Turkish Church’s witness amidst shifting tides

By August 1, 2016

Turkey (MNN) — The purge in Turkey is still ongoing following the failed coup. The most recent announcement from the Turkish government has them shutting down 131 media outlets across the country.

Hagia Sophia in Turkey (Photo courtesy of David Spender via Flickr)

Hagia Sophia in Turkey (Photo courtesy of David Spender via Flickr)

The government declared a three month state of emergency that has allowed the president and his administration to skip over Turkish parliament in terminating rights and enacting new laws.

Tom Doyle, author of Killing Christians: Living the Faith Where It’s Not Safe to Believe and with e3 Partners, was in Turkey just weeks before the coup.

“One thing we certainly found when we were there that Christians and Muslims could agree on is that they were frightened about the overreaching power of President Erdogan. They saw that just growing and really feared moving to an all-out dictatorship. Which, many people are saying maybe this was a staged coup. We don’t know what happened, but firmly he’s in control now with the court systems, with the military, with the police, with the press, he’s got it all. So it’s definitely come out in his favor.”

Implications for the nation

Now with the significant changeover of power, Turkish citizens are wondering what the ramifications will be even further down the road.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Image Courtesy: World Economic Forum, Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic | Wikimedia Commons)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Image Courtesy: World Economic Forum, Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic | Wikimedia Commons)

Turkey is a Muslim-majority nation, but it has a secular state reputation, with less restrictions on freedom as its neighboring countries in the Middle East. But that could change.

Doyle reflects, “For believers living in Turkey, this is not good news, and for good-hearted Muslims. Turkey has a lot of secular Muslims, it’s definitely the place where the East meets the West. Many do not want to become a Turkish version of Iran, and they fear this.”

It doesn’t help that Turkey has already been suffering from a crippled tourist industry, and the overwhelming needs of refugees who continue to pour over their borders.

“Even in practical terms, economically, we’re hearing that last year, Turkey — which needs tourism to survive — that tourism was cut in about half last year and it will be obviously worse this year. So all bad signs for Turkey.”

The Church in Turkey

With these latest attacks on freedoms of the press in Turkey, it may not be long before other freedoms are lost in the backlash.

Churches in Turkey are bracing themselves, says Doyle. “No matter what happens, whether it’s the Egyptian revolution or what happened in Libya or when Saddam Hussein was removed, all those things, the details don’t seem to matter. There’s always just a backlash that goes against Christians. It just happens.

“So we know that workers on the ground are nervous. We know workers in southeastern Turkey right next to Syria, and they’re obviously laying very low…. They just have to be extra careful. The government is going to fight back…and the president has all the power so he’s virtually free to do whatever he wants.

“Obviously, above-ground churches are going to have to be careful. I’m sure the state will let them exist, but on the other hand when it comes to sharing the Good News, they’re going to be curtailed, which they are already. And certainly, even if the government wasn’t cracking down on believers, different Muslim groups would. So we’re praying, first of all, for a great, vast underground movement to just spread throughout Turkey.”

Christians contrasting with culture

The current culture in Turkey is fraught with tension and even anger at what’s happening in their government and communities. “There’s just a climate of hate and suspicion with government crackdowns, who’s on what side,” says Doyle.

(Photo courtesy of Andreas Trojak via Flickr)

(Photo courtesy of Andreas Trojak via Flickr)

While Christians do need to be cautious, this is a critical moment for the Turkish Church. Because how they respond to pressure and persecution will be a poignant witness for the Gospel — because their secular and Muslim neighbors are watching.

Doyle gives an example from his interactions with Muslims in Syria.

“One of the blessings that we saw in Syria was Sunni Muslims were saying to us, ‘Really, the only people we trusted were the Bible people. They were the ones that didn’t want anything. They just loved us and reached out to us and fed us and took care of our children and gave us clothes and a place to stay.’”

What if the Church in Turkey responded like that to persecution? What if the Church around the world responded like that?

“That’s what we’re praying for,” says Doyle. “That the church would not shrink back, that it would keep moving forward. But that’s our spiritual identification, that Jesus said, ‘By this, all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.’ And so that’s what we’re praying people of Turkey can see, the difference of believers in their lives that they model how Jesus would live in the midst of this.”

Persecution: an agonizing opportunity

Christians in closed countries like North Korea, Afghanistan, or Iraq are no strangers to persecution and suffering for their faith.

Doyle shares, “What we’ve seen in places like Iran, it was difficult when sharia law was established in 1979, the Ayatollah, the Islamic revolution, and you go from a fairly western-friendly country to a strong, hard Muslim country that gives virtually little rights to its citizens. The believers there regrouped, they prayed, they fasted, they moved forward, and now we have one of the fastest growing churches per capita in the world in Iran.

Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey (Photo courtesy of rachaelvoorhees via Flickr)

Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey (Photo courtesy of rachaelvoorhees via Flickr)

“I believe that’s where Turkey is headed as far as just the difficulty in being a believer in the persecution and the pressure…. This is a country that needs to be reached for Christ, so we need to stand with our brothers and sisters and pray for them, get behind them, and support them, do whatever we can to help them.”

How can the potential for persecution be…a good thing? Doyle offers this perspective:

“We know this: that persecution actually accelerates the progress of the Gospel. I mean, nobody signs up for it or volunteers for it, that’s for sure. But our track record over 2,000 years has been when the Church is persecuted, when believers are willing to suffer, willing to die for Jesus in countries, the Gospel moves rapidly. The Gospel thrives in a climate of hostility, and so that’s what we’re praying for Turkey.”

While you’re praying for Christians and the Church in Turkey, Doyle also asks that you pray for the Muslim people in Turkey to experience a revival and come to know Jesus Christ as their Savior.

“We know that good-hearted Muslims are frustrated. So we are praying as they cry out to God that they would meet believers, that they would receive a Bible somehow, that maybe they’d have a dream about Jesus that would shake them up and make them question their life and really where it’s headed. So pray for just awakening among Muslims in Turkey. That’s the most important thing I think we can pray for is that God just moves in the midst of all this.”


(Logo courtesy of 8thirty8 via Facebook)

(Logo courtesy of 8thirty8 via Facebook)

If you’d like to more about how to pray, and to do so in conjunction with other believers, you can join the 8thirty8 prayer group here.

Doyle explains, “We set our watches at 8:38 pm and when it goes off we pray for believers in prison, persecution, and danger. And so, maybe listeners, if they’re not on our 8thirty8 Facebook page, they can click on there and if they ‘like’ the page then they’ll get regular updates on believers and where they’re struggling throughout the world, whether it’s Africa, North Korea, the Middle East. And certainly we believe more news stories are going to be popping up about Turkey just because of the changeover in the government. So that’s a good prayer reminder, to just set your watch or your phone at 8:38 pm every night, and just pray for believers whether they be in prison, persecution, or danger.”

While we still don’t know what all the ramifications will be of the current tides shifting in Turkey, we do know this: our God is in control, not just in Turkey, but throughout every nation.

“We may not be called to suffer for Christ in America, although I think that’s coming someday. But we are called to stand with our brothers and sisters in the midst of the persecution.”

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