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Global Ministries Committee learn of outreach in Turkey

Taking advantage of connections possible with Skype, the conference Global Ministries Committee conversed with Alison Stendahl in Istanbul, Turkey, at its October meeting.

Alison, a member of University Congregational UCC in Seattle is academic dean and math teacher at Uskudar American Academy through the Near East Mission in Istanbul.

Alison Stendahl
Alison Stendahl 'meets' by Skype with PNC Global Ministries Committee. At the right are Peter Lin and Mary Margaret Pruitt.

Because Turkish families value education, those who can afford the tuition pay for their children to attend so they will have advantages the parents did not have, she said.  There are scholarships and partial scholarships for others to attend the co-ed school of 620 students. 

“Education through eighth grade is guaranteed for girls as well as boys, but some parents in some parts of the country do not send girls to school,” said Alison, noting that the school is now run by a Turkish institution that partners with the UCC.

Global Ministries and its predecessors have had personnel there for 170 years. Once they had more than 100.

Now there are three, Alison, and Ken and Betty Frank of Claremont, who are co-general secretaries of the American Board in Istanbul. Betty is involved with the Istanbul Interparish Migrants Program, aiding refugees and migrants from Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia, providing food, clothing, shelter, education and health care. Ken, who is fluent in Turkish, promotes official interfaith dialogue.

“Betty and I do interfaith dialogue by living with the people,” Alison commented.

“While we no longer own and operate the schools, people know the church cares,” she said.  “Uskudar American Academy is a multi-lingual, multi-cultural and multi-faith school where minorities feel safe to go to school. 

“It’s essential the Islamic world know there are Americans ready to work with them and dedicate their lives to live with them,” she added.

“We share with our diverse colleagues who are Jewish and Muslim.  We sit down together and pray. We share a belief in God that transcends our politics and divisions,” she said.

Alison said that, in her 29 years there, Turkey has changed. 

“People are more aware of diversity, and there is growing awareness that allows freer thinking, but there is also strong national pride,” she said.

Alison finds insights from the Turkish people and society.  For example, they see President Barack Obama as someone who cares and listens. 

Attitudes on international politics are framed by Turkey being neighbors with Hamas and Iran, being in NATO and having troops in Afghanistan. 

“They want negotiated relationships with Israel and its neighbors,” she said.  “Turkey has no historic problems with Israel or Jews. Jewish students attend her school with Christian and Muslim students.

In Turkey, Alison’s media sources include Cable, BBC, CNN and al Jazeera on Internet, access to more viewpoints than most in the United States.

She said Turkey has socialized medicine, but is not a socialist country.  There is a guaranteed level of health care, and people can buy more.  Some sit in lines, but care is less expensive than the U.S. 

Alison was in Seattle recently on family matters.  She will visit the conference and region in 2011.

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Copyright Pacific Northwest Conference News © December 2009


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