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Saving Lost Souls; The Story of Turhan Tirana
We are all aware of the difficulties so many drug addicts have encountered attempting to overcome their addictions. Few methods have been highly successful, but perhaps accepting the Bible has been as good or better than many. One man, Turhan Tirana, left a Wall Street-related job for retirement to his avid fishing hobby, only to return to train at a Seminary where he earned a Masters degree in Biblical Studies at age 77.
Turhan explains what happened next:
“When I matriculated at General [Seminary], the thought of a calling had not occurred to me. In my retirement from remunerated work, I just wanted to study. Or so I thought. … What I wanted to do with my newly-found freedom was to study some more, on my own; fish for trout and striped bass, and tend to my garden and grandchildren.
“Two weeks later, this dream was gone. My calling, Old Testament style, had come and smacked me on the head. But a better calling, a better use of what General has taught me and a more challenging one, one which requires me to be fully alert each moment I cannot conceive.”
He began his new career with Pivot Ministries in Bridgeport, Connecticut, once a vibrant manufacturing center with wide streets and sunny parks, now known mostly for its decay, poverty, and crime. White flight and the decline of manufacturing transformed the town. Boarded-up entryways, broken windows, and people passing the time of day hanging out on street corners mark much of the town. Buying and selling drugs occupies many.
The ministry served men desiring to kick their addictions and return to a normal life. There are 40 to 50 of them at any one time ranging in age from 18 to 65 of various races and ethnicities. Most have some religious background and so seek the Bible for help. Almost all have been on the wrong side of the law, about half of whom have served prison time. Most are alert and smart, and vocal. They come to the institution voluntarily and agree to stay for a year living at the mission. Many leave early thinking they are cured or simply miss their families or have trouble with the discipline required at the mission.
The program’s core is Bible study and prayer with courses in anger management and Alcoholics Anonymous. The institution was founded in 1970 with an annual budget of $700,000, most paid by Fairfield County Churches. Its financial future is in question.
Turhan found he could be creative in his teaching. He spent five weeks on the Book of Ruth. He taught the Prodigal Son with the question, “which of the three principals, the son, the doting father, or jealous brother, have they been?” He had them decide which Bible passages were their favorites and stand before the class to explain them.
They discuss poetry in the Bible, sing some of the Psalms, and even set one to a rap tune. While Turhan admits he could never write a psalm (biblical song), he challenged his groups to do it, and many did because he had so much confidence in them.
Finding work for Pivot Ministries graduates is a challenge but is part of their Mission Statement “to return the men to their families and communities.” Without jobs, they will likely return to the street with nothing to do. Lack of job skills, perhaps a prison record, is often an obstacle, but it has proven that holding on to the love of God, which they are learning, is a great help.
The ministry is now hoping to start some small businesses where men could work. Transforming abandoned buildings has become a possibility.
Turhan Tirana, now 86 years old, has been guided by the confidence he learned at the General Seminary where he studied and the degree he earned confirming it. He believes he is as qualified as anyone to be doing this new work and says he is enriched beyond his prior imagination. As a result, some 600 students have benefitted in varying ways from his teachings.
“The men come to Pivot from all over the country mostly by word-of-mouth but sometimes by recommendation of their probation or parole officers. They may leave at any time. Almost half stay the full term, thereby, perhaps, fulfilling Pivot’s stated mission “to return the men to their families whole.” They are blessed to be there. So am I.”
Turhan will be our guest on THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STORY this coming weekend, Saturday, June 18, and Sunday, June 19, at both 11 am and 8 pm on America Out Loud Talk Radio.
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