Mission: Turkey 2019
By Gary Fallesen, founding president, Climbing For Christ
Our Mission: Turkey 2019 team (standing, left to right) Missy Dedrick, Behzat Bucak, Gary Fallesen, Elaine Fallesen, and (seated) Adem Donmez.
Saturday, July 6 and Sunday, July 7
Saturday was a 31-hour day for Missy, Elaine and me – with all of it spent in the air or in airports as we crossed back over seven time zones. We flew out of Istanbul late night Friday, laying over in Moscow and then finding ourselves stranded in New York City Saturday night, when flights were cancelled. We slept in the upright position for the third day before renting a car Sunday morning and driving six hours to return to Rochester, NY. This completed an epic 65 hours of travel from Central Anatolia.
Behzat had a long bus ride from Central Anatolia back to his home in southeast Turkey after leaving us at the airport in Kayseri on Friday morning. His ride was made longer by a series of circumstances, which included losing all his money (pay from his trekking company and a financial gift from us) so he could not buy anything to eat or drink as the bus broke down repeatedly and a 12-hour drive turned into 24. He lost almost nine months’ worth of rent. It was a time of testing for our new brother. He responded well.
“No worries, no dramas,” Behzat messaged as we stayed in touch during the travels and travails. “God is with us.” Amen!
In the end, we all received traveling mercies and safe returns. Thanks be to the God Who watches over us for everything! It all comes from Him, through Him, and goes back to Him (Romans 11:36).
Friday, July 5
Mount Erciyes with the city of Kayseri in the foreground.
We were driving toward Mount Erciyes, Turkey’s fifth-highest mountain, which towers over the Central Anatolia city of Kayseri. I asked Behzat if Yoruk herders were on the 12,851-foot (3,917-meter) mountain. “A lot of nomads there,” he replied.
The mountainous landscape of Turkey is full of unreached people. We have met the Yoruk people (said by researchers to have “no followers of Jesus Christ … at this time”) in the Aladaglar Mountains on this trip and, of course, on past visits we have ministered to the Kurds on and around Mount Ararat (Turkey’s tallest peak at 16,854 feet/5,137 meters).
As we drove to the airport in Kayseri to begin our flights back to the United States, I prayed Psalm 121 for the people here. I lifted my eyes to Mount Erciyes, knowing both “where does my help come from” and that we will be back – to serve the Kurds in eastern Turkey and to answer divine appointments in Central Anatolia.
This trip blessed us – beyond measure – with the reality of now having brothers in Christ who are from here and living here and can be serving here. Praise HIM! We said our goodbyes to one brother, Behzat, who saw us off at the Kayseri airport. We were all sad to part, but know that it is only for a short period of time.
“…the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forever more.” – Psalm 121:8 (NIV)
Thursday, July 4
Trying their hands at Turkish art: Missy, above, and Elaine take a spin on the pottery wheel at a local museum and workshop.
Today was about the love of Jesus. We decided yesterday that we wanted to spend our final full day in this part of Turkey with our baby brother, Behzat. The joy of calling him “brother” does not diminish with each passing day; to hear him speak of Jesus the way he does now is a beautiful miracle.
So we began the day in a lesson about God’s love – focusing on John 3:16 and 1 John and the act of forgiveness. We are called to love our enemies, no matter how difficult that may be and no matter what they do to us. Praise God, Behzat has an example of this in his Kurdish friend Osman from the southeast. We know that God will use these men to introduce many lost souls to Him, and we are praying for the work ahead for all of us.
We dismissed our formal guide and spent the day relaxing with Behzat. As part of this we visited a pottery museum and studio in Avanos, an area known for its Cappadocian earthenware. Elaine and Missy took turns making pottery in the studio’s workshop. Ceramic here dates to the Hittites.
We treated ourselves to Starbucks and did a little local shopping as we walked around town, buying some gifts for our brother. When I shared John 8:32 (“And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”), Behzat said: “That’s right!” Amen. He is free indeed.
Wednesday, July 3
We began the day in study with Behzat, teaching him about the full armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-20) and protection in the spiritual war that is going on all around us. He understood fully. On Tuesday, at our last camp in the Aladaglar Mountains, we taught Behzat, Adem and Ramazan how the Holy Spirit shows us the way through troubles and to victory. We also spoke to them about the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 5:5-15) before Missy lifted us all in a heartfelt prayer. These teaching moments with our new brothers are an incredibly blessed time.
We also were able to Facetime with another brother in another part of the country. This Kurdish believer came to Christ one year after we visited him in 2015. He has since led many more to the LORD, including several nomadic Kurdish families. But his family is being forced to move from their apartment and he is being watched in an area that is a Muslim stronghold.
The Holy Cross Church in the deserted cave town of Zelve, above, and the village’s mosque, below. Christians and Muslims lived in this town until 1924, when Christians left because of an exchange of minorities between Turkey and Greece. The town features many churches with some of the oldest wall paintings in Cappadocia.
Our trip entered the cultural-tour phase today as we headed for Cappadocia and visited villages built into rocks where many Christians once lived. Cappadocians were among the 3,000 souls who heard the apostles “telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God” at Pentecost (Acts 2).
In a long, hot walk through the Zelve open air museum, there was a challenging discussion with a new cultural guide who considers himself an intellectual Muslim. He is mostly full of himself, supposedly working on his doctorate in Sumerian studies. His arguments made little sense and he displayed the “Turkishness” that can be common among Muslim Turks. We pray for Jesus to visit him in his dreams and wake him to the reality that there is Truth.
Amidst all of this, Elaine and I celebrated our 37th wedding anniversary with a dinner graciously arranged by the trekking company we use here. We continue to be blessed beyond measure.
Tuesday, July 2
Missy and Behzat making Gospel bracelets with children in Ulupinar.
We completed our six-day trek through the Aladaglar Mountains with a final descent of 2,200 feet over four miles, arriving in the village of Ulupinar. The trek covered more than 50K (about 34 miles) with an elevation change of nearly 19,000 feet (5,800 meters) over rugged terrain.
In Ulupinar, we cut through a schoolyard where children playing on the playground greeted us. After lunch at the home of a friend of Adem’s, Behzat suggested going back to the playground. He, Missy and Ramazan took Gospel bracelet kits and connected with a large group of primary-school students on summer break.
The Story was told.
Elaine and I arrived just before the school master showed up and said he would prefer we not talk about Jesus and religion on school grounds. They do not teach any religion at the school, leaving it up to the parents to share. But about 20 children heard about Jesus before we left the village.
We are staying in a guesthouse tonight near some famous waterfalls. We needed to say goodbye to Adem and Ramazan, who had to return to their homes for cherry harvest. Before Adem left, we planned the 2020 expedition, which we are trusting will be great. (Stay tuned for more updates on Mission: Ararat 2020.) God is on the move and the visions and plans He is giving us here make our hearts race with excitement.
Behzat is staying with us as we connect with a different cultural guide and driver for two days in Cappadocia. More opportunities await.
Monday, July 1
There was much joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner and then another who repented tonight.
Before dinner, Behzat told us that our driver Ramazan wanted to join the family. He was reunited with us in camp today after we descended from the Seven Lakes High Camp. We were surprised and overjoyed by this news. It turns out Gizem, who has known Ramazan for years, shared about the decision she’d made with us after we’d started trekking.
When we finished eating the excellent chicken barbecue Ramazan made us, we sat down with him and explained the Gospel. I told him that I believe Jesus is God’s Son Who was sent to die for my sins, defeating death, and provided me the only way to heaven. He is my Savior and the Lord of my life. I said, Elaine believes this and Missy believes this. I asked Behzat: “Do you believe this?” “Of course, I do,” Behzat said.
I asked Ramazan, “Do you believe?” “Yes, I believe,” he said.
Then he pointed to Adem.
I turned to my old friend, who I’ve prayed for since we first met on Mission: Ararat 2010, and asked the same question.
“Yes, I believe in Jesus,” Adem declared. “I have read the Bible. I believe.”
I jumped up and said: “Adem, you want to be a follower of Jesus?”
He said, “I have believed since you prayed for me when I broke my foot (a few years ago) and it healed.”
There was much hugging between brothers and sisters in Christ as our family grew ever larger.
Starting out from high camp over snow fields, above, and returning to the lower elevations to visit a nomadic camp, below (blue dot right center).
These amazing moments punctuated the longest day of our trek in the Aladaglar Mountains.
After descending about 4,500 vertical feet in five miles over snow fields, boulder fields and scree, we reached a camp of black-goat herders. We were invited for tea. The young woman who made our tea, the daughter of the family, had just finished university exams and is waiting for results. She wants to go to nursing school.
We asked if she knew of Isa (Jesus) and she said she had heard of Him in school but did not know much about Him. This opened the door for us to give her a Gospel bracelet and speak about the One who came to pay for our sins. Seeds were planted and we told Esen (“Eshen”) that we pray the God of the Bible will bless her with university admission. She said tesheculir (thank you) with a warm smile on her face.
It was another 3.5 miles to our campsite, which sits on yet another beautiful vista. We have descended back into the forest and the summer heat after spending two cold nights far above tree line at 10,170 feet. This morning, the lake next to our tents had ice on it.
Following dinner and the joyful news of Adem and Ramazan we went to visit another nomadic family for tea. Elaine got to make Gospel bracelets with the 10-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son of this family as the parents watched and praised their children when they could repeat the story Elaine and Behzat taught them. More seeds planted for future harvest. All for His glory!
Sunday, June 30
Camp at Seven Lakes.
Today was a rest day, but that didn’t stop Missy from sharing her faith with a Turkish climber in our camp at Seven Lakes (Yedigoller). She talked about praying to God and asking for direction to the one true religion. We also got to share a little more Jesus love with our horseman, Ali, this evening. We are praying for these and other divine appointments.
We are staying at the windy Seven Lakes Camp at 10,170 feet for a second night. We spent the day in fellowship. We did a study on dreams and visions from my Spiritual Warfare Bible. The lesson was based on Joel’s prophecy in Joel 2:28 and repeated in Acts 2:17. We read Acts 10:1-11:18 and discussed the visions given to Cornelius and Peter, in the Spirit-inspired dreams or visions we have experienced in our walks.
We always pray for dreams and visions for Muslims to meet Jesus, but we are now praying for ourselves as well: Holy Spirit, inspire God’s dreams and visions in us and interpret them for us that we may walk in Your ways with faith and hope. Lead us on, Holy Spirit.
Saturday, June 29
Our horseman rode past us early in the day to transport our gear to the next camp. Behzat immediately went into evangelist mode and shouted at him about joining our family. He said we would talk to him in camp.
“There’s going to be a party tonight,” Behzat announced confidently.
In agreement with him, I said: “all of heaven will rejoice.”
Not yet. We shared with Ali, but he said he couldn’t do it because his father does the call to prayer at their village mosque, and “he would kill me.” I told him to think about it and we prayed for dreams to fill his night.
It will happen in God’s time.
By the grace and power of God, we were able to climb the 4,757 vertical feet in 4 miles on steep scree field from Sokulupinar Campsite to the Celikbuyduran Pass at 11,318 feet (3,450 meters). I’ve been sick since arriving in the Aladaglar Mountains, first with a cold and fever and then with respiratory infections. But God gave me the breath to make the ascent.
Elaine and Adem climbing toward the Celikbuyduran Pass at 11,318 feet (3,450 meters).
At the Pass, Missy and Behzat continued to the summit of nearby Mount Emler (12,214 feet/3,723 meters) and then joined Adem, Elaine and me at the Yedigoller Plataue Camp at 10,170 feet. Yedigoller is Turkish for Seven Lakes. The lakes are nestled in the middle of some breathtaking Aladaglar peaks. Gods handiwork at its finest.
Missy spent the 30 minutes or so on the Emler summit sharing Bible verses and answering Behzat’s many questions. They talked about prayer. She also gave him several verses to share when he is inviting people to join “the family.” When we had tea in camp she talked about how “hungry” our baby brother is, and he spoke about the many people he is going to lead to the Lord. His faith radiated the joy we are feeling in our hearts. To hear my Muslim background believer friend speaking this way after so many years brought tears to my eyes.
Friday, June 28
Missy, Elaine and Adem climbing toward a pass on Day 2 of trekking.
During lunch break, Elaine asked Adem about Tanner, the Kurdish shepherd paralyzed several years ago in a fall from his horse. We'd seen Tanner and his family during missions to Ararat in 2013, '14 and '15, which Adem guided. Our Turkish friend has stayed in touch with the Kurdish families we ministered to and kept us updated.
Tanner's plight touched Elaine especially during Mission: Ararat 2015. She has been praying for his healing. When she asked Adem how he was doing, Adem said “OK.”
She said, “You mean he is out of his wheelchair?”
“Yes, he is walking,” Adem answered.
We immediately praised God for this miracle. Elaine cried for the love God once again poured out for us.
Tanner in 2015 with family members.
It has been that type of trip. We have been blessed beyond measure to see and hear about God at work in the time since He last sent us to Turkey. Fruit abounds.
We had breakfast this morning with our new sister, Gizem, who accepted our invitation to be a part of Christ's family Thursday night at our Emli Valley Campsite. She told me she has a Turkish Bible, but had never read more than a page. I talked to her about the Gospels and suggested she start with John. I told both Gizem and Behzat about John 3:16. We will be staying in touch with these (and other) new believers and guiding them on their journey with the Lord.
Gizem told Behzat that when she was with us she felt an “energy.” Missy told her that was Jesus. The Holy Spirit was and is present. We are experiencing Him at work at every turn.
After breakfast we set out in the heat on an 8.6-mile (about 14K) hike that had us ascending 2,600 feet and descending 1,800 feet to our second night's camp at Sokulupinar Campsite. We climbed up to Eznevit, a pass from one valley to another where semi-nomadic families spend the summer months with their sheep. Along the way we passed a local man running his daily 35-40K to train for ultra races in Europe. We were happy to walk nearly 15K today. We've found ourselves walking on Son-shine during this blessed trip.
Thursday, June 27
A young woman walked into our camp in the Aladaglar Mountains this evening. I asked Behzat who she was and he hollered after her. "Do you want to join the family?"
She got some tea from our cook Ramazan and joined us, shyly. Behzat spoke to her then asked Missy for the Gospel bracelet on her wrist. Elaine proceeded to explain about sin and Jesus and spending eternity with God. When she finished Behzat spoke some more and then asked if she wanted to join our family.
"She wants to be part of the family!" he announced.
We hugged Gizem, a 22-year-old university student here for mountaineering training, and welcomed our new sister in Christ to the family. Elaine prayed for her and we rejoiced at seeing God at work in the hearts of people all around us.
Exiting a mile-long canyon on the first day of trekking.
We entered Aladaglar National Park on foot. Like many parks or hiking areas in our country (New Hampshire's Mount Washington and Colorado's Pikes Peak came to mind), we walked to a place that was also accessible by vehicle. After a hike of10 kilometers (6.2 miles), we reached our first camp and found people picnicking. There was a group from Holland photographing butterflies. Tourism in Turkey is back on the rise after several disastrous years, during which Behzat found himself unemployed.
What we saw on our hike was not accessible to those who drove: Kaziklar Valley, a canyon with 200-foot walls once climbed by beekeepers. Hives are maintained much closer to the ground now, and throughout the countryside in southern Turkey. Honey is served alongside fruit jams, olives, cheese, fresh sheep or cow yogurt, and bread. We scrambled up the canyon in what was the hardest part of an otherwise easy Day One of trekking into the Aladaglar Mountains.
Wednesday, June 26
Elaine, center, shows Missy and Behzat how to make Gospel bracelets during a break from hiking.
Elaine gave Behzat a Gospel bracelet on Mission: Ararat 2015 and not long after he shared how he was now a believer he asked for a new one. He also wanted two for his young daughters and one for another relative. As we hiked about 5 kilometers in blistering heat in preparation for the start of tomorrow’s trek into the Aladaglar Mountains, we paused under a shade tree for a Gospel bracelet lesson. In short, the bracelet tells the Bible story from Genesis to Revelation with five beads (yellow for creation, black for sin entering the world, red for the blood of Jesus to forgive our sins, white for our being washed clean, and green for our growing faith and future in paradise).
It took on different meaning watching my new brother make his own Gospel bracelet.
“I’m part of the family now, right? Do I have to do anything else?” he asked as we walked.
I told him: “If you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior and ask Him to forgive your sins, it is finished.” I explained about the Holy Spirit dwelling within him, and then I told him he could not imagine how many people have been praying for him since 2015 and celebrated when I shared the great news with them.
I told him how my daughter Hayley, who met Behzat on Mission: Ararat 2013, cried when she heard. “Oh my gosh,” he said. “Because she is my sister now.”
And all the people said: Amen!
We reached our destination for the day, which was a small picnic area near a cave and waterfalls, where Adem met us to barbeque sausage.
While we were waiting for Adem, two other groups offered us tea and food to eat – a sign of hospitality that is common here. We talked to a group of schoolteachers and one tried to convert Missy to Islam. She explained her faith to him, and he walked away.
The Gospel bracelet lesson was put to use almost immediately. We stopped at a nearby village after lunch and met a family that is friends with Adem. The young woman, Nihal, asked if she could have a bracelet and Elaine gave her hers while Behzat explained. The young lady likes to read so we suggested that she read a Bible. However, those are hard to come by in Turkish in these parts. But she said she would like to read it and we are confident in the LORD that one day she will receive a Turkish-language Bible.
Tuesday, June 25
Behzat telling the story of Jesus on the cross. He made a small cross out of sticks (in the rocks to the right of his outstretched arm).
Behzat stopped a group of boys passing us as we hiked from one village to another at the foot of the Aladaglar Mountains. He put his arm around the oldest boy and led them in our direction, beginning to tell them about his new friend Jesus. He stopped and made a cross out of sticks, stuck it in the ground, and explained the story. It was an amazing moment and later he said how he understands now why we always want to talk with people in villages and on the mountains. We want to share Good News.
This was a day set aside for the harvest of cherries – and maybe more. Since Mission: Ararat 2015 when, in the eastern city of Van we were looking for cherries, our guide and friend Adem told us we needed to visit his “garden” and see the “real good cherries” of Turkey. The following year, after we had to cancel that year’s mission here, he sent me photos of him picking cherries. Finally, today we saw, picked, and ate from his tremendous cherry crop.
Gary, left, eating a cherry as he picks along with (left to right) Adem, Behzat, and Missy. He waited four years for this moment. (Photo by Elaine Fallesen)
It was such a good time with our friends in Turkey, made even more special by the news we received yesterday. This continued as the day went on. We had lunch at our new driver Ramazan’s house. His wife taught Elaine and Missy how to make böruk, a type of homemade dough stuffed with cheese and onions and fried, which we then ate for lunch.
After lunch, Behzat took Missy, Elaine and me for a two-hour hike of about 7 kilometers (4 1/3 miles), over a hill from Cukurbag to Marti. It was on this walk that we ran into the boys with whom Behzat shared. He told them to look for the Jesus Film on YouTube and come see him tomorrow to talk some more.
We hiked to meet Adem, who took us to his house for dinner. Adem’s wife taught Elaine and Missy how to make stuffed grape leaves. We then ate another wonderful meal with a dear family – for whom we continue to pray.
Monday, June 24
The Aladaglar Mountains.
We arrived in the mountain village where we are staying for a few days to harvest fruit and, prayerfully, souls. Our old friends and guides Adem and Behzat met us here. It was a joyful reunion with lots of hugging, laughing, and kissing. It had been four long years since we’d seen one another.
Behzat was quick to tell me that we can be “brothers” now. My heart leapt as he said this because I knew what he was talking about. But he had more to share: another friend of his came to the LORD after our last visit and has led his family and several friends to salvation. He has been encouraging Behzat to listen to us, saying that we are the light.
“This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all” (1 John 1:5, NLT).
I had Godbumps and became teary-eyed as we walked around the little village of Cukurbag, and he told me all that has been happening. After we shared with Behzat’s friend on a previous visit, he did some investigating. He got hold of a Bible and compared it to the Quran and he chose Christ. Now he rents a mini-bus every weekend and drives a dozen believers to the nearest church 1 ½ hours from his home. He is in love with Jesus.
Our love and thankfulness were magnified in these mountains. Missy, who was meeting Behzat for the first time, hugged him and said: “Welcome to the family!” All of this was the answer to years of prayers. And we’re not done praying. There are others still in need of intercession.
We flew this morning from Istanbul to Adana in southern Turkey, where our friends from the trekking company we use picked us up and drove us to Cukurbag, a village of about 1,000 that sits at the foot of the Aladaglar Mountains. We will trek into the Aladaglar Mountains, which are part of the Taurus chain, starting later in the week. But for now, there is harvesting to be done: cherries and fruits of all sorts as well as the hearts of men. Holy Spirit, have your way.
Sunday, June 23
Where Christianity meets Islam: the walls of the Hagia Sophia Museum show mosaics of Mary holding Jesus, left, and the Angel Gabriel, center, alongside Muslim calligraphy. The Hagia Sophia was a church from 360 to 1454, when the Ottoman emperor Mehmet II conquered Constantinople. The church became a mosque and the city was renamed Istanbul. In 1935, the Hagia Sophia was made into a museum.
Missy, Elaine and I took a “Spirit Walk” through the Book of Acts today. Each trip dating to Mission: Kilimanjaro 2018 begins with a day or more in study as a team, sharpening our focus on what God has for us in the weeks to come. We use the late Steve Smith’s Spirit Walk book to prepare team members in advance and then come together for a time of worship, study, and prayer. We looked at Acts 1, 2, 12 and 16, and spent some time retracing Paul’s three missionary journeys in Acts 13:4-14:26, 15:36-18:22 and 18:22-21:17 – parts of which took place in what is now Turkey.
The goal of the Spirit Walk is to: Surrender to God’s will; Wait on the LORD in prayer; Avoid sin and allow God to root out our unrighteousness; and Pursue the promptings of the Spirit. We are a Spirit-led ministry, asking our “Helper” (as Jesus referred to Him in John 14:26) to guide us on our journeys. We desire and seek to abide in Christ.
Missy spoke of the role of the Holy Spirit, found in Acts 16, where the Spirit closed and opened doors to Paul. She talked about how she had been praying for “open hearts” to be found on this trip. She wondered why she had used those words specifically. Then she read from Acts 16:14, about a woman named Lydia. “The LORD opened her heart,” the verse says. This was affirmation to Missy about the prayers she has been speaking.
After our study we walked to the nearby Hagia Sophia Museum, which we have visited several times through the years. It is an HIStoric look at how the church, which started here, was overrun by Islam. It is a physical reminder of what we are up against in this country of nearly 80 million Muslims and about one-half million professing Christians (only an estimated 33,000 evangelic believers).
I shared an article about Paul and Silas, who were imprisoned in Philippi (Acts 16:16-40), which exhorted us: “Get God in the problem with you, and you will be victorious! Don’t focus on the circumstances. Satan will use circumstances to lie to you.” Nothing is insurmountable for our victorious LORD. No mountains too high, no odds too long. Not with the Holy Spirit leading us on.
While our eyes were on this Bible study, the eyes of Istanbul were trained on the results coming from the re-run of the city’s mayoral election. The candidate for the main opposition party, Ekrem Imamoglu, is the winner – again. When Imamoglu won in March, the results were annulled after President Erdogan’s ruling AK party complained. Erdogan, who rose to power after serving as mayor of Istanbul, has said “whoever wins Istanbul, wins Turkey.” This defeat could be a major setback for Erdogan.
Saturday, June 22
Back to the land of mosques and minarets, flying under the flag of Turkey.
We landed in Turkey Saturday afternoon after flying together from New York City to Moscow and on to Istanbul. Missy took a red-eye early Friday morning from Denver to JFK and Elaine and I had a 3 a.m. wakeup call for the pre-dawn flight from Rochester to NYC. Travel was uneventful and spirits were lifted by messages received from our prayer warriors. One has become my prayer for this trip. Canadian Board member Louis-Olivier Petelle wrote that he is asking God that we will “be filled with so much of the Holy Spirit that it will be noticeable without people even talking to you and that they will be drawn to this.” Brother Dick Brogden from Live/Dead ministry in North Africa puts it this way: When we, as Christians, walk into a room, does the atmosphere change? Do people feel our presence? In other words, do they feel HIS presence? We pray that they do – on mission in Turkey and in your corner of the world.
Friday, June 21
Trekking on Mount Ararat in 2015, the last time we went to Turkey.
The mission formerly known as Ararat has branched out. We have been unable to return to Mount Ararat in eastern Turkey since 2015 after having trekked into that area in 2010, ’13, ’14 and ‘15. In fact, we have not been back to Turkey since we joined our Kurdish friends in celebration of the first Kurds to be elected to the country’s parliament in the 2015 national elections.
Much transpired after that eventful night:
Military action was taken by the government against Kurdish separatists, who are labeled terrorists, and many areas of southeastern Turkey were turned into war zones. As the former mayor of Diyarbakir’s historic Sur district wrote in an op-ed for The New York Times in January 2016: “Entire towns and districts are under siege.”
In one year, more than one dozen terrorist attacks were carried out, killing more than 200 people.
Turkey took the brunt of the refugee crisis (3 million strong) that was caused, first, by Syria’s civil war (dating to 2011) and then the region’s war against the Islamic State.
A failed coup in July 2016 resulted in the arrests of thousands of politicians, teachers, police, military, doctors, journalists, bankers, and pastors like the American Andrew Brunson (who was released in October 2018).
Constitutional reforms by President Erdogan in 2017 led to international publications, such as The Economist, declaring “Turkey’s slide into dictatorship.” This year, Erdogan influenced the overturning of the mayoral election of an opposition party candidate in Istanbul. Another election is scheduled for Sunday (June 23).
Year after year we were forced to cancel trips to Turkey, a country near and dear to our hearts.
Through it all we heard reports that Christians in Turkey remained “faithful amid the dangers.” Never mind that the evangelical church accounts for a mere 0.04 percent (that’s 4/100ths of one percent) of the 83 million people living in the 96.1-percent Muslim country. Turkey has one mosque for every 866 people, more than any other predominantly Muslim nation, Frontier Ventures ministries reported in November 2017.
Ninety-nine percent of Turkey is considered unreached. This is where the early church began. In September 2018, the International Christian Concern declared that Turkey was “an ancient Christian community on the verge of extinction.” This is a tragedy occurring on our watch.
Dancing at a Kurdish wedding in 2014. The bride is seated in the green gown at left.
Though we still could not GO to Ararat this year – the mountain remains closed for a fourth straight year – we were determined to see old friends and meet new ones. Today, Missy Dedrick of Colorado (Morocco 2017), my wife Elaine Fallesen (Ararat 2014 and ’15) and I are heading toward Turkey.
We will trek the Taurus mountains. There are unreached people there, too. There are people in need of the Gospel everywhere in Turkey.
It is a country protective of its “Turkishness,” a term referring to those whose native language is Turkish and who were born into Islam. The Joshua Project, which tracks people groups, states that the ministry obstacle in Turkey is this: “Turkey is generally hostile to overt Christian witness.”
Turkey ranks 26th on the Open Doors World Watch List because of “Islamic oppression.”
Turks form the largest people group (56.9 million), and they remain unreached. In 1960, there were 10 believers and now there are more than 5,000. But that’s still only 0.01 percent (1/100th of one percent) of the population. Those who become Christians confess to feeling “like I betrayed my country” by converting.
Kurds form the second-largest people group (8.8 million Kurmanji and 6.2 million Turkish-speaking), also unreached. We eagerly await our return to Ararat and a reunion with the many Kurdish families with whom we have developed relationships.
In the meantime, there are unreached people groups like the Yoruk. In the Joshua Project description of this UPG, it says: “There may be no followers of Jesus Christ among the Yoruk people of Turkey at this time.” None. Zero. At this moment in time. But “there is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, NASB). We pray God’s time for many in Turkey will be coming soon.
“Then people all over the earth will know that the LORD alone is God and there is no other.” – 1 Kings 8:60 (NLT)
CLICK HERE for the Mission: Turkey 2019 Prayer Bulletin.