by Reagan Hoezee, from Christian Aid Mission
Mission Network News
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 added, 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...”