From last time: Barnabas and Esther traveled to eastern Turkey with their partially blind friend, Sadaattin, a newly baptized Adventist. They traveled to three locations to meet Christians and follow up on the work initiated a month earlier by their teammates, John and Mary Smith. Upon arriving they found that word about the Sabbath has spread and interest has grown. (See John Smith’s account on p. 12 of the trip that laid the foundation for these events.)
It has been five weeks since we made this trip, and we are still amazed at God’s providence and certain He is working out His will against strong resistance.
We praise God that, since our trip to City A, a small group of Turks have embraced Jesus as Lord of the Sabbath. They have organized themselves and met together every Sabbath since to worship, pray and study. I recently returned to City A with John Smith to instruct the group more fully. They have a sweet spirit and a thirst to know more. They received the subject of the second coming of Christ with great joy and enthusiasm.
Unfortunately, in the last five years, some Protestant missionaries with lots of money to give away have entered the area. This has had a distorting effect. One man, Sabit, a key member of the group in City A, is unable to clear his head from the effects of this kind of money ministry. He still believes that with a new church group should come new flows of money. Obviously we don’t work that way, and we have tried to express that we have come to share the Bible and a prophetic message.
When Esther and I first met Sabit, a Christian of six years, on our trip with Sadaattin, we were impressed by his sincerity. After several Bible lessons about the Sabbath, he made a strong stand, telling us, “I want to open my home to be the first Sabbath-keeping church in the East.” But it is hard for Sabit to get his mind around exactly what he is inheriting—a prophetic burden, not a foreign asset. I believe he is honest but simply has a poor model of ministry. One night, he and I sat up for five hours studying (the final cap on a day that had included 10 hours of Bible teaching). I was exhausted, but our time with them was short. “Give me all the texts on this subject so I can memorize and teach them,” he said, scribbling them down. Sabit’s wife and teenage son are also earnest students of the Bible.
Others in City A are likewise wonderfully sincere and delight in learning. Hoca, a retired professor, is quick to put together the pieces of the Great Controversy puzzle and rapidly grasps Bible truths and correlations. He is now defending the message strongly. Two women, a mother and adult daughter, are deep Christians and happy to follow what the Spirit is teaching them. But the father of that house is from a Syrian Orthodox background and is strongly resisting this new turn in their lives. He is making it difficult for the ladies.
On our first visit, we were complete strangers to these people; sleeping in their beds, eating their food and attempting with imperfect language skills to get them to see God through a new lens. It was awkward for all of us. In fact, those who assembled were also strangers to one another—just a collection of earnest, Jesus-loving people.
Esther and I had planned on leaving the group on Friday, but because of their intense interest, it seemed prudent to us to re-arrange our plans and do a Sabbath meeting with them, a sample Sabbath experience. I decided to preach on Hebrews 4 and demonstrate how God’s grace and the Sabbath are one in the same. It is a beautiful topic but difficult for me to express in Turkish, so I was a bit nervous.
I had asked Hoca, a non-Adventist Christian, to teach the Sabbath School lesson. On Friday, we went over the lesson from the quarterly together in detail. He was nervous but very capable. Oddly, before he left, he asked me, “What is the topic for tomorrow?” I told him I was preaching on Hebrews four.
On Sabbath morning, when Hoca stood to teach the lesson, he announced that he had abandoned the lesson study and would instead teach on Hebrews four! I was shocked. He had misunderstood me and gone home and spent three hours diligently preparing a detailed lesson on Hebrews four. He was so excited with what he had discovered that he could have burst. How could I deny him? Lo and behold, he had come to the same conclusions I would have shared. What I would have shared in rough Turkish, he shared in eloquence. It was a miracle!
As Esther and I drove away from City A in our rented car toward our next destination, we could hardly believe how, in a matter of three days of nonstop Bible teaching, we had seen a new church spring up right before our eyes. If these nine seekers all become Adventists, they will represent a nearly 30-percent increase in the native church in Turkey! As we drove toward our next stop, we talked about the miracle of faith and the joy of these sincere seekers at finding the ancient gold we shared with them.
Our next stop was the city where Christians were first called Christians. In this ancient city we met Adak and his wife. He had an interesting conversion story. His father had been a high-ranking leader in the Alevi Muslim group (followers of the prophet Ali—quite different from Sunni Muslims). He had become a Christian in his youth and had a deep desire to help others. He had spent about 10 years working as a church deacon. But, like Sabit, he was confused about money that had flowed from the West without discretion leaving them discouraged and without a model for locally sustained congregations. We sat and talked in a cold, dusty apartment he had used as a home church years before. He told us he had about 40 people who were without a shepherd. Occasionally he would gather them on Sundays.
Esther had brought her guitar, so she began to fill this empty shell of a church with song. As we sat singing with Adak and his wife, suddenly Adak sat up. “Why don’t I gather our friends, and you can have a special meeting for them.” Of course, we were delighted at the plan.
The night went beautifully. We were so happy when 20 precious people assembled for the meeting. Some were Syrian Christians; some were Alevi Muslim. Esther sang, the people sang, Adak prayed and I preached. The people were captivated as I told of the second coming of Jesus. They were especially happy to read and compare texts in the Bible, something that hadn’t been done for them before. The amazing events of Christ’s soon coming filled their imaginations and moved them.
I, too, was happy, for this was my first sermon in Turkish! Of course, I have preached many a sermon in Turkey, but now my American mouth was preaching Gospel truth in Turkish! It was a moment I will treasure—the culmination of six years of language work. Preaching in Turkish is a new positive turn for my mission to Turks. All the more wonderful that it happened in the very city where Christians were first called Christians! Esther closed by singing the Lord’s Prayer in Turkish. Everyone was moved beyond words.
“Why don’t you move here and start a church?” Adak and his wife asked us. Could it be true? Two invitations in one week to begin churches in Turkey!
To be concluded next month.