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Frontier evangelism

"Frontier evangelism" Continued...

Issue: "2004 Election: GOP's encore," Aug. 28, 2004

Improved standing for Mr. Guvener and his church in the community could have regional payoffs in the war on terror. But legitimacy comes one tender step at a time, and with careful and caring relations with neighbors, including Muslims.

Mr. Guvener, 39, grew up in a Shiite village near Diyarbakir. His dad built a mill to which Sunni Muslims from surrounding villages came, and Mr. Guvener left school at age 15 to work at the mill. Through a translator he explained what he learned from the Sunnis: "They were always asking, 'Why aren't you a good Muslim? Don't you wash your hands before prayer?' I became sick of those questions, so I asked, 'What do I need to do? I'll do everything.' They wrote a list. It took me two months to learn how to do everything, but I did. I told my mother, 'Now I will fulfill all the requirements.'

"In 1987 I came back from military service. My boss at work saw that I knew a lot but had still not read the Quran, so he gave me a copy in Turkic as a gift. I respected him so I read the Quran several times and researched it. It seemed so wrong to me that I decided to become an atheist. I argued with my father, quoting verses and asking whether God would ever write such a verse. He said, 'No, but your copy is not in Arabic; the infidels have added that verse.'"

Mr. Guvener wanted to get away: "I saw a little ad in the newspaper: 'Do you want to read the New Testament?' I thought, 'What can I get out of this?' and wrote a letter asking for a copy. A letter came back from Istanbul with a book and questions at the end of a chapter. . . . One question was, 'Who is Jesus?' I had just read, 'Jesus is the savior,' so I wrote, 'Jesus is the savior.' I tried to answer all the questions perfectly so I could get to America. I would have said 2+2 is 10.

"I wrote to [the evangelist in] Istanbul, 'I have some questions, I'd like to meet you.' A letter came back, 'I'll come to Diyarbakir.' I had great expectations and went out in a suit and tie. I thought the missionary would come in a Mercedes. Instead, a man with torn jeans and a beard came on a bus. I felt bad for the guy, so I took him to my village and he stayed for three days. He took three books, stood two of them up and said, 'This one is man, this one is God.' Then he put a book on top of the two and said, 'This bridge is Jesus Christ.' I thought he was crazy. I had thought Americans were smart. I felt like laughing at the guy, but I wanted to keep the relationship, so I said, 'Whatever.' I could see he was speaking from his heart.

"For a year we stayed in contact. Then I invited him to come again, and he came with two others. I asked them how much a truck driver makes in America. They were patient with me. They knew what my motivation was and they could have kicked me out. But because of their warmth and affection I read the New Testament seriously. In 1991 I became a believer. . . . I saw that we cannot be saved by fulfilling the law, only by the promise God made to Abraham. The Quran says do this and do that and maybe you'll be saved. The Quran gives a guarantee of salvation only to those who die while on jihad. The Bible says you are saved for sure by the grace of God.

"Here it's common to yell at your kids and curse them. Now I've learned it's about loving them and showing mercy. The New Testament says, 'God loves sinners and cares for sinners.' The Quran makes it clear that God hates sinners. The New Testament said when I sin, which is inevitable, I can go to God. In the Quran you can't do that. It's hard to approach and have a relationship with a God who is cruel. . . . One religion uses a fear of punishment, the other shows that God brings sinners to Himself through grace."

As Mr. Guvener's ideas changed, he started thinking not about going to America but about explaining to others the difference between the religions. Charity began at home: Five of his nine brothers and sisters are now Christians, and his wife also became one in 1995. His father did not convert, and tensions rose: "I was very excited and sometimes very unwise in how I talked with my father. I was distributing New Testaments in the village. It was very embarrassing for him, a man of greatest prestige in the village. But he saw that my life changed. Before I was always cursing God, now I was praising. Now he has come to a point of trusting me."

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