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June 7, 2013Culture

Turkey: What to Know and How to Pray

Turkey Is in the News. Here Is a Quick Explainer on Why Turkey and the Turks Need Our Prayers
Turkey: What to Know and How to Pray
Image: KanDiD KameRaz - Flickr

Turkey has been in the news. It's been all over the front page and protests have made international news.

Some are speculating it is "on the brink." Considering how the Arab Spring has played out for many Christians, such movements are of particular concern to Christians. At this point, these protests are directed at the government, which has been leading the country in a more Islamist direction, so the protests are a bit more complicated and involve several issues.

So What is Turkey?

Many people outside of the region are unfamiliar with Turkey and the Turks. If you know your Bible, you've heard of places like Ephesus, Smyrna, Laodicea. If you know church history, you've heard of places like Nicaea.

That's Turkey now.

As a matter of fact, all of the seven ecumenical councils took place in Turkey.

If there was a Bible belt over 1,500 years ago, it was in Turkey. However, that changed with the rise of Islam and its eventual conquest of the region. Then, a few centuries later, the area would be at the heart of one of the world's most powerful empires, the Islamic Ottoman Empire.

Turkey has more recently been seen as a moderate Muslim country, though some reject that terminology.

After the decline and fall of the Ottoman Empire, Turkey took a road less traveled among majority Islamic nations—it leaned toward Europe rather than the Middle East.

Turkey has more recently been seen as a moderate Muslim country, though some (including the current President) reject that terminology, and there are troubling signs for the future.

For example, Turkey was recently added to the list of countries violating religious freedom, though not without debate.

However, anyone who has been there knows that Turkey is decidedly different from the rest of the Muslim-majority world.

A Local View

I recently spoke to a "worker" there who oversees the "work" of a large organization "engaging" Turkey and the region. There are few Christian leaders who would know Central Asia better than this person.

At a café in Istanbul, not far from the protests reported on the news, I asked and he explained:

A Secular Muslim Country?

To understand Turkey, you have to understand the father of modern Turkey Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. After the war of independence, "Atatürk then embarked upon a program of political, economic, and cultural reforms, seeking to transform the former Ottoman Empire into a modern, secular and European nation-state" (source). Every Turk knows of, and has an opinion about, Atatürk.

Yet, many think that secular, European vision is in jeopardy.

My "worker" friend spoke about how Muslims in Turkey and in Central Asia practiced their Islamic religion and their openness to others.

Turkey matters for international relations—many have looked to Turkey as a model for the future. Its politics and foreign relations are different than much of the Muslim world. For example, although relationships have been tense lately, the historic relationship of Turkey and Israel is an open secret. But, it also is one of the few places in the majority-Muslim world where Christians can and do share their faith (though not without challenge).

How Can We Pray

So, how can you pray? Well, I will share how I am praying.

I'm praying:

  1. That the protests geared toward the government will lead the people away from increased Islamization and to greater religious freedom.
  2. For the safety of "workers" serving there right now.
  3. For the safety of Turks and for a just end to the violence.
  4. That Turks in Turkey (and the 75 million Turks around the world) will turn to Christ in the midst of the tumult.

When this crisis passes, you may ask, "How can I get involved in work in Turkey?" If so, take a moment to read the whole interview with my "worker" friend and learn about some options. If you are interested, you can see some video and other resources from our trip to Turkey.

Pray for Turkey.

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Turkey: What to Know and How to Pray