This past summer my wife and I visited Turkey. We spent nine days with dear friends who serve the missions community by providing care, counseling, and support in this difficult spiritual environment where Christianity is quite limited.
During our time in Turkey, we received a grand tour in the area of Cappadocia. The history of Cappadocia extends back to the Hittite people who flourished there from 1800 to 1200 B.C. At Pentecost (see Acts 2:5), Cappadocians embraced the gospel of Jesus Christ and the seed for the church was planted. By the fourth century this region was a refuge for Christians fleeing Rome’s persecution. Monastic communities formed and thrived for centuries. Today, individuals interested in church history can visit ancient dwellings, including monasteries and cave chapels wonderfully decorated with Byzantine frescoed paintings.
Cappadocia is also known for their master potters. In this tiny and remote community, there are dozens of artisans who have thrown clay for many generations. Our group visited the studios of three artists all located in Avanos, Cappadocia. Avanos is surrounded by natural landscaped pinnacles called “fairy chimneys,” and hot air balloons tattoo the sky every morning. At each studio, our group stood in awe of these potters’ abilities to manipulate clay and create one-of-a-kind works of art. I found it interesting to discover that each potter had a “signature piece” that served to somewhat define and set each artist apart.
Our potter tour began with a visit to Chez Galip, whose studio was just a short drive from where my wife Ellen and I lodged in a cave hotel. A sixth-generation potter, Chez Galip has thrown clay for more than 50 years. We experienced Eastern hospitality at its best as Chez personally welcomed our group and honored us with drinks and a lively demonstration of the art of throwing clay on an ancient kick wheel.
Chez Gallip’s signature piece is hand painted ceramic plates called “family design.” The center of each plate begins with a small circle that expands to represent the growth of the family from one generation to the next. Each circle is beautifully decorated with painted Turkish flowers, including pomegranates, roses, tulips, and carnations.
Chez personally invited us to the isolated studio where an artist invests hundreds of hours to hand decorate each plate. Valued in the thousands of dollars, the price tag of these signature pieces reflects the beauty, artistry, and intricacy of the work for each plate. Unfortunately, our budget did not allow us take home one of those prized possessions.
Aaron, a missionary friend whose family spent the past eight years serving the Cappadocian community, highly recommended we also visit the studio of Chez Birkan. Although his workshop was much smaller and more rustic than Chez Galip’s, his hospitality and product was no less impressive.
Chez Birkan enjoyed recreating the ancient “tear bottle,” which dates back to the Hittite era when mourners would actually catch tears in a bottle and seal them. Psalm 56:8 (HCSB) refers to this practice of lament when David cried out to the Lord, “Put my tears in Your bottle.” I was glad to see the price point on these signature pieces allowed us to take home a few iconic gifts for friends and family.
Our final stop was at the incredibly fascinating Guray Ceramic underground museum. Numerous master potters work at this gallery recreating iconic pieces from the ancient world. However, they also fashion a variety of modern works as well. My wife and I agreed that the prized possession we would add to our stateside collection would be their signature piece: a wine decanter originating with the Hittite people and dating back at least 3,000 years. This vase was designed for servants to wear on their arms so they would bow while pouring the beverage in service to others.
These artisans remind us of the biblical truth that the Master Potter creates one-of-a-kind signature pieces out of the redeemed clay of our lives. Isaiah expressed this truth so beautifully when he said, “Yet Lord, You are our Father; we are the clay, and You are our potter; we all are the work of Your hands” (Isaiah 64:8 HCSB). With poetic praise David boasted about our heavenly Potter’s artistry when he declared, “For it was You who created my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I will praise You because I have been remarkably and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful, and I know this very well” (Psalm 139:13–14 HCSB). The Apostle Paul highlighted the wonder of God’s masterful works stating, “For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10 HCSB).
Therefore, in Christ, every believer is unique and a one-of-a-kind masterpiece. If you ever doubt your worth or value in this life, may I encourage you to come back to the Potter’s words through the prophet, the psalmist, and the great apostle to the Gentiles. Continue to reflect on this beautiful metaphor and grow to discover His signature work in your life. He made you unique and longs for you to experience the personal joy of that exceptionality and reflect His glorious distinction in your life to others (Jeremiah 1:4–5).
Keith Missel is lead pastor of a multicampus ministry where he also has the privilege of serving as missions pastor. Check out Dr. Missel’s new book, Living Clay or email him at email@example.com.