In December of 2015, God used a conference called Urbana to compel me to join the urgent task of spreading the Gospel to all nations, especially those who do not have access to it. That call led me to join Eric Walker of Good Ground Communications in traveling over 5 thousand miles to Istanbul, Turkey where only .2 percent of 75 million people are Christians.
Upon returning to the States, I felt the call to share about my experience with those who supported me through giving and prayer, so they could clearly see the impact of their investment. Unfortunately, with limited time to tell a very important story to so many people, I ran into the issue of wishing there was a way I might share more of my experience to even larger numbers.
It is my hope that through this post I might address this challenge and “take you” with me to Turkey to see some of what I was fortunate enough to experience. By the end of this post you will learn about the strategies we used to advance the Gospel, as well as my three main takeaways that will most greatly impact my future.
The two most common questions I received upon my return were “What are Turkish people like?” and “What kind of stuff did you do?” First, Turkish people are very friendly! I have never in my life experienced such hospitality as I have from Turkish people. To keep it short, Eric and I were often stunned at the kindness of even the most random stranger that we would interact with. It was quite clear that hospitality and community are ingrained into Turkish culture. If you would like to hear some specific stories of how nice people are in Istanbul, I would love to share with you sometime!
An average day in Istanbul included the opportunity to invest our time and energies in a few key things. First, and maybe my favorite, was visiting the Vakif-Bank school. This school/orphanage is home to many abused and abandoned young boys in Istanbul. Through the multiple trips we would take to Vakif-Bank school, Eric and I would spend our time teaching English, playing games, and spending quality time with all the boys who were there. For many of these boys, they have been told in different ways that they are not wanted by their families. By reaching out and spending time together, we had the opportunity to speak their lives, that they are loved by us and by God.
Perhaps the greatest opportunity we had to affect the immediate mission in Turkey was through the various English conversation clubs that are offered in Istanbul. Through a team of people who are committed to the spread of the Gospel through relationships, these clubs offer several different ways to reach people who are looking to advance their ability to speak English fluently, as well as professionally. I had the privilege of attending and speaking at the English conversation clubs, as well as their Toastmasters public speaking club. In short, the purpose of these groups are to serve people through training, create friend groups, and purposefully place Christians within those groups who can then share the Gospel.
In addition, each Thursday we had the opportunity to volunteer for the Bible Correspondence Course (BCC). The BCC is an organization that dedicates their time to the spread of the Gospel through various outreaches, one of which is the sending of Turkish New Testaments to seekers throughout Turkey. Each Thursday Eric and I would show up and pack boxes filled with New Testaments, and The Jesus Film. Would you believe if I told you that the BCC sends out about 150 New Testaments to Turkish citizens weekly!? I certainly did not believe it, but it’s true.
Lastly, Eric and I spent a lot of time investing in the existing community of believers that were living in Istanbul. We were able to encourage and be in community with believers all over Turkey who share the hope of the Gospel for the Turkish people.
So now that I am back home, it would be easy to leave my journey in the past, knowing that it’s over with while I continue on with my life here in a very different part of the world. But that is not what we are called to do! This trip to Turkey has been one of the most influential experiences that I have gone through. I believe that God will use this specific trip to help shape my future in such a way as to bring maximum glory to Him.
So we must ask: Now that I have experienced this, what am I to make of it? I could go on and on with this very thought, but for the sake of time I have narrowed this down to the three biggest takeaways from my trip to Turkey.
Turkish people have not “chosen” to reject Jesus. They simply have never heard a clear presentation of the Gospel.
One day at Vakif-Bank school, we were nearing our time to leave for the day because the kids were about to be taken to the local mosque for their prayer time. Although with most of the boys we relied on translators, one of the boys, Okan, was actually able to communicate using a small amount of English. We enjoyed the ability to speak with him even though he still knew only very few English words.
Right before we were leaving, Okan was using gestures and his Turkish/English dictionary to explain to me that they were going to the mosque for prayer time. He then explained to me that his god was Allah, and proceeded to point to me asking if Allah was the same for me. I took this opportunity to communicate to him by pointing to myself and saying that my God was Jesus.
I will never forget the confused look on Okan’s face when he had to repeat what I said pointing to himself and saying “My god Allah,” then pointing at me “Your God, Jesus?” I nodded in agreement, while he looked at me as if I had just told him something that made absolutely no sense to him. It was at that point that I realized that I was likely the first person to ever tell him that Jesus was God. Unfortunately, every single boy in that school was in the same boat as Okan. And even worse, so are most of the Turkish people.
You might think, “But aren’t they rejecting God, if they are choosing to be Muslim?” In one sense that is true, but the fact is that many of the Turkish people living right now have never heard the truth about Jesus. And if they do hear about Jesus, overwhelming odds suggest that they will only hear about him through other Muslims.
Missions in Turkey are much different than what you may assume.
Often times in our western church, we treat missions as a business. Many ministries are determined to be successful or unsuccessful based upon discrete things such as; how many people are baptized, how many people attend your church, etc. It isn’t my goal to pick on our western church, but to express that treating ministry this way in Turkey is not realistic at all. The fact is that, in such a spiritual vacuum, ministry is different in so many ways. Many times your goals and how you interact with people, are very different.
Consider my story with Okan, and just consider what the effect of that reality has on missions in Turkey! Can you see how easy it might be to become discouraged in a mission like this? Sometimes we are tricked into thinking that a successful mission is one that you can see immediate fruit. But we know that success is not always defined by numbers we can count. A successful mission is responding in faith to what God is calling us to do. I may not ever understand how the seeds we scattered in Turkey have affected God’s kingdom, but I do know that God is good. Because of that I can be encouraged that the work we did was not in vain, but are just one piece of the puzzle that God is using to advance his Gospel to all the world.
I now have no excuse to live as if I do not know.
I am a firm believer that one day we will all have to answer for the things we did this side of eternity. In this case, I also believe it is likely that we will have to answer for some of the things that we did not do. By seeing for my own eyes the vast amount of people in a place like Turkey who do not know (and have never been told) the real Gospel of Jesus Christ, I can no longer act as if I don’t realize the full weight of the stakes at hand.
Jesus left the disciples with the simple command to “Go into all the world making disciples of all nations.” The entire summary of the Bible from cover to cover is a complete story of how God is using his people to advance His Gospel to those who do not know Him. Most people assume that, with growing technology and connectedness across cultures, we are doing a great job of reaching those who do not have access to the Gospel. But unfortunately a little over one-third of the world still has no access to the Gospel at all.
I am currently finishing up school with several options in front of me. I have no idea what my future will look like. I don’t know where or how I will be able to reach the unreached. But I do know that God has shown me a vast sea of people who have never heard the Good News of Jesus. The point is this: We all are called by God to reach the unreached. For every person, that may look different. You may be the one “going.” You may be financially providing someone to go. Or you might be actively praying for the unreached. Whatever your call, we have an urgent mission that needs our help.
I will end this by first thanking you all for partnering with Eric and I this last summer. We could not have done this without your support and prayers throughout the process! Second, I will ask you to consider how you can become more invested in God’s global church. Will you join me in praying for God to show each of us how we can become more involved in reaching the unreached? Will you join me in seeking out opportunities to go, or send, to the unreached of the world?
Thank you again friends, and God bless you all.