I returned yesterday from a trip to the cities of Istanbul, Izmir, and Eskeshehir, Turkey. I am often asked where I might go if/when I get expelled from North Africa. Right now Turkey is on my short list.
If you are looking for a mission field where you might fulfill the Great Commission let me give you 15 reasons to consider Turkey.
1. 75 million people
This is always the best reason to take the Gospel anywhere: The presence of people who need it. Turkey is the 17th largest country in the world and the 8th largest Muslim country.
2. One evangelical Christian for every 15,000 people
If the first reason is the best reason to preach the Gospel, the second is the best reason to send foreign missionaries: the don’t have enough native believers to get the job done. One website sets the number at 3,000 Evangelical Christians but I am going with the number 5,000 I heard from my missionary friend in the country last week.
This website makes an argument that 30% of America is Evangelical by the same standard. Now I don’t think that there is 1 born again Christian for every 3 in America but whatever the number is, this is the same measuring stick that we use to get 1 for every 15,000 in Turkey. The opportunity to hear the Gospel is extremely low.
3. Fifteen major cities with over half a million people
Paul went to major cities. Turkey has transitioned from rural to 72% urban rapidly. This 2009 census finds 13 cities over half a million. No doubt two more have now crossed that threshold. Nine cities now number over 1 million. The best of these cities may have one church for every 250,000 people. Remember that the average church size would be 15 to 20 people.
14 million people in this mega-city. This is a big enough reason in itself. I spent three days in this city. I met believers there and church planting missionaries. I saw no sign of them walking around for three days. I heard there might be 20 small churches in the city. That is less than one for every half a million people.
Kutahya is on my heart like a number of cities in North Africa. It is an medium sized city of a quarter a million with NO church. The absence of any church is what led me to North Africa. Turkey has many cities of 100,000 or more with NO church. There is no church there because no one is starting one. I met a national believer in this city and prayed over it together. (pictured above) He has been saved now for 2 months. Sivas is another example of a city without a church. I could go on.
6. 10 million Kurds
Kurds make up 15% of the population of this country. They live mainly in the east but are spread out in every city. I witnessed to Kurds in Istanbul, Izmir, and Eskeshehir this week. Kurds are the largest ethnic group without a country. Right now it is very difficult to reach the Kurds in the other countries they live: Iran, Iraq, and Syria.
Kurdish people (mostly Sunni Muslim) have been severely mistreated by other Muslims and are some of the most open group of Muslims in the world to the Gospel right now. I witnessed the baptism of three Kurds last week. It was joyful. My first Muslim friends were Kurds and I beg God for more laborers among the Kurds constantly.
There are no official numbers on this as Muslims never like to admit it, but a large percentage of the population of Turkey is agnostic (or atheist). These are mostly young college students. Why is this a motivating factor for the sending of missionaries to a Muslim country? If a person who was raised as a Muslim becomes an agnostic it is because they have rejected or doubted the idea of God that has always been presented to them. They typically have not rejected God like an Western agnostic. Converts in Turkey, like in many Muslim countries I have visited, are most likely to have gone through a stage of agnosticism before believing on Christ.
I could give you many stories but here is what happens: (1) Muslim youth asks questions of Islam- (2) Gets unsatisfactory answers if any answers at all (Islam forbids questions)- (3) Watches the violence and hatred in Islam- (4) Rejects the idea of God in Islam not knowing there are other options (Muslims are taught the idea of God is the same in Judaism, Christianity and Islam). Here is where the reason for flooding Turkey with missionaries comes in. Will they hear the Gospel at this point of agnosticism? If not, they will most likely return to Islam in their older years when they get a family and settle down. That is, after all, the only religion they have ever known.
8. Significant Gospel sowing through Media Outreach
There has been about 25 years of significant and increasing media evangelism in Turkey just like the Muslim world. Satellite TV stations, websites, radio stations and programs, etc are beginning to have their effect. Turks are coming to Christ more today than in ever. Now is the time we need to send disciple-making missionaries.
9. Disciple-making missionaries are almost extinct
Maybe you’ve heard of missionaries to Turkey before and you’ve thought, “Well, seems like they’ve got it knocked.” Like other parts of the Muslim world, an estimated 5% of the “missionaries” you have heard of in Turkey are evangelizing, baptizing, making disciples, and planting churches. Most are starting coffee shops, teaching language classes, business, and sports programs, serving the handicap, etc. There are good things but they are poor attempt at obeying the Great Commission. Next time you meet a missionary to Muslims ask the following questions: “Is there a church meeting because you went? Are there new believers congregating because you preached? Have you baptized someone? Have you trained anyone to minister in your place?” The answers are sadly and typically: no.
10. The Turkic family of languages
While 80 million people speak Turkish as their first languages, many more millions speak one of the languages related to Turkish from the Balkans to Western China. Here you will find why it is not hard to learn. Learning Turkish gives you the ability to preach Christ and disciple believers in some of the most unreached people groups in the world.
Turkey is in the cross roads between Europe and Asia. It is one of the few Muslim countries with a possitive immigration rate (more immigrants coming to the country than leaving). We can reach Iran, Afghanistan, and Uzbekistan (to name a few of the nationalities of people I met in Turkey) from Turkey!
Turkey must be the most modern Muslim country in the world when combining the following factors: cleanliness, infrastructure, gender relations, dress, and political ideas. I was blown away by how modern Turkey is. I noticed very little difference in Turkey and Spain in this matter of modernity. Beautiful parks, smooth highways, high speed trains, gender equality, modern dress on women, well-oiled bus system, loads of universities, and all the shopping you could want (which is little to none for me, thanks)!
Call us carnal, but us men want our wives happy. Call our wives carnal, but not every missionary wife relishes the idea of living under a blue burka in Afghanistan to reach Muslims. The fear of this extremely uncomfortable daily life keeps many potential missionaries home. In contrast, you can dress in a tube top and not stick out in the major cities of Turkey (I wouldn’t recommend it). This factor alone isn’t a good reason to go, but if the other factors are convincing enough, this one might just make going more feasible for your family.
13. Availability of visas
If you are like me, the whole visa process is scary in a “closed” country that doesn’t permit missionary visas, like Turkey. However, hundreds of “missionaries” (see #9) have figured out how to get a visa long-term in Turkey. My friend I was with tells the immigration officers that he is there to preach the Gospel. He has been on a tourist visa for 7 years. He know people doing the same for 15 years. That is a wide open door!
14. Freedom of Religion!
I saved these two until last because it is the most uncommon in the Muslim world. Very few places can we plant ourselves in the middle of the Muslim world and preach on the streets. But you can in Turkey. Check out this description of freedom of religion in Turkey.
Many “missionaries” would be quick to stop me and remind me of all of the roadblocks that the government has put up for the Christians and churches BUT the facts remain: I went to a registered church last Sunday in Turkey that meets openly, invites unbelievers without hesitation, holds special evangelistic film viewings, passes out tracts on the street, and performs Gospel dramas in public squares. Of course there is opposition but these activities are defended by the written law!
Turkey has not been free to preach the Gospel like this for more than a millennium! Even before Islam the Eastern Orthodox Church would not allow open evangelism by Gospel believing people. Since 1924 when Turkey was founded as a secular republic by Kamal Ataturk, God threw the doors of this country wide open. We must step it up while there is still time!
15. A closing door
The Republic of Turkey was organized as a secular state by Kamal Ataturk in 1924. The army is in charge of defending this philosophy of the separation of state and mosque. Several governments over the years have been disbanded by the army and new elections held afterward. This time, things may be different. President Erdogan, leader of the Islamic part Justice and Development, has won reelection. He wants to stay in longer and is replacing high ranking military officials. Protests by secularists against this trend are a regular occurrence. There are many fears that he will take the country back to an Islamic state. The door is open… now… but will not always be.