Thank you for praying for my trip to Turkey. Along with the leadership of the European Baptists, our objective was to assess the situation of the refugees in Turkey and determine how we could support the Turkish Baptist churches as they respond to the humanitarian needs as part of their witness to the Gospel.
The Turkish Baptists are the newest members of the global Baptist family with four churches, having been formed as a convention only two years ago. Since then they have planted three new congregations. All the churches are predominantly believers from Turkish Muslim backgrounds. Some of churches have additional congregations for refugees from Iran, Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan – almost all of them from Muslim backgrounds. Right from the beginning, the churches have been responding to the needs of the refugees with the limited resources that they are able to access.
In a city near the Syrian border the small church of 24 members has been responding to the needs of the thousands of refugees in their cities. We visited one of the informal settlements where the church has been providing food and hygiene items and praying with those in need. Due to government restrictions they are unable to do evangelism or distribute literature. In many of the families the men were back in Syria while the families are seeking safety in Turkey. Some of the children showed burn scars and shrapnel wounds from having survived bomb explosions and rocket attacks, while they told of others who had been killed. Most of the children were not in school because they needed to work to help the family. Infants did not have diapers or enough food as many of the mothers were unable to breastfeed due to the stress and trauma they had experienced. While visiting refugee families living in apartments, it was discouraging to see the very poor, unhygienic and run down conditions of the apartments. In some of them 2-3 families were squeezed into one apartment so that they could together pay the rent, otherwise they would not be able to afford it.
It was a surreal feeling to be in one of these informal settlements as every once in a while heavily loaded military planes would take off from the airbase a few kilometers away and scream overhead on their bombing runs inside Syria. The reality of the conflict was made all the more real.
In another city we were able to witness a food distribution that the Baptist church in that city was doing. Unfortunately, in spite of good planning and security arrangements, a near riot broke out instigated by some troublemakers. It was heart breaking to see some young mothers with children receive nothing because the distribution had to be stopped. It brought home the reality of how desperate many of the refugees are.
Yet in the midst of the overwhelming sense of desperation and need, we saw evidence of God at work. One woman spoke about experiencing kindness from Christians in her hometown in Syria. They had fled to Turkey after rockets destroyed their home and their business, and they had lost everything. And now because Christians had again helped them in their time of need when nobody else cared, she asked for a Bible in Arabic. She and her family were so hungry to talk to someone about Christ and know more about Him.
In another city on the Black Sea coast, the Baptist church is the only church of any denomination for hundreds of kilometers around. While most missionaries have found this region very hard soil to minister in, the Turkish believers in this church have now planned three other churches in the area. This small church of about 30 Turkish believers also hosts a congregation of 80 Iranian refugees, all from Muslim backgrounds. We had the privilege of participating in the baptism of three Iranians from Muslim backgrounds in the Black Sea as they publically proclaimed that they were now followers or Christ.
I came away with a confusing mix of emotions. The refugees we met were among the poorest of the Syrian refugees. They don’t have the money to go to Europe. Their only hope is that the war would end so that they could return home. Their stories are heartbreaking, and their suffering so visible. I felt sickened as this is not the way God intended this world to be. Yet in the midst of the darkness we saw the presence and reality of God. He truly is Immanuel – God who is with His creation – He has not abandoned them.
We are in the midst of historic changes in Europe and the Middle East. The German Baptist Union reported that over 700 Iranian Muslims had been baptized in Baptist churches just this past year. Baptist churches in Norway, Sweden, Finland, Austria, Netherlands, and Croatia are being transformed and renewed spiritually as they show compassion to the refugees. In a continent where it was assumed that Christianity had died, we are seeing new life in the Church as never before. Most acknowledge that this is a move of the Holy Spirit.
I am reminded of a quote by Alan Kreider, the church historian. He describes the persecution and oppression that the early Christians faced. At times it was so severe that they had to meet in secret. Yet in the midst of that, Kreider writes
“Rumors that God was present in Christian gatherings may have also attracted outsiders to investigate Christianity.” This is exactly what we are seeing today in many churches across Europe and the Middle East. The refugees are seeing the reality of God in the midst of His people, causing them to want to know this God.
You have been partners in our ministry here and previously in Lebanon and you have a stake in what God is doing. We are grateful for you walking with us.
- The European Baptists would be able to secure the resources to enable the Turkish Baptist churches to continue to respond to the needs of refugees as part of their witness to the Gospel. For wisdom on how I should continue to mentor the team there.
- Continue to prayer for Baptist churches across Europe as they help the refugees in the face of growing hatred towards foreigners. Pray that they would be able to demonstrate the reality of the Kingdom of God as they try to live in obedience to God and His Word
About Rupen & Mamta Das
Rupen and Mamta were appointed by CBM in 2009 to serve in Lebanon. At the beginning of 2015 they were reassigned to work with CBM’s partner, the European Baptist Federation (EBF) based in Amsterdam, where Rupen serves as a consultant for Mission and Development. As part of his role with EBF, Rupen is on the faculty of the International Baptist Theological Study Centre (IBTSC) where he teaches in the area of missions. Mamta has a background in teaching and with home schooling their children when they lived in remote locations.