Our Team met the evening of May 13th for a wonderful buffet dinner of Turkish cuisine and orientation at the Radisson Blue Hotel in Istanbul. We were welcomed at orientation and introduced to those teams that would spend the next several days in various areas of Turkey, connecting with and praying for the people of Turkey. We were encouraged to (1) Not have a spirit of fear, (2) Be sensitive to the voice of the Holy Spirit, and (3) Keep our conversations with each other about Jesus and proclaiming Him as Lord. Our Team of consisted of Rhodie and Mark Fisher, Susan Kunzler, Yuko Hayashi, Peter Kim, Valerie Bowman, and the pastor, Joshua Kim of Kastamonu.
May 14th we got up for an early breakfast at the hotel and caught the airport shuttle from Istanbul to Kastamonu airport where we were greeted by Pastor Joshua, his wife Sevgi, and teenage children (Yaegin and Yaechin). Our van and driver met us and we arrived at the church where we were to stay for the duration of our visit. We gathered in the main sanctuary to get acquainted with one another and read God’s word from Ephesians 3:14-21. Pastor Joshua and family were in Istanbul until 2014 but had a heart for the unreached areas so came to Kastamonu to plant a church. They currently have 5 refugee families as well as a Turkish family and some Turkish students, approximately 30 for worship on Sunday. Prior to starting the church they worshiped in one another’s homes. We spent time in prayer giving thanks for our safety in travel, for the Kim family being here to start the church, and thanks in advance for what He has in store for us for the next 5 days. Pastor Joshua discussed the spiritual situation in the Black Seas area when they came. There are 16 provinces in the Black Sea area with only 6 churches or fellowships. We prayed that there would be a church in each of the 81 province in Turkey and a gospel in every home. There is a great need for more teams and folks with God’s kingdom passion to come and stay to reach these other areas. Apart from Sundays they come together 2 ½ days during the rest of the week. This Sunday there will be a baptism. We will visit with some of the refugee families and go to Karabuk where there are some students and an older woman believer who is developing a fellowship. There is a great need for prayer for this region and for the whole country and prayer that national believers will step out in faith to plant new churches. We were given our room assignments in the upstairs of the church. After a quick bite to eat we began to go out in the city to visit the 5 refugee families.
The first family we visited was the Abdullah family daughters while Ali and Fatima were at work. The girls were Eli (21), Lela (14), Nuella (11) and Esther (6) and have been here about 3 months. They are a Kurdish Christian family. Many of them were baptized in Iraq and Eli was involved in teaching Sunday school. The parents earn the equivalent of about $10.00 a day each working about 13hours a day but their hours are often cut. They pay about $100.00 per month for 2 bedrooms with minimal bathroom. Showering and laundry are done at the church. They need a better place to live that does not have bugs. The youngest girls were sent out of Iraq to Ankara to be with a Christian family and were followed by their older sister, and then their parents. The church helped them get settled with blankets, food, shoes, and medicines but cannot help with money. They shared tea with us as we talked and we prayed for their needs and particularly for Eli who has a skin condition. Market cards were given to them to buy food and clothing.
The next family we met was Shemar (37), Alene (31), Shoal (8), and Cezar (3). They came here from Northern Iraq and have been here for 2 years. Because they were Christian they were pursued by ISIS and Shemar realized that if anything happened to him there was no one to care for his family so they fled the fighting. They moved here with no job, no language skill, to a different culture where they are anxious for the future. They are to go to Hamilton, a city in eastern Canada, but are caught up with paper work that has them stalled. $25,000.00 has been paid by an older Canadian priest (who speaks perfect Kurdish) for them to come there. A Kurdish church is in that area. They were to go in January or February but are now hoping to go by June. They are emotionally exhausted by what they’ve been through as well as the waiting. Their children have been traumatized by the by the shelling that they left in Iraq. The daughter has problems with her teeth but they have not seen a dentist for 4 to 5 years. They were one of the first families that helped to form the church in Kastamonu and have helped do translation for other refugees who have fled. Shemal did photo editing and is a talented musician playing the guitar, flute, and native drums. He has some of his music on Utube under Shamal Rasw. Aleen, the mother, has problems with her pancreas and stomach and has lost about 20 Kilos. He is disappointed that there are so many mosques but only 1 church. He will never forget those in Iraq, Korea, and America that helped them along the way. As we prayed for the family they asked that we pray for ISIS and how they have hurt the Kurds. They got news today that one family had been burned by ISIS. It is hard for the refugee families and Turks to worship together when they feel Turks are supporting ISIS.
After praying with these families we walked up to the top of a hill to Kastamonu castle and prayed over the city.
We next stopped at the home of Yade, Througha, Yara, and Sasan , another Kurdish family from Norther Iraq. Througha will be baptized tomorrow at the church. Yade was a government worker with the ministry of trade and industry. He is now selling groceries and has been here 3 months. They have official refugee status and are waiting to go anywhere there is no Islam. He lost his job yesterday and found out from a friend that he was fired because he is a Christian. He was an atheist in Iraq but on facebook he connected with a guy who left a post and later he found out he was a Christian Pastor. They argued about spiritual things and he almost came to faith. He had a chocking problem and was healed as the pastor prayed for him so then came to faith. He met and married his wife in the second year of her university but did not tell her or her family that he was a Christian. He spoke to her continually about the lies of Islam and about Jesus. She wondered why he was talking against Islam. He continued to share and several of his friends and wife came to faith. His wife was a nominal Muslim before. She was struggling with her faith when they left Iraq but came to faith about 6 months ago. She only speaks Kirmanji. They left Iraq for freedom to worship but find out it’s not any better here. They are looked down on because they are Kurdish, Christians, and refugees. There are not many better opportunities in other cities they visited. They first came here on a tourist VISA and in 8 years can get a permanent green card. We prayed for this family. We prayed that they could get out of the country as soon as possible. They have had 4 required meeting with the UN and the next meeting is in 2023. They hope there are other opportunities but there are passport and money issues.
After our visits with these families we ate a wonderful Turkish meal at a nearby restaurant.
We then went to visit another family from Northern Iraq. Shewa, a leader of a church in Iraq, and his family, Rupar, Rania, and Shahan. When Pastor Joshua comes back from his long overdue trip to Korea, they need to decide what to do about worship i.e. do they have 2 services. There is the discomfort of the Kurds worshiping with the Turks but will a division take away from the church? Are the Kurds strong enough to have their own church? They need to pray for and encourage unity and find ways to serve one another and a growing church community. There is not a need now for two senior pastors. Pastor Joshua wants to plant the church and bring up a strong Turkish or Kurdish pastor to take over. This family currently has a home that has been given to them rent free. They are seeking sponsors from other countries that will take their family. They have had the 4 UN interviews and are hoping to hear something in the near future. Shewan is looking for work and has been doing brick work. He hurt his back and has had surgery so can no longer do that kind of work. His wife also had female surgery and is still healing. Their youngest son has juvenile diabetes, ADD, and hearing problems. Shewan and his two sons have stuttering problems. They are thankful to be here and pray that God will take way all their hurts. We spent time in prayer with this family and prayed that there would be healing from all their past suffering.
We then went to another family, Ahmet, Pirvin, and Barobod. This couple met in Iran. His father was from Afghanistan but they were living in Iraq. Her family was from Afghanistan. Since she married a Christian and an outsider from her country the marriage was not recognized. She will need to serve a year and a half prison sentence if she returns to Afghanistan and even then her brother may harm her for dishonoring the family. They do not have a marriage certificate or a birth certificate for their son. Their refugee status shows that the son was born in Afghanistan but he was actually born in Iraq. Without a birth certificate their son cannot enter school. They want to move to a place where their son can get an education. His wife has suffered with asthma for 2 years and cost of medications per month is $35.00 with a prescription and $50.00 without, which amounts to 2 days of work. Before they stayed connected to the church with Utube in Farsi but now have the church where they can pray together with others. Shewan was the person who brought them to faith. They want to renew their public profession of Christ in a baptism here under Pastor Joshua, but don’t want to cause any conflict with Shewan. He is working in a machine shop but formerly designed shoes. We prayed for them when we left.
Each of the families we visited received vouchers that could be used for food and clothing. The church helps as it can to meet other needs such as medical and medicine. When we returned to the church we talked about what we had seen that day and prayed. Tomorrow we will get up and have breakfast at the church and then practice the songs we will sing for worship and the baptism.
On Sunday as we gathered for a hearty breakfast at the church. We all looked rested and were beginning to get over jet lag. A swimming pool was being filled for the baptism. Susan brought a necklace that had Christian symbols without the cross to give to Througha as a baptism gift. We went into the worship area and practiced the music we would sing. Peter would be giving the sermon this morning in Korean with Pastor Joshua translating into Turkish. His sermons was from Matthew 7:13, the narrow gate. The worship was filled with song and praises with families and active children moving about. The baptism took place in the basement fellowship area. Many participated in the reading of scripture. There was her confession of faith translated by her husband, and then full submersion in the pool with Pastor Joshua and Peter on each side. There were celebratory shouts and clapping as she came out of the water. Gift and acknowledgements were given from those present. A reception of breads and drink were offered afterward.
As the pool was being emptied there were times of gathering. Our team went back to the worship area to pray with some of the Turkish families. One couple, Yashan and Nezla, had moved back to this area from Istanbul. He had been working with a moving company. It was difficult to find work and they had to surrender their daughter to a neighbor family in Istanbul as they could not afford to keep her. They have a son who is living with them. She is from Bulgaria and does decorative painting. He also is a talented artist and did a picture of Jesus (The Good Shepherd) holding a lamb. Despite their impoverished state they brought a lovely flower for Througha on her baptism. There were also two Turkish girls who were students, Sheman and Duglu, who had come to the worship as seekers. We had opportunity to pray with all of them.
There was time after the service to do some clean up and laundry. We went out afterward to a nice family restaurant for more wonderful Turkish food. We came back to the church to pray, discuss what God was showing us, and get the next day’s directions. We felt that our visit with these refugee families allowed them to know they were import enough for us to come and that they are not invisible. There was opportunity to talk with Yaegin about his future.
After a nights rest we rose early for breakfast and left by van and driver to Karabuk and Saffronopolo. Susan gave each of us a prayer card with God’s names to consider as we moved through the coming day. We arrived at Karabuk which is a college town of 60,000 students. The industry in that area is steel and iron. Pastor Joshua explained that the government is building as mosque on every campus and there is at least one university in each province of the country. These universities bring revenues to those provinces. Education is highly regarded and Turkish universities are #1 in the surrounding areas of the Middle East. He mentioned there is great need for student housing in these university areas.
We prayer walked in the city with two Christian students Hassan and Isaac. They are currently sharing an apartment but desire to study theology and become leaders of churches in Turkey. We prayer walked through the city and then went to the highest point of the city to pray over Karabuk. There we met Fatima who is a 63 year old woman who is the first believer in this city and disciples these students. Her fellowship is the first church here. Her husband divorced her and her children have abandoned her because of her conversion. We took a bus with them to Saffronpolo to continue prayer walking and enjoy lunch and conversation together. Afterward we went to the student’s home for more conversation and tea. Isaac will graduate in February and has been studying psychology and engineering but wants to do a master’s program out of the country, possibly in England. Next month he will travel to Israel for a week. Hassan wants to study theology but that won’t happen in this country. He is currently studying English and literature. He has 9 siblings and desires for his whole family to come to faith. We spent time praying with these young men and Fatima.
That evening Sevgi prepared a wonderful feast of Korean food which we enjoyed at their home. Their son will finish School June 7th and is looking towards other schools. He is doing on line studies and his parents don’t want him to hurry to fast in finishing his work so that he can be accepted by a school in Germany, which is his first choice. This year is important for his future so he wants to be accepted by the best school. IGA in Istanbul would be an alternative.
Their daughter is study on line as well but misses the fellowship and friendship of a regular school. She is now studying Spanish, which she hates. The family looks back on their time in Istanbul as a lovely time with happy memories with friends. The last two years have been good but more serious for them. The parent’s desire is for their children to grow into what Christ created them for. Things can sometimes go wrong and sometimes the hard work can give them too many burdens. They want their children to follow their own calling and not necessarily their parents. They will be returning to Korean after being away for 4 years and are looking forward to a good time with family and friends. It will be a time to refresh but also evaluate where they are heading. They were commissioned by a local church but there needs to be more partnerships and support. Pastor Joshua wants to turn over the church to local leadership. The job is physically draining and they are getting older. He has had stomach problems with cramps and is anxious about a lot of things. Their families have needs as Sevgi lost her father 2 years ago and her mother is now alone. She wishes she were there to help. Pastor Joshua lost his father as well and his mother also lives alone. Both mothers are in good health for now physically and spiritually. Often their expectations of themselves are too much as they feel they must constantly be doing something but soon get burned out. We spent the rest of the evening praying over the children first and then their parents.
The next Morning we got up early for breakfast trying to use up most of the leftovers in the refrigerator. We packed up our belongings and did clean up and laundry so as not to leave so much work for our host family. This is to be a travel day by Van to Ankara. As we arrived in Ankara we went to the top of the city to a Hittite Castle and prayed over the city. We then settled into our hostel rooms and had a group meeting in our common area to reflect on and discuss our journey to this point. We prayer walked to dinner at Burger King and then had coffee at Starbucks. When we got back to the hostel we gathered in the common area to share our personal stories and journeys, praying for one another after our testimonies.
Susan has served in mission/evangelism departments with degrees in political science, international relations, and organizational leadership. She heads a nonprofit A-Squared Lamp Group to help build communities and ministries as well as connecting people, resources, and organizations. She is married and has one son. She has been a mobilizer for East Asia through her church and has had planned to come to Turkey but it has been a long time happening. With that interest in Turkey she came on this trip.
Yoko is currently a student in Anaheim and wants to study acupuncture and chiropractic medicine. She would like to stay in the US to study and continue to learn and practice the English language. She has a mother back in Japan who is alone and she worries about not being with her. She will take the Topper Exam in September and the score of that exam will determine where she will continue to study. There are not many churches in Japan and they are not very spiritual so she would like to continue her studies in the US.
Valerie grew up in Turkey and in 2011 felt called to go to the unreached Zazas in eastern Turkey. Since then she has made many trips into Zaza areas and when in the US shares her ministry to mobilize churches.
Rhodie and Mark have worked in ministry with Muslims. They met Susan when she asked them to come to speak about their ministry. They have been praying since then about coming to Turkey. They are at a point in their lives where they are waiting on the Lord’s call to see where they go next. For now they care for family members who need their support.
Peter Kim shared his burden for prayer, particularly for the next 4 days as we move into the UPM gathering. He has upcoming trips to Syria, Lebanon, and Turkey but hopes his wife (who is still in recovery from Lupus) can come with him. They also have a daughter being married when he returns home.
We departed to our rooms, a little sad to be moving from this bonded team, but eager to be heading to Cappadocia to a continued gathering of prayer. We were amazed at God’s hand in bringing our diverse group together but also the diverse gathering as we served in Pastor Joshua’s church. God’s presence was evident as we moved about meeting a persecuted community of believers. Despite their dire situations, they are trusting in his power to survive. It was an encouragement to know that their prayers are not in vain and they are not invisible to the world or Almighty God. His provision in keeping these refugee families intact and securing their salvation in the baptismal celebration was apparent. We saw His protection as He continues to reveal Himself through the students and older women we met. He continues to reach out and build His church. We marveled at His calling of Pastor Joshua and his family as they serve beyond human measure. They all stand in courage to trust the Lord they have proclaimed. God continues to weave the threads of mankind into a glorious Kingdom tapestry. The greater things we are to see described in John’s gospel are indeed happening. How wonderful that God shares the vision of His handwork to those of us who come alongside the work that is being done.