Indicators of spiritual ripeness of the Turkish World were evident everywhere over the past several days as I met with many national and international Christians in Istanbul and Izmir June 8-14, 1998. My wife Doris along with friends Jim and Judy Orred of YWAM participated in a precious time considering the spiritual needs and opportunities in Turkey. We are all leaving with the conviction that the Turkish world is on the verge of a significant spiritual breakthrough.

The overview by Nigel Prior, a key leader, provides a brief overview of the spiritual situation in Turkey.

Luis Bush
Istanbul, June 14, 1998

Overview of the spiritual situation in Turkey

By Nigel Prior
Former Chairman of the Leadership Advisory Council
Istanbul, 14 June, 1998

The following is a brief attempt at making an overview of the state of church planting and evangelism in the nation of Turkey. It is based on observations made over the past eleven years that I have served in Turkey. My work has been in the city of Istanbul. We have planted a church on the European and Asian side of the city. We also planted a church among the Turkish speaking gypsies of Southern Bulgaria in the small city of Kircali. Alongside my role as a church planter I have been a member of the two national councils that exist in the Evangelical Christian work in the country. One of these is to co-ordinate the work of the foreign groups working in the country, the other to do a similar job among the Turkish speaking fellowships that have been started over the past thirty years or so. For two years, 1995-97, I was the chairman of the foreign group. Following the GCOWE conference in 1995 in Seoul laid on by the AD2000 and beyond movement, the Turkish church and foreign worker force agreed to the following two goals to define the shape of the work in the coming years: "A church in every province and the gospel to every household." This has become a byword among the community and has provided a terrific focus for the work.

SPIRITUAL CLIMATE: The Turkish nation is a set of contradictions. It is rapidly modernising and with that comes an inevitable slide towards western values. At the same time there is a real danger of the Islamic right taking over the controls of the nation as you read in the Turkish newspapers almost every day. This could be through the ballot box or through the use of force. Both of these scenarios cause concern for those involved in the spread of the gospel. Secularism has a very powerful way of blinding people to the truth of the gospel, as in the difficult field of Western Europe. Islam, when it holds absolute power, is oppressive towards Christian activity, but this can be a very real reason for the church to grow at a faster rate as compared to the church growth in Iran. At the moment the church in Turkey seems to be enjoying a relative time of peace in the country. I personally think that we have been temporarily forgotten as the power mongers have their eyes focussed on other goals. This, however, is probably only a temporary situation. It has, though, provided us with some space to develop the structures of the church and see a faster rate of church growth than has been witnessed previously. There are enormous forces at work in the nation. As stated previously secularism and radical Islam are both at work. Alongside these are the economic and political crises that the nation has been going through for the past decade. The East of the country has been neglected economically. There are few hospitals, schools, factories, and roads of good condition or basic amenities. At the same time there has been a ten year long struggle between the army and a Kurdish separatist movement. Many of the villages, some of which have over a five hundred year long history, in the Southeast region and east region of the country have been abandoned by their inhabitants. Immigration is a major trend in the country. Many people leaving the smaller settlements to enter the provincial cities, and then many leaving the provincial cities to find work in the larger cities in the west of Turkey such as Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir. At the same time there has been an incredible growth in the cities of the Southeast region. The population of the country is made up of over 50% under the age of twenty-five years old. This in itself is affecting the spiritual climate, as the youth are more receptive to new ideas. There is a growing educated middle class. These are challenging many of the accepted values handed down from generation to generation. The media has an enormous influence in the nation; challenging values and affecting change disproportionately. The religious communities are very energetic in their attempts to influence the nation. The radical Islamic groups are very well organised. They have the largest group in Parliament and have recently survived being closed down by the law courts. A number of prominent members have been banned from the political arena but it is obvious that they are still there operating from behind the scenes.

Alongside these are groups similar to the Masons in their secretive practices and economic strings that they bind their members with. The leader of the largest of these groups is said to have the power to place the next party in power by simply instructing his members which way to vote. This group has been in contact with the pope and the Moonies of late.

There is a very large minority called the Alevis. They don't follow Mohamed, but rather choose to hold Ali as their spiritual leader. This group numbers somewhere over 20,000,000 people. In recent years there has been a growing level of contact between this group and the evangelical community. One thing that draws them to us is that they associate us with them in suffering. Over many years they have been persecuted by elements of the radical Islamic Sunni majority.

There have been a series of natural disasters, which have caused many people to ask new questions. Earthquakes of a smaller size than the recent one in California caused more deaths even though they happened in less densely populated areas. Poor standards in building were to blame. They were below regulatory standards. Bribery was seen to be the main reason. The floods that have taken place all too frequently of late have caused immense damage and loss of life. The cause is generally ignoring the safety standards following transaction of bribes. Larger industrial organisations are starting to take notice of these things and holding successive governments to account. They are also challenging the moral decay that has been rife in the structure of the society for many years. The relationship between officialdom and the powerful underworld organisations is also constantly under media attention. All of these factors are starting to bring about a spiritual hunger that wasn't so obvious ten years previously.

On top of these the effect of the church establishing it's legal identity. Becoming more and more a part of the daily fabric of life has had a dual effect. First, of increasing confidence in the local believers (that they can do more than simply survive in a hostile environment) and second making the government and it's organs (e.g. the police) behave in a different way towards the church.

The fact that the church and foreign worker groups have set the above goals demonstrates the shift in thinking and faith level. Eleven years ago there were only two fellowships regularly meeting in Istanbul, today there are 12 with their own premises (either rented or owned) and another four that meet in houses and still more that are being planned as new church plants. It is not just the major cities that have churches but some of the smaller cities including some in the east of the country. These represent a major shift in the spiritual climate.

Ten years ago a worker was forced to leave the country after a lawsuit had been opened against him in a town on the Black Sea coast. This last year in the same town a worker has just won a court case taken out against him and had two-year residents permit granted to him as well. In Istanbul a Christian radio station (FM) has been established through a Turkish company. It now has 24-hour broadcasting and reaches a potential audience of at least 20,000,000 people.

Distribution of the New Testament has increased so dramatically that in the last year the numbers given out or sold were more than in the previous ten years put together. The work of doing this is largely being done through local believers. The translation of the Old Testament has just been completed and in the next year it is projected that it will be ready for a major distribution campaign. I believe that all of the above mentioned factors are of great significance as we look forward and try to anticipate what it is that the Lord is going to do next.

INITIATIVES IN PRAYER: Recently, as a fellowship in London and our local Turkish fellowships were preparing to go to the province of Bilecik to start the process of planting a new church there we were led in a wonderful way to pray into the Turkish nation. M, one of my team, was doing some research on the area of Bilecik. We learnt that it was from this area that the Ottoman Empire had started to take its shape through the medium of dreams. In one dream, following his reading of the Koran through the night, Ertugrul bey, the father of the first Ottoman emperor, had a dream in which he was told "Because you have showed such respect to my word, I will bless the generations that follow you." In another dream, again in this area, his son had a dream in which he was told that he would establish an empire that would rule the whole world. Thus we see that in one sense the beginnings of the Ottoman Empire had a very supernatural edge to them. While this was formulating in our minds, T, one of the new leaders of the fellowship that we have started on the European side was given a verse by the Lord which made no apparent sense to him at all. It was Matthew 23:32. In the Turkish it reads "Go and finish off the work that your forefathers have begun." We all felt very much that the Lord had spoken clearly to us and so when we went to that area the two Turkish leaders who were with us renounced the accord that had been established between the Turks and the Koran and also spoke out freedom to the Turks to be able to become Christians. There has been the long time assumption that to be a Turk is to be a Muslim.

We are sensing that through this and other initiatives, (e.g. the prayer walks of 1995 where people walked around the borders of the land and claimed for the Lord, the Reconciliation Walk that has for two summers brought large numbers of Christians to apologise for the atrocities committed in the name of Christ against the Muslims, Jews and Christians of the Middle East, the regular Istanbul city wide nights and then half nights of prayer) that the Lord is shifting things in the heavenly places over Turkey.

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