Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Turkish Mall Scraps Plans for Jewish, Christian Prayer Rooms After ‘Attacks’

A recently opened furniture mall in western Turkey scrapped plans to open separate prayer rooms for Jews and Christians over a series of “intolerant attacks,” Turkey’s Hurriyet newspaper reported on Friday.
Haluk Ozbek, founder of the Mobiliyum AVM furniture emporium in the Inegol district about 155 miles south of Istanbul, said original plans sought to make the mall a global attraction.
“But we have been subject to ugly and incomprehensible attacks” over the inclusion of Christian and Jewish worship rooms, in addition to the mosque that was constructed.
“Mobiliyum AVM has been exposed to ugly attacks via the media as well as by action. We have decided to reverse our decision to open prayer rooms, as we have lacked support from democratic circles against these attacks,” said Ozbek, in a statement published by Hurriyet.
He also told the newspaper that the attacks were caused by a lack of tolerance.


A large rally in Istanbul demanded the government change the historic Hagia Sophia church, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, into a mosque. The Humanitarian Relief Foundation (İHH) led the rally through the Sultanahmet district.
Many people carried signs that said, “Hagia Sophia needs to be reopened as a mosque” and “Let our lives be sacrificed for Islam.”
The idea to change the church into a mosque begun to gain momentum in April after Pope Francis recognized the slaying of 1.5 million Armenians as genocide. Liam Deacon at Breitbart London chronicled the history of Hagia Sophia. The Ottoman Empire did convert the church into a mosque in 1453. After the empire fell, the new Turkish government transformed it into a secular museum.
“Frankly, I believe that the Pope’s remarks will only accelerate the process for Hagia Sophia to be reopened for [Muslim] worship,” Professor Hizli, a senior government cleric,said in a written statement on April 15th.
He decried the Pope’s comments as a “modern reflection of the crusader wars launched in these lands for centuries,” and suggested that Turkey’s role as a “standard bearer” for the Muslim world provoked criticism from non-Muslims.
The latest blow was using the church to celebrate Islam during Easter holy week.
“The historic Istanbul cathedral and museum, Hagia Sophia, witnessed its first Quran recitation under its roof after 85 years Saturday,” reported the Anatolian News Agency of Turkey. “The Religious Affairs Directorate launched the exhibition ‘Love of Prophet,’ as part of commemorations of the birth of Islamic Prophet Muhammad.”

Friday, May 22, 2015

Church Plant in Turkey Seeks to Sidestep Dangers

First century churches in what is now modern Turkey met mostly in homes, but Christians in the country today find they run more risks meeting in their living space than in public buildings.
A Turkish pastor said Christians in towns along the Black Sea coast cannot meet in their apartments without raising suspicions from Muslim neighbors. In Samsun, in what was once the Roman province of Pontus to which the Apostle Peter addressed believers in 1 Peter 1:1, Pastor Matta (full name withheld for security reasons) and a colleague planted a church 13 years ago as they were simultaneously seeking to plant churches in Ordu and other towns along the Black Sea coast.
When they began making trips to Ordu, 93 miles east of Samsun, to disciple former Muslims, Pastor Matta and a colleague initially ministered primarily in parks. Turks are highly relational, conversational and hospitable, Pastor Matta said, but the same relational bent that opens opportunities for gospel proclamation also makes it hard for those who have embraced Christ to meet for worship among their Muslim neighbors. Far from the isolated, private space of many Western nations, apartment homes in Turkey are a tightly woven neighborhood tapestry.
In a country where many see Christians as foreign spies or national traitors, that can be a problem for forming house fellowships.
"There's a great fear of small groups in homes – they are always under suspicion of nasty things developing that will damage the community," Pastor Matta said. "Anyone with a different message is considered a foreigner and doesn't easily fit in. If they have Bible studies in their homes, they lose their jobs, the families reject them, and there's the risk that the children would be dismissed from their schools."
Schools in Turkey have been known to invent technicalities as grounds for expelling students whose parents have been found to have left Islam. With a population of just under 196,000, Ordu is a small city where it is difficult to be anonymous, Pastor Matta said. Thankfully, he said, new Christians there have no qualms about attending worship meetings in a public space.
"The reason we had to rent a place to meet is that many of the believers couldn't just invite us to their homes," he said. "We noticed a lot of interest in learning about the gospel message, but lots of fear of having us tell them in their homes. We ministered mostly in the parks, away from their homes, but in the winter time, that's impossible due to the cold weather."
The fellowship has grown to 31 people, mostly Iranian refugees, along with eight Turks, one Armenian with Turkish citizenship and three Georgians. Pastor Matta visits the Ordu church once a week to preach and develop a local leader to preside over the fellowship. He also travels weekly to Amasya and Sinop to preach Christ.

In Ordu, he and his co-worker made initial contacts through responses to his church website and by offering New Testaments in newspaper ads.
"When addresses came to us, we would visit them," he said. "We would ask God to help turn the conversation to His truth. As we prayed before visiting, the answer would come as God put us with interested people."

Turkey: new Christian TV channel makes the news

The recent launch of SAT-7 TÜRK, the latest addition to SAT-7's now five-strong stable of Christian satellite TV stations broadcasting across the Middle East, has achieved wall-to-wall coverage across the Turkish broadcast and print media.
The SAT-7 TÜRK website also received well over extra 100,000 visits after a prime-time interview on CNN Türk (12 May). 
CNN Türk was the first to invite SAT-7 TÜRK Executive Director Melih Ekener onto its news show and the story was followed up by TV news channel KANAL D and three national newspapers.

CNN asked Mr Ekener why SAT-7 was established in Turkey and what programmes it broadcast. He answered that SAT-7 was already a major satellite network broadcasting across the Middle East, so a station in Turkey was a logical next step.

"For 2000 years Christians have lived in the region," Ekener explained, "but in more recent times, this culture has disappeared and many of these people have left. SAT-7's aim is to explain the Christian faith in the region and to give a voice to the Christians that still live here."

CNN viewers heard how programmes included special church services, worship and teaching, as well as Christian-themed films, documentaries, weekly news and lifestyle shows.

Conscious of the suspicions Christians often face in Turkey, Melih said, "A lot of things are said about the Christian faith and the Christian minority but SAT-7 TÜRK is a place where Christians can correct the misunderstandings that exist about the Christian faith, answer the questions and address the curiosity people have. We want to show that we are just normal people and television is a good vehicle for doing this!"
At the same time, he said, "It also seeks to encourage Christians who feel isolated, for example, by enabling them to watch a worship service on Sunday morning and hear teaching from their favourite pastors and teachers."

Melih added that the opportunity to broadcast SAT-7 TÜRK is a very positive sign that "things in Turkey are changing as we develop and progress our democratic values. This might have been a little slow in coming, but it is happening. Our channel is a step forward – a good step."

After the interview, Melih commented: "I was very pleased that the tone was neither hostile nor sarcastic". Since SAT-7 TÜRK began broadcasting on 14 February, Valentine's Day, he said the channel itself has experienced hardly any negative feedback.

"Although we are a Christian station we hope to appeal across religious and ethnic divides, being a focus to bring unity, love and peace to Turkey".