Jesus in Turkey
Ucal started arguing that Christianity was "authentically Turkish" and "socially natural." This became a huge breakthrough for believers. Today, Ucal's Istanbul Presbyterian Church is one of the largest churches nationally. And something else happened beyond Ucal's wildest imagination: His parents began visiting his church.
Other like-minded leaders have begun new churches, but for different reasons. The Ankara Church, in Turkey's capital, has grown with an emphasis on the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Four other churches (Izmit Protestant, Eskisehir Protestant; and in Istanbul, Altintepe Church and Besiktas Protestant) have grown through effective mentoring from a culturally savvy Spaniard, Carlos Madrigal.
Anadolu Turk Protestant Church, located in the same neighborhood as Ucal's church, has greatly benefited from inquirers from a Bible Correspondence course that Operation Mobilization began 30 years ago.
In the strife-torn eastern part of Turkey, pastor Ahmet Guvener has created a much-admired evangelistic strategy that has resulted in a multiethnic church of Turks and Kurds. Guvener has launched youth teams that stay within their Islamic social networks and form long-term relations with neighborhood families. The strategy reflects a theme of many of the successful evangelistic efforts: direct engagement with the cultural milieu of Muslim-majority society.
Another common practice among these Christians is teaching morality in the public square. Pastor Kaan Koryurek of Besiktas Protestant makes a point of showing how the Bible inveighs against public corruption, a problem Turks are deeply motivated to fight. Koryurek says, "Today I preached on the fig tree that had no fruit. Jesus used it as a warning and then went to throw out the traders and moneychangers in the temple." After the service, several people shared how they were standing up against corruption in their workplaces.
Not Honor, But Jesus
According to the Istanbul-based church growth center Silas, the four most common channels of Turks coming to faith are: a personal relationship with a believer; taking the aforementioned Bible Correspondence course; a church visit; and the Internet. No matter the channel, new Turkish Christians are quick to make use of traditional beliefs, culture, and relational networks to extend the influence of their ministry and teaching.
Ucal and his wife, Sibel, have adapted Sufi music, which is based on mystical Islamic traditions and popular among Muslims, to the lyrics of Christian hymns. Many people request cds of their music over the Internet, and some of them came to the church for the first time to hear the music.
As many have noted, Muslims place much weight on dreams and visions. In 1989, after Sibel became a Christian, she wondered if there were any other young Turkish believers around. "I prayed for a Turkish believer husband and to serve God. People teased me: 'Where can you find a Turkish man who believes in God?'"
Eventually, she found her way to Ucal's church. After a month of watching Sibel and a long lunch together one day, Ucal was smitten and ready to get married. Sibel says, "I was surprised, but I was ready to hear that. I saw it in my dream that God gave me." After eight months, they were married.
Murat Akgul, an elder at Ucal's church, has been shaped by a vision his wife had. Akgul and his wife come from Turkish subcultures that celebrate warfare and fighting. He had trained for a military career until he became disillusioned by the army's harsh conditions.