When my friend Chris Royer [AFM’s new executive director—pictured on the right] emailed me [on the left] in early 2014 about his planned trip to Turkey, I responded immediately that I was in — subject to God’s confirmation. Chris had served as a priest in our South Carolina parish a few years ago, and he had told me stories about his experiences living in Turkey for 14 years. I knew he had a great passion for that part of the world. I told Chris then that someday I was interested in visiting Turkey.
God has led me to various parts of the globe over the years: Ecuador, Mexico, India, China, Belize, Nigeria, Denmark, England, Scotland, Turkey. Strange for a guy who grew up in a small coastal South Carolina farming town and never wanted to leave. Stranger still for a guy who, prior to age 18, had never traveled north of the Mason-Dixon line…unless you count Florida. My time overseas has been insignificant in the span of my 46 years on the planet, but these experiences have blessed me enormously – far out of proportion to the time spent.
The pattern for these trips has tended to be the same, beginning with a passing interest, a “holy curiosity,” about a certain new place. The real action for me typically has started several years later with a direct invitation from a friend to travel to this new place. I am still amazed when my passing interest comes to fruition in a specific invitation. I feel immediate movement by God in my spirit, urging me to go or at least to pay attention. Next, I ask and (in most, but not all, cases) receive prayerful confirmation from my wife. The several months of trip preparation typically lead to some doubt and second guessing.
As a Westerner, an engineer, and a business owner, what is difficult for me personally is that God has never shown me at the outset what His purposes are in these trips. I want to see the master plan! This is the story of my life, really. By the grace of God, I’m learning to trust and obey in peace. I’ve never really struggled with the obeying, but the peaceful trusting part has been harder.
So, what can I say about Turkey?
Istanbul is a remarkable city. Turkey is amazing in its diversity of people and its history. Turkey is hot in the summer. Business appears to be booming. Transportation infrastructure looks solid. Water infrastructure and environmental protection is lacking. Turks are frustrated with their government; who isn’t? The food and culture are rich. Turks love Facebook.
There are more and better Greek and Roman ruins in Turkey than in Greece and Italy. The Greeks and Romans built cities on defensible hilltops with wells and aqueducts for water. Later, the Islamic Turks tended to settle in river valleys because Islam favors sites with flowing water. Therefore, the ancient ruins have tended to be preserved.
At Laodicea, they are just beginning to unearth hundreds of acres of a city complex that housed 250,000 in Roman times. Truly amazing that a city John the Apostle wrote about in Revelation some 2,000 years ago has been lying asleep underground for most of that time, and we are able to see it in our generation. God’s wonders never cease.
Sunday School lessons come to life when you walk in the heat and dust of actual places where Bible heroes and other historical figures walked. I saw the seven churches of Revelation, where Phillip was martyred, where the Virgin Mary and John the Apostle are said to have lived their last days and where Paul was born (Tarsus) and made tents (Ephesus), as well as many other places Paul and others frequented in Asia Minor.
Because of Chris’ relationships in Turkey, we were able to get to know Turks and eat and lodge in their homes, which was truly special. We were able to share our experiences of God with them and to hear their testimonies as well.
From my perspective, the opportunity for the church in Turkey revolves around RELATIONSHIPS, and, since Christians comprise less than 1% of the population in Turkey, the opportunity for the Gospel of Jesus Christ is enormous. Evangelism and discipleship are rightly seen as processes, not transactions. Relationships open up opportunities for the processes of evangelism and discipleship to occur.
The good news is that Turks greatly value human relationships. Family and friends trump tasks and schedules every time. Yet, Turks can be noticeably reserved and dubious until you are part of their inner circle. Additionally, thanks to a complicated history, Turks have a tenuous relationship with the West, which is, for better or worse, associated with Christianity. Clearly, the greatest opportunity for Gospel work is directly through Turkish believers.
So, what is to be done to establish and grow relationships in Turkey so the Gospel can flourish there?
- Go there. Be there. Laugh and cry with Turks. Even if only for a short while.
- Do business there, as Paul did. Make tents. Sell coffee. Do engineering. Business is relationship.
- Value and support Turkish believers who are leaders and connectors. Build them up as disciples and evangelists so they can build relationships for the Gospel.
- Support believers from outside the West to go there. For example, Turks and Koreans have a special relationship due to Turkey’s participation with UN forces in the Korean War, where the Turkish Brigade was noted for its bravery and fighting ability.
- Promote an Anglican form of liturgical worship. Anglicanism is evangelical, and its liturgy promotes discipleship. Since few Turks are trained in the language and practice of Christian discipleship, weekly worship may be one of the few opportunities for a believer to grow in discipleship. Anglican liturgy reinforces discipleship like few other forms of worship.
- Keep in touch with new friends via Facebook. Although it is not a substitute for direct interaction, don’t decry social media. It’s the next best thing to being there once relationships are made.
- Above all, pray for this beautiful land of many names and peoples, now known as the Republic of Turkey.
Written by Allen Ward
July 28, 2014
For more about AFM’s work in Turkey, email us at email@example.com.