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June 9, 2011Church Planting

Thursday is for Turkey: The Church in Smyrna

Last week Caleb Crider wrote a guest post on the blog talking about our experience in Turkey and the Church in Ephesus during the Vision Tour with the Upstream Collective. Today, I wanted to talk a little about our experience in Smyrna.

There's really nothing left of the ancient city of Smyrna but a sad, crumbling wall in a city park on a hill overlooking the Turkish metropolis of İzmir. Yet our stop at the second of the 7 churches of the Book of Revelation was spiritually charged.

We had been warned by our tour guide not to expect much of the ruins here. He didn't want us to be disappointed that there wouldn't be any ticket booths, restaurants, or souvenir stands. Of course, we didn't care about that sort of thing. But we could sense that the longer we traveled together, the more anxious our guide became about traveling with a bunch of Christians.

İzmir is the third largest city in Turkey. It's regarded as the country's most progressive and dynamic. You see a lot more women and children out in the streets here, and far fewer veils. In fact, it is this modern mentality that, in just the last couple years, has sparked a backlash against Christianity.

In 2007, two Turkish Christians and one German citizen were attacked, tortured, and brutally murdered in the Christian publishing house where they worked. The assailants organized themselves as ultra-nationalist defenders of an Islamic Turkey.

Since then, Turkish believers across the country have lived under the constant threat of social and political persecution. We met a few such Christ-followers during our vision trip, and it was an honor to hear their stories and fellowship with them.

The persecution of Christians is not new to this land. In fact, the walls of ancient Smyrna were the site of Polycarp's martyrdom at the hands of the Romans in 166 A.D. Legend holds that the elder of the church at Smyrna refused to worship the Roman Emperor and was burned at the stake.

It was there that I taught from Revelation 2:8-11, the passage that addresses the church at Smyrna. In it, Jesus commends the church's faithfulness, but warns them of impending persecution. An ominous forecast of spiritual trials that continue even today.

Interestingly, the public park that contains the Smyrna ruins is a refuge for the marginalized Roma (sometimes called "gypsies."). The hillside was covered with groups of young men playing football (soccer) and large families enjoying the shade. Their reputation as pickpockets and thieves made our guide uneasy. Apparently, there's something in the Official Tour Guide Handbook about not leading your tour group into a potential robbery situation.

Something about the scene-- tourists passing groups of Roma to climb on rocks outside a city where an historic Christian figure was killed for his faith-- made our experience especially memorable. We prayed together and left in solemn silence, the words of Jesus in Revelation 2 ringing in our ears, "Don't be afraid of what you are about to suffer. Look, the Devil is about to throw some of you into prison to test you, and you will have tribulation for 10 days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life."

NEXT WEEK: The Church in Pergamum

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Thursday is for Turkey: The Church in Smyrna