International Christian Concern | August 12, 2020
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.