The earthquake relief work done on behalf of the Earthquake Relief Support Committee of the Protestant Churches in Ankara was coming to an end.
During this time I made many local friends who were always ready to discuss religious issues over a cup of Turkish tea. We had to be careful because there was always the risk that if you tried to be too persuasive, they may report you to the security police for proselytizing. Many time however it was just a rigorous debate about religious topics. Initially I liked the challenge, but with time I realized that the debate is usually running on parallel lines with very few points of connection. With time I switched from entering into a debate with them to just relaying my own experience and testimony. The most effective strategy was to give the names of these local friends to Turkish believers looking for opportunities to share there beliefs with other Turks.
While this was happening locally, it was also happening nationally. The media realized that something different was happening. Turkish believers was something foreign and them serving their Muslim country men was totally unheard of. “To be a Turk is to be a Muslim” was the maxim they lived by. With Turkish believers and church leaders playing a prominent role as volunteers in all the relief projects, the media picked up on their existence and started to write articles reflecting on this new development.
Newspapers reported on the work of the volunteers from different Turkish Protestant churches in Istanbul and Ankara. Turkish church leaders were identified and the addresses of Turkish church gatherings were published. This was done to do harm. Their intention was to expose these “traitors”. The result was a great surge in interest in Turkish church gatherings. Now that the addresses were out in the open it was easy for any interested or curious Turk to attend a Turkish church gathering!
Turks are very fond of live television talk shows and these programs are usually aired late in the evening until early morning hours. Turkish church leaders were invited to come and explain themselves on these shows. Many times Muslim scholars was part of the discussion panel before a live audience and with people calling in to the studio. In one of these events one of the Muslim scholars offered a serious warning. He explained at length that the book Christians read has maps in it, clearly showing that an attack under the command of one St Paul was eminent. The maps show the routes he was planning to travel and the government should prepare for this attack! This made for lively discussions and good television!
There was a noticeable increase in the boldness of Turkish believers on all levels. Many Turkish believers decided to contest the information on their identity cards during this time. All ID Cards reflected the religious affinity on the card and it was always Muslim for most Turks. Turkish believers now started to request their Home Affairs offices to change there cards to reflect “Christian”. This even led to some court cases that was decided in the favor of the Turkish believers.
The earthquake relief and development work made the Turkish Protestant Church realize the value of social outreach work. To discuss the nature of the social outreach work and the coordination of the work I was asked to organize a conference. It was a great privilege to be involved with this initiative that was well attended and lead to specific community outreach programs in many locations.
Through all of this, it was reported that the number of believers almost doubled between 1999 and 2002. Before 1999 it was estimated that there was around 3000 evangelical Turkish believers. This number jumped to an estimated 6000 in 2002. This from a population of 75 million!
The gains recorded for the sake of the Kingdom, also caused pushback from the government, but that is a story for another time.