it. Finally, I must note that I learned a great deal about Islam from the members of your community. As we heard the calls to prayer echoing through the streets morning to evening, visited sites holy to Muslims, experienced the liturgy of the whirling dervishes, talked with devout Muslims and discussed the poetry of Rumi, I became better acquainted with your amazing faith. These activities stirred within me a desire to know God better and to live my faith more devotedly. I found the level of commitment and sacrifice among your community as an example that all Christians and others of faith should seek to imitate.
Please know that I will use whatever means available to me, the pulpit, the classroom, the radio to help you promote a better knowledge of Islam and to foster love, tolerance and peace among the world's faiths. I trust that our friendship and collaboration together will continue and be an example to others of what people of different faiths can do when they are committed to God and follow the tenets of each faith authentically.
May God Bless You and the Work of IID.
Dr. David B. Capes Chair,
Department of Christianity and Philosophy
Houston Baptist University
An invitation to a trip to turkey with the Institute of Interfaith Dialog group is an invitation to a wondrous, once in a lifetime experience in inter-faith, intercultural adventure. Even more profoundly, it is an invitation to a mind-expanding and very personal spiritual adventure. Even though I had been personally acquainted with our hosts for several months and had discussed the trip numerous times, I was still not well prepared at all for the experience. It had to be experienced.
To begin with, the trip itself was the easiest trip I have ever made to a foreign place. I am sort of a homebody easily intimidated by the risk of adventure. Every arrangement was handled in an amazingly proficient way. All I needed to do was go along for the ride. The Turkish Airline planes were the most accommodating and up to date of any I have ever flown, both on the Atlantic crossing and on the several flights within Turkey. The ground transportation was superb. The accommodations everywhere we stayed were magnificent. The main enjoyment of the whole trip, however, was the fellowship of the people from all over Turkey who worked heroically to make our stay in Turkey such a valuable experience. Our travel hosts and tour arranger/guides were all incredibly intelligent, knowledgeable, and, above all hospitable, generous and accommodating.
I can only attribute the quality of our experience to the great generosity, humanity, and spiritual discipline of the community whose dedicated members live all over Turkey. The word community in its most profound sense is the only word to describe the people we met, ate with and learned from. You will visit vestiges of all the glories of the Ottomans and vestiges of the locals where Christianity as a world movement was founded. You will walk the streets, see the arenas and the baths, and sit on the seats on which Paul and John and Timothy and, perhaps, the mother of Jesus sat.
You will enjoy all of that. But you will also be surprised at how much you will enjoy visiting the grade schools, high schools, university and hospitals that members of this community have established throughout Turkey. Your meals and conversations with these educators and their students will turn out to be high points of your trip and well worth your time. Your conversations and fellowship with your trip hosts and with the individual family hosts will brighten your year.
The community of which all of your hosts and hospitable benefactors are a part is a community of Muslims that arose in Anatolia under the tutelage of Rumi, the great poet and spiritual teacher of the thirteenth century. The contemporary intellectual and spiritual leader of the community, the one who inspires a great deal of the educational and spiritual work of his Turkish students, is M. Fethullah Gülen. These two saintly men from very different centuries will also require some of your attention. They both have a great deal to say to Muslims and non-Muslims alike about how to negotiate this volatile world in which we now find ourselves.
The expectation of most of those who have already made the trip is that you will probably talk more glowingly about this trip to the folks back home than about any you have ever taken.
Dr. Lynn Mitchell
University of Houston
Thank you from the bottom of my heart for the chance to experience Turkiye its history, its natural beauty, and above all its people. I was indeed struck with the genuine goodness and sense of hope for the future in so many of the individuals I encountered there. I was privileged to get to know people living and promoting a quiet peace. Particularly in the networks of schools, the sense of commitment among the teachers and students was palpable. This was a life-changing experience. I will remember and cherish it always.
Dr. Thomas Burns,
University of Oklahoma
Thank you for sending the newsletter. It is a first class production in its appeal to the aesthetic sensibility of the reader, the uplifting content and the information that it communicates. Please keep up the good work.
Father Donald S. Nesti CSSp
Director, Center for Faith & Culture
Professor of Theology
University of St. Thomas
I am the Community Relations Manager for Barnes & Noble College Station. We host this group here in our store on a regular basis. You will not find a group of individuals more approachable, friendly and as dedicated to their mission as these fine people are. I participated in the Peacfeul Heroes Colloquim a few months ago, presenting Buddha. I was delighted to see such diversity in one room. Christians, Muslims, Universalists, and others, all sharing their time and energy to make the event an enlightening and spiritually invigorating experience. I look forward to future collaborations with the IID and wish them all the best.
Community Relations Manager
Barnes & Noble
It has been my honor and pleasure to attend several educational and social events sponsored by the IID over the past year, for both smaller and larger groups. I am especially impressed with these young people's sincerity, kindness, generosity, openness and eagerness to learn. They have been very effective in educating me and others about international religious topics, as well as in promoting an open inter-faith dialogue in the local community.
In these times, the IID serves an important need and fills an important gap. They deserve the support and participation of every caring person of faith. The IID is helping people from around the world reach new levels of mutual respect, understanding, and peace. May their efforts continue to grow and thrive.
Betty J. Dabney, Ph.D.
One of the great joys we have had at St. Thomas Episcopal Church during these last couple of years has been the friendship and dialogue we have shared with the Institute of Interfaith Dialog. Not only have we informed each other of the basics of our religious convictions in formal presentations to each other, but we have also hosted one another at social evenets during Ramadan and Mardi Gras. This sharing has led not only to greater appreciation and understanding between us, but also to many personal friendships.
Saint Thomas Episcopal Church
I attended the meeting you had in April pm spiritual leaders and very much enjoyed the presentations on Gandhi, Jesus, Mother Theresa, Fethullah Gulen and others who are indeed role models that can help us all see the spiritual dimension of life through their words and actions. The presentations were well done and informative and provided a multidimensional view of spirituality that we can all appreciate regardless of what our religious leaning and backgrounds may be.
Best of luck to you all!