Turkey is a country of over 79 million people, with 73% of the population living in urban settings. Urbanization is growing at nearly 2% annually due to career opportunities and modern lifestyles. Muslims make up 97% of the population, with the remaining 3% being “other or non-religious.” The total Christian population equal a mere 0.01% and Evangelicals make up 0.00008% because most professed Christians come from an Orthodox or Catholic background whereas there are only 7,000 Protestants in the entire country.
Christianity Was Established
Historically, Turkey was the cradle of the Gentile church. Much of the disciples’ mission work happened in Asia Minor, home of places like Ephesus, Galatia, and Antioch which is the site of the first Gentile church (Acts 11:19-30) and where believers were first called Christians or followers of Christ. All of these sites and many more are in modern day Turkey.
The Rise of Islam
Christianity began to decline throughout Turkey at the rise of the Ottoman (or Turkish) Empire in the 14th century and crumbled when Mehmed the Conquerer captured what is now known as Istanbul in the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. Islam continued to grow through very strategic means – taxation. Anyone occupying land within the Ottoman Empire were welcomed, tolerated and even valued based on skills, but if they were not Muslim they were taxed at much higher rates. In order to ease the taxation pressure, many converted to Islam.
The empire started to decline in the 19th century until the sultanate ceased to exist in 1922 when Mustafa Kemal Atatürk established the Republic of Turkey and became Turkey’s first president. Finally, the caliphate was abolished in 1924 giving way to a long of road of modernization, secularization and reform. Atatürk realized the rate of illiteracy in Turkey and decided to completely overturn the language – changing it from an Arabic based language to a Latin-based alphabet in 1928.
Persecution in Turkey
However, with all of it’s democratic growth as a republic and public accolades as an open nation of promising economic and political power, Turkey remains trapped in a war for identity. One cannot expect to arrive in Turkey and not be confronted with the bitterness of historical conflict. The Crusades happened throughout this region and divisiveness in religion and political policies and practices continue today.
While Turkey prides itself on being secularist and open to all religions, practically speaking there is a lot of persecution toward anyone practicing a different religion than Islam. Many Turks, when they convert from Islam to Christianity (or any other religion) face persecution in subtle and not-so–subtle ways. We know of Turkish believers who have lost multiple jobs because they do not practice the Islamic prayers five times a day with others in the workplace. Many cannot find jobs after conversion. Other types of persecution include the inability to congregate for worship and denied permits, death threats, arrest of any who vocalize opposing views and even death.
In fact, Turkey is on Open Door Mission’s World Watch List which ranks the top 50 Most Persecuted Countries for Christians in 2016.
Why We Love Turkey
God’s heart is for the nations. In fact, the nations – or all peoples, people groups, ethnos – is found over 500 times in the Bible. One favorite of mine is Matthew 24:14, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.“
Ultimately, we love Turks because God loves Turks.
For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” – Acts 2:39
Jesus came to die for their sins just as much as my own.
Yet, they will not hear about Jesus and the true gospel unless people go tell them. Romans 10:13-15 says, “For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!'”
In a country of nearly 79 million with less than 7,000 of them evangelical Christians, what are the chances of these beautiful people knowing one of those 7,000? Close to nil.
Glenn has personal friendships with many Turks and several experiences in Turkey stemming from college. Much of my own past work, experience and passion has been throughout the Muslim world. Therefore, it didn’t take long for us to recognize the people group that God placed on our hearts to invest in as a family. We want to see the gospel flourish and the Church grow as Turkish Muslims come to know followers of Jesus and the truth about God, Jesus, grace, salvation and freedom.
We trust that God will stir up a movement through the Turkish people as faithful believers and followers of Jesus step outside of their comfort zones and enter the darkness of the world to illuminate the gospel.
For His glory. For His name. For His kingdom.
By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.” — Revelation 21:24-26