A few weeks ago a brother and I went to a poor (and notorious) neighborhood on the other side of Istanbul. We couldn’t find a place suitable to draw a crowd and preach using the sketchboard, so we prayed to God to guide us. Then we walked up to a group of people in front of a cafe and I asked a question I’ve never asked before that I can remember: “I’ve heard that there are believers in Jesus in your neighborhood here. Do you know any of them?” The man looked at me with a queer look, went to the shop next door, and then came back quickly. “I know someone who might know such people, but here’s not at work today,” he said. A few minutes later, though, as we continued to talk, he calls someone on his phone (apparently that guy), and after talking for a minute to him hands the phone to me. Obviously the guy on the other end was very suspicious of who I was and why I was there, but after explaining clearly who I was, he opened up and said that he’d come to faith recently, and in fact at that moment was meeting with a Turkish pastor friend of mine whose church is very near our office on the other side of Istanbul! But the story gets better. “Please don’t tell anyone there that I’ve become a follower of Jesus,” he said. “Because I haven’t even told my family yet, and the only other person who knows of my newfound faith is the guy whom you asked.” Incredible. In a neighborhood of 200,000 people I ask a question I’ve never asked before to the only person who knew the answer! God answers prayer, in case you haven’t noticed yet.
Needless to say, we were then invited into the man’s cafe. Before we had talked for 20 minutes, men sitting at a nearby table interupted us. “All of us here at our table would like to have New Testaments. Could you give each of us one?” We didn’t have enough with us to give to all of them; no problem, they gave us their addresses so we could cargo them to them (which we did and still are in contact with them). One of the guys we spoke with had spent 8 years in prison for his activities with a banned (terrorist) group in eastern Turkey. “Please come and start a church here,” he said (as there’s no visible church there, though we know of one small house fellowship). I told him if he could find 15 others who would be willing to become members of the church that we could talk further. (We’re still in touch a month later but no word yet on the 15, but let’s pray for it. :))
The wife of a good friend of mine works as a nurse with the terminally ill. They have no hope of actually being healed, so they call their work “palliative care”=only trying to reduce the pain until the patient dies. Then it dawned on me: Christian efforts to help people without speaking the gospel of Jesus are at best “palliative care;” they reduce the temporal suffering of people until they go to hell. The Apostle Paul heard in a vision a Macedonian calling out, “come and help us.” But he knew that the help they needed was not palliative care but permanent cure, which is why the next verse reads, “[Paul] immediately sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.”
I’ve just spent the day walking and praying and worshipping around Buyukada island off the coast of Istanbul. Even though we’ve lived here for almost 15 years, it never ceases to grieve me to see old churches and buildings that were obviously owned by Christians, now in a state of near collapse or overgrown from years of neglect. But the God and Savior of those people is still alive and well here!
We continue to be so thankful for those who continue to pray so faithfully for us, and we continue to see the results. Both Ulrike and the kids and my residence permit applications have been accepted and now we’re just waiting for them to arrive by mail/post in the upcoming weeks.
We’re seeing more Christian workers in Istanbul volunteer to work with the BCC than I can ever remember. It’s wonderful to work with people from almost every continent, from so many different church backgrounds and from so many churches here in Istanbul, all united around the glorious task of making Jesus and his gospel famous here.
Next week is the BCC leadership team’s annual planning retreat. We’ve been offered (for free) the use of a historic (and famous) Christian school and monastery in the islands here–although it’s been forced to be closed for the last 40 years or so, they’ve been allowed recently to host small-scale events. There are devout followers of Christ in the historic churches here, but they face stiff opposition from those who care more about filling their pockets and ethnic patriotism.
Ulrike is part of a new weekly women’s outreach team that is going to some of the poorest and most problematic neighborhoods of Istanbul. So many needs, so little time!
Our project to reach Kurds in Turkey continues to grow through our website and facebook group. We want to expand and form a new registered organization to do so, but there are strong, conflicting opinions about this both on our board and among Turkish church leaders, given the historical difficulties between Turks and Kurds.
After not having seen Sam (whom I shared about in previous updates) for several weeks, I saw him finally at church again this past Sunday. He looked pretty disheveled, and said he’d lost his phone, which is why he hadn’t been able to call. We weren’t able to talk much then, but he was going to stop by our home that evening but for whatever reason didn’t come. Please do pray for him, as we have no way of contacting him now; he knows where we live, though; hopefully he’ll stop by to visit soon.
We are working with pastor Emre from our daughter church in Izmit to put on a large-scale evangelistic Christmas celebration in a nearby province where no church exists at present. The authorities originally said that we could rent the large Culture Center in the city center, but just learned that they’ve withdrawn the offer with some excuse (though we know the real reason). Pray we’ll be able to find a suitable place in time to do something there.
The recently-elected mayor of our county in Istanbul, however, is just the opposite. He has offered to us (all the Protestant church in Istanbul) to use free of charge their impressive Culture Center (above), and he’s even offering to have the municipality’s buses shuttle people for free from other parts of Istanbul. He said recently that he’d like to put up a huge Christmas tree in the main square (right across from a mosque!), and he (not us) has asked us to set up a table there from which to distribute invitations to the Christmas celebration! You can be sure it won’t take much convincing to get us out there.
Our kids are doing so well in school; of course we’d like to be proud but we know their success is much more likely the result of so many people like you who are praying for us.
With you for the Gospel,
David & Ulrike, Johannes, Rebecca, Esther, Amy and Daniel