Christ Finds a Turk
I would like to briefly mention some aspects of life in Turkey as a follower of Jesus Christ. From a spiritual viewpoint Turkey’s soil is hard, and life as a Christian is certainly not easy. For example, perpetrators of various crimes often seem to go unpunished, but anyone who becomes a follower of Christ (or who is seen to be a sympathiser with such a person) is singled out for hassling, harassing, and persecution. We don’t blame particular persons for these momentary problems, as we know that Satan is behind these attacks.
Are followers of Christ really evil and bad, as the press here makes them out to be? Of course not! Our aims as believers are to lift up the Lord, to serve and obey Him, and to share His amazing plan of salvation with those around us. Although this is what we are about as Christians, people just don’t understand these things, and look down upon us. We love this country and its people, and we respond as Christ modelled for us by loving them and praying for them.
The things of this world, its concerns and problems, are passing and temporary; it is the things of the Lord that really concern us. Remaining in His peace, as mentioned in John 14:27, is indeed wonderful!
My Journey of Faith
Twenty-eight years ago I was a sailor on a merchant marine ship when the Lord called me and it was Romans 10:9-10 which stuck with me, When I was given the faith to believe, it was with the help of the Holy Spirit – no one else was around, I got down on my knees to confess and ask Him for forgiveness and am forever grateful to Him for saving me.
As much time has passed since that night, I sometimes ask myself ‘have I done enough?; Am I the person He wants me to be? Have I fully given him all of myself?’ Sadly, the answer is no. I am still growing and learning how to obey more completely, to serve Him more faithfully, etc.
After coming to Him in faith, of course many wonderful things happened from a spiritual standpoint. At the same time though, Satan stepped up his efforts to harass me and my family. I lost my job, and my relatives turned away from me. In fact, just about all my friends and acquaintances turned away from me because of my new-found faith. Only two people. my wife and my mother had a tolerant view of my new faith and that was because they saw the clear, definite changes that the Lord had brought about in my behaviour. They were glad. And I was glad that the Lord was so patient in cleansing me from ungodly habits.
In Turkey, giving someone a job who has left Islam for Christianity is just not done, even greeting such a person is rare among people in the neighbourhood. With what little money we had, I opened a small tea-shop in Istanbul, for serving small businesses with fresh tea throughout the working day. At about this time I met David Winch and Jim Romaine, who helped me grow spiritually through weekly meetings and studies. Although the Winch family moved to England shortly thereafter, Jim and his family remained in Turkey and were a great help in so many ways.
Seeking to Witness
I was wondering about how to best get the Gospel message out, and thought that having a small bookshop would be a good chance to witness for Him. After much planning and prayer, I opened a small shop and started selling the Bible and other Christian books. Slowly pressure came from the shop owner, and from surrounding shopkeepers. I was only able to sell one Bible that whole year, and that was to one of my relatives!
I also helped others in their efforts to get the Word out to smaller towns, to people who had written to an address seeking information about our faith. While in Nazilli, I was jailed and tortured for three days. While in Bingal, the police kicked me so hard that I spent three months in bed recovering from the slipped disks. When help came from European Missionary Fellowship I got the necessary back surgery needed for recovery (Praise the Lord!). Meanwhile, shots were fired at the bookshop one night by unknown persons.
Another incident was while visiting an interested person in a smaller town. I found myself escorted out of the city to a forest and left there for hours while the police held my passport. I was not allowed to leave the country for years afterwards, as if I were a gangster.
Praise God, no one or anything can separate us from His love and care (Romans 8:35-39). He indeed is the one who sustains us and keeps us going, although we are weak and human, totally dependent on His grace and mercy.
Full-time Christian Work
In 1980 I started in full-time Christian work. With help from Jim Romaine, we contacted the people doing the Turkish gospel broadcasts from Monte Carlo (Trans World Radio), and they began sending us the letters they received from Turkey, asking for more information about our faith. Soon we were receiving over 250 letters a month, which we answered. After a correspondent had come to some understanding of our faith, we arranged to meet face to face. Some of these ‘curious ones’ joyfully came to faith in him through these meetings. Jim and I covered almost every part of the country doing this ‘follow-up’ work, sowing lots of seeds.
When I first came to faith in Christ, there were maybe only 5-10 believers from a Muslim background in the ‘whole country of 45 million! Now, praise the Lord, there are fellowships of over a hundred in several cities, and many smaller groups in other towns. Whereas in those early years one had to be careful if carrying a New Testament, in the past five years over 30,000 New Testaments have been distributed. In the past one had to be careful if having a home meeting, but now some have purchased property to have as a site for a church meeting place, arid are able to put up a ‘church’ sign. Whereas in the past one had to be careful of the police, recently the governor’s office has called in church leaders for meetings. Things seemed to change a lot after Fred Catherwood came in 1990, the Lord used his visit in significant ways. I respectfully send my greetings to him and thank him.
Your prayers and patience with me and other brethren here are like a dream … but they are real and we so appreciate you as a special gift from the Lord. l am reminded of a verse from the Old Testament. The Lord tells us in Exodus 14:1314: ‘fear not, be at peace’.
The situation today
So, twenty-eight years have passed … Life in Turkey for a Christian may look easy from the outside. After all, ‘there’s freedom of religion in Turkey’. But from a human standpoint it’s not easy. We may not be happy about particular circumstances in our lives here, but He knows everything. He is using even the difficult situations to change our character and build our trust in Him. Ahead are big, seemingly insurmountable problems for the followers of Jesus in Turkey, which must be approached with prayer, lots of prayer. He definitely allows those difficult situations for our good (Rornans 8:28).
We spent thirteen years in Istanbul, where I co-pastored a small fellowship in Moda. When we came to Izmir eight years ago, just one fellowship group was meeting regularly. Now about six groups gather, and in Turkey overall, 41 groups of believers are meeting as fellowships/churches. For three years I met with believers in a small town outside Izmir on a weekly basis. In fact Fatma and I rented a small apartment for a year in order to be closer to the people there.
For the past year or two our son, Ceni, has been active in the youth group here in lzmir, and plays the guitar during the worship services. He has finished high school and is going to special classes to prepare for the university exam next month. Our daughter, Esra, will soon be finishing a year of Christian training in Istanbul. Fatma and I attend services in Karsiyaka on the Lord’s Day. We are also part of an effort to establish a fellowship in our area of the city (Buca).
On Wednesdays I meet with a dear brother for prayer and support, and on Thursdays Fatma has her neighbourhood women prayer meeting/Bible study. This women’s group is growing rapidly, as new members invite their friends, who invite their friends/relatives, etc.
Last year at this time, Fatma and I travelled to Germany to teach in one of the Turkish fellowships (for four weeks) and visit our eldest daughter. We were very encouraged to be a part of a missionary conference there in Germany as well. Praise the Lord, we didn’t have any spare time, but were busy with His work while in Germany.
Not too long after returning to Turkey we were called to fill in for a dear brother and sister leading a Turkish fellowship in Northern Cyprus. The Lord opened up many opportunities to share, to disciple members of their fellowship, and to preach during our stay of several weeks. We were blessed immensely during this time.
Now here in Izmir, an old friend has asked me to preach part-time at his newly-formed fellowship. We are trying to help as much as possible.
All in all, we have nothing to offer but praise to Him for all He is doing in this land. Please pray that we will continue to be open to His leading, and that we will obey completely His call on our lives.
Vision of Europe July-September 2000. European Missionary Fellowship, 6 Codicote Road, Welwyn, AL6 9NB.
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