Martyrs for Christ
Three evangelical Christians have been murdered in Malatya, eastern Turkey, as they met for Bible study at the offices of a small Christian publishing company. The victims, a German missionary and two Turkish converts, were tortured before being killed. Ten Muslim religious students, all aged 19 or 20, have been arrested.
The victims were Tilman Geske, husband and father of three from Germany; Necati Aydin, a local church pastor and father of two; and Ugur Yuksel, a young convert only recently engaged to be married.
On Wednesday morning 18 April the men left their respective homes to gather at the premises of Zirve Publishing where they rented offices. From here also the local Malatya Evangelist Church print and distribute Christian literature throughout the region.
At the same time, across town, ten young Muslims, members of a tarikat or group of ‘faithful believers’ were preparing guns, bread knives, ropes and towels for their act of service to Allah. Five of the group took part in the actual assault and were arrested at the scene.
The group was not unknown to the Christians. Several of these men had heard the gospel and five of them had attended a by-invitation-only evangelistic service on Easter Sunday.
According to reports, Pastor Aydin opened the study by reading a Bible chapter — after which the murderous assault began. The Christians were bound hand and foot to chairs then stabbed and cut repeatedly. The youths videoed their work on cell phones.
The ordeal only came to an end when another Christian, failing to gain access to the premises, became suspicious and called the police. As officers forced entry, the brethren had their throats cut. Two died instantly and one later in hospital, and were welcomed into the presence of the Lord.
The martyrdom of these Christian believers has galvanised the Christian church in Turkey. Believers from all over the country and beyond travelled to the funerals and to support the small church in Malatya. Pastors from other churches came to take care of legal issues and speak to the media gathered for the burials.
Susanne Tilman asked for her husband to be buried in Malatya where the family had lived and worked. At first the town Governor refused permission — and when he realised he could not prevent the funeral, a rumour went round that it was a sin to dig the grave of a Christian.
In the end, men from another church dug a grave for their slain brother and his body was laid to rest in an old untended Armenian graveyard.
Ugur Yuksel’s Muslim family took his body and insisted on giving it an Islamic funeral in his home village in Elazig. He was 32 years old and became a Christian only two years ago, changing his religion officially on his identity card.
Ugur was engaged to Nurcan. A correspondent asks prayer for Nurcan and also for Ugur’s Muslim family.
Daphne Swanson attended the funeral of Pastor Aydin and knows the situation in Turkey. What follows is an edited version of her account.
On Saturday 21 April 2007 the body of Necati Aydin was brought to the grounds of the old Anglican church, now the property of the Baptist church in the Buca district of Izmir.
There, under the blue sky, with birdsong in the pine trees, a congregation of perhaps 250 gathered to praise God for the life of his servant. The noise of the bustling city, and the jostling of the media could not mar the solemn yet joyful occasion.
The crowd parted to make way for the coffin, borne by Christian brothers who sang a hymn as they walked. A soloist sang ‘How deep the Father’s love to us’ and representatives from churches all over Turkey read scripture portions and paid tribute to the life of their fellow-labourer in the gospel.
Necati grew up in a strongly Muslim family but found new life in the Lord Jesus Christ. Before his marriage to Shemsa, his family tried to win him back to Islam, even threatening to kill her. For a time he denied his faith, and his tearful fiancée confided, ‘This is wrong — he must not love me more than he loves Jesus’.
The lapse was brief and his family rejected him. After a joyful marriage the couple set out to serve God together. Necati worked as a colporteur, seeking to share the Word with all who would listen.
It wasn’t long before a complaint led to his imprisonment, though he was released without trial. Necati saw it as a providential opportunity to share the gospel with the thirty or so inmates of his cell. In time he and his wife moved to Malatya because there were so few believers in that south eastern part of Turkey.
There Necati and his co-workers sought to spread the Word. The office of a Christian publishing house and their own home were opened for meetings. Trips were made to take the gospel to remoter parts. Threats were made against the pastor and his young family, but their desire to spread the news of their Saviour could not be dampened.
Now, following this great loss, the congregation that gathered in Izmir came to thank God for his servant who had been faithful unto death. Along with Ugur, he was the first Turkish convert to be martyred in modern times.
With the sadness there was also a sense of triumph. The Christian testimony conveyed to the world via the gathered media was striking.
In a culture where widows usually have to be physically supported throughout a funeral, Shemsa Aydin was enabled to stand up and speak clearly of her honour in losing her husband in this way — and of her prayers that the perpetrators might find forgiveness from the Lord.
Both widows, Shemsa Aydin and Susanne Geske, have publicly forgiven the killers and very many people have been affected by the women’s gracious statements.
The people in Turkey were waiting for them to say, ‘We are in great sorrow and we want justice and revenge!’ Instead, they spoke of forgiveness and mercy. Susanne’s reading of Luke 23:34 — ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’ — was widely reported in the newspapers and on television. One columnist wrote of her statement, ‘She said in one sentence what 1000 missionaries in 1000 years could never do’.
A cry of triumph
Through all that was said and sung, and particularly in the address given by the Turkish pastor from a main Ankara church, four dominant themes emerged.
First, a cry of triumph — the church in Turkey felt a sense of honour that Turkish Christian martyrs had been taken into the Lord’s presence to hear his ‘Well done’.
Second, the importance of the Word of God. That Turkey’s Christians are a ‘people of the Book’ was demonstrated repeatedly — Scripture was quoted throughout the service, the pastor reminding us of its absolute reliability.
Third, forgiveness — a desire that the people involved in this horrendous crime would come to faith in the Lord Jesus, and so find true forgiveness.
Fourth, a resolution that the small Turkish church will, by the grace of God, go on in his strength whatever the cost — that the blood of the Turkish martyrs will be the seed of the Turkish church.
To stand there with our Turkish brothers and sisters was an enormous privilege. The funeral came to a close as the soloist sang ‘The old rugged cross’ with its line, ‘So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross, and exchange it some day for a crown’. Necati and his two friends have made that exchange.