For months I have told Grandma that people here love her dearly. Their admiration and affection for her are deep. Not least among her admirers are the YVs. All love her easy, gentle manner. They love her steadiness. They love her home-made treats. They love her bone-dry honesty. They love her ability to put them at ease. They love her ready laugh. She has been as much a factor in any success that our branch might have enjoyed as anyone else, including the YVs whom she credits with most good things. She will be sorely missed. I promise.
Living in a city brings to view constant contrasts. Not just old and new architecture. Not just the array of prominent business and government buildings. Not in the high rent areas and those that are a bit run down. But in the types of people who make up the city’s population. In our downtown, I see the young professionals walking the streets, wearing suits and nice dresses that bespeak their good-paying jobs. Obviously, they have taken advantage of opportunities offered to them through training and education to begin an upward surge to a better life for them and their families. On the other end, I see poor people who roam the streets hoping to sell little packs of tissues, or who sit on the sidewalk with their shoe polishing boxes, hoping for a willing customer, some days not polishing one pair of shoes. One of these latter has picked me out and approaches me whenever I pass his shoe-polishing apparatus on Sunday mornings. He calls me Baba (Father). He speaks some English and almost always tells me a tale of poverty and woe. No customers today, Baba. No one is coming to Turkey. Troubles in the country. What can I do? What can I do?
This morning I took him a cash gift in a plain envelope. He had already heard from one of the YVs that we are leaving. He said that he was really sad at our departure but hopes that we shall return. He even said that last evening (Saturday) he and his wife were talking about the hot pad holders that Grandma made for them and he mentioned that they came from "the old man" whom he sees on Sundays. Oh well. That’s how people see me anymore.
Who would guess what would happen on our last Sunday? We have enjoyed a run of good numbers at our services. Then ... Three of our sisters were out of town — one was with her son at a youth conference in Ankara (and he is our only deacon), one was visiting family in Europe with her baby, and the other was with her ailing father in eastern Turkey. Those missing sisters cut a big hole in our Relief Society today. In a bigger ward or branch, we might hardly notice. But here we really pay attention. My goodness, do we pay attention.
As things turned out, we hosted 29 persons for our Sacrament Meeting, 16 in the hotel and 13 via Skype. Three other investigators — two men and a woman — showed up in time for Relief Society and Priesthood. Grandma said that the woman, who is married to one of the men who came late, was really hostile when she first arrived but turned very warm by the end of the meeting. The final total? Thirty-two by my count. A happy number for me.
At the end of our meetings, of course, people wanted their pictures taken with Grandma and me as well as the YV who ends his service tomorrow. It is hard to say goodbye. Especially this time. I began by saying goodbye to the young woman who deals with our account at the hotel. She said that the news was the worst she had heard in a long time. That threw me off. She said that she had come to think of us a family. And others did too. We are leaving a piece of our hearts in Izmir.
We sleep in our bed one more night. Then to Istanbul tomorrow. I knew that this time would come. But it always seemed a long way off. Until last week. Then I was counting the last time that I would do something. My big hope is that I have coached or trained our branch leaders and YVs well enough that they will slide through the coming Sundays with no big mishap. The number of investigators -- potential and active -- who showed up today was heart-warming (six). I would be most interested to visit the branch in ten years and see what has happened. A lot of good things, I would wager.
I love you and pray for you all.
P.S. We arrive home Tuesday afternoon Utah time.