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Missionary Spotlight – Gospel seed in southeast Turkey

April 2007 | by Ann Winch

We arrived in the early 1970s in Aintep (or Gaziantep) – Turkey’s eighth largest commercial city and a centre for the cotton industry. It was not long before we experienced its spiritual darkness. In Istanbul, the minority Christian population had substantially influenced the culture, so here it was a shock to see superstitious and occult practices mixed with Islam.

Poverty was rife and many (both Kurds and Turks) struggled to survive, while a tiny minority, including our landlord, enjoyed great wealth. My husband David had secured a teaching post in the Super Lise School which this man had established for the elite. This enabled us to obtain visas.

Cholera and other serious diseases were prevalent in the surrounding villages. We often succumbed to intestinal infections from the polluted water supply. Nor had we ever encountered such lies and theft as here – our doorkeeper’s wife and daughter were constantly stealing food items from our home.

‘Heavenly Father, how can I bear it?’ was a constant prayer. A text was powerfully given to us, ‘You have not resisted unto blood’. My special concern was for our two small sons, since our trials also affected them. We always experienced great opposition whenever we embarked upon a new work in Turkey to make Christ known.

Worship

We did not know of a single believer in this city, so we read God’s word and prayed earnestly. Not least was the need for our example as a family in keeping the Lord’s Day holy and worshipping as a family in our home.

We shall never forget our two sons aged 2 and 4 listening to their father preach, as they made up two thirds of his congregation! Our Turkish Muslim friends were astonished that we spent the day in worship rather than joining them on picnics.

Next, we had to clean and decorate our dirty flat and make it acceptable to our Muslim neighbours who had high standards of cleanliness. We wrote out in large print, ‘Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it’. Those who visited wanted to know the meaning of this text.

It was not long before we made close friends among the teaching staff and neighbours. They were happy to receive New Testaments and asked searching questions. Soon we were greatly encouraged to learn of one believer, ‘Ab’, who had been converted while working in Germany. He, his wife and his brother’s family took us under their wing – and swelled our congregation when they attended worship.

Ab took us to his friends in a village close to biblical Carchemish, and this occasion provided a glorious opportunity for David to preach to the village elders.

Revival

The American hospital in the city was established in the mid 1800s by evangelical medical missionaries. Their graves could be seen in the hospital grounds. A book in the hospital library written by one of them gave a vivid description of a revival which had broken out in the region, when thousands had turned to Christ.

However, there followed a fearful time of persecution and great numbers of Kurds and Turks were martyred for their faith.
In the 1970s the doctors and nurses were either secular or liberal in theology, and strongly opposed the work we sought to do – in contrast to the welcome we received from Muslim nationals!

We met a Turkish group connected to the medical staff, who met regularly to discuss the teaching of Jesus and meditate through music and poetry. Despite our high hopes, they firmly denied the divinity of Christ and were self-righteous. However, one or two of the wives became open to the gospel.

What a victory it was when our doorkeeper’s wife stopped stealing from us! It came about after we decided to paint her bathroom. We showed her all the Christian love we could. She was incredulous and she and her whole family were moved, since they were at the bottom of the social scale. (In Turkey social scale is all-important). Not only did she never steal again, but she thereafter showed us overwhelming kindness.

Bomb

We had opportunity to visit and witness in many surrounding towns. We remember especially the grinding poverty and disease in Malatya. This was where Ali Acar, a Kurdish child, was growing up. Only a few years later he attempted to assassinate the Pope.

A left-wing student assembled a bomb hidden in his textbook – and had it delivered to our doorkeeper who showed it to David. Police were called and they exploded it outside town. The bomb-maker’s name was still visible in the textbook! He was arrested and confessed that it had been meant for us. The Lord had delivered us all.

After two years of labour, a tiny group had come to faith and we were amazed to see them weeping as they waved us goodbye. Today there is a small, growing church in Gaziantep, but thousands of Kurds and Turks have left that area to escape terrorism and poverty and are now in Europe. Many of these have since found Christ

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Turkey