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From our CEO: February 2019

From our CEO: February 2019

In Turkey, both Christian children and new converts from Islam, must learn to deal with the likelihood that they will be persecuted for their faith in Jesus. The unimaginable pressure Christians face as they covertly practise their faith is often taxing on families. Equipping these vulnerable believers is a critical focus for Voice of the Martyrs.

Although the population of Turkey is less than 2% Christian, it is a refuge for Christians fleeing countries such as Iran, Iraq and Syria, where Islamic extremism is rife.

While recently visiting Turkey, we met with Iranian Christians who have fled the oppression in their country, whose primary aim is to return and share the Gospel. Many we met and prayed with, are preparing to go back to Iran as pastors and evangelists. They are praying for the fall of the current regime as it will allow them the opportunity to return home and share what God has done for them and share the Gospel there.

Fellow believers, at Voice of the Martyrs we are unwavering in supporting and equipping the persecuted minority Christians in Turkey. As always, this action is only possible with your faithful prayer and financial support.

VOM is helping believers in Turkey in the following ways:

  • We supply Bibles in local dialects.
  • We support and encourage persecuted children by funding Christian camps.
  • We provide resources including God’s Word to Christians who have sought refuge in Turkey.

To support projects in Turkey go to vom.com.au/donate

Blessings

Tony Benjamin
CEO

 

 

Muslim Convert Framed and Forced to Flee

Muslim Convert Framed and Forced to Flee

Amin was a new Christian when he was forced to flee Iran after the company he worked for framed him and demanded he deny his faith.

Amin and his wife Ghazal (both Muslim) were living and working in Iran when their life changed dramatically in just a few short months. Amin worked in construction and had just begun a new contract with a Christian man named Rudy.

At the time, Amin recalls that he was in a bad way, addicted to drugs like many of his workers and treating the people around him poorly, cursing and swearing at his employees.

“Because of the career, many construction workers [in Iran] are drug addicts. I was also an addict and I got worse. I couldn’t go a day without drugs.”

Rudy would often see him in this situation and try to calm him down, and spent months trying to befriend him.

“He would calm me down and tell me about how badly I was treating the workers. It made me upset but I knew he was telling the truth.”

One day, about six months after they first began work together, both men were working back late in the office and Rudy asked if he could pray for Amin, and he agreed.

“It was new for me and it was different to the way Muslims prayed,” Amin recalls. “He spoke with such easy words and it touched me. It shook me.”

Rudy prayed, “this person is Your child and You have big plans for him”.

“I didn’t know what it meant but these words stuck out in my mind,” Amin said.

The friendship between the two men grew and soon Rudy gave Amin printed sections of the Bible, which he read whenever he had time. Rudy wasn’t able to give him the entire Bible, as it’s illegal for Christians to preach to Muslims in Iran.

About six weeks later, after praying together, Amin accepted Christ as his Saviour.

Shortly after,the personnel of the company Amin worked for noticed that he slowed down in attending prayer and religious activities and became suspicious. A ranking military officer with the government owned the company and most employees were related to him in some way, except Amin. They began monitoring him and eventually gained access to his computer and found a document containing a passage of the Bible.

Amin was immediately fired, arrested and interrogated for three days. He was released when an employee vouched for him but a court date was set and he was told he would need to return.

The company had withheld the last four months of his pay and commission and lured him to the office to force him to sign a blank piece of paper and regretting statement.

He soon found out that the company was intent on framing him and their goal was to send him to jail.  He would be charged for ‘evangelising’ and was advised by his family to leave Iran. He fled to Turkey immediately.

“The truth is my heart was in my throat and I just prayed. I truly gave our life to God and had to trust that He had everything in His hands.”

At the time, his wife Ghazal was confused and she wanted no part in his newfound faith. Despite this and the opposition from her family, she joined Amin four months later with their two daughters. The evening she arrived in Turkey, Amin once again told her about Jesus and this time she accepted Him.

“When I was away from him it was hard. Everything was different and when I came to Turkey, I don’t know how but something changed inside me,” Ghazal says.

They’re now both serving with 222 Ministries in Turkey who work with and support fleeing Iranian Christians, and feel free for the very first time.

“Even though I read the Bible and became a Christian in Iran, I became a true Christian in Turkey. Here we truly know God, we feel Him.

“God’s work is light and He does everything he says He’ll do. He keeps His promises. I even said it’s impossible for my wife to become a Christian and that God would need to work on her heart and the same night she arrived, He did.”

Amin and Ghazal are now ministering together through worship and plan to continue to do so as part of large events with 222 Ministries. They even plan on returning to Iran one day to share Jesus.

If you would like to financially support the work of Voice of the Martyrs, please go to: vom.com.au/donate

Mahrous’s story

Mahrous’s story

Turks are expected to be Muslim – a conviction that’s fostered by the government in a ploy to consolidate power. Most are proudly Muslim and hold the faith as a core part of their nationalist identity, even if they aren’t devout.

There are approximately 7,000 Turkish national evangelical Christians, most of whom are converts from Islam. Believers are heavily persecuted by their families, neighbours and employers.

In addition to this, it is estimated that around 30,000 Christian refugees are registered with the UNHCR office in Ankara, Turkey. Most have fled violence, unrest and persecution in the Middle East. Registration allows the refugees to receive a very basic level of medical treatment free in government-run hospitals; however for serious cases, refugees need to turn to private hospitals which costs more than they can afford.

Refugees have no rights related to work and most find jobs that pay a third of the going rate. Employers often take advantage of Christian refugees in particular, including non-payment for work done. With the recent decline in the value of the Turkish lira, it has become increasingly difficult for refugees to find work. Christian refugees are struggling, they are concerned about their future and are wondering what they should do.

Mahrous is an Assyrian Christian from Iraq. When he was 19 years old – during the Iran-Iraq war, he was imprisoned in Iran for 12 years. He says, “Sunni prisoners were treated badly, but Christians were treated even worse. They told me I was unclean and tried to force me to convert to Shia Islam. During the week, it was very hot, they took me outside and tortured me. They told me, ‘if you want to be free you have to change your religion.’  Even if I die for it, I will never change my religion. I praise God for my faith. It’s hard to believe I was freed. There was no explanation, but one day I was taken to the Iraqi border and dumped there.

“Eventually I found work in a shop, but life was hard. I was told, ‘You are Christian, and this is a Muslim country. You shouldn’t live in this country.’ My Christian brother was captured and held hostage and we had to sell our home to buy his freedom. When ISIS came to Mosul, which is a Christian area, we were forced to leave and come to Turkey.

“It’s hard to find work as a refugee and wages are very low, thank God we just make ends meet.”

Many believers, particularly Christian leaders, came to Turkey because they were persecuted for their Christian faith in Iran. Some have been in Turkey for more than seven years and were accepted into the US resettlement program. However, in 2017 the US administration stopped all those in process.

Voice of the Martyrs is working with our partner in Turkey to provide resources and God’s word to Christians who have sought refuge in Turkey.

If you would like to financially support the work of Voice of the Martyrs, please go to: vom.com.au/donate

A Church in Every City

A Church in Every City

Ninety-nine percent of Turkey’s 80 million citizens are Muslim, while a mere 7,000 are thought to be evangelical Christians. Among that tiny minority is a man named Baris Ozturk, who lost both his family and source of income when he left Islam and dedicated his life to sharing Jesus with the people of Turkey.

It was an ordinary workday when Baris found the Bible a woman had placed in his electronics store.

As a devout Muslim, he prayed five times a day and met with other Muslims every Friday night for discussions about the Koran. He had come to the United States from Turkey to pursue a master’s degree, and after completing his degree he had stayed in the US to work. Baris managed several successful electronics stores and led a comfortable life with his wife and two sons.

However, when Baris found the Bible in his store, he felt compelled to pick it up and take a look at its teachings. He was immediately and deeply touched by Jesus’ words in the Gospel of John, particularly chapters 13 to 18. “Here is the Last Supper speech,” he said. “[Jesus] lays out everything: where he comes from, miracles, what the disciples need to expect, the Holy Spirit, why His blood was shed, everything.”

Like many other Muslims who are drawn to Christ, Baris began to have visions as he explored Christianity. In one, Jesus was revealed as the Creator God, and in another Baris sensed His inexplicable love. After several weeks of prayer and study, Baris knelt down to profess his faith in Jesus.

When he told his wife he had become a Christian, her response was immediate and unyielding; she demanded a divorce, took their sons and left for Turkey.

Christians are Crazy
Though devastated by his wife’s rejection and loss of his sons, Baris was still determined to tell his brother about his newfound faith during a visit to Turkey. But his brother’s only response was to escort him to a doctor the next day. Expecting a half-hour visit in which he would have an opportunity to share his faith, he was instead admitted to a psychiatric hospital and medicated with psychotropic drugs.

After two weeks and several meetings with hospital leadership, Baris finally persuaded them that leaving Islam for Christianity didn’t mean he was crazy. Still, in the divorce proceedings, his wife used his stay in the psychiatric hospital as evidence that he wasn’t a fit parent.

While Baris knew that his parents would view leaving Islam as a betrayal of the family, he still wanted to meet with them in person to tell them about his vision and faith in Jesus. They reacted much as he had expected. When his dad threatened to disown him, Baris told him, “You can even kill me and I won’t change my mind.” His mother fainted.

In 2015, Baris moved back to Turkey and filed for part-time custody of his sons. At one of his court appearances, his former brother-in-law confronted him in the street, cursing and beating him. “How dare you come here,” he yelled. “This guy is a missionary, and he cursed Mohammad!” he exclaimed to the many Muslims walking to and from Friday prayers. Such accusations can have serious consequences in Turkey, where missionaries are sometimes wrongfully assumed to have political agendas.

During another court appearance, Baris’s former father-in-law punched him in the face inside the courtroom. At first Baris considered pressing charges to help his custody case, but he didn’t feel at peace about it. “Jesus said, ‘If they hit your right cheek, give them your left cheek’,” he said.

The court eventually awarded Baris the right to visit his sons, but his ex-wife often makes excuses, changes plans or skips the visits altogether. Baris tries to see them as often as he can, but he thinks their mother has turned them away from him.

Working for the Lord
When he returned to Turkey, Baris began helping an organisation that distributes Christian materials and connects interested Turks with local Christians. After many years focused on growing a business for personal gain, his priorities have changed. “I want to work for the Lord,” he said. Each week, he and his team distribute Bibles to people throughout Turkey who have requested them. They also visit new believers and those who have asked questions about Christianity.

There are 80 cities in Turkey with populations larger than 100,000. Forty of those cities do not have an evangelical church and some do not have even one known believer. Baris sees a critical need for a church in every city, explaining that when Turks come to Christ they are often alone. “When they are alone, it is really hard to remain in the faith,” he said.

He nurtures some of the believers over the Internet so they don’t feel so alone. “They need to come to a level where they can stand alone,” he said. “The ministry requires constant work and prayers.”

The Internet provides Turks with a venue for asking questions they might not feel comfortable asking someone they know. Many have general questions about why there is evil in the world and why God doesn’t intervene in painful situations. Baris is able to empathise by sharing his own story of family rejection and separation from his sons.

Live chats are especially effective; people can ask questions and get an immediate response from Baris or a co-worker, followed by a deeper discussion about faith. In one six-month period, 40 people placed their faith in Christ. “We have people coming to Christ on the phone and on the live chats,” he said.

Turkey’s cultural allegiance to Islamic values has made it a historically challenging place for Christians and recent political changes have made it even more difficult. Following a 2016 coup attempt, the government placed the country under a state of emergency that lasted two years. And its current leadership appears to be more influenced by Islamic ideology than the previous government. “We have to be careful,” Baris said.

Despite the increased risk, Baris remains committed to his work for the Lord. He continues to train new believers, respond to questions online and stay involved at his local church, many of whose members are former Muslims. His church has also planted three house churches.

Baris lost the love of his family and gave up his businesses but in return he has gained purpose on earth and eternal life in heaven by placing his trust in the truth of Jesus. Now, he wants everyone in Turkey to have the opportunity to hear that life-giving truth and come to faith in Christ.

If you would like to financially support the work of Voice of the Martyrs, please go to: vom.com.au/donate

Christian Camp Embraces Children in Turkey

Christian Camp Embraces Children in Turkey

Most Turks are proudly Muslim and hold the faith as a core part of their nationalist identity, even if they aren’t devout. Christians are heavily persecuted by their families, neighbours and employers. Though freedom of religion is legally protected, the laws are not enforced. Christian refugees are often forced to live in small villages or urban slums. They endure hunger, persecution, and labour exploitation during the long wait for resettlement.

Amidst this opposition, Pastor Ibrahim organises children’s camps and creates publications to help the children of Turkey learn about Jesus using the Bible. The camps are called Kucak, meaning embrace.

Recently, two brothers, Ahmet and Mehmet came to one of the camps. They have been attending a church for 6-7 years, where they take part in weekly activities for children. Their parents are not believers and do not go to church. These boy’s parents are not educated and do not know how to relate to Ahmet and Mehmet. The brothers face verbal and physical abuse. The camp gave the boys an opportunity to learn more about the love of Jesus. Please pray for their spiritual, physical and emotional safety and health.

Havva and Can are siblings who also attended the camp. Their father is a believer, but their mother is not. The children were unsure about the Gospel when they arrived at camp but praise God, His love and grace opened their hearts and they came to trust in Him. After the camp was over their maternal uncle heard they had participated in a Christian camp and was very upset. May God give the family, especially the father, strength and wisdom. May the children’s faith in Christ take deep root.

Zeynep is the young daughter of a refugee family. At first, she cried at great deal and said she was ill. The camp organisers quickly learned she was not ill but starving for love and care. They also learned that she and her family are required to live in a container facility. During the camp, this young lady also trusted in Christ. Please pray for her and her family and their future. We do not know where they will be sent but we know the Lord will be with them.

If you would like to financially support the work of Voice of the Martyrs, please go to: https://vom.com.au/donate