Though less than 1 percent of the population, Turkey's 3,500 evangelicals are striving to have an impact on their Muslim neighbors in the wake of August's massive earthquake.
Local churches from Ankara, Izmit, and Istanbul were among the first to raise teams to dig through rubble and distribute food and medicine along side international rescue efforts.
"while the evangelical church in Turkey is extremely small," says Clive Calver, president of World Relief, "they have a large vision for what they can potentially accomplish, just as the Albanian churches did in the midst of the Kosovo refugee crisis."
Measuring 7.4 on the Richter scale, the August quake killed more than 18,000 people and demolished 60 percent of buildings in the Izmit region. Officials expect the death toll to rise as high as 50,000 when recovery efforts are complete. More than 200,000 people are now homeless.
Pastors from 12 nondenominational Turkish fellowships met with leaders of North American and European aid agencies to strategize ways to sustain aid for homeless Turks forced to live without shelter for the next six to eight months. Undamaged churches are opening their facilities to the community as distribution centers for food, blankets, and health-care supplies. World Vision, map International, and the mission branches of more than ten denominations will help supply medicine, winter clothing, and hygiene items.
Turkish evangelicals are hoping such efforts to meet national needs will help establish credibility for the church with the 99 percent Muslim majority of their nation. "The Turkish church is really organized and is leading the way," says Steve Hagerman of Turkish World Outreach. Hagerman says church organization contrasts the government's disorganization and lack of preparation—something many Turks are complaining about.
Churches that previously met with resistance from police and government officials are quickly becoming the source of aid in crisis, says Hagerman. "Officials refused to let Christians open a church camp in Yalova a couple of months ago," he says, "but now they have given them per mission to establish a tent city at the camp for 1,000 earthquake refugees."
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