Jesus in Turkey
Then his wife became a Christian, which almost led to a divorce and triggered threats of an honor killing. Akgul recalls that in 1999, when his wife first believed, "It was very dangerous for us." He feared his wife's family would kill her. Her father had cut off the head of his brother in an honor murder and had spent 20 years in jail for it.
Akgul couldn't bring himself to abandon his wife to an honor killing. Big and tough, he stayed to protect her. They also believe God visited their house to protect them.
"One night my wife was at the stove in the kitchen and she wanted to die," says Akgul. The pressure, the fear, and the arguments with her husband built an overwhelming mountain before her. She leaned across the stove to pray, "If you are God, give me a sign."
Akgul said, "At midnight, a star came from far away to our house. A great light exploded in front of the windows. She thought that this was a sign from God, and it gave her strength."
For the next five years, Akgul stayed by his wife to protect her from murder, but the tensions were palpable. In the morning, Akgul said he could feel his skin tighten up as he prepared for the day. But he noticed a steady transformation in his wife's perspective. Instead of wanting to kill her enemies, she started to become more peaceful and gentle. "She was very deeply changed," Akgul says.
Three years ago, Akgul was lying on his bed listening to a radio appeal for funds for a hospital. Then he heard a voice in the bedroom say, "Matthew 6. Matthew 6. Matthew 6." Startled, he got up and looked around. He went out to his wife in the kitchen and asked, "What is Matthew 6?" She opened her Bible and read aloud how alms should be given to God, not man. Strangely enough, that verse broke open Akgul's heart. "I realized that life is not about honor, but Jesus."
During the same year, Ucal appeared on national television, debating a Muslim leader. The pastor didn't attack Islam but kindly, reasonably, and boldly answered the leader's charges. The Muslim leader was brusque and bullying. The media's coverage was sensational and favored Ucal. Other Muslims called for the leader to get off the air. Akgul watched these programs and realized that a "real Turk" from a Muslim background could openly believe in Jesus. In time, he and his wife joined Ucal's church, where Akgul now serves in leadership.
Love Without Fear
Despite the progress, real danger persists for outspoken Christians. It is not from the conservative Muslims who control the government. Indeed, most Turkish pastors with whom CT talked favored the reelection of the conservative Muslim Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Rather, the danger is primarily from strident ultranationalists and their youth movement, known as the Grey Wolves. Some experts say the Grey Wolves are terrorists responsible for hundreds of killings.
Christian leaders told CT that the Malatya murders have left a deep impression about the cost of discipleship. These leaders vividly remember the moment they heard the news of the killings.
Pastor Koryurek remembers that he was on the ferry from Asian Istanbul to European Istanbul. "Brother Ibrahim and I were talking when the cell phone rang. I saw tears start to form." The ferry's motor chugged in the background, and the wet wind seemed to stand still as Koryurek began to guess what happened. Ibrahim closed his cell phone and said, "Our brothers were killed." They couldn't move.