Turkey is a diverse nation, made up of many ethnicities, but it is the recent refugee crisis that has been the biggest contributor to cultural and religious diversity.
The 2011 civil conflict in Syria has seen a rise in Syrian refugees and Turkey now houses over three million of them. Designated sites have not been adequate to hold the number of people seeking refuge in Turkey.
Many displaced refugees, particularly from Iraq and Syria, can be found throughout the country without the support they need to survive.
Initially the government welcomed refugees, but this has changed as public opinion has become increasingly negative. There have even been violent incidents between local Turkish people and the refugee community and now authorities have encouraged them to return home.
Adding to the increasing challenges, refugees do not have permission to work. Some work illegally but the majority live in extreme poverty with informal or low-paid work in deplorable conditions.
Turkey’s prominent religion is Islam to which more than 90% of the population adhere, and leaving the religion is seen as a betrayal of a person’s identity and a shame to their family. Muslim background believers experience the greatest persecution and pressure from their family, friends and community to return to Islam.
Muslim converts make up the majority of all Protestants in Turkey and are having significant difficulties exercising their religious freedom. For example, they face restrictions on their being allowed to build places of worship. Despite the apparent freedom of religion, Turkey is still considered to be a restricted nation.
Recently, a Voice of the Martyrs supported frontline worker made three visits to Turkey, to lay the groundwork to plant a church among refugees. Assisted by local Christians, the pastor visited refugees to donate food coupons.
Among the beneficiaries were Shia Iraqis and Kurdish Syrians; both groups are minorities in Turkey and the most discriminated against.
During these trips, he said the most incredible experience was seeing the Holy Spirit comforting those who were suffering, and he was able to lead four Muslims to the Lord.
There is great potential for church planting among refugee groups across Turkey and a local pastor has indicated his availability to undertake the dangerous but important task.
Local frontline workers continue to ask for prayer that God would provide the resources they need to begin the work that lies ahead.
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