In 1984 we got a letter from Ellen, a woman who had been searching for spiritual input. Her sister had gotten an offer for the Bible correspondence course and gave it to Ellen. Through that she found our address and wanted to meet with us.
We called the telephone number she sent us in a letter and her sixteen year old daughter, Seylim, answered, and tried to speak to Barbara in high school German. She was very relieved to find that we spoke the local language.
This contact proved to be the most significant one in the church plant. After she came to the Lord, Ellen proved to be a real evangelist and eventually was instrumental in seeing twenty-three of her relatives come to Christ! And the fact she came every week to the meetings with her five children became the standard for others’ attendance.
About the same time, the Smith’s oldest daughter, Alyn, introduced us to a man she was interested in. Ivan was a short, aggressive fellow, seemingly a hard worker who showed an interest in the gospel.
Although he had only a third grade education, Ivan was bright and was soon explaining the meaning of the gospel to the rest of the Smith family more effectively than we could. Ivan himself made a commitment to Christ and began attending the Sunday meetings at the Smiths. Soon he and Alyn married. Although we did not know it, this fellow would lead us into all kinds of trouble.
Another fellow, Harry, came to Christ through the correspondence course, and Dan began to disciple him, pouring lots of time and effort into his life. Harry showed signs of being a potential leader for the fellowship.
Then some months later, a worker from Germany came to Tur.key looking for nationals to work in his literature ministry, and sought out Harry. Dan talked with this man and warned him that Harry was just a young believer and needed time to mature before he could be put in charge of a foreign-funded venture. But the man did not listen.
We found out later that this was his way in many countries. He operated independently of any workers on the ground, taking one or two believers to himself and working exclusively with them. It led to the distribution of the man’s literature, but to the unhealthy separation and isolation of believers.
At this point our little fellowship was meeting in homes, often in a different place every week. Although home meetings were not illegal, many people believed they were, and felt uncomfortable. As the Tu.rkish culture was building oriented, it seemed strange to seekers that we had no official meeting place.
The Lord provided a solution to this through a friend who knew the priest in the Vatican Embassy. He allowed us to meet on their property, making it much easier to invite seekers.
One day after the meeting during the teatime, Barbara noted that each Tu.rk was talking to a foreigner. The believers were not mixing with each other. This was not a new problem as many of those who made commitments to Christ did so for very mixed motives, ranging from actually believing to hoping it would lead to getting a job, to finding a foreign wife, having a foreign friend or being invited for a meal where he’d get to eat meat.
So each one looked at the other attenders and wondered what their selfish agendas were! There was no trust, as is generally true in this society. Therefore, we decided to have less foreigners attend, forcing the locals to interact with each other.
One Sunday afternoon when we arrived at the gate of the Embassy, the head priest was there and took me aside. “This is the last Sunday you will be allowed to meet here,” he said,
“Why is that?” I asked.
“The police have come and told us we cannot accept you.”
“What would be the reason for that?” I exclaimed, “This is not the property of this country, this belongs to the Vatican. This decision is contrary to the law!”
“Ah, my son,” said the priest, “In this country the law and the police are two very different things!” He was right, of course, and that was the end of our meetings at the Embassy.
In one way I was thankful, for we had noticed that after our meetings, the two priests living at the Embassy would come down and mix with us. In the end we realized that they were trying to draw the believers into Catholicism. Separation from that was good.
The Lord had other things in mind for us; an Austrian believer was able to get permission for us to meet in the German school. That was even better, because it was more centrally located and was guarded, making the believers feel even more secure, and set the stage for growth to come.
Picture: Barbara with Ellen