Missionary Diary: refreshment among the burden of lostness

Matt is an Australian ministry worker based in Antalya in Türkiye. All names in this article have been changed for privacy reasons.

The burden is big and real in a country such as Türkiye. Every day, every moment, you are constantly surrounded by people who are lost and may never have an opportunity to hear the gospel. This can wear down your spirit over time. Sometimes we get weary, and sometimes the sheer enormity of the task that remains can make you feel powerless.

Sometimes I think, “Am I making the right decisions with my time? Am I doing enough ministry? Am I sharing with enough people?” At times, I’ve felt physical symptoms of stress as a result of this. But God knows exactly how to encourage us.

While in this state of mind, feeling a lack of confidence and competence, I had the most encouraging meeting with four young guys from Siirt (on the border with Iraq) who were on holiday in Antalya.

As I explained the gospel, one listened with great intensity, saying, “I’ve never met a believer or heard anything like this before.”

The next day, two other young guys came to our church. One, Aydin, 19, had been an atheist but had been reading the Bible for four or five months. He experienced a peace he had never felt before and knew it was the Holy Spirit. He gave his life to Jesus in his own heart and took communion with us at church.

It was as if God was saying, “I know your situation completely and I know how to release this anxiety you’re experiencing.”

On the same day, 23-year-old Mehmet also joined us. He had just fled from the earthquake region in Hatay and met one of the other older guys at our church who invited him along. My teammate Emre and I invited them to join our Monday night “Al Massira” group (exploring the big picture of the Bible for people from Muslim backgrounds) and they both came along. They got on well with the other two friends who had begun the series the previous week, and they are grasping the concepts of God walking in relationship with humankind in the garden, the true meaning of eating the forbidden fruit – betrayal of trust, and the reality that only God can cover their shame.

I came out of those experiences with a renewed spirit, as though something had gone “click” within me. It was as if God was saying, “I know your situation completely and I know how to release this anxiety you’re experiencing.” As I shared this with Emre, he said, “You’ve come all the way here from Australia in obedience to God’s will. Why would he not look after you?”

After these experiences, our whole field team took a week-long retreat to spend time in worship and fellowship together. It was very refreshing.

A spinach börek about to be cooked.

Following that week, we had a great few days of training, learning deeply about honour and shame culture. One thing that captured my attention was how in the West, we expect the person who is offended to be the one to initiate conflict resolution in miscommunication. In Eastern cultures, the offending party is expected to bridge the gap, figure out what happened and strive to save the relationship.

We also learned about tools used to track small churches once they start to multiply. It was very inspiring looking at examples of movements in Turkey that have reached the fourth generation!

Umut said, “Threatening me like that isn’t going to persuade me. I know what I believe.”

Recently, Emre and I invited Umut, a friend who I met last year, to our house to join the Al Massira nights with us. He wasn’t a believer until a few weeks ago when he knew in his heart that Jesus was Lord. We had invited him multiple times to our house, but he would continually not make it. One night he was going to prepare food at our place, but he failed to show up.

Later I heard that he’d been on his way to our house by bus when he saw his uncle following him in a car and decided not to come. It turns out his brother had found a Bible in his room and told the rest of his family about it. They confronted him and asked if he was a Christian, which he denied. However, a few days later he was so struck with guilt for denying that he told them that he believed in Jesus. His uncle hit him and said, “You can choose between two paths: either you continue on this path and you are nothing to us, or you completely forget about this Jesus.”

Umut said, “Threatening me like that isn’t going to persuade me. I know what I believe.”

When Umut’s university started again, he had no money to pay for the accommodation. His uncle owed him wages from working in the holidays but because of his decision about his faith, his uncle didn’t pay him.

He needed a job close to the university, but all the places he looked through his connections were already taken. As we were praying for his situation, he went to a location where there was supposedly work, but it was the wrong place. He went in anyway and spoke to the owner, who said, “Can you start tomorrow?” The owner also offered to provide all meals and transport to and from the college dormitory.

Now Umut can continue to study and be in a different community away from the pressure of his family. Please pray that he would be able to share the light of Jesus in this small college dormitory where no one knows him. Please also pray for comfort in this loneliness. He loves his family and wishes it didn’t have to be this way. Please pray for his family to come to faith through him.

A great way to meet people is to find a project where you need someone’s help.

While sitting next to a fountain, I met a guy called Kaan. He’s 25 years old and is a nurse – very perceptive and intelligent. We struck up a conversation that soon switched to spiritual matters. I realised that he was very aware of the hypocrisy in many world religions. He shared some of the evil he’s seen in his work with child blood cancer patients. He seems to be seeking. I shared the storyline of the Bible with him – God’s plan to crush the head of the serpent. He said he’s interested in reading the Bible with me. Please pray for him.

A great way to meet people is to find a project where you need someone’s help. A few weeks ago, I went with Emre and a friend to get my watch strap fixed. While we were inside, my friend got into a conversation outside. The man he spoke to had analysed life and was aware of his brokenness and his need for external intervention to pull him out of the mess he was in. He became interested in the ideas of my friend, saying, “If you write a book, I’ll read it. The things you’re saying are really important.” He said, “But for these ideas to make any difference in this country, there needs to be a movement! What can you or me do to change the way of thinking of Turkey?”

It’s ironic how right he was, just from that small encounter. Yes, we need a movement – this gospel must spread and take shape. The words that my friend mentioned held life, but for this movement to take shape, we need the hand of God at work. Please be praying for this man’s salvation as we go back to visit another time and for God’s intervention in Türkiye as a whole.

Psalm 22:22,24 – “I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly, I will praise you. For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.”

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