Wednesday, April 25, 2007

A Letter to the Global Church from the Protestant Church of Smyrna

I received this via email and was asked to pass it on to as many Christians as I could. I know I don't have a large readership but still thought it was important.

A Letter to the Global Church from the Protestant Church of Smyrna
Dear friends,
This past week has been filled with much sorrow. Many of you have heard by now of our devastating loss here in an event that took place in Malatya, a Turkish province 300 miles northeast of Antioch, the city where believers were first called Christians (Acts 11:26).

On Wednesday morning, April 18, 2007, 46 year-old German missionary and father of three,Tilman Geske, prepared to go to his office, kissing his wife goodbye, taking a moment to hug his son and give him the priceless memory, "Goodbye, son. I love you."

Tilman rented an office space from Zirve Publishing where he was preparing notes for the new Turkish Study Bible. Zirve was also the location of the Malatya Evangelist Church office. A ministry of the church, Zirve prints and distributes Christian literature to Malatya and nearby cities in Eastern Turkey. In another area of town, 35 year old Pastor Necati Aydin, father of two, said goodbye to his wife, leaving for the office as well. They had a morning Bible Study and prayer meeting that some other believers in town would also be attending. Ugur Yuksel, likewise, made his way to the Bible study.

None of these three men knew that what awaited them at the Bible study was the ultimate testing and application of their faith, which would conclude with their entrance into glory to receive their crown of righteousness from Christ and honor from all the saints awaiting them in the Lord's presence.

On the other side of town, ten young men all under 20 years-old put into place final arrangements for their ultimate act of faith, living out their love for Allah and hatred of infidels who they felt undermined Islam.

On Resurrection Sunday, five of these men had been to a by-invitation-only evangelistic service that Pastor Necati and his men had arranged at a hotel conference room in the city. The men were known to the believers as "seekers." No one knows what happened in the hearts of those men as they listened to the gospel. Were they touched by the Holy Spirit? Were they convicted of sin? Did they hear the gospel in their heart of hearts? Today we only have the beginning of their story.

These young men, one of whom is the son of a mayor in the Province of Malatya, are part of a tarikat, or a group of "faithful believers" in Islam. Tarikat membership is highly respected here; it's like a fraternity membership. In fact, it is said that no one can get into public office without membership in a tarikat. These young men all lived in the same dorm, all preparing for university entrance exams.

The young men got guns, bread-knives, ropes and towels ready for their final act of service to Allah. They knew there would be a lot of blood. They arrived in time for the Bible Study, around 10 o'clock.

They arrived and, apparently, the Bible Study began. Reportedly, after Necati read a chapter from the Bible the assault began. The boys tied Ugur, Necati, and Tilman's hands and feet to chairs and, as they videoed their work on their cellphones, they tortured our brothers for almost three hours.*

[*Details of the torture: I debated whether to include this. I decided not to, mostly because of young ones (and old ones), including my own, reading this. However, it was terrible and gruesome. If you would like to pass this email on and would like the details, please email me and I'll send you the full text.]

Neighbors in workplaces near the print-house said later they had heard yelling, but assumed the owners were having a domestic argument so they did not respond.

Meanwhile, another believer Gokhan and his wife had a leisurely morning. He slept in till 10, ate a long breakfast and finally around 12:30 he and his wife arrived at the office. The door was locked from the inside, and his key would not work. He phoned and, though it had connection on his end, he did not hear the phone ringing inside. He called cell phones of his brothers and finally Ugur answered his phone. "We are not at the office. Go to the hotel meeting. We are there. We will come there," he said cryptically. As Ugur spoke Gokhan heard in the telephone's background weeping and a strange snarling sound.

He phoned the police, and the nearest officer arrived in about five minutes. He pounded on the door, "Police, open up!" Initially the officer thought it was a domestic disturbance. At that point they heard another snarl and a gurgling moan. The police understood that sound as human suffering, prepared the clip in his gun, and tried over and over again to burst through the door. One of the frightened assailants unlocked the door for the policeman, who entered to find a grisly scene.

Tilman and Necati had been slaughtered, practically decapitated with their necks slit from ear to ear. Ugur's throat was likewise slit and he was barely alive.

Three assailants in front of the policeman dropped their weapons.

Meanwhile Gokhan heard a sound of yelling in the street. Someone had fallen from their third story office. Running down, he found a man on the ground, whom he later recognized, named Emre Gunaydin. He had massive head trauma and, strangely, was snarling. He had tried to climb down the drainpipe to escape, and losing his balance had plummeted to the ground. It seems that he was the main leader of the attackers. Another assailant was found hiding on a lower balcony.

To untangle the web we need to back up six years. In April 2001, the National Security Council of Turkey (Milli Guvenlik Kurulu) began to consider evangelical Christians as a threat to national security, on equal footing as Al Quaida and PKK terrorism. Statements made in the press by political leaders, columnists and commentators have fueled a hatred against missionaries who they claim bribe young people to change their religion.

After that decision in 2001, attacks and threats on churches, pastors and Christians began. Bombings, physical attacks, verbal and written abuse are only some of the ways Christians are being targeted. Most significant is the use of media propaganda.

From December 2005, after having a long meeting regarding the Christian threat, the wife of Former Prime Minister Ecevit, historian Ilber Ortayli, Professor Hasan Unsal, Politician Ahmet Tan and writer/propogandist Aytunc Altindal, each in their own profession began a campaign to bring the public's attention to the looming threat of Christians who sought to "buy their children's souls." Hidden cameras in churches have taken church service footage and used it sensationally to promote fear and antagonism toward Christianity.

In an official televised response from Ankara, the Interior Minister of Turkey smirked as he spoke of the attacks on our brothers. Amid public outrage and protests against the event and in favor of freedom of religion and freedom of thought, media and official comments ring with the same message, "We hope you have learned your lesson. We do not want Christians here."

It appears that this was an organized attack initiated by an unknown adult tarikat leader. As in the Hrant Dink murder in January 2007 and a Catholic priest, Andrea Santoro, in February 2006, minors are being used to commit religious murders because public sympathy for youth is strong and they face lower penalties than an adult convicted of the same crime. Even the parents of these children are in favor of the acts. The mother of the 16 year-old boy who killed the Catholic priest Andrea Santoro looked at the cameras as her son was going to prison and said, "He will serve time for Allah."

The young men involved in the killing are currently in custody. Today news reported that they would be tried as terrorists, so their age would not affect the strict penalty. Assailant Emre Gunaydin is still in intensive care. The investigation centers around him and his contacts, and they say it will fall apart if he does not recover.

The Church in Turkey responded in a way that honored God as hundreds of believers and dozens of pastors flew in as fast as they could to stand by the small church of Malatya and encourage the believers, take care of legal issues, and represent Christians to the media.
When Susanne Tilman expressed her wish to bury her husband in Malatya, the Governor tried to stop it, and when he realized he could not stop it, a rumor was spread that "it is a sin to dig a grave for a Christian." In the end, in an undertaking that should be remembered in Christian history forever, the men from the church in Adana (near Tarsus), grabbed shovels and dug a grave for their slain brother in an un-tended hundred year old Armenian graveyard.

Ugur was buried by his family in an Alevi Muslim ceremony in his hometown of Elazig, his believing fiance watching from the shadows as his family and friends refused to accept in death the faith Ugur had so long professed and died for.

Necati's funeral took place in his hometown of Izmir, the city where he came to faith. The darkness does not understand the light. Though the churches expressed their forgiveness for the event, Christians were not to be trusted. Before they would load the coffin onto the plane from Malatya, it went through two separate x-ray exams to make sure it was not loaded with explosives. This is not a usual procedure for Muslim coffins.

Necati's funeral was a beautiful event. Like a glimpse of heaven, thousands of Turkish Christians and missionaries came to show their love for Christ and their honor for this man chosen to die for Christ. Necati's wife Shemsa told the world, "His death was full of meaning, because he died for Christ and he lived for Christ. Necati was a gift from God. I feel honored that he was in my life; I feel crowned with honor. I want to be worthy of that honor."

Boldly the believers took their stand at Necati's funeral, facing the risks of being seen publicly and likewise becoming targets. As expected, the anti-terror police attended and videotaped everyone attending the funeral for their future use. The service took place outside at Buca Baptist church, and Necati was buried in a small Christian graveyard in the outskirts of Izmir.
Two assistant Governors of Izmir were there solemnly watching the event from the front row. Dozens of news agencies were there documenting the events with live news and photographs. Who knows the impact the funeral had on those watching? This is the beginning of their story as well. Pray for them.

In an act that hit front pages in the largest newspapers in Turkey, Susanne Tilman in a television interview expressed her forgiveness. She did not want revenge, she told reporters. "Oh God, forgive them for they know not what they do," she said, wholeheartedly agreeing with the words of Christ on Calvary (Luke 23:34).

In a country where blood-for-blood revenge is as normal as breathing, many, many reports have come to the attention of the church of how this comment of Susanne Tilman has changed lives. One columnist wrote of her comment, "She said in one sentence what 1000 missionaries in 1000 years could never do."

The missionaries in Malatya will most likely move out, as their families and children have become publicly identified as targets to the hostile city. The remaining 10 believers are in hiding. What will happen to this church, this light in the darkness? Most likely it will go underground. Pray for wisdom, that Turkish brothers from other cities will go to lead the leaderless church. Should we not be concerned for that great city of Malatya, a city that does not know what it is doing? (Jonah 4:11)

When our Pastor Fikret Bocek went with a brother to give a statement to the Security Directorate on Monday they were ushered into the Anti-Terror Department. On the wall was a huge chart covering the whole wall listing all the terrorist cells in Izmir, categorized. In one prominent column were listed all the evangelical churches in Izmir. The darkness does not understand the light. "These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also" (Acts 17:6).

Please pray for the Church in Turkey. "Don't pray against persecution; pray for perseverance," urges Pastor Fikret Bocek.

The Church is better having lost our brothers; the fruit in our lives, the renewed faith, the burning desire to spread the gospel to quench more darkness in Malatya -- all these are not to be regretted. Pray that we stand strong against external opposition and especially pray that we stand strong against internal struggles with sin, our true debilitating weakness.

This we know. Christ Jesus was there when our brothers were giving their lives for Him. He was there, like He was when Stephen was being stoned in the sight of Saul of Tarsus.

Someday the video of the deaths of our brothers may reveal more to us about the strength that we know Christ gave them to endure their last cross, about the peace the Spirit of God endowed them with to suffer for their beloved Savior. But we know He did not leave their side. We know their minds were full of Scripture strengthening them to endure, as darkness tried to subdue the unsubduable Light of the Gospel. We know, in whatever way they were able, with a look or a word, they encouraged one another to stand strong. We know they knew they would soon be with Christ.

We don't know the details. We don't know the kind of justice that will or will not be served on this earth.

But we pray-- and urge you to pray-- that someday at least one of those five boys will come to faith because of the testimony in death of Tilman Geske, who gave his life as a missionary to his beloved Turks, and the testimonies in death of Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel, the first martyrs for Christ out of the Turkish Church.
Reported by Darlene N. Bocek (24 April 2007)
Please please please pass this on to as many praying Christians as you can, in as many countries as you can. Please always keep the heading as "From the Protestant Church of Smyrna" with this contact information:

Monday, April 23, 2007

Swallowing our Pride

I was thinking about pride the other day while driving. I'm doing a lot of driving these days, back and forth to a music festival, and it gives lots of time to contemplate.

Specifically, I was thinking about how to get rid of pride and how sometimes, one has to, to use the expression, "swallow your pride".

It occurred to me that swallowing my pride is rather like taking medicine. I know it has to be done so I need to face up to it, open up wide and swallow fast. The more quickly I take the medicine, the faster I will get better.

Is there something God is calling you to do that requires swallowing some pride? Take it like medicine - open wide, do it quickly and see what He will do in your life as a result of your obedience.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

The History of the Ancient World

We own all four volumes of The Story of the World by Susan Wise Bauer, which are history texts for children, told in a narrative form. When I heard that she was beginning a series for adults, I was thrilled. I got The History of the Ancient World: from the earliest accounts to the fall of Rome at the beginning of March and spent the next month or so reading it. All 777 pages, excluding notes, appendices & bibliography.

Overall, I really enjoyed it. Ms. Bauer has an engaging style, and my husband would hear me snorting over particular passages, especially in the notes. She traces the history of several different areas of the world, beginning in the Mesopotamian Valley, but also including the history of China and then the developments in India, Africa and Europe. I found it helpful to read about the various cultures concurrently; often history texts focus only on one area at a time and it becomes difficult to figure out how they are related at different time periods. This is a technique that she used in the Story of the World books as well and it is equally effective here. I also really appreciated the charts at the end of each chapter, showing the progression through different rulers & cultures. And the maps were extremely helpful as well, especially when I just couldn't quite remember where that particular tribe or king was from!

One thing that particularly caught my attention was her treatment of Old Testament history. She first includes the OT history, which is a major accomplishment in itself, but then she treats it in such a fashion as to take it seriously. We see how the kings of Israel relate to the various other rulers of world cultures, in both good and bad ways, and it really helps to put it all into context.

I have already required my 12 & 14 year olds to read some chapters that correspond with our history studies. I only wish that it had been published at the beginning of the year instead of near the end so it would fit better with our studies. But that is only quibbling.

Overall, the subject matter is suitable for young to mid-teens and I have no problems with most of the book. There is one small section at the end of one of the chapters about the Greeks that parents will probably want to preread and decide if it's suitable for their children to read.

My preference for non-fiction books is normally to have footnotes. The History has end notes, which I was a little disappointed to see. However, Ms. Bauer strikes a nice compromise with some annotations at the bottom (notes, rather than footnotes) of the pages which are not so scholarly, although have some scholarly sections (referring the reader to other works on the subject at hand); her notes add details or opinions that are very enjoyable to read.

There is a lot of material covered in the book. Even the number of years covered must be daunting. I found that near the end of the book, it seemed as though perhaps Ms. Bauer was either running out of steam or words allowed (I suspect the latter - it did finish at 777 pages). I was a little disappointed, after such a complete treatment of the Old Testament history, to have the New Testament history largely reduced. Included - yes. But I was looking forward to more detail and was a trifle disappointed. But again, that's quibbling.

Ms. Bauer is hard at work on her next volume and I, for one, am hoping that it will be released well within what I think is her deadline of Spring, 2008. I would highly recommend this first book in the series to have as a resource on your shelves. But not only that - treat it like a novel and read from beginning to end - it's fascinating stuff!

It's the Little Things

We have three daughters. Our oldest is almost 13. When she was little, probably just over 2, I started french-braiding her hair and putting curlers in occasionally. That lasted until she was old enough to decide she didn't want them anymore (maybe 8 or 9).

Our second daughter has naturally curly hair so I don't do much other than combing it and sometimes french-braiding it when it's wet.

Our third daughter, now 6, has straighter hair like her older sister's hair. I have braided it, etc. but that's about it. Tonight I found some foam curlers and asked if she would like her hair curled. She was enthusiastic so I did it.

A little while later, she came to me with a hug and a kiss and said, "Thank you, Mama." It takes such little things to make this child happy! What a good reminder for me - to take the time to do special things for this youngest one!

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Resurrection Sunday Hymn

Christ, the Lord, is risen today, Alleluia!
Sons of men and angels say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heavens, and earth, reply, Alleluia!

Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!
Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
Dying once He all doth save, Alleluia!
Where thy victory, O grave? Alleluia!

Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!
Death in vain forbids Him rise, Alleluia!
Christ has opened paradise, Alleluia!

Soar we now where Christ hath led, Alleluia!
Following our exalted Head, Alleluia!
Made like Him, like Him we rise, Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!

**Note: I know that others will probably post the same one this week but it truly is my favourite Easter hymn and I look forward to singing it all year. I took the words from Cyber-Hymnal but ended up changing quite a few. There's about 10 verses there and some of them have the same words but in a different order. This is the version I grew up singing.

He is Risen; He is Risen, indeed.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Reflections from Morning Devotions

I Thessalonians 4:13-18

13 But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.[a]15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.

This passage is often referred to only in the course of discussion regarding end times. But in reading these verses this morning, I think (and, of course, this is nothing new) there is great application to be made in time of death. We say that we do not grieve as those who have no hope, but we don't always look at the context of the passage to see why. Paul tells us that our hope is in the return of Christ, whether asleep (dead) or awake (alive). All those in Christ will be caught up to meet Him.

And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Palm Sunday Hymn

Hosanna, Loud Hosanna

Hosanna, loud hosanna, the little children sang;
Through pillared court and temple the lovely anthem rang.
To Jesus, Who had blessed them close folded to His breast,
The children sang their praises, the simplest and the best.

From Olivet they followed mid an exultant crowd,
The victor palm branch waving, and chanting clear and loud.
The Lord of men and angels rode on in lowly state,
Nor scorned that little children should on His bidding wait.

“Hosanna in the highest!” that ancient song we sing,
For Christ is our Redeemer, the Lord of heaven our King.
O may we ever praise Him with heart and life and voice,
And in His blissful presence eternally rejoice!