19th August 2011
Esin* (name changed for security) is a professional Turkish woman working in the media. She is also a passionate Christian who has a heart to see the Turkish church grow according to God’s grace. In a recent conversation with her she talked about what God is doing with the small but growing Turkish Church.
Lying at the heart of where East meets the West, Turkey is a fascinating but complex country. Do Turks look to the East or to the West? Are they Europeans or Middle Easterners? Are they secular or Islamic? These are questions on the mind of many Turks as they develop who they are. Today, Turkey is still a diverse country. Esin, described the country as having both Western and Eastern cultures. ‘You can walk down the main streets of the big cities and find post-modern metropolitan living and yet if you drive into the remote villages it is like stepping into the Middle East both in a physical and a cultural sense.’ The controversy over Turkey’s application for accession to the EU, both from within and outside the country, serves to illustrate the complex and unique nature of Turkey’s identity.
It is this complex identity which forms barriers as well as bridges to the redeeming message of Jesus. There are very few local believers in Turkey who are ethnically Turkish; most are from minorities such as Greeks and Armenians. The Turkish Protestant church is relatively young with approximately 4,000 known members; although my friend is convinced there are more who are not known. If you include the older Christian communities like the Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Catholic traditions, this raises the Christian population to 100,000 people but that is still less than 0.02% of the Turkish population of 70.5 million people. Many Christians feel that they are viewed with suspicion as if they are part of a subversive group. To be a Christian in Turkey is not only unusual but it has many negative connotations – Christianity is not “just another religion” which can be ignored but a perceived enemy of the Turkish nation. Esin commented that ‘when we mention Christianity and try to point people to Jesus, the last thing people think of is Jesus but rather all the conflicts with the Church and the West over hundreds of years’.
And yet from my short conversation with Esin, she spoke with such passion that it was clear that God is doing something very special in Turkey. I was fascinated to know what the Turkish church is like. She said that they are determined ‘to find ways of not simply replicating Western church’ but try to be a ‘genuinely Turkish expression’ of the Body of Christ. She emphasised that when she says ‘Turkish’ she means in a linguistic sense; Turkey is made up of many ethnic groups but they are united by the Turkish language. Their worship takes place in Turkish which she feels is really powerful and vital so that ‘the people outside can hear and understand us’. Traditional Turkish instruments are used to give their sung worship a Turkish character rather than imitating Western worship music, which was encouraged in the past. Essentially, their vision is very simple: ‘We are trying to go back to how the first Christians would have done things.’ This means that they come together as a small group of Turkish people and see how they can express their Jesus-centred spirituality in the most natural way from their cultural background. ‘When we come to Christ, we come with our culture. Yes some of this is against the Bible and is left behind but much of it is OK and should be expressed.’
Despite an increasing movement of post-modern individualism, Turkish people are still ‘very relational at their core’. They try to reflect this in their fellowship by sharing food together and with prayer ministry being central to every gathering. There is lots of ‘crying and laughing together’ which creates a genuine sense of fellowship. Esin admitted there are some negative points of the Turkish culture that ‘are not seen as sin, just part of who we are’ such as gossip but ‘we try to deal with this head on before it becomes destructive’. This raises an interesting dilemma for every church: how can we be culturally relevant and yet still counter-cultural, demonstrating another way to live based on God’s values?
Esin spoke of how the church is developing ‘a Turkish theology’ which doesn’t compromise the core truths of the gospel but explores how to reach Turkish people in the best way. Esin believes that the best approach is to appeal to the deepest desire of the Turkish heart which is for reconciliation. There are so many issues for Turks, both historical and intellectual, but at the root of them is a need for reconciliation, between themselves, other people groups and, of course, with God. Esin believes that the ‘message of love and reconciliation’ will break down these barriers and enable them to be open to the voice of the Holy Spirit.
However, despite these historical and intellectual barriers, Esin described how Jesus is radically changing people’s lives every day. She told me of one woman who was a successful professional single woman living in Istanbul. But one day something changed and she couldn’t stop thinking about who she was and the deeper questions about the meaning of life. She spent weeks searching for answers from friends, colleagues and on the internet. One day she found a website that explained the basics of the Christian faith and the redeeming love of Jesus Christ as the Son of God. At that moment she felt an overwhelming peace. She made a commitment to Christ by herself there and then before she even knew that there were Christians in Turkey. After months of walking alone with God she came across another Turkish believer and was put in touch with my friend to join her fellowship.
This story is not unusual, Esin hears stories of people having dreams, visions and miracles every day. It reminds her that ‘it is purely God’s grace that allows us to be part of His plan, He doesn’t need to use us and everyday He is meeting with people in ways we can’t imagine.’ We must continue ‘to be diligently serving Him in terms of discipleship, but He can do the rest.’
Currently, Christianity has no place in Turkish public life and as a result the idea of being a Christian and a Turk is a complete misnomer to most people. Esin called us to pray for Christian individuals who work in the public sphere, whether in politics, media or state sector, to be given wisdom to know how to be open about their faith and the benefits that Christianity could bring to Turkish society. Esin dreams of Christians adding a positive contribution to Turkish society: ‘There is so much need, especially in terms of social problems and poverty.’ SAT-7 TURK is a big part of this vision. Esin described how it is ‘right at the heart of the local church’ and is an increasingly invaluable resource. Its holistic approach of ‘expressing a Christian worldview rather than just 24 hour preaching’ really connects with the Turkish culture. It shows that Christians deal with the same issues as everyone else and covers all areas of life because Christ is in every part of life! Her prayer is that SAT-7 TURK would be approved to broadcast on a Turkish Satellite platform which only has Turkish language channels on and would therefore enable SAT-7 TURK to reach many more viewers.
Esin’s dream is for Jesus to be reconciling these people groups to Himself and to each other’ to transform Turkey. This is a big dream and impossible in human terms but we believe in a big God through whom all things are possible.
- Praise God for His power to transform nations through His Church
- Pray for the Church in Turkey, pray that they would keep strong in faith amid challenges
- Pray for individual Christians involved in public life in Turkey. Pray that they would be bold in speaking about their faith
- Pray that SAT-7’s application to broadcast on a local Turkish language satellite would be accepted so that they can have a bigger impact and reach more people