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Frontier evangelism

"Frontier evangelism" Continued...

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

The village imam was also hostile at first: "He'd say bad things and take verses out of context. He says John the Baptist was talking about Muhammad, not Jesus. But I found out that his relations with his Islamic congregation were really bad. Since everyone in the village saw that my life has changed . . . that I had not cheated anyone in my work, I was able to talk with those who opposed the imam. I told them, 'If you go with pride, saying "I'm right," you won't be able to solve the problem with the imam.' So they went with humble hearts to solve the problem. Then the imam had respect for me. He said, 'Come here, sit on my right-hand side.' To ask an 'infidel' to do that was a sign of acceptance.

"In 1997 the church asked if I would serve full-time, which meant giving up my well-paying job. Funny: I went into this thinking I would go to America, and now I was earning less." Mr. Guvener also began receiving threats. Local security forces put Christians under surveillance. At one point police even surrounded his house, guns drawn. "My 3-year-old daughter opened the door and police rushed in. They said, 'Show us your weapons.' Our only weapon was a box of Bibles. It was just to scare me." But police did jail Mr. Guvener for a short time.

As more people in Diyarbakir became Christians and wanted to worship together, the need for a place to meet became urgent. The church paid $3,000 for land and for $150,000 constructed a building that is both worship center and Mr. Guvener's home. He noted, "In the plans we made it clear that it was to be a church," but by making the meeting room part of a home church, leaders gave local officials deniability in the face of hardline Muslim critics.

Life for Mr. Guvener and other evangelicals remained frustrating at times, particularly when they saw two-facedness among neighbors: "Talking with an individual is very different from talking with someone in a group. On a personal level, he might even agree with you. Talk to him in a group, he might start slandering you and saying you've sold out to the Westerners."

But even that isn't surprising, since "Christian was used as a curse word for many years. A typical parent might say, 'I wish you had become a prostitute. I wish you had killed someone-that's better than becoming a Christian.'" On the other hand, some Turks fake theological interest because they hope to use Christianity as a means to an economic end: "They may come wanting to get money, or a ticket to Europe, or a passport."

Nevertheless, Mr. Guvener says, the positives have easily outweighed the negatives. He enjoyed hosting Muslim schoolteachers who brought in their classes so students would learn what Christianity is. Visitors came for advice. "Mothers came crying, 'My kids are rebelling,'" Mr. Guvener relates.

Nationwide the number of Turkish Muslims who have become evangelicals has probably increased from fewer than 100 to 10,000 over the last 20 years, according to Barbara Baker. They make up some 75 evangelical churches or fellowships. Only 45-less than two-thirds -have buildings.

Since that success evidently worries some Muslims leaders, Mr. Guvener found himself the subject of a lawsuit for illegally having a church building. Zoning regulations were also a weapon against the church. A house of worship in Turkey is supposed to be at least 2,500 square meters in size; 80 percent of Turkey's mosques are technically illegal, but no one raises a fuss.

The zoning issues are not yet fully laid to rest, but on May 12, 2004, the state prosecutor declared that sufficient grounds to bring formal charges against Mr. Guvener did not exist. The prosecutor said that, with Turkey having signed European human-rights agreements and Parliament eager for entry into the European Union, international agreements now took precedence over national laws: That means all Turkish citizens have the right to worship and teach about their faith. The judge of Diyarbakir's Third Criminal Court immediately declared Mr. Guvener acquitted: case closed.

What caused the change? The government of Turkey is relaxing religious harassment as a means to its own political and economic ends. After 10 years of trying to gain entrance to the European Union, Turkish leaders are desperate to appease EU politicos by showing more respect for individual rights, including religious ones, than they have in the past.

Ahmet Guvener speaks not of international politics but God's hand at work: "God is using Turkey's desire to join the EU. The European leaders don't even believe in God but they believe we should be free to do what we're doing. God does these things."

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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