Shortly after our release from jail there was an important gathering for everyone on our larger team: a planning and strategy meeting. I was still quite tired from the past week’s adventures and from lack of sleep, but decided–against the advice of my wife–to go anyway.
Since I could not be sure if I was being followed or not, I took a very roundabout way to the meeting, including cutting through a back yard and climbing over a fence.
During one part of the meeting, a newer team member asked me a challenging question: “If you were faced with a choice of giving time to your teammates or to the locals, which would you choose?” After having just spent a week sleeping on the cement floor with local brothers and feeling a very strong bond with them in our shared suffering, my quick and emotional answer was, “The locals, of course, that’s why we are here!”
That was not a wise answer in this particular situation. I should have said, “It’s not an either/or situation. I would make sure both needs are met.” But my poor answer served to tip the scales against me in this newcomer’s mind. He was older, a grandfather, had already planted three churches in the US, was just finishing his doctoral degree, and had been an area director for another group in Canada. Now he was starting in a new field as a junior worker without his former position, prestige or power. He did not like me personally and did not like the way I led the team. He was not only suffering culture shock, but job shock, family shock and significance shock.
Following this meeting, he began to recruit a sub-team for himself from among our newer members. One common theme he used as persuasion was that I was not a good leader. Finally a wise younger worker came and told me what this man was doing. I went and talked with him face to face, asking particularly about our relationship, if there was any problem he wanted to talk about with me. He denied that there was anything between us, saying that all was fine.
The next morning in my prayer time, I talked to the Lord about this relationship. As I was praying, it was as if the Lord said to me, “I want you to ask this man for advice in any important decision you need to make!”
“Wait a minute, Lord, are you sure you have that right?” I asked. “This was not the kind of direction I was looking for! I was hoping that you would straighten him out!” However, it is not our job to argue with God, so whenever I was in the process of making a decision as the field leader, I would go to this man and ask his advice. Although it was hard and humiliating for me to do this, it greatly reduced the tension between us.
Later I realized that what he had really craved was having input into the decision making process. When, out of obedience to the Lord, I gave him that opportunity, his tolerance of me and my leadership improved, although the damage he caused in the minds of the younger workers was to plague me for the next fifteen years, the Lord used that for my growth also.
This man went on to make a significant contribution to the field in the development of our church planting strategy. It was good he stayed. It was good God got my attention and led me to change. It is good to listen when God speaks. As one of my mentors used to say, “Remember that the shortcut to humility is the road of humiliation.”
Shortly after our release from jail, I put together a twenty-page booklet entitled, “The Rights of the Believers in Jesus in Tur.key.” This included excerpts from the two papers our lawyers had written, along with a clear explanation of who we were as a group, plus copies of the court decisions in our favor and quotes from specific laws.
A friend gave me money to have it published and bound with a handsome black and red cover, making it look very official. This was helpful to the local believers, giving them something they could show to friends and relatives who questioned them, as well as to the authorities who might harass them.
We were still quite sure that there would be more repercussions for some of us, with the possibility of being expelled. My residence permit was valid until the end of the year, even though I hadn’t worked since March. It was unusual for the government to have done nothing about that change in my status.
So, it was no surprise one day in October that I was summoned to report to the legal office in the police headquarters. When I walked in and presented the summons paper, the man looked at me and glared. “So this is you! Give me your passport and residence permit,” he growled, “I’m going to throw you out of the country. Now get out of my office while I process this! I don’t want anyone like you in here!”
I went out into a waiting area, sat down and took out my prayer list. I spent a good half hour praying before the same man came out of his office and approached me. “Ah, Mr. Wibberley,” he said in a polite and respectful tone, “Here’s your passport and residence permit. You can stay until it runs out. And if you get a new job, we’ll give you another one. Have a good day!”
I was stunned. What had happened to change that man’s whole demeanor? There was no doubt that the Lord was somehow at work here. Three years later we found out what had taken place. The Minister of the Interior had written an order to expel me and two others from the country because of our arrests. This letter had been put in my folder and consequently a notice was sent for me to report to the police.
In the meantime, the Minister of Foreign Affairs heard about all of this. He asked, “What can I say to officials in Europe when they want to know why we are persecuting foreign Christians? These men must not be expelled!” To correct the situation, he wrote a countermanding order to keep us in the country.
When I arrived at the legal office, the policeman had read only the expulsion letter, no doubt full of strong accusations, and he then reflected the anger it contained. However, when he opened my file to process my expulsion, he found the newer letter from the Foreign Minister commanding him not to change my status, and, I would guess, to treat me well! Here is God working in the upper echelons of government to protect His children! A four-star God sighting! We were very thankful.
Picture: city where we were arrested