Pastor Orhan Picaklar leads Agape Church in Samsun, a city of 500,000 in Turkey. (Photos: EBF Mission Partnerships)
Turkey may be called the cradle of Christianity.
Some missionary journeys of the apostle Paul took place in today's Turkey, and the seven churches (Revelation 2-3) were located there too.
Now, more than 80 percent of nearly 70 million Turkish citizens claim to be Muslims, while all the Christians counted together comprise less than 1 percent.
There are eight associated Baptist congregations in Turkey, which together form an alliance.
The main goal of this still young network is to cooperate and encourage each other for witness as well as overcome the obstacles.
Their chairman is Ertan Cevik, a pastor from Izmir (ancient Smyrna); pastor Orhan Picaklar from Samsun (on the Black Sea coast) plays an important role in this cooperation.
Several years ago, Picaklar found an advertisement for a free New Testament. He had requested one and later received a copy of the Gospel of John in the mail.
He was impressed while reading it, but did not know anybody in his city to talk about what he had just read.
Later, a change of jobs moved Picaklar to another Turkish city, and he continued reading the New Testament.
One day, a colleague at work shared about his Christian faith; they began studying the Bible together. Soon, one other believer joined in, and later he invited them all to a Christian church.
After a few years, Picaklar had been called to the Black Sea coast to start a new church there. His family moved to Samsun (a city of about 500,000).
Soon, he started sharing the gospel and found many receptive people, and the new believers asked him to be their pastor.
Ever since, Picaklar and his family have been in Samsun, and they have experienced numerous attacks.
Letters and emails with threats, as well as aggressive phone calls, have been regular offenses against them. A mere sign of a cross or another Christian symbol could instigate outrageous anger of extremists, who would insult the attendees, break windows in a Christian building and so forth.
Several years ago, Picaklar was kidnapped by a group of extremists who held him in a custody wanting to stop the Christian activity. However, they were not successful.
This was the beginning of the Agape Church in Samsun.
The group established a website and received thousands of visitors to the site, proving to be an effective method to reach out to local people.
Numerous people visited this newly opened church and wanted to ask questions about the Christian faith. Besides the website, visitors were also drawn through personal contacts.
The congregation in Samsun is like a large family. A great deal of devotion and a strong spiritual bond connect the believers.
They meet several times during the week, not just for a worship service. They organize regular outdoor baptisms, usually in a pool or in the Black Sea.
No public Christian events are allowed except for some activities in prisons. And they do have many requests from prisoners who ask for visits.
Recently, many refugees from Syria, Iran and Afghanistan have arrived in Turkey, and the Agape Church has taken care of some of them by way of distributing food, blankets, coal and other necessities.
The Agape Church - after many years of trying - has finally received permission to build its own sanctuary that will serve their growing ministry. The opening of this new building is planned for Dec. 10, 2017.
Agape is the only evangelical church within a radius of six hours drive in any direction. They continue the work of discipling believers scattered throughout this vast area as their goal is to establish more churches. The region includes 16 towns and is inhabited by more than 7 million people.
Picaklar often says, "In our country, every Christian is a missionary who should be ready to suffer for faith."
The Agape Church is currently planting a new congregation in the coastal city of Ordu, 130 kilometers (around 80 miles) away from Samsun and where many people are ready for the gospel.
They meet regularly for Bible study and worship, and the majority are Iranian refugees.
An assistant of Picaklar, who lives in Ordu, is being trained to lead this new planted congregation and this is what he wrote in a recent report: "We had about 20 to 25 people attending the services before last Christmas, but earlier this year many Iranian refugees arrived and some of them joined our group. We started hosting over 70 people in our 30-square-meter room, so now there are two services one after another, and two midweek Bible studies as well as other meetings in Turkish, Farsi and English.
"Yes, we feel overwhelmed with the Iranians but also several Turks visit us," he wrote. "Often, the Iranians bring to church their Turkish friends. There are many people who come and ask questions. Our congregation has grown to 150 people of different nationalities. The follow-up is a challenge as the workers are few. Another challenge is that we often work through translators.
"Recently, two Turks made professions of faith. They attend meetings and read the Scriptures on their own. This summer we baptized 10 new believers," he said. "We see an urgent need for more leaders and currently are training some Turkish believers and the English-speaking Iranians. We are very grateful to our mother church from Samsun as they provide much help. They visit us every Thursday, which together with prayers, advice and encouragement are priceless."
Daniel Trusiewicz is mission partnerships coordinator at the European Baptist Federation. A version of this news article first appeared on the EBF website and is used with permission. You can follow EBF on Twitter @EBFNews.