Papal visit to diffuse religious tensions in Turkey.

By November 29, 2006

Turkey (MNN)–Two Turkish Christians, charged with “insulting Turkishness” are standing trial.

Hakan Tastan, 37, and Turan Topal, 46, are accused of inciting hatred against Islam. The charges include denigrating “Turkish identity,” reviling Islam, and secretly compiling files on private citizens for a Bible correspondence course without the individuals’ knowledge or permission.

Under Turkish law, these two men cannot open a libel case until their current trial is concluded, which could be years.

This case has been grabbing headlines even as Pope Benedict XVI arrives in Turkey for a visit. He’s hoping to diffuse tensions, but Interserve’s Doug VanBronkhorst says all of this just highlights the pressure the team members face.

It’s said that “to be Turk is to be Muslim.” Converts and evangelistic work frequently provoke violent reactions. That doesn’t stop Interserve’s team from ministry, but it does raise the stakes. “The pressure for them is that they might get kicked out of the country if their Christian activity becomes offensive to somebody locally, where they are. The real pressure, of course, is on Turkish Christians who face much more dangerous consequences than that. That’s illustrated by these two men on trial. They can actually be imprisoned.”

VanBronkhorst says tourism gives an inaccurate picture of what it’s like to live in Turkey as a believer. “That’s so deceiving for Westerners, especially for Christians who go there to visit the biblical sites and so on. I really would plead with them that they would pray for the Turkish church, because it’s not easy to be a Christian in Turkey and lots of prayer is needed. I would daresay it’s one of the most difficult places in the world right now to be a Christian and to share the Gospel.”

Please continue to lift Hakan and Turan up as well as the small Turkish Church as they work through this and possibly even more persecution in the days and months ahead. Also continue to pray for the mission teams who continue to serve in Turkey.

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