Hi. Recently I was in Turkey and had a chance to connect with believers in Jesus working in or from many central Asian countries, including Turkey (which is on the far southwest of this region). I want to give a few observations. The first paragraph is copied from my own communications within a tool I use to communicate with those interested in following my trips called MissionMakr.
“My sense of the greatness of the need in both Turkey and central Asia has been heightened considerably. I don’t know if you can feel this with me, but the needs are severe. And Turkey is very high on this needs list. A reflection on this: a few years ago in discussion with a brother who “had been to Turkey” he felt that Turkey (or perhaps Istanbul) was not really that unreached so the idea of doing ministry there for his particular group was not something he would recommend. Having spoken now with people who have ministered there for many years I cannot disagree more. He was wrong. The needs of Turkey and Istanbul are immense. Almost beyond understanding. If there are about 5000+ MBB’s in the country out of 79 million plus people, that would be like 20,000+ believers in the USA. Think about that. We have more than 1000x that many believers in the USA (and probably a lot more than that). I just can’t emphasize enough to please be careful with how we speak about the needs of the world: speak out of understanding and real research. I have to think that this brother in the past spoke out of his “general sense” of the situation. But he could not have been more wrong. Yes, there are people working for the kingdom in Turkey; perhaps around 1000+. But that leaves plenty of room for more help and more work to be done.”
In the rest of central Asia out of perhaps 100 million people (leaving out Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and much of Russia), there are around 44000 believers not of Russian background. Russian believers from the region may number about 100,000. All of those together make 0.144% of the people as believers in Jesus. That means 99.856% are not. Taking out the Russian believers leaves 0.044 % believers. This is important from the standpoint that in Russia most people are not Muslim, but in central Asia the high high percentage of them are Muslim. There is SO much to do.
A word regarding Muslims that I hope you can listen to: don’t be afraid of Muslims, simply befriend and love them. I know this was just one trip of about 2 weeks duration, but I also mingled with workers in the country who have been there for various periods of time, from about one to many, many years. And one of them who has been there about 20 years would say that MOST Muslims are basically just regular people. And living as close to Syria as they do, they are not unaware of the radical elements in Islam. ISIS came close to reaching Turkey’s borders not that long ago. And they have had their share of terrorist attacks in the country. In my time there in Turkey I rode on trams, busses, and airplanes with Muslims, I ate in their restaurants, I shopped from them, I went into the Blue Mosque where they were praying (men and women in different places in the mosque), I rode on ferries with them, I walked through crowded streets of Muslims, I bought food and gifts from them, and often I am sure they knew I was an American. Or at least a foreigner. Even with the beard I had grown for this trip, my white white skin gives me away. Wearing my Bulls shirt while shopping and site seeing brought many, “Chicago Bulls, Jordan,” comments from the vendors. I never felt a sense of hostility toward me.
And I had the privilege of meeting Turkish believers and at least one Kurdish believer in Jesus. The word Yasam (with the , under the s is pronounced Yashaum) means “life”.
Yes, there were staring eyes more than once, but you just experience that more outside the US than in it. I saw perhaps 3 women fully covered in a burka and with only their eyes showing. Many wore scarves, but many also in both Istanbul and Antalya were very western in dress. Now Turkey is a secularized state according to their constitution, and this freedom showed in the two cities I was in (for example in terms of dress and the presence of alcohol). But the people are still at least culturally Muslim, and certainly many are more serious about their faith. And yet, they simply need good neighbors who are Jesus followers and who will love them and spend time with them. They need a loving witness of people who will tell them about the Savior, and help them with questions they might have to understand our faith and to make sense of things that are disputed within Islam or the Koran. I want to really encourage us to be those people, and to keep praying, or start, for people within Islamic cultures or countries who are seeking to do these very things.