Abandoned Churches are Filled
with Life - Stories of the Mission Field
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Abandoned Churches are Filled
Officially, Turkey is a secular state. More than 99% of the population – which is about 80 million people – are Muslim. It is impossible to imagine the 90,000 mosques countrywide without the calls of the muezzin in everyday life. The amount of Christians in Turkey is accordingly small. There are approximately 4,500 to 5,000 Protestant Christians and 114 churches in the country.
This was not always the case. Turkey is rich in Christian history. The churches of the seven epistles of the book of revelation are all located in the area of present Turkey. The apostle Paul came from Tarsus and traveled many landscapes that are today Turkish land. The former Byzantine church Hagia Sophia in Istanbul became in the meantime a mosque and is now a museum. It stands as a symbol for the current state of the Christendom of Turkey: The few splendid traces of the Christian life are tolerated remains of the past. It is not allowed to build new churches. That is why most of the new churches meet in private homes, offices, or rooms rented in shopping arcades. Old church buildings, as long as there are any, are being converted into public facilities or they are just empty.
Therefore, it is a great gift that the church in Izmir (it is the biblical Smyrna) can meet in a former Anglican church. Even though the building is not in its best condition, it offers enough space for services and other church activities. The church in Adana (not far from the biblical Tarsus in southern Turkey) finds it difficult because they have been looking for facilities for years now. No one wants to rent out a building to a Christian community. Pastor Sükrü, leader of the local Baptist church, is openly looking to contacting the mayor and he keeps praying that his growing church would find a new home.
Pastor Erol has experienced such an answer to prayer. His church is north from Izmir in Menemen and it is the only Christian community among millions of people. They had the desire to use an empty building that was built at the beginning of the 19th century as an Orthodox church. It was closed, however, in 1924 for municipal utilization. In 2013, the building was restored and used as a cultural center. For four years, the church was praying. Pastor Erol kept in touch with the responsible authorities. “Historical buildings are attractive: People are curious and it’s easier for us to spread the good news”, Pastor Erol says. The Turkish society is used to seeing faith lived visibly and not in privacy. An old church building is a bridge for the seeking. Joy was even bigger when the doors opened and the church got the permit to celebrate their services in this old church. Christendom experiences a renewal and is even allowed to fill the abandoned churches with life!
This growth is also happening because the Turkish churches are living their faith joyously and with self-confidence. Sometimes that is not without risk and hostility. Civil police officers watch the church in Menemen in order to protect them from attacks. It is similar in Adana and Samsun. Some pastors get personal protection from the state. This does not keep them from living the original mission of the church: To tell people about the faith and help them.
Grenna Kaiya, team leader for projects and programs by EBM INTERNATIONAL visited the churches in Turkey together with general secretary Christoph Haus. The commitment of the Turkish brothers and sisters was very impressive to her. She sums up: “The few Christians in Turkey have great credibility in their faith due to their actions. It’s a great testimony!”