Turkey is "close to a spiritual breakthrough"

CURRENT FEATURE STORY

by the Editors at ReligionToday.com
February 3, 1999

Christians are boldly proclaiming the gospel in mostly Muslim Turkey, and as they do they are gaining more freedom and becoming more accepted, a U.S.-based ministry to the country says.

...Believers are becoming self-confident, said Luis Bush of the AD 2000 Movement, who met with church leaders last year. "The Turkish world is close to a spiritual breakthrough," Bush said. More churches are being granted legal status and are more accepted by society. Istanbul had two churches 10 years ago; there are now 12 with their own buildings and four that meet in houses. Sales of New Testaments are increasing, and a 24-hour Christian radio station reaches 20 million listeners.

...Christians distributed 1,200 New Testaments and hundreds of audio tapes telling about the life of Christ in Istanbul's main shopping district on Christmas Eve. Most people warmly received the handouts and police officers did not interfere. "That kind of thing would have been impossible a few years ago," an official of a U.S.-based ministry to Turkey told Religion Today. Police arrested and deported foreign Christian workers for the same activities less than five years ago, he said.

...The prayers of hundreds of thousands of Christians in North America and Europe are paying off. "I think the main reason for the openness in Turkey is because people have been praying for years," the official said. For more than 10 years his ministry has given supporters a bimonthly prayer letter about the church in Turkey. "Then there was not much to report, but now hundreds of Christian workers are actively sharing the love of Christ."

...Christians have become bolder about living and sharing their faith. "Turk believers are coming to maturity and they are standing up for their rights guaranteed by the constitution," the official said. In the past they worshiped in private and did little evangelism, but their fear and secretive attitude made authorities suspicious. Now that they are standing up for their rights, police are less willing to harass them, he said. "They have gained their rights by being bold."

...Churches are telling others about Jesus Christ. Christians in Ankara hosted a Christmas drama in a hotel that attracted more than 1,000 people. They distributed gift packets including New Testaments and other Christian literature. More than 250 people indicated on a survey that they wanted to hear more about Jesus, and several prayed to become Christians when workers visited them. Christian books are sold in the marketplaces of major cities and an evangelical newspaper is published in Istanbul.

..."There is a whole new atmosphere, especially in the Aegean area," the official said. "I used to feel a pall when I stepped off the plane, but now it's a different feeling." He recently addressed a group of students at a school in Izmir on the subject of Christianity. They listened attentively, asked many questions, and asked him to stay and talk some more. "I was astounded at their openness. I have never seen that before."

...A series of Christian events will be held to celebrate the millennium. "Toward 3,000" is a yearlong celebration of the 2,000-year anniversary of Christ's birth. Tourism officials have agreed to allow Christian concerts and sporting events for tourists. Church leaders invited American evangelist Luis Palau to hold a series of meetings in February. The ministry has agreed to participate, and is awaiting permission from the Turkish government.

...Turkey was once a bastion of Christianity. The early church spread the message of Christ through the region that now includes Turkey, and the sites of the seven churches mentioned in the Book of Revelation are there. The country converted to Islam in the 15th century, but about 25% of the population remained Christian in 1900. Political upheaval after World War I resulted in the murder and deportation of more than 3 million ethnic Armenians, a Christian minority.

..."To be a Turk is to be Muslim," the Christian handbook Operation World says. There are an estimated 1,000 evangelical Christians, about 17,000 Eastern rite and Latin rite Catholics, and 72,000 Orthodox believers. Most of the 55 million citizens have never heard the message of Christ and many oppose Christianity because of the legacy of the Crusades. European Crusaders conquered the country and massacred many people. "They carried the cross with them, no wonder [Turks] hate the cross," the official said.

...A Christian effort to apologize for the Crusades has had an effect. Christians are participating in Youth With a Mission (see link #1 below)'s Reconciliation Walk. Walkers travel through areas the Crusaders conquered in order to apologize for wrongs committed by their forefathers against Turks, Jews, and Arabs. They moved through Turkey in 1997 and 1998, reading a public apology at mosques and public squares. The effort is helping break the legacy of the Crusades, the official said.

...Secular authorities recognize the danger posed by militant Muslims. In November, the government arrested 23 Muslim extremists who planned to bomb a monument honoring Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the modern republic. The secular military forced the ouster of an Islamic prime minister who sought to impose Koranic laws in 1996. "The military takes over every once in a while to guarantee democratic rule," the official said. The military "will tolerate authoritarianism, but not radical Islam."

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