Christians of all denominations have celebrated the reopening of a Protestant church only 50 kilometres from where churches have been bombed by so-called Islamic State (IS).
Located just 30 kilometres from the Syrian border, the Protestant Church in Mardin, south-eastern Turkey, rang to the praises of a packed congregation some 55 years after persecution and migration forced its closure.
Local politicians and church leaders of all denominations attended the 7 November reopening and welcomed it as a sign of the democracy and coexistence of different language and religious groups that could bring positive change to the region.
SAT-7’s Turkish channel news programme filmed the event and captured a mood of faith and resolve.
Mardin Co-Mayor Februniye Akyol – herself the first Christian mayor of a Turkish city – said, “While our historic churches are being bombed and destroyed across the border, a church … coming to life in Mardin after so many years of inactivity is a message for the whole world. I hope the reopening brings hope and light to the world.”
Founded in 1860 by Protestant Christians from Diyarbakir, the church originally served Assyrian Christians worshipping in Syriac or Aramaic – the language related to that spoken by Jesus.
Mardin Member of Parliament, Erol Dora, reminded worshippers that Mardin was “a city of civilisations”. He said, “Our desire is that universal values of peace and wellbeing will come to our country. The opening of this church is important for universal religious freedom.”
The varied worship during the church dedication was a symbol of cooperation between churches and varied ethnic backgrounds. There was exuberant Evangelical praise, unaccompanied Syriac hymns, and worship in Kurdish accompanied by baglama guitar.
SAT-7 TÜRK’s news editor, Seyfi Genç, pointed out the significance. He said Orthodox churches have often refused to recognise Protestants and Kurdish people targeted Syriacs during the disputes over Cyprus in the 1970s. “Fifty years later, the Mardin Protestant church has Kurdish, Turkish and Syriac members who will worship together.”
He said the Mardin church is also “one of the few legally recognised Protestant churches in Turkey”, whereas most meet in homes or rented buildings and are not approved by the municipalities.
Behind the church’s rebirth lies the vision of the Protestant Church in Diyarbakir and patient work of Pastor Ender Peker. Since being sent to Mardin by the much larger Diyarbakir fellowship two years ago, he has led meetings in a local home, built relationships with other church leaders, and overseen the restoration of a long abandoned building.
For many years, he said, “no-one knew this was a church! But now something new is beginning here. Once again, songs will be sung. Once again prayers will be heard, once again we will give God offerings and we will be united. We will serve the people of Mardin seven days a week, as the only Protestant church of the city”.