I had a remarkable week last week. It was my 12th trip to Turkey in 8 years, but in many ways saw the culmination of so many things that a number of us had been working towards. A 3 day residential conference on the south Turkey coast, with friends drawn from all 4 corners of that great country. And it was an amazing time. Many fascinating conversations and lots to learn from what is still a tiny minority in a huge country: perhaps 3000 Christian Turks out of 77 million…?
But I want to tell the story of one new friend particularly. Names and details have been changed for reasons that will become obvious.
A Divine Confrontation
D. is from a pretty religious home. A religious Muslim home that is. And it is by all accounts a close-knit home. For many years, D. has been involved in various overseas businesses that he has set up and run. This meant he has lived abroad, often hundreds of miles from his hometown of Istanbul, with his wife and child. He didn’t know any Christian believers.
But he found himself intrigued enough by Christianity to want to explore various questions online. And there is a LOT online to help with that (of wildly divergent quality, it must be said).
And then one day, while abroad, he was confronted by a vision. I didn’t catch all the details, but the essence was clear. He found himself face to face with a colossal figure bestriding Earth. He needed no introduction. It was clearly Jesus Christ, Lord of Cosmos and Creation. The only conceivable response was obvious – and so D. in his vision did what he had to do. He bowed the knee before him, acknowledged him as Lord of all… and more astonishingly, as HIS OWN Lord.
Then, in a minute detail which still makes me well up, D. described how the Lord then looked at him and simply said, “Thank You.” I don’t know why that has affected me so much – but I guess it is because it was so unexpected and yet just SO consistent with the one who places his hand on John’s shoulder to say “Don’t be afraid.” It is such a wonderfully human gesture of the Incarnate Sovereign. It’s PRECISELY the kind of thing he’d do.
An Agonising Cost
Accepting Christ was the most natural, most obvious thing to do in such circumstances. It seemed so to D. And of course it certainly seems so to me. But not to D.’s family. Far from receiving the news with the joy of treasure found, it was deeply threatening.
One of D.’s siblings assumed he’d gone mad – and so took him to be checked out by a psychiatrist… who promptly held him against his will for several days on end. Then D’s wife found it unbearable – and so has started divorce proceedings (using his psychiatric internment as of one the grounds). And barred him from seeing his child except on a handful of occasions. Of course the child, being under 10, simply cannot understand it, and assumes it is a personal rejection.
There are still many things unresolved. I have wept with and for D. in the last couple of weeks. I just can’t get his agony out of my mind.
It puts the lie to that nonsense spouted by irresponsible preachers and evangelists that coming to Jesus will solve all your problems. What hare-brained naivety. What delusion. What devastation it causes. Because as D’s story (and countless stories like it) suggest, coming to Jesus might well be just the start of all your problems.
A Certain Hope
Now don’t get me wrong. I am so proud to know D. as a brother now. I’m so glad he’s been able to do what he’s done. But I have no illusions about how hard it is.
What joy it will be when all our tears are wiped away and sorrows healed. I pray earnestly for his family to be reconciled – and for his child to know and understand better what has happened. And that there would never be any doubt about a father’s love in that tiny, precious heart.
But what joy it was to stand together and sing (in Turkish) the praises of our Lord, coheir and cosmic brother last week.
And to imagine that less than two years ago, even the notion, let alone possibility, was inconceivable. He was in his mosque; I was in my church. And it seemed that ne’er the twain would meet…