How would you like to find a chest full of ancient golden treasure? Come to Turkey and your chances will increase a thousandfold. Recently, while digging the footings for a new shopping mall not far from my home, a backhoe operator was surprised to sink his bucket into a treasure trove of ancient gold.
Around here, it is well to remember that what appears to be a simple olive grove has likely served as a vault for dozens of families over the last 3,000 years. Pick an empire: Ottoman, Seljuk, Byzantine, Roman, Persian, Greek, Lydian or Hittite—they all did their banking in the olive grove ATM. My neighbor found a beautiful Byzantine gold coin while planting his garden. Even today, many Turks keep their savings in gold. For years, my best friend’s father has hidden gold in his eggplant field. Now at age 80, to his frustration and his son’s amusement, he can’t remember which row of eggplants the gold is buried under!
A few times, people have offered to take me out treasure hunting (hoping I would supply the metal detector). A doorman at a building I frequent told me of a big discovery he and some other treasure hunters made out near Haran (where Abraham was from). Among other items, in a collapsed church they found a complete Bible illuminated with gold leaf, likely from the Byzantine period and more than 1,000 years old. Before they could sell it, police confiscated it. I wonder where that treasure is now. Sadly, my doorman friend only laments losing the financial value of the book, not the eternal treasure written on its pages.
About a year ago, I got a call from my auto mechanic, a cheerful man of about 35 who is a strict Muslim. He told me he needed my help urgently. He insisted I take him to my church and counsel him. I was most curious what was going on. The mystery unfolded as he told me with great foreboding how a foreign woman, a stranger, had told him she knew he had gold stashed in his family’s cherry orchard. He was really freaked out about it. It took me a while, but the answer to this riddle finally dawned on me: The foreign woman was a Christian, and she had told him he had “treasure hidden in a field!”
Jesus said, “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a treasure in a field; that when a man has found it, he hides it, and for joy thereof goes and sells all that he has, and buys that field” (Matt. 13:44). In one succinct verse, Jesus vividly portrays the quest of all humanity in the exciting story of one lucky man. Jesus hints that, like that man, anyone can find the meaning of life. But, upon finding it, they must abandon everything else to joyously make it their own.
Unfortunately most people in Turkey have never even set foot in that allegorical “field” (scripture) let alone laid their hand on the plow (studied the scriptures). The great challenge and joy of frontier missions is to actively lead people into that field and help them begin plowing. Better than any metal detector, the Holy Spirit will lead them to the gold.
*Entering the Field *
I was teaching English one-on-one to the head of the anatomy department at a large medical university near our home. I asked her very candidly, “As you teach the intricacy of the human body, can you see the artwork and design of God?”
She brightened. “Yes! That is exactly how I feel about it.”
“Have you ever read the original story in the Torah about how God created Adam?” I asked.
She said she hadn’t but would love to. Then she said, “Next week, I have visiting professors coming from an Austrian university, and I must take them for a day to Ephesus. I have heard that there is something significant from the Injeel (New Testament) that attracts Christians to this place. Could you show me?”
At that moment, I felt like saying, “You are not far from the Kingdom of Heaven.” The next week, we had an amazing lesson together.
Plowing the Field
I have learned that it is a fallacy to assume someone is going to study the Bible just because they own one. Often I have hoped that if people would just read the Bible, somehow it would magically win them over. The sad truth is that most people just don’t understand what they read in the Bible, and they don’t bother thinking hard about it. Many Muslims are disappointed to discover that so much of the Bible is written as a narrative, not as words directly from God, like the style of the Quran.
I have found that most Turkish people don’t know what to do with the Bible. They own a Quran, but they don’t read it. It is like a house’s foundation—it exists, and that is enough. With this kind of view of their “Holy” book, why should they think of the Bible differently? Most Turks are largely stuck in their own way of thinking and have little interest in seeking new answers.
Perhaps Jesus had the same problem in His tradition-bound Jewish culture. His solution? He used short stories to get them to listen, and He inserted surprising punch lines to shake up their established beliefs. Who would have thought that a handful of stories about farming or digging in a field could turn the world upside down and be the topic of books, TV broadcasts and homilies 2,000 years after they were spoken?
Following Jesus’ model, our AFM Turkey team has spent five years preparing a story-based tool to set people on a journey to discover Jesus. It is a Gospel presentation in 92 parts chock full of Turkish stories. It begins with Genesis and climaxes with the disciples on Pentecost and with Peter making an invitation for baptism. It borrows stories from 400 years of Sultans, from the Mevlana, and from Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The lessons are a tapestry of modern parables compellingly written about real Turkish life plots, intertwined with key stories of Abraham, Moses, David and Jesus. They artfully build a chain of truth from the Old and New Testaments in a delicious Turkish recipe with olive oil and lemon juice running through the paragraphs.
The best news is that this powerful evangelistic tool is soon to be released all over Turkey! As you read this article, a professional audio team is turning our evangelist tool into radio theatre, to be heard on MP3 players and cell phones all over Turkey. Another team is preparing an online web adventure for users to experience the audio and written stories in a coached school-like format (correspondence Bible school). This unique product is also being readied in book form for small discipleship groups throughout our country.
Buying the Field
Many of you dear readers have supported this project financially since it began. You have prayed for us as we opened our church, gave Bible studies and began our publishing house. Many of you have sacrificed a lot of money to get us to this point. Thank you for your monthly and occasional gifts.
The Turkish team’s efforts will soon climax in a great push for the audio Bible lessons and online correspondence school. We are using your donations to carry this momentous project to explosive levels.
I remember a few years back when I visited a friend whom I was grooming for the kingdom. As I walked through his doorway, he had just completed the chapter in the Desire of Ages entitled, “Calvary.” He greeted me with wet cheeks and eyes filled with tears. His first words to me were, “Jesus the Christ is incredible!” Thank you for all you have done and are doing so that his discovery of hidden treasure can be repeated millions of times over across Turkey.