Give praise for the slow but steady growth of Turkish evangelical Christianity. Turkish and Kurdish believers probably numbered around 10 in 1960 but rose to around 4,000 by 2010.
Many hoped for or expected greater growth of the Church. But while small in number, it grew stronger and more mature. The growth of the 1990s and early 2000s slowed down when faced with spiritual, legal, and cultural opposition. Pray for the evangelism and church planting of the past generation to carry on! Meanwhile there is a remarkable turning to Christ of migrants from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere who are refugees in Turkey. While ministry to Turks and Kurds is watched closely, there seems to be greater freedom to minister to these refugees.
The Kurdish situation is a long-standing challenge. Kurds can be found throughout Turkey – numbering as many as 15 million – but make up the majority population in 16 provinces of the east and southeast. Though widespread use in public remains uncommon, the Kurdish language is now recognized. The government is seeking to resolve Kurdish discrimination, but this is a complex issue involving challenges such as poverty and high unemployment in the east. Pray for:
- A complete end to hostilities between the army and Kurdish separatists, and a fair resolution of the causal issues. Over 30,000 have been killed, thousands of villages razed, and millions displaced and impoverished. Discrimination and desperation often drive Kurds into illegal and violent organizations such as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party.
- Cultural rehabilitation of the Kurds. Vigorous suppression of their culture and language has moderated. Kurdish newspapers are now allowed and the JESUS film in two dialects of Kurmanji has been legalized.
- The Muslim Alevi (with roots in Shi’ism), some of whom are Kurds and Zaza. They are 15-25% of Turkey’s population. Nominal Islamic practice, high respect for Jesus and shared identity as a pressurized minority create unique witness opportunities. New literature and music cassettes are being developed specifically for them.
- The emergence of a Kurdish expression of the Church. In mixed areas, most Kurds integrate into Turkish fellowships, in itself an answer to prayer. Pray for all those seeking openings for reaching them – for the effective use of the JESUS film and other Kurdish literature. The Bible in Kurmanji was completed recently; pray for its widespread use.
- A living, growing fellowship of believers in each of the 81 provinces; most if not all have believers, but the majority still have no fellowship groups. The Black Sea coast (with many Laz) and the central Anatolian plateau are spiritually hard places. The turbulent eastern Anatolian provinces (largely Kurdish) are also in need of prayer.
- University students. There are 1.9 million students in 118 universities and over 1,000 colleges, but there is very little specific campus ministry apart from a few major cities. Pray for the students who have come to the Lord and are now meeting together.
- Children are difficult to reach due to laws prohibiting the proselytising of minors. The problem of homeless children is growing, especially in Istanbul which has over 30,000 street kids. A children’s Bible and other resources are available in Turkish.
- The ethnic Muslim minorities. The largest of these are the Azeri, Gagauz, Crimean Tatar and Karakalpak. Also included are peoples from the Central Asian republics. The gospel is starting to reach some of these latter groups. Many minorities are isolated, living in their own communities, so connecting with them can be difficult.
- Refugees. Many Iranians fled the violence and Islamic extremism of the 1979 Revolution. Over 620,000 remain in Turkey – many in Istanbul – while others moved on to Western countries. These refugees and emigres are proving quite open to the gospel. Several groups of believers have formed, but such groups tend to be transitory, comprised of people on the move. Increasing numbers of African and Asian refugees use Turkey as a steppingstone to Europe. They face many hardships and enjoy few rights. A great need exists for ministry among them.
The Arab minority is a mix between primarily Levant Arabs near the Syrian border and Iraqi refugees in the southeast. A number of them are Christian, but the majority are Muslim.
The Romani peoples (numbering between 500,000-1,000,000) live in poverty, surviving by seasonal labour and collecting recyclable materials. There is some openness to the gospel among them, and in recent years increasing numbers have been coming to the Lord.
Two TV channels (Kanal Hayat and Turk 7) on satellite are potentially reaching millions with the gospel, both in Turkey and in neighbouring countries, including Europe. Response is encouraging. Follow-up correspondence courses tie into the programmes on these channels.