Missionary Diary: Sharing Jesus in Turkey

Leanne* lives in Turkey, where she works for a missionary organisation, serving Syrian refugees. She has previously lived in other Muslim countries in the Middle East, and speaks Arabic and Turkish.

Hi. I’m Leanne and I lead a double life.

Pre-COVID I had five ‘rocks’ (priorities) in my life:

  • Time with God;
  • Visiting Syrian families;
  • Leading my team;
  • Church activities including Tuesday prayer, Friday worship evangelism, and Sunday church;
  • Friends

Like you, everything changed when COVID hit. For me it meant more time with God; no visiting Syrians or anyone; and doing team meetings and church online.

But intercession took off. Borders and distances became no barrier with Zoom at my dining room table. We started weekly prayer meetings for all of Turkey. I joined prayer meetings for Balkan countries, and a full week of prayer for Syria online. I prayed for Iraq while ‘sitting’ at the back of a prayer room in Baghdad. Online courses became available and well attended. Strategy meetings became easier (without travel) and more regular.

When restrictions eased, 8pm became the convenient meeting time when we had to be at home. Saturday ‘gatherings’ were a joy to attend when exiting my front door was not allowed. It was a great time of community and unity.

I still jump at any face-to-face opportunity, just in case tomorrow I can’t.

What does my life look like now? It’s a double life of evening online meetings, and daytime Syrian visits and church activities. I still have emails to contend with, and online courses and prayer meetings continue.

I still jump at any face-to-face opportunity, just in case tomorrow I can’t. But I do need to choose carefully. What are my five ‘rocks’ (priorities) for this new normal? I find I cannot choose yet, just in case a month more of freedom is all we have.

When I look at my calendar two weeks ahead, it is just a skeleton of regular activities. But by the time that week starts, I’ve filled every available slot with people to meet and tasks to complete. By the end of the week, I am exhausted and ready for my Sabbath day, staying in my pyjamas and not leaving the house. And then it all starts again.

Also at the beginning of this year, there was such an influx of workers to our organisation but no teams ready to take on new people. So I Ieft my beautiful team of five years and started a new team of newcomers. I admire their simple schedule of language learning, making local friends and team meetings once a week.

Why am I in Turkey? I get asked this often, mostly by Muslims as I sit drinking tea with them. I answer with passion. Do you know what? Twenty years ago, God showed me how much he loves Muslims and wants to show them the straight way to him!

I couldn’t deny that God loved Muslims. And he was leading me to the Middle East.

How did I get to Turkey? I started off in the Philippines. Every time I prayed for Muslims, I felt something electrifying in my heart. I couldn’t deny that God loved Muslims. And he was leading me to the Middle East. I visited Egypt and thought there was no place like this on earth: crowded streets, the call to prayer, holy men with ‘prayer tattoos’ on their foreheads, eating beans for breakfast and bread at every meal. Seeing the homeless sleeping amongst graves as we drove along the highway and paying bribes to get past the police. There was no place like this on earth.

I later realised there was a whole region of the world like this – the Middle East. I moved to Jordan to learn Arabic language and culture, and how to tell Bible stories to Muslims in Arabic. I later moved to Lebanon and, together with my team, was given free access to tents housing Syrian refugees. These people had no water, no toilets, no school and no hope. But we could sit with them, drink tea, and share Bible stories with them. Every week they welcomed us back for more.

Through a denied visa to Lebanon, I found myself in Turkey. For the first time in my life, I was seeing Muslim Syrians come to know Jesus. I heard stories of war that broke my heart, and stories of salvation that turned my heart to praise – praising God for not leaving them the way they were, praising God that war and ISIS were causing Muslim Syrians to turn their hearts to Jesus!

And then there were dreams and visions. A group of 12 ladies came to faith over two years as we studied the Bible. And they encountered the Holy Spirit. It wasn’t by our doing, but by the prayers you have prayed for Syrians, Muslims and the Middle East. Jesus is here.

*Name changed for security reasons.