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.