This photograph depicts an act of real courage. But of course, it probably doesn’t seem like it at first sight. But this is Turkey. And Christians simply do not share the rights that ordinary Turks enjoy in this society. Worse, though, is the fact that they are not necessarily safe here either. For it was only a matter of months ago that 3 Christians were brutally murdered in Malatya. The photo is of the car of one of the delegates at our gathering – bravely sporting a Christian ichthus symbol.
I talked about Malatya a year ago when I first came here (CT has some updated news on the investigations into the murders); but as I talk with believers here, it is a frequent topic of conversation. One can’t avoid it. And as we were working on Paul’s letter to the Philippians during our time together this week, the letter couldn’t have been more relevant. One of the more challenging verses in that letter has Paul explaining the impact that his Roman imprisonment had on the church there.
Phil 1:14 – Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.
It seems so counter-intuitive. Any sensible person would surely keep their heads down as the result of such persecution? But that’s not what necessarily happened in Paul’s day. And that’s not what has happened for many believers in Turkey. Many have been all the more prepared to be known as Christian. So here, having a fish badge on your car is more than simply the equivalent of those truck bumper stickers that ask ‘How is my driving?’ (as it is for many in the west). It is a very public, and therefore risky, declaration of one’s priorities.
But the illustration that really brought this courage home to me was given by one of the pastors I met. A few weeks after the Malatya tragedy, 2 members of his fellowship went to the authorities to get their Turkish identity cards updated. Every Turkish citizen must carry one; and one of the few details that it contains apart from the obvious is religious affiliation. These 2 brand new believers went deliberately to get their cards altered from Muslim to Christian, thus radically impairing their job prospects and their own safety.
I was profoundly challenged and encouraged myself by their willingness to stand and be counted. For just as with Paul in Rome, so with these brothers – if they are prepared to do this, the gospel is obviously something important enough to risk everything for…