TAKING SMALL STEPS IN TURKEY
BY ERON HENRY
Baptist witness in Turkey is in its infancy. Started in 1999, what is today the Protestant Baptist Church in Turkey is
seeking to establish a distinct Christian identity in a predominantly Muslim culture.
It is not easy.
Turkey, though a secular state, is predominantly Muslim, and several radical elements have attacked and killed
Christians. Yet, Baptist Christians state that such persons are but a very small minority in the nation, as Turkey is a country
with a healthy democracy with enshrined religious freedoms. This confident claim about radicalism’s small numbers is
made despite the fact that the Baptist pastor has been assigned a body guard by the government after threats were made
against his life.
The deputy governor of Izmir, Haluk Tuncso, confirmed the country’s commitment to peaceful co-existence among
the different faiths, an assurance he gave to Baptist World Alliance General Secretary Neville Callam in a meeting held
in Izmir in March.
The deputy governor expressed his personal support of an initiative by a group of individuals of different faith
backgrounds, Muslim, Christian, and other faiths, that would promote pilgrimage by Christians to Ephesus, Philadelphia,
Laodicea, Pergamum, Sardis, Thyatira, and Smyrna (Izmir) – all of which are mentioned in Revelation chapters two and
three and are located in what is modern western Turkey.
The program to make Turkey a heritage site for Christian pilgrims has been endorsed by Callam. Speaking at a press
conference to announce the program, Callam expressed the hope that “people in this part of the world will recognize the
importance of these sites to Christians.” He stated that “for Christians, this is a holy land, and being a heritage site would
help Christians to connect with western Turkey.”
Baptist pastor Eltan Cevic is among those who fully support the program for Turkey to promote itself as a place of
Christian heritage. Indeed, the country is already heavily trafficked by tourists, particularly from Europe, such as Germans,
and Asia, such as South Koreans. Its deep history as the seat of the ancient Hittite kingdom; as a place where Alexander
the Great traversed; importance as part of the Roman Empire; its Byzantine heritage; as the center of the Ottoman Turk
Empire; and as a place of importance for Christians and Muslims, make Turkey one of the richest archeological, heritage,
and cultural sites in the world.
The country’s Christian heritage is not known by its own people, and its great potential as a place for Christian
pilgrimage is an unfulfilled potential.
Cevic aims to change that. Rather than irking Muslims with aggressive evangelism, he is reaching out to his fellow
Turks to help remind them of their great contribution to Christian history, and how such recognition may be good for Turks
and the country.
It is a brand of Christianity that evokes a welcoming presence rather than one of pursuit. While being true to the
Christian tradition, Cevic believes that working with Muslims and respecting the religion of his fellow Turks is vital.
While not compromising the preeminence of Christ, he sees the need to cooperate with Muslims in ways that generate
goodwill among his countrymen.
Yet, evangelism is important to Cevic. He supports the house church movement, and has oversight of one house
church that has begun in a town of 125,000 that is eight kilometers or five miles from the city of Izmir, the third largest
city in Turkey. He is working closely with a pastor in the Black Sea region, who, though his church was originally of
another Christian tradition, has been convinced that Baptist faith and theology fits more closely to his core beliefs. That
pastor, too, has been assigned a body guard by the government after he was kidnapped and tortured for his faith and told
to leave town before he was released.
It is possible that both churches will form the core of what may become a burgeoning Baptist movement in the
country. Callam, who made a pastoral visit to the country between March 21 and 25, met both pastors and extended the
hand of support of the worldwide Baptist community.
Turkey, perhaps, may become an example of how a small Christian community can exist, and thrive, within a less
than welcoming culture.
Photo: Tourists walking through the ruins of the ancient city of Ephesus, a city of great historical significance to Christians.
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