I was awakened before dawn by the strange and unaccustomed song of the Muezzin calling the faithful of Islam to prayer.
I had just passed my first night in the great city of Istanbul, Turkey having been invited there to minister to the kids, while their missionary parents prayed and planned, worshipped and fellowshipped together.
This small band of missionaries had come from all over Turkey, where they lived and ministered incognito. For at that time, in the seventies, there were no missionaries in Turkey, not legally at least. These missionaries served as teachers, students, medical personnel business men, etc, but behind their books, their instruments, and desks, they took every opportunity to spread the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
This was my first foray into Asia Minor. Being a fairly new missionary myself, I was wide eyed and agog at the unfamiliar sights. My hosts were extremely kind and accommodating.
We visited the Blue Mosque with its six minarets, where 20,000 of Islam’s faithful worship at the same time. The Topkapi Palace, home of the Sultans, with its wealth and treasures, and the beautifully furnished and decorated Harem, was a sight to behold.
I suppose the Grand Bazaar, was one of the most fascinating places I have ever experienced. It is known as the world’s oldest shopping mall dating back to the 1400’s. It consists of 4,000 shops lining a warren of narrow, crisscrossing streets, where 250,000 – 400,000 visitors shop each day. It is unrivaled in Europe with regard to the abundance, variety and quality of goods. You can buy almost anything there.
However, as I oohed and aahed, shopped and stared, I was aware of an uneasiness—a heaviness in my heart. I realized I was surrounded by a multitude of people who, in spite of the fact that this had once been a Christian nation, knew nothing of the love of Jesus Christ.
When the early church survived persecution, the Christian Faith spread in Asia Minor, including Turkey, like wild fire. Because of the constant efforts of missionaries like the Apostle Paul, the blood of martyrs, and the unwavering faith of so many Christians, gradually the heathen lands of Turkey were receptive becoming a cradle of early Christianity.
The Apostle Paul was born in Turkey 568 miles southeast of Istanbul. He preached and taught, and established churches all over that part of the world. John, the Revelator was pastor and bishop of the church of Ephesus just 300 miles southwest of Istanbul, and Antioch to the far south, where Christ followers were first called Christians, is also the site of one of the earliest and oldest surviving churches—a church established by Saint Peter.
In the 11th century, The Ottoman Empire took over the country of Turkey, and made Islam the State Religion. The country is now 98% Muslim, and the land that still hosts hundreds of ancient abandoned churches became a country where less than 0.4% of the population is now Christian. My heart is sad.
Turkey now claims to be a secular state with freedom of belief and worship. However, those rights are restricted, and Turkey is often unwelcoming to today’s Christians.
When I was in Turkey that first time, I was told, continually, “Do not use the word ‘Missionary’ in Public. You never know who is listening.”
The word missionary has such a stigma that it is avoided like the plaque by every Christian in the land. Missionaries are called “separatists and destructive.” Converts and those who try to spread the Gospel are seen as traitors.
Yes, there is persecution in Turkey for Christians. It is hard to be a follower of Christ. Though your life may not be in danger, there is always the awareness that somehow you do not belong, that you are treated as a second-class citizen often suffering verbal attacks.
Becoming Christian means losing family and friends, ostracism and animosity, house arrest or even death.
Admittedly, our own America has become increasingly unfriendly to Christians, still we have never faced the hardships, the mistreatment, and the danger suffered by other believers around this globe. I am wondering how much we really appreciate this truth.
We are still free to go to church wherever and whenever we please, to worship according to the dictates of our own heart, and to speak openly of Jesus to whomever we choose. We can’t imagine that physical or verbal persecution will ever be visited upon us.
Don’t be so sure!
In Matthew 5:11-12, Jesus said, “Blessed are you when they revile you and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven…”
Notice He said, “…WHEN they revile and persecute you…” not IF they revile and persecute you. Difficult days will surely come before this is all over.
Jesus’ word to us is “BE READY!” Regardless of what may happen remain strong and steadfast. Keep working for the Master.
PRAY FOR THE PERSECUTED BELIEVERS AROUND THE WORLD.
REMEMBER, THE SUN WILL COME OUT TOMORROW!