In front of us, 100 yards / meters away, stood a statue of Saint Nickolas, made of bronze. The previous, red and white one, Hollywood style, (see below) had been dismantled by the government. "Too Western and pagan!"
The sun blazed down, as it always does in mid-July, and my brother and I searched for anything to bring comfort, ice cream being the best option at hand. Our restaurant waiter brought us different flavors and I decided to speak to him, in Turkish.
"Thanks for the ice cream. Here's the money and a small tip. Now, do you know anything about the reason for the hundreds of thousands of people who come here every year as tourists?"
"No, I have no idea."
"No, not at all."
"How long have you lived here?"
"I was born here in Demre 38 years ago."
"Did you know that Saint Nickolas was kind to the poor, and he rescued children from being sold into poverty, actually into slavery?"
"Someone told that to me once, but that happened long ago, didn't it?"
"Did you know that Saint Nickolas, the bishop, was imitating the life of Isa Messih (Jesus Christ), who taught us to be kind to the poor, to share with those who are in misery, especially children?"
"No, I didn't know that."
"If you had a person like Saint Nickolas here today, here is what I think he would be doing. Instead of everyone going to these massive souvenir shops, and buying gifts, especially in Russian and other languages of Eastern Europe, I think he would rent that shop over there, that little one on the other side of the street, which is for rent. He would be telling tourists that there are many children in Turkey today who need food, love in their homes, to go to school instead of staying home and working from a young age. He, or she, would be raising money to help Turkish children, widows and orphans, who don't know where their next meal is coming from. I think that person would explain the great love of God - have you heard about it - No? well, this is what it says..." I gave him a very elementary explanation of God's redemptive love, forgiveness and compassion.
A man who we had not met until 10 minutes before stood before us with tears flooding his eyes. I had the same response as we drove on towards the port city of Antalya - but for a different reason.
He was hearing about the unique life of Jesus Christ for the first time.
For me, though, the pain was that he had served - what? tens of thousands of tourists in his 20 years in that restaurant? - and had never heard "The Story".
That man is still very much in my heart.