One day, I was standing on the crosswalk at a red light. A man in a business suit came up and stood next to me. Then he did something very peculiar. He bent down to pick something up off the ground next to the toe of his polished wingtip shoes. Now, for a nicely dressed Turk to touch the filthy ground is very odd, so I assumed he must be picking up something valuable, like money. I glanced down and was surprised to see him pick up a small chunk of pita bread about the size of a tortilla chip. He then turned and carried the bread to the wall of a nearby building and placed it on a low ledge. He had given the bread a higher place to “honor” it.
Why was this intriguing to me? Every missionary to the Middle East hopes to be the one who discovers the long-hidden key that unlocks Islam (like Don Richardson’s famous discovery of the “Peace Child” custom in which enemy tribes exchange children to declare peace with each other, and how Richardson used it to help the tribe comprehend the Gospel). So we have looked high and low for the key to the Turkish heart.
After 10 years of work, we haven’t yet found a magic allegory that will transform Turks into a Pentecost crowd begging for baptism. But through hundreds and hundreds of conversations, we have mapped a clear road to Christ that Turks can understand and appreciate. Like tumblers in a lock, we have put together several hundred cultural stories tied to core Turkish values that help Turks grasp the Gospel. Watching this man honor that scrap of bread was yet another insight for me into how deep some of these values run.
Here in Turkey, bread is considered almost sacred. When bread becomes too old and stale to eat, it is not simply thrown in the garbage. Often, people hang it in bags on the outside dumpsters, or on poles nearby. “It would be a sin to throw it away,” is the common thought. So everywhere we go, we see old bread given royal treatment.
Here is how my partner, Paul Massey, beautifully turned that cultural value into a Gospel theme in our online Bible lessons: “Jesus, the Bread of Life, hung on the cross like a bag of bread hanging on a tree beside a dumpster. Every time you see bread suspended above the ground, think about the Son of Man, the Bread of Life who was lifted up, and what he did for us!”
Please pray as we prepare a web-based Bible school and marketing strategy to uplift Jesus in Turkey.