A Faithful Servant of the Persecuted Church

Probably my highlight of the NCFIC conference was that I finally got to meet Rev. Fikret from Turkey. Paul Washer has wanted me to meet him for a long time and is encouraging me to minister among the churches this brother serves in Turkey. Rev. Fikret tells his story in a low-key yet powerful way. Today he ministers in one of the cities of the seven churches of Asia. Here’s the story he told me at lunch and then later to the entire gathering:

 When I was 18, I became curious about God, Islam, and Christianity, even though I knew nothing about the Bible or Christianity. One day I met a tourist couple from America who explained the gospel to me and encouraged me to attend a small, underground Christian worship service in Turkey. I decided to take the risk, but not without precautions. The first time I went I took a large, muscle-bound Turkish wrestler with me; he was trying out for the Olympics and was also interested in learning the basics of Christianity. We were ushered into the middle of the church, which made us feel very uncomfortable, since a Christian could then easily attack us from behind. We moved to the back pew which had a wall directly behind us. We were amazed at how people stood up during the service, how they sang, and how friendly they were to each other after the service. We had never seen anything like that in Islam.

Eventually I got a small New Testament. I read it from cover to cover. Part of me wanted to become a Christian and the other part of me was very afraid. I feared that to become a Christian meant losing my job, denying my culture and country, and eventually facing imprisonment and possibly death for converting from Islam to Christianity. When fear got the better hand of me, I would return the Bible to the friend who gave it to me and make him promise that he would never give it back to me, even when I asked. But then, two or three days later, I would miss it so much, that I would go to him and beg to have it back—and he would give it to me!

I kept attending the underground church despite the risks involved. One day, a church “friend”—or so we thought, but he was really a police informant—asked our group of believers to come over to a friend’s house after the service. There all the Christians were arrested and dragged off to the police station. Initially, they were treated fairly well, though they were told that the government was convinced that they were “Christian terrorists,” and acted as if the Bible was their secret “weapon.” Our captors kept saying, ‘Don’t worry, if you only say the Islamic prayer, you will be set free.” The Islamic prayer means saying aloud: “There is no God but Allah and Mohammad is his prophet.” The first man—who we still did not know was the police informant—was the first to say it, so he was set free. Four others followed suit. Then came my wrestler friend, who feared no man. Boldly and freely, he said, “Jesus Christ is God’s Son and through His righteousness and obedience I am saved from all my sins.” They immediately attacked him, beat him up, and incarcerated him. Blood was everywhere.

My turn was next. I was trembling like a leaf. In fact, I was so afraid that it felt like my mind was turning numb. I felt like I had no choice—the torture that would come upon me for denying Islam would just be too great. Just as I was about to open my mouth and deny my new-found faith, I felt hands come from behind me and cover my mouth fully so that I couldn’t say a word. I turned around to see my friend, as I was sure it was one of my friends, but he was nowhere in sight. In all my numbing fear, I suddenly realized that God was holding my mouth so that I would not deny Him but profess Him. After I confessed Jesus, I too was beaten badly and put in a cell.

At that time I didn’t know that there were only 80 Christians in all of Turkey, and that all of them were being arrested the same day that I was. For the next ten days, we were beaten every day, given daily electrical shocks, and underwent coffin therapy. By coffin therapy, the Islamic Turks mean that they put your body in a coffin and fill it with water until you feel like you are drowning. At that point, they again ask you to say the Islamic prayer. This is hard for me to explain, but persecuted Christians around the world have often experienced this well—you are so overcome with numbness that the only thing in life you can remember is that Jesus Christ suffered, bled, and died for your sins. In the midst of numbness, that provides peace that passes understanding.

After ten days, we were released suddenly by God’s kind providence. Apparently a European Union minister (Sir Fred Catherwood) came to Turkey to put pressure on Turkey’s Prime Minister to release us at once if he still wanted his country to be received into the European Union. A few hours later we were released.

 When I asked Brother Fikret if he was still being persecuted today, he said, “I have been arrested several more times after the first arrest, but it is no longer so severe. The authorities beat you and harass you, and then ask you to say the Islamic prayer, but by nightfall they give up and release you again. Things got a bit better for the Christians in the past four years.”

When I asked him how we should pray for the Turkish Christians, he said, “Don’t pray for or against persecution—for persecution keeps us close to God—but pray for perseverance under persecution.”

God is blessing Brother Fikret’s ministry in Turkey, as well as several other Turkish ministers. Today there are 4,200 Christians—a substantial increase from 80, but this is still a very small percentage for a land of approximately 75 million souls. Today, Turkey is still the largest unevangelized nation in the world.

NCFIC Conference, Asheville, NC

This year’s National Center for Family-Integrated Churches (NCFIC) was dedicated to evangelism. Approximately 2,300 people attended October 27 to 29—mostly conservative home-schooling families from various parts of the nation. Conrad Mbewe, Paul Washer, Doug Phillips, Scott Brown, Kevin Swanson, and I were the plenary speakers. Forty men joined us for breakout sessions. I spoke two times: first on “The Puritans and Their Evangelistic Method,” and second on “The Profile of the Evangelistic Home.” As a plenary speaker, I was also called upon (1) to give a preconference brief message on what was “burning in my soul”—that is, what issue or issues did we feel burdened or moved about; (2) to be filmed for an interview on worship—in anticipation of the next year’s conference; and (3) to do a video with Doug Phillips and Scott Brown on a forthcoming 3-volume set of William Gouge’s Family Duties, which Scott Brown and I have been editing. The first volume should come out in February, the Lord willing. It will be great to have the greatest Puritan classic on godly family living available in an easy-to-read format.

Our book table again did extremely well at this conference–$17,000 worth of books were sold, including 260 copies of A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life. (Soon we’re expecting the second printing of this book at arrive at Reformation Heritage Books.) I enjoyed meeting a family from near Lansing, Michigan, with eighteen well-behaved children—sixteen of them adopted from several cultures and ethnic backgrounds with various needs. Only eleven of them were able to come to the conference, and only nine made it on the picture I took. What a happy bunch they are! The children were all so polite and kind—the grace of God and the aroma of Christ seemed to emanate from them.

Then there was lunch with a couple from upstate New York. This brother started teaching Sunday school decades ago. The church enjoyed his teaching so much that they finally asked him to be their full-time pastor—a position he has happily and successfully for nearly two decades despite having no seminary education. Other old friendships were cemented deeper and new ones were forged.

Update on Victoria (X)

Five-year-old Victoria DeHaan suffered severe wounds after being attacked by dogs a few weeks ago. This time my update on Victoria (Tori) is a personal letter received from Victoria’s mother this morning. She has given me permission to post this.

Dear Uncle Joe,

Thank you, thank you, thank you, from the bottom of my heart for writing the posts on Tori! It felt so amazing to be so surrounded with people in prayer for our little girl! Every time we heard of more and more churches and people praying for her, we just couldn’t believe it. We just felt arms reaching out, and knees being bent.

Our God is so amazing! Every day we have been able to witness new mercies, as we witnessed progress in our little girl. First her life spared and stabilized, her leg saved, arteries put back together, warm little feet, pulses in both feet, new tissues growing back, head scan cleared, scars healing at a rapid rate, and today standing!! I never thought three short weeks ago we would be wheeling our precious little girl down the corridor in a wheel chair. My mind can hardly take it in.

My worries have shifted from her body to her mind. Just before going to bed tonight she asked me to pray with her again. She was thinking “bad things,” she said. She will often talk about the whole accident from start to finish. She remembers every detail. One day she turned to me and said, “Did you see the barn floor? It was full of blood.” My heart breaks when I think of this, but every time I remind her that God delivered her. When I think of the whole accident, and events leading up to it, I love to see how calculated the timing of everything was. Every step was so timed, and just on time. I love seeing God’s direction and hand in this. It is so comforting.

This week Thursday skin grafting is scheduled. I have to constantly remind myself not to worry or be so weak, that God is in control, and there is no amount of worrying that would change the outcome.

Please continue to pray for our little girl. I’ve asked her many times if this makes her happy when people pray for her, and it definitely does. I also noticed the first week and a half that she only prayed for others. I couldn’t believe it. She has now started to include herself.

Lots of love,

Jen