Turkey (MNN) — Rescue workers continue to pull bodies from the rubble of a massive earthquake in Turkey. Well over 500 people have been killed, the most devastating numbers reporting as many as 534 deaths.
Other nations are getting involved in the relief work, which some in Turkey hope will repair certain inter-country relationships. Churches are responding by gathering funds for the church in Van, one of the hardest-hit areas.
There's one thing churches are not doing, however, which might surprise you: they're not speaking up about the Gospel.
"This is actually a very dangerous time to share the Gospel," says Pastor Kerem Koc, who was saved in The Evangelical Alliance Mission’s (TEAM) St. Paul Cultural Center in Antalya, Turkey..
Koc is a pastor in Turkey. It might be counter to what you would expect of Christians at this time, but Koc knows from experience that post-crisis is probably the worst time there is to share the Good News in Turkey.
"In 1999, there was another earthquake, and many missionaries thought that that was the best opportunity that they could get [to evangelize] because they could show love and care for people," explains Koc. "So they helped physically bring blankets and food, and through that, they actually brought some financial support and Bible distribution. And that really became very offensive."
Several Mission Network News guests have mentioned that it's frequently said in Turkey that "to be a Turk is to be Muslim, and to be Muslim is to be a Turk." Koc says most Turks are turned off by what can appear to be a type of religious solicitation to something other than Islam.
"People think that you are helping them without really any expectation. And as soon as you share the Gospel or give the Bible to those people, they are really getting offended. In our country, people are already offended by the Gospel itself, so we are very careful how we do this."
Is this too strong of a reaction, though? How bad was it in 1999? At least some people must have been changed by the Gospel, right?
Koc says when New Testaments, tracts, and Bibles were distributed–sometimes with money inside of them for aid relief, much more harm was done than good. Turks were offended enough that years of work were actually being torn down.
"About five years after 1999, we tried to rebuild what we had lost spiritually during that earthquake," reflects Koc. "I'm hoping the missionaries are not going to take that approach."
Koc says most Turkish Christians know to avoid sharing the Gospel unless someone asks, but missionaries sometimes don't understand the culture and therefore respond with tactics that would usually be appropriate in a crisis situation. He wants to warn foreign believers to tread carefully. "I encourage people not to share [the Gospel] right now, but just help the people: send some support, send some blankets and stuff like that."
Does this mean that Christians are not to provide hope at all then? Koc says "No," and in fact this may be an opportunity to just build bridges.
"In Turkey, we really encourage everybody–missionaries especially–to build relationships first, then try to share the Gospel later on," says Koc. "So that's a great time to make some friends; help them, serve them, and just be the light that the Lord wants us to be."
Consider Koc's words as you give to earthquake relief. TEAM has had a presence in Turkey for decades and knows how to respond well in this crisis, but they have no formal response yet to the disaster. Learn more about their work in Turkey here.
In the meantime, pray for relationships to be built that earthquake victims might come to Christ in God's timing.