Turkey Attempts to School Christian Teachers
By Claire Evans
04/02/2019 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Although technically living in a secular nation, Turkey’s teachers are entrusted with the care of ensuring that children are raised as good, Turkish Muslims. Christian teachers, many of whom converted from Islam, often find themselves slowly pushed out of the workforce. These challenges can be especially difficult during Christian holidays, such as Christmas and Easter.
“A person can go to Friday prayers, an hour and a half in prayer! But I do not know that I can ask for permission about any (Christian) feast or activity,” explained one teacher, Ömer “People are afraid to be involved in Christian activities. Therefore, I know that I must come from one step behind.”
Often, Ömer is left to take care of his Muslim coworkers’ students while they attend prayers and holidays. His supervisors say nothing. “They know they can’t make any noise to Muslims. What is he going to say, the guy is going to a mosque! But it is a problem for [a] Christian to fulfill his religious duties… you can’t explain that you have to be at church on Saturday and Sunday.”
Ömer’s supervisors cause him more difficulties than his fellow coworkers, who have at times defended his right to express his Christian faith freely. The teachers at his school have a group chat on WhatsApp, where they share different religious texts with each other. Ömer also wanted to share elements of his faith on the group chain, but his supervisors became upset.
“The deputy director said, ‘I won’t let you do missionary work here; [this is] partisanship!’ and he threw me out of the group. Most of my colleagues then came out of the group to support me. That made me happy,” said Ömer
Other teachers, however, are not as lucky as Ömer. Mehmet used to work as a headmaster in a local school, and his wife worked as a teacher at a different school. Because Mehmet began speaking of his Christian faith, both of their jobs were jeopardized. “I started to tell the Good News to my close colleagues at school. One day, they insulted the Christian faith… We started to have a heated conversation.”
A colleague who taught Islamic culture, was intrigued by the dispute and wanted to visit Mehmet’s church. Mehmet invited him to attend worship, and noticed his attentive note-taking during service. He was then introduced to the church leaders, who prompted stimulating conversation about the Christian faith.
Two weeks later, the school directors warned Mehmet that there were problems regarding his conversations at work. The upper authorities at the General Directorate informed Mehmet that he must quit his job as headmaster, and handed him his petition of resignation. To his surprise, Mehmet’s wife was fired from her job as a teacher on the same day.
“But it is a problem for [a] Christian to fulfill his religious duties... you can’t explain that you have to be at church on Saturday and Sunday.”
Stunned by the situation, Mehmet learned that the school principal and the religious teacher who attended his church had reported that Mehmet imposed Christianity on his students. The school principal had always been friendly with him, but now that he knew Mehmet was a Christian, he began treating Mehmet like an enemy.
The District Governor soon became involved and opened an investigation against Mehmet. In an attempt to explain the situation, Mehmet sought a meeting with the District Governor. Mehmet recalled, “I introduced myself, saying I was Christian. He wasn’t expecting it, and was surprised. I told him I didn’t do missionaries in school, I only answer when I am defending my faith.”
The District Governor warned that Mehmet would be permanently stripped of his headmaster title and demoted to a lesser position because of his public practice of his faith. Mehmet stood strong in claiming his right to practice Christianity, and threatened legal action if the government takes further steps to restrict this right.
“When the District Governor saw my determination, he started to speak differently. He told me that my choice was something to be respected,” Mehmet noted.
However, Mehmet was not able to fully restore his and his wife’s jobs. Today, he still struggles with the situation. “I lost a sense of belonging to this country, because being a Christian is like a crime.” Even so, Mehmet has continuously prayed for the people who instigated the unjust situation.
The stories of Mehmet and Ömer reflect the complexity and ambiguity of Turkeys’ education system. Turkish schools are continuously dominated by the religious teachings of Islam, discriminating against Christian teachers and students. But the Spirit of the Lord continues to work, as these teachers’ faithfulness to Christ is the greatest witness of the Gospel within Turkey’s schools.
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