As we bowed our heads in prayer in the name of Jesus, I was struck by the strangeness of our situation. We were in the far southeast of Turkey, a few miles from the Syrian border, eating breakfast on the veranda of a lovely home overlooking an entirely Christian village! We were sitting with a Syrian Christian family who were the direct spiritual descendents of Peter and Paul’s efforts in ancient Antioch! Esther was overwhelmed with emotion. “Why are you crying?” our hostess asked her, but it was impossible for Esther to explain.
Some 70,000-strong in the 1930s, the Syrian Christian minority in southeast Turkey has now dwindled to less than 2,000. Many Syrian Christians have resettled in Europe, North America and Australia. Since 1990, at least 35 Syrian Christians in southeast Turkey have been murdered for their faith.
A neighbor joined us on the veranda. John is a wealthy factory owner from Istanbul who comes back to his home village from time to time. As he talked with us, he made boasts about Christians, and I could sense religion for him was a team sport—Christianity versus Islam—rather than his hope and joy. I asked him, “Have you ever read the book of John?” He said he hadn’t. In fact, he had never held a Bible. On learning this, I took out my Turkish Bible and made a gift of it to him. He was very pleased and kissed me.
Our host, Peter, asked me, “Would you like to start a Seventh-day Adventist church here?” This was the third such invitation we had received in as many days at three different cities, but it still came as a surprise.
His wife did not share his enthusiasm, however, and said quietly, “We are happy here and don’t need another church.” Jehovah’s Witnesses had come to their village five years ago and had won over a quarter of the population, leaving everyone feeling unsettled.
“Let me show you our town.” Peter took us first to the olive-oil factory where they were pressing fresh olives. As we passed two men on our way out of the factory, Peter pointed to one of them. “That’s our Orthodox priest, Aaron. Do you want to meet him?”
“Certainly!” I said. The priest, a young man of 35, was handsome and kind. He offered to take me to his small church and show me around. To my great amazement and delight, posted next to the front door was a large, modern Ten Commandments plaque in Turkish, including the fourth specifying the seventh day as holy. I pointed it out to Peter. He nodded and smiled.
Peter said he would send for us to come again when olive-picking season was over. It has now been two months, and he hasn’t contacted us. Likely, his wife opposes the idea. However, we believe we were able to plant seeds that God will cause to sprout in His time.
Because it is so far from our base of operations, we can’t support and nurture the work in the East without Providence leading the way. Pray that the Spirit of the Lord will move strongly to raise up a local leader. Pray for Priest Aaron as he reads The Great Controversy in Turkish that I mailed to him. Please pray for our Turkish AFM team as we work here to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord.