Jesus in Turkey
New Christian believers find it very difficult to become openly active in Turkey's traditional churchesArmenian Orthodox, Catholic, Eastern Rite Catholic, and Greek Orthodox. The handful of Protestant-affiliated congregations operate in the open, but they mainly meet the needs of ethnic minority groups or Westerners living in Turkey.
So new Christians coming from Muslim families are often isolated and ostracized. Ucal realized there was more to Christian living than an individualized faith. He wanted to create a Turkish church for Islamic-background Turks like himself.
Shortly after becoming a believer, Ucal had not told anyone what had happened to him spiritually. But he quietly opened a court case to change his religious identity registration.
His father, a military officer responsible for defending Istanbul's harbor, saw his son's name on the list of people changing their religious affiliation. Even today there is a common belief that the Greeks use Turkish converts to Christianity as spies. Ucal says, "Buddhism is okay, but not Christianity. There was a history."
When Ucal's father saw his son's name included on the list, he went ballistic. He stormed home, screaming to his wife, "They are turning our son into a spy!"
At first, Ucal's father became more Muslim in reaction to his son's faith. Later, he took a closer look. His son hadn't changed friends and seemed more at ease. What most people saw was that the young Christian hadn't changed his identity as a Turk. One individual told CT, "He still seemed to be a real Turk."
Ucal kept living within the Turkish Muslim community. There was also a growing sense among his generation that they were reshaping Turkey into a nation that respected freedom and religious diversity. "We have created a new world for usfor mein my own country," Ucal says.
Engaging Islamic Society
In 1986, Ucal finally started a church. His tiny congregation was allowed to worship for 60 minutes every 15 days inside the Swedish Consulate in Istanbul.
But Turkish newspapers immediately made a big deal out of a Muslim-background pastor starting a Christian church for Muslim-background Turks. His parents hadn't become used to Ucal being a Christian and had no idea he was going to start a church. They were startled when they opened their morning newspaper. "Those years were terrible," Ucal recalls. His parents were frightened for their son. Campus Crusade staff members who were helping Ucal warned, "Turgay, you will die." Yet they stayed with him. Within a year, Ucal had 20 Muslim-background Turks in his church, and stability was emerging.
Ucal's congregation moved toward a charismatic, Vineyard-style form of Christianity. Meanwhile, Ucal served in the army for eight months and received training in ministry in the Philippines and South Korea. After that, Ucal decided to plant a different kind of church based on systematic theological teaching. While in South Korea, he had noticed the parallels between systematic theology and the disciplined Islamic lifestyle and mindset. He wondered if other Muslim-background Turks might respond to a more structured approach than the informal evangelicalism of which he was a part. Ucal found that his Muslim neighbors are attracted to systematic approaches to religious instruction, and are also easily touched emotionally. So Ucal began approaching them with an "emotional Calvinism."