News Articles

Turkey — seedbed of Christianity focus of international missions study

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)–Things change; things stay the same.

Perhaps there is no country where this is more true than modern-day Turkey. Contrasts in culture, government and religion during the past two centuries are readily apparent in this country which is the focus of “Dispelling the Darkness in Turkey,” the 2000 International Mission Study (IMS), published by Woman’s Missionary Union.

IMS is a part of the International Missions Emphasis, set for Dec. 3-10. WMU published the material in cooperation with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board. The emphasis also includes the Week of Prayer for International Missions and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.

IMS is designed to be a church-wide event with study material available for adults, teens, children and preschoolers. Students of all ages will learn about the history of Christianity in Turkey; the rise of Islam, with a description of its beliefs; and the modern culture and religious climate of the country. Emphasis will also be placed on how Christians in the United States can be directly involved in missions in Turkey through individual and corporate prayer; strategic partnerships; and unique ministries such as Pen Friends who write gospel letters each month to Turkish families.

Mary Lou Serratt of Beeville, Texas, wrote the adult study book, Dispelling the Darkness in Turkey, and the study guide to accompany it. Serratt, a member of First Baptist Church, Beeville, and wife of Delbert Serratt, director of missions for the Blanco Baptist Association, outlines the country’s history, geography, culture, people and Southern Baptist efforts in the country today.

Present-day Turkey includes the territory of Paul’s three missionary journeys almost 2,000 years ago. He and other believers planted churches and witnessed the conversion to Christianity of thousands of citizens in cities such as Ephesus and Antioch. The seven churches named in the New Testament Book of Revelation were in the area we know as Turkey.

While Turkey has no state religion and religious freedom is a constitutional guarantee, Islam is the predominant religion in the nation today. Muslims constitute 99.5 percent of the country’s religious affiliation, with Christians and Jews claiming only 0.2 percent of the population.

How could an area boasting such strong early Christians in the time of Paul, Barnabas and John Mark possibly evolve into a country where Christians now comprise such a minority? The answer spans centuries and many cultural changes, beginning primarily with the overthrow of the government in 1071 by the Seljuks, a Muslim people from Central Asia, Serratt writes.

The Crusades waged by Christians in Western Europe left a trail of death and destruction and a negative image of Christians that still prevails today, she explains. During the Ottoman reign, beginning in the 1300s, Christians were at least treated well as a minority religion, but in the late 1800s a dictatorship was established by Sultan Abdul-Hamid II, and religious persecution became common. Many Turkish Christians died for their beliefs.

For much of the 20th century, Serratt notes, unrest was prevalent through government overthrows, terrorist acts by radical groups, bombings and kidnappings. Battles with Kurdish rebels began in the 1980s. Today, however, Turkey has a republican parliamentary democracy. The current constitution, adopted in 1982, has ushered in improvements in many areas including free elections and religious freedom.

All this history of turmoil contrasts drastically with the general characteristics of the Turkish people. Serratt describes them as sensitive, contemplative, courteous, hospitable and proud of their nation and heritage.

Parental respect is highly valued, and gender roles are traditional, she explains. The oldest male is the authority figure for the family, and women are responsible for homemaking and child care. Friendships are strong, and it is not at all unusual to see two men rush to greet one another with an embrace.

The contrast between the past and present is clearly seen in the people. For example, many women still wear the modest, traditional long skirts and long-sleeved blouses, while others work as teachers, industrial laborers and journalists. It is not unusual to see a woman riding in a luxurious automobile on the same street with a woman riding in a horse-drawn cart.

But what about Christian missions efforts today in Turkey? How will the Turks be reached with the gospel? What is the climate for Turkish Christians? Serratt dedicates two chapters to answering these questions, noting that the Southern Baptist response to the country’s August 1999 earthquake has opened many doors for witness.

“Many Turks are in a time of cultural transition,” Serratt writes. “They are open to new ideas about life in general, including religion. God’s power is at work in this atmosphere.

“It is not our job to moan about … darkness,” Serratt concludes in the book’s introduction. “No! It is our responsibility to be transmitters of God’s light so the entire world will be drawn to our light source. Then the light bearers will reach into all the dark corners of the earth, and God will be exalted.”

In addition to the age-level materials, a promotion kit for the study is also available from WMU. The IMB video 2000 International Missions Emphasis Video may also be used to enhance the study. All Southern Baptist churches will receive a copy of the video in October. Additional videos may be ordered by email at [email protected] or by phone toll free, 1-800-866-3621.

To purchase or learn more about the IMS materials, call WMU’s Customer Service at 1-800-968-7301 or visit WMU’s website at www.wmu.com. The items also may be purchased at LifeWay Christian Stores.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at www.sbcbaptistpress.org. Photo title: 2000 INTERNATIONAL MISSION STUDY.

    About the Author

  • Sammie Jo Barstow