Turkey is growing in secularism. Islam is present all around but is increasingly ignored by the younger generation. Like Western Europe in a post-Christendom era, Turkey appears to be becoming post-Islamic. The mosques are still there with their calls to prayer but fewer people are gathering. There is a vibrant Muslim cultural heritage but there is also an increasing disregard for the religious observance related to this heritage.
This is having a significant impact on the Christian church. Baptist churches can register, rent or buy a property and engage in public worship. Great wisdom is still needed when it comes to evangelism. To become a Christian is culturally challenging and may result in a variety of family problems. However, there are more people coming to faith in Jesus Christ, and being baptised as a witness to their new faith.
Working in this context is a small group of churches, pastors, and church planters who are experimenting with a variety of approaches to mission and ministry under the banner of the Turkish Baptist Alliance. Ertan Cevik, the pastor of the Baptist church in Izmir, leads the small alliance. It was a privilege to hang out with him and his family for a few days.
The biblical site of Smyrna, now known as Izmir, has a prominent Baptist Church. Located in the large suburb of Buca, the church building sits on top of a hill overlooking the area. Formerly an Anglican Church, the building was given to the Baptist community over 20 years ago to use as a place of worship. Worship happens on a Sunday, with a midweek Bible study and access to seminary studies once a week.
The historical building is an attraction for many of Izmir’s local and student population who come to visit the building to learn more about the history of the city. Every day these visitors are welcomed by young Christian leaders who take the guests on a guided tour of the garden, graveyard, and building. Inside, inscriptions in Greek, Hebrew, and Turkish are used to explain the gospel story. Literature is shared and invites are given to explore the Bible together.
Visits are made to the local university where students are engaged in conversations about the meaning of life. The local leaders are engaged by the pastor in projects which lead to the well-being of the city, and the service of others who seek to support the poorest people in the city is championed and honoured.
Meanwhile, the church has sent a family to the city of Bergama, the biblical city of Pergamon, to begin a new church supported by the EBF mission partnership programme. With no historical church building in the city and a 100-year gap since there was last a church in the city, church planting has its challenges. Requests continue to be made to local government officials for the rent of empty buildings to be used as a church. But there is a problem! No one in the city knows what a church is. Is this an American thing like we see on TV? What does a Turkish church look like? What would they do? How would they impact the city? Up til now, the requests for premises have been refused. Meanwhile, the church continues to meet outside in the park. The group consists of mostly international women who are married to Turkish men and have small children just like Onur, the church planter’s family. The women and children meet as a group together for food whilst the men tend to meet on a one-to-one basis with the church planter. We can pray that the church will soon find a place to meet indoors, at least for the winter months.
To the east in Istanbul, a modest flat has been turned into a church with a paddling pool baptistery in the garden. There is nothing outside the flat to identify it as a church and the approach is much more cautious. The mission begins online with adverts on social media that invite people seeking to explore the meaning of life to get in touch. A literature ministry follows up with those who show an interest, and soon afterward a one-to-one online correspondence course similar to Alpha is offered. After a while, those exploring faiths meet with Pastor Abdullah, and discipleship continues for about a year. After this, they begin discipleship classes and are introduced to the whole church. Preparation for baptism lasts about one year and results in a great celebration. Currently, over 600 people are asking for support to explore the Christian faith. However, Pastor Abdullah is also church planting in two other locations in Turkey, humble beginnings in the area of biblical Tarsus and another among refugees in the east near Syria.
Finally, there is a church that I did not manage to visit on this trip in Adana, led by Pastor Sukru. The church in Adana has outgrown its current facilities and is looking for a new church building in the city. They have recently met with the city mayor, and are asking that God would bless his support in the search for space. They also report people coming to faith through personal connections and family witnesses.
The Turkish Baptist Alliance is a young and small Union but they are seeking, with great creativity, a variety of ways to express their faith through personal evangelism. They will host our 2024 Council gathering, giving the opportunity to further explore these varied approaches to church life.