The Covid-19 pandemic is prompting many in Turkey to question and reassess their values and beliefs, says Cem Erçin, Pastor of Istanbul Immanuel Protestant Church. And increasing numbers are turning to SAT-7’s Turkish channel for answers.
Away from his pulpit, Cem Erçin is also a gifted presenter on SAT-7 TÜRK. Here he is the host of Essence of the Gospel and co-host of the topical Christian teaching show Let’s Talk. Taking to the screen has convinced him that this is a vital way to open dialogue with Turks who have little or no knowledge of Christianity.
“When I first started presenting Essence of the Gospel on SAT-7 TÜRK, I was lost in Istanbul one day and asked a man for directions,” Cem recalls. “Although I had only produced two episodes of the programme, he recognised me from TV. It turned out he was visiting from a village in the middle of nowhere, but he was still able to hear about God’s love because of television!
“God showed me the importance and unique value of this channel through this event.”
Misconceptions and prejudices about the Christian faith are widespread in Turkey. As a channel that supports all Christian denominations in Turkey, Cem says SAT-7 TÜRK has a vital part to play.
“SAT-7 TÜRK has two main roles,” Cem explains. “The first is to support existing Christians of all denominations in Turkey in their walk with Christ. The channel’s second role is to inform non-Christians about our faith, hope and trust in a God of love, not a God that is quick to punish and strike down.
“The Church in Turkey today resembles the first churches that are described in the book of Acts,” explains Pastor Cem. “Everyone knows everyone because Christians are a minority in Turkey, but we are growing.
“During this pandemic the role of the Church is very important. We are limited in what we can do at the moment, but we want to give people spiritual and emotional support, and one way we can do this is through programmes on SAT-7 TÜRK.”
Bridge to new audiences
By providing a platform for churches across Turkey, SAT-7 TÜRK acts as a bridge between churches and people. Isolated believers living in regions with no churches or Christian communities can connect with Christians and churches through the programmes aired on the channel.
“Non-Christians also find it easier and are more comfortable reaching out to the channel than they are in approaching a church directly,” says Pastor Cem. “SAT-7 TÜRK serves as a starting point and a foundation in their search for answers about Christianity.
“During this pandemic, people are rethinking their priorities. They are no longer concerned about material things such as fancy houses and big cars, but they do have a lot of questions,” he continues. In addition to continuing live programmes, SAT-7 TÜRK responded to this need by creating a new show, Answers of Hope, in which church leaders across Turkey help to answer questions related to the Christian faith during the pandemic.
Alternative to the mainstream
Pastor Cem shares that many people feel secular television in Turkey has become “boring”, because channels are currently mainly showing repeats. People are looking for alternatives to watch and many have turned to SAT-7 TÜRK.
“As a result, the channel’s viewer engagement has increased, we receive more questions, there are more discussions and arguments, more positive and negative reactions,” he says. “I believe this engagement with the channel will continue to increase because people are hungry for answers.”
One of the most exciting and encouraging developments that Cem has witnessed during this time is that viewers have started to ask more challenging questions. “We used to get common questions such as ‘Has the Bible been changed?’, but now viewers are researching the Bible, they are comparing verses, they are engaging with the programmes and their questions are becoming more difficult. This is a huge encouragement to us all.”
As for the role of the Church after the pandemic is over and people return to their previous routines, Pastor Cem says, “People fear that due to the virus people’s faith will be weakened, but we are seeing the exact opposite.
“Many are turning towards God, and I believe they will continue to do so as they re-evaluate their lives. For now, the Lord has brought us into a Sabbath in our homes, a time of rest. When churches finally reopen, I believe that many more people will come.”
THE VIRUS IN TURKEY
By mid-April Turkey had the highest recorded number of Covid cases in the Middle East. However, its 3,739 Covid-related deaths are relatively low compared to many European nations. This seems to be thanks to a well-resourced health system and relatively young population. Except for several weekends, the government chose not to impose a full lockdown and began easing restrictions, for example, reopening shopping malls with social distancing on 11 May. Analysts warn that the financial aftershocks could be severe. The International Monetary Fund forecasts that inflation will rise to 12 per cent and unemployment to 17.2 per cent.
- For Cem Erçin as he presents Essence of the Gospel and for him and Pastor Vahan İsaoğlu as they co-present Let’s Talk and answer the questions viewers raise
- For Gökhan Talas as he talks to church leaders on Answers of Hope and addresses topics spanning from the roles of science and faith to how the Church has responded to previous epidemics and pandemics.
- For God’s Spirit to work in the lives of SAT-7 TÜRK viewers and for many more Turks to discover the programmes