08/12/2020 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Much of the Western Church is unaware of the gradual slip into radicalism taking place in Turkey. Most recently, the historic Hagia Sophia was reconverted to a mosque, stripping away yet another piece of Turkey’s Christian history.
A few years back, ICC’s president Jeff King sat down with an underground pastor in Turkey to discuss his experience. He recounted stories of mistrust, discrimination, and even violence against his children.
Yet, despite the bumpy road of ministry in this turbulent nation, he still has a heart for Turkey. The Lord has graciously removed the pastor’s spirit of fear, equipping him to continue sharing the Good News despite the risks. To hear his full story, click here.
[Translator’s voice used to conceal pastor’s identity]
If you read the New Testament or you read the Book of Acts, you’ll come into contact with the names of all these different Churches that have strange sounding names. Those were the first Churches in the Christian world. Most people have no idea, but most of those Churches were in Turkey, what we know now as Turkey. A lot of Canadians, a lot of Americans, we don’t really know much about Turkey. Turkey is a fascinating country with an incredibly rich heritage. It’s incredibly important because geopolitically, it’s a land bridge between Western Europe and the East.
It also has served, for the last 80 years or so, as almost a religious bridge between the fundamentalist Muslim world, and through Europe and to the West. They were a very moderate country, and most importantly, for the U.S. they were a very important ally in terms of geopolitics, and we were very aligned.
Well, all this changed in 2003, when Erdogan was elected as the prime minister. People were already worried about him. The Intelligence here, knew who he was. But he ran as a moderate. He ran as a moderate against the corrupt ruling party and was elected, but he very, very quickly began to show his true colors. He was moving against people in the military, and judges, and the press, and the common people, et cetera. 2014, he becomes president. And then again, it even accelerates these moves against anybody who is a threat to him. And then in 2017, essentially throws a coup, elects himself as president for life, and then the persecution towards everybody really started and democracy died.
Then he has really gone on a tear and has become an enemy of the Church. He basically wants to strangle the Church. There’s all kinds of things going on, but it’s fascinating, you can barely even be recognized as a Church in Turkey. They don’t recognize Protestant Christianity. If you want to receive training, you have to go out of the country, if you’re a Christian pastor. And then there’s lots more going on besides that. But this guy is a sworn enemy of the Church.
Today we’re going to talk about Turkey. Just this past week, Erdogan decided to take the country’s oldest and most historic church, the Hagia Sophia, and turn it into a mosque. That’s not a big surprise, if anybody knows Erdogan and could see what he’s been doing for decades, but it’s a very important step and it’s just another down step for the Church in Turkey, at least on the surface.
Anyways, we’re going to talk about Turkey. A few years back, I interviewed a Turkish pastor who’s had his own struggles with the government. Incredibly brave brother. I think you’re going to learn a lot about Turkey and you’re going to be fascinated. So get ready, here comes the interview.
I want to ask you, you’re a fascinating character for us in that persecution history. Your history is fascinating because the Lord has really used you, inadvertently in a sense, to really open up Turkey to the Church and even legally within Turkey. But I’m wondering if you could give us some history of what the Lord has done through you. This isn’t about you, but just your story. What’s happened legally, and what have you discovered and what’s the role of your Church been for the wider Church in Turkey?
In ’94, we were worshiping together in our homes. The state never really recognized us to be able to just worship in our homes, and of course the normal everyday people, they didn’t accept this. We felt, for the sake of the state and also the state of the people, that we needed to establish ourselves as having a legal presence. And so we wanted to have a Church building. We collected a little bit of money among ourselves, and we were able to get a very small place. In 2001, when we began our construction, and the news got out about this building of this church, it was scandalous in the newspapers. Every day, different things were coming out of the newspapers and they stopped the construction, and then they accused me of breaking the law and wanted to put me in prison for six years.
You know what? We hadn’t done anything wrong. All we’d wanted to do was worship, and we were just looking for a place to worship. Yeah. So about a year and a half time period came, we couldn’t do any construction. I was in the courts being tried. Had to spend a lot on legal fees. And the newspapers were saying such bad things about me all the time in the newspapers, that it started getting picked up in the world press. And then the press in America and Europe started writing and presenting the situation. The Holland, the people in Europe started saying, and the people in parliament started saying, if people can start mosques in Notre-Dame and Holland, but they can’t start at church. Through this pressure that had happened because of that, the Turkish Parliament passed a law in July of 2003, that made a statute for us to build churches.
I was proven to be innocent, and the Church now had a open door. Of course, the things, the adventure didn’t stop there. Just after we had opened our church in April of 2003, they again brought a case against us. Stopped us in charges with a heinous crime of worshiping with music. The people, the human rights activists, they also found this to be funny. At my court case, 12 members of Parliament came to watch it, and six months later, I was again found to be innocent. There’s just an incredible amount of prejudice against Christians.
And think of, if you would, two incidents that happen to your kids. Ones that affected you most deeply. Tell me about the first one. What was the most heartbreaking thing that happened to your kids?
My daughter was in the social studies class. It was a female teacher, and you expect women teachers to be more sensitive about these things, but she was teaching what the crusades couldn’t do, the missionaries are now trying, they’re working on getting our land. And so then there were three young men, three of the students, these are middle school students, during the break, they beat my daughter to the point of being unconscious and needing to be taken to the hospital. For the next year and a half, my daughter had weekly fainting spells that she was having to deal with. That’s kind the environment that we’re in. I can sacrifice myself, but when I see these things for my daughters, it’s just really hard.
If they took a poll of everybody in Turkey, how do you look at missionaries? They’ll say, “Oh, they’re a threat to national security.” But if they say, “Hey, what do you think about Christians? Should they worship?” And 99% would say, “Yes, let them worship.” But at the very foundation of our faith is the need to share our faith with others, and so how can I carry out my faith? But they continually are treating us with suspicion, as a danger. This kind of attitude from the state makes it feel like they’re trying to push us out or we’re not really part of it, we’re not a full citizen. And so I would really like to see it so that we are accepted as citizens, just like everybody else. The state will accept us as Christians, but just inside your Church building. You can worship inside your building, but you can’t explain your faith.
This is interesting. This is fascinating because this is what’s going on in our culture. The direction of legislation in our culture is going the same way. And this is what we find very ironic, because we know, in countries overseas, this is what they’ll say, “We have religious freedom,” is what they’ll say. But when you get right down to it, it means that in your own home, in your own mind, you can believe anything you want. Don’t spread it. Don’t talk to others about it. It’s not for the public square, it’s for your private life. And this is exactly where we’re going as a nation, where we keep running into cases where Christians are forced to do this or that, or you’re not allowed to do this in public. And it’s just forcing them into more and more narrow public or private sphere.
I just want to give people, when they’re listening, I’m want to give them context because, I touched on it already. There’s been assassination attempts. You have reason to fear in the normal sense. And yet, you really are a man of faith. And you’ve seen this, how the Lord has used you in this sphere in Turkey. I just want you to context, because you’re here in the States, and yet you’re going back. The government considers you an enemy of the state. You’re not, but the government says you are. You’re doing things that are anti Turkish. And yet, you’re going back. You’re sitting here in freedom and safety, and yet, you love Turkey. You’re a national citizen. You love your country, and yet, you’re going back where there is danger.
We need to live without fear, and that’s consistent with how we are. In fact, if Jesus so loved the world and if the Father gave him his son for the people, and there’s 82 million people in Turkey, and then I need to live consistently. I need to be able to give my life for that. And so, there’s really not a room for fear. We love Turkey and we love our country.
Thank you so much for spending time with us. Our love and prayers go with you.
I hope you enjoyed that interview with the pastor. I know he really touched me. I was so impressed with his courage and his determination and his heart for the Lord. Here’s one of the things that really strikes me as I think about that interview, and it’s just that, in the West, we take our freedom to worship for granted. There is no big news flash there. We all know that. But I think what’s happened is that, in the culture out there, as Christians, we’ve now have a bull’s eye on our back. I think because of that bull’s eye, we tend to keep our faith private, we keep our head down. And that’s a tragedy.
I want to say, this is why I think it’s a tragedy. You might think it’s because we’re supposed to be heroes and we’re supposed to be courageous, and that’s not it at all. But here’s the picture I see. Look, we stand on the deck of a cruise ship and it’s a great ride. That ship is called eternal salvation, and we’re safe on there. And we’ve got those who are all going to the same destination. And yet, we’re holding a life preserver in our hands, and around us, in the water, are those who are dying, where we used to be. And yet, we hold this life preserver, and for our own safety, for our own comfort, we don’t throw it out.
So I want to give you a challenge this week. I just think about what the pastor said. He said there are 82 million people in Turkey and they don’t know the Lord, so he’s giving his life for them. That’s what he said. And that’s a challenge to us. So do this, write down the names of two people that you know, that really need to know about Jesus. You don’t have to do it all. All you have to do is throw the life preserver out to them. Okay? You need to tell them about Jesus and tell them how to find life. People are scared to death out there. So reach out, you’re going to throw the preserver out, and you don’t have to do it all. Just be faithful. It’s the Lord’s responsibility. So anyways, thanks for being with us. I’ll see you again next week. God bless you.