Going Where There Is No Gospel: Missions in Turkey
On July 15, 2016, a section of the Turkish military launched an operation in several of its own cities in an attempt to take over the government. This attempted coup failed very quickly.
The next day, after 290 civilian deaths, the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, declared a state of emergency which led to the arrest of 50,000 suspects. Today, barely a year later, the people of Turkey still wonder about the future of their country. And so does Brandon Reynolds.
Brandon and his family attend Grace Oviedo. Any given Sunday he can be seen on stage with the worship band, in graceKIDS, or running the sound boards. His day job as a software engineer first took him to Turkey in 2007, and in 2013 he went back on a missions trip through his hometown church in Akron, Ohio.
That church, Missionview, supports a church plant in Antalya, Turkey, which is pastored by a good friend of Brandon’s, Ramazan.
In April of this year, Brandon led a group of missionaries back to Antalya. During this trip, Brandon and his team planned on simply ministering to their brothers and sisters in a “politically tumultuous” country the way Paul longed to minister to the Romans — just by being with them.
God had bigger, better plans. As soon as his team arrived in Antalya, they were asked to help finish a new building for the church. “There was some drywall, painting and cleaning that needed to be done,” he says. “The church was short on volunteers that week, so our efforts were really helpful. Also, we were able to plan and conduct a children’s carnival outreach.”
This work was critically important, because this new church is one of only 100 evangelical churches in all of Turkey. “Your chances are pretty good for finding a chain smoker in Antalya, but not so much for seeing an evangelical Christian,” Brandon reflected from a smoke-filled café on his last night in the country. “According to Operation World, .008% of the 75 million people here are evangelicals, with about 100 Protestant churches for the whole country. It’s sad to think that this land, which is where many of the early New Testament churches were located, is now virtually unreached. Many Muslims here have never heard the Gospel.”
You read that right: fewer than 600,000 people have heard the gospel in a nation of 75 million people where freedom of religion is legal! Being a missionary to Turkey can be dangerous, but Brandon explains that while they do have laws protecting Islam, “the Turkish government itself wants to be seen as a nation that tolerates every religion, so they do what they can to protect missionaries.”
For example, while Brandon’s team was in Turkey this past April, they helped open the doors to the new church. The presence of the missionaries gave the church needed coverage and protection. “A few government officials made appearances at the opening ceremony for the church, which brought in the local media. For the next few days, the media published the location and hours of operation for the church.”
Sending skilled peoples is another benefit of missionary work in the country. “If a church in Turkey needs a new youth pastor, they can’t simply post an ad or call around,” Brandon says. “They have to find someone in their congregation, develop him, train him, and pray to God and just trust him.” Sending people with teaching skills who can help train these young leaders and teach older leaders how to train younger men and women called into ministry helps tremendously.
“One of our team members was a licensed therapist with a Ph.D. in psychology,” says Brandon. “He was able to provide some training to the pastoral staff and resident missionaries on how to counsel people with depression.”
Lastly, just being there to support and worship God together with our Turkish brothers and sisters in Christ is itself a need — no prerequisite experience needed. In Turkey, Christianity is considered to be a religion for rejects, outcasts and the poor. “Just being with them, encouraging their spirits is a huge need,” says Brandon. “Here is the kingdom work that’s happening. If I don’t participate in that, I am missing out in joining God in his mission to accomplish his these things.”
“Our situation in Orlando is not normative — this is not what the rest of the world is experiencing,” says Brandon. “I know we hear about what’s going on in other countries, but we need to face that. When you know someone over there, it becomes much more important and personal to you.
“While it’s true that money spent in other places, even the United States, could seemingly accomplish more, a situation like the church in Antalya is a valuable place to invest. Imagine you are a wealthy person who is going to invest in healthcare for children; you might invest in care that helps the largest number of people instead of curing some rare disease that effects a few. Now, imagine that it’s your child that has the rare disease. God wants us to reach all nations.”
Some people are called to be missionaries at home, but some need to consider a bolder choice. “Antalya is quite a beautiful place,” Brandon says, “What if you spent your vacation doing God’s work? If you’re going to spend this money anyway, you can see beautiful places you’ve never seen before, and work for the Kingdom. Realistically, being a Christian here in the United States is pretty easy. But the Bible says ‘to whom much is given, much is expected.’ When we go out, we’re helping other congregations around the world, but when we come back, we have relationships. We become an advocate for our brothers and sisters around the world.”
The smoke in that café in Turkey was a poignant reminder of the spiritual darkness that covers the land. But the true light is shining and will continue to drive the darkness away. “Let’s not be idle, but let’s put our time, talents and money to work,” says Brandon.
This article was written by Grace volunteer Andrew Schaffer and was published in the Live Life Unstoppable issue of Grace Magazine.