ICS friends know all about the delights of the 'Church Christmas Fair'. Here in Izmir, the fair is a longstanding one, attracting not only friends from the local churches, but also local folk who love the opportunity to peruse our numerous stalls and a have a look inside the church, which we make sure is beautifully decorated for Christmas (liturgical purists look away now, this year’s fair wasn’t even in Advent!).

Apart from second-hand, crafts and home produce we have delicious food from around the world, including Iranian soup, Korean dumplings, English cakes and biscuits, and delicious gozleme, which is Turkish pancake with cheese and spinach stuffing.

Early December can be very wet in Izmir. Indeed less than a week before the fair there was torrential rain, high winds and a tidal surge which flooded the shopping district near to our church. So we always hope and pray for fair weather. Well, Saturday 3 December was a lovely balmy day, so we were expecting a good turnout when we opened the gate at 10.00. We got off to a good start, and I was pleased to see the queue stretching along the church path (about 30 yards long) when I looked out there at about 11.30. But wait! The queue was in fact stretching far further than that, all the way to the post office (300 yards) and even the bank (400 yards)!!!  

It was certainly a bumper turnout this year. Our church welcomers (who use a ‘clicker’) counted an astonishing 4500 visitors. We always make sure there are copies of the New Testament available for visitors to take, in the church entrance. We stopped counting after 350 had been taken. Most importantly, there was a profound atmosphere of peace and respect in the church, in spite of all the hustle and bustle, with crowds making their way around the building. In the pews, people were sitting in prayer, or reading the Bible or speaking in hushed voices to their friends. The church welcomers and I had numerous friendly conversations with our visitors and were able to encourage them to take a deeper interest in our faith.

The crowds just kept on coming, until about 17.30 when numbers started to decrease. We wondered how this could have happened. Well, the Holy Spirit was definitely at work, but more prosaically, somehow our little old fair had got onto an Izmir website called What To Do In Izmir Today, as the number one item. However it happened, it felt like a huge blessing to host all these people, mostly young secular Muslims, who definitely loved visiting our Christmas fair and seeing our beautiful church. Without a doubt some of them will come back for our well-advertised Christmas services. We look forward to welcoming them again!  

The Revd James Buxton, Chaplain, Area Dean of Turkiye and MTS Partner
Church of St John the Evangelist, Izmir, Turkey