Turkey (MNN) — As evangelical groups make inroads among Turkey's Islamic population, their visibility causes Turks to see them as interlopers. Case in point: the recent murders of three believers involved in Bible publishing.
Compass Direct reports that two of the victims, 36-year-old Necati Aydin, and 32-year-old Ugur Yuksel, were the first known Turkish martyrs who converted from Islam since the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923. The third victim was a German national, 46-year-old Tilmann Geske.
In the days following the burials of the three men, there was a spate of arrests connected to the case. The small Turkish Christian population worried about dispelling harmful myths about their faith which some feared could lead to more violence against believers.
Interserve's Doug VanBronkhorst says while the situation did not directly involve their team, "We have people there that are not Turks. We have some involved with Turkish citizens and Christians. They all seem to be at risk now. The significant thing about the murders is that one of them was a German worker – a foreigner, not a Turk. So, nobody's safe, and they all realize that."
Christians make up less than one percent of the population, and the evangelistic community, long viewed with suspicion by the Muslim-dominated society, considered past patterns of violent reprisals and persecution.
According to the World Evangelical Alliance, the Turkish media often paints so-called "missionary activities" as a foreign plot to divide Turkish society. In response, Turkish Christians are urging the Turkish government to tell the nation that their work is not political, but rather a spiritual mission.
Instability also threatens the country, as these murders brought the country into high-profile weeks before a presidential election. There is great concern that a leading candidate from the ruling party could strengthen Islamic influence on the government, should he win.
Interserve works alongside national churches, which may need the support of larger communities of believers, especially during trying times. VanBronkhorst goes on to express confidence in the tightly-knit evangelical community. "I think that the Turkish church will still continue to be open about their faith. Clearly, this will make them cautious in certain ways. Pray for their courage in the face of persecution. Pray, too, that they will continue to make the Gospel a message of love and peace, even in the face of this kind of provocation."