Thursday, May 03, 2007

Christian Missionaries Killed!

IZMIR, TURKEY — When Necati Aydin accepted Jesus his Muslim family rejected him. His boldness as a pastor led him to pass out Bibles in villages throughout eastern Turkey – and two trips to jail based on fabricated charges. After he played the role of Jesus in a passion play, he shared in the Lord’s sufferings and untimely death.
Aydin, 35, was one of three men martyred for their faith on April 18 in the city of Malatya, following a gruesome attack that involved several hours of torture partially recorded on their young assailants’ cell phones. Also killed was a 46-year-old German missionary, Tilmann Geske, who was preparing notes for a new Turkish study Bible.
The third victim, Ugur Yuksel, 32, also arrived that bloody morning for what he thought was a Bible study at the offices of Zirve Publishing. Zirve prints and distributes Bibles and other Christian literature throughout Eastern Turkey. As early as February 2005, a local newspaper warned that Zirve was under threat due to its activities.
Ugur YukselAydin felt the sting of rejection from his earliest moments as a believer. His family —staunchly Muslim — rejected him outright after his conversion. Disheartened that he married a Christian, they failed to attend his wedding. True to their convictions, they even rejected him in death and refused to attend his funeral.
“He was a very gentle man, very committed to the Lord,” recalls a long-time friend from his former church in Izmir. “He knew what it was like to love the Lord and put his life on the line.”
Chosen to play Jesus in a passion play at his church in 1999, he jumped at the chance, but the production faced obstacles. Local police conducted a mass arrest of the entire church a few months before the play began. “They said we were meeting illegally,” recalls one church member. While the church prevailed in the ensuing court case, police sealed-off the church, and no one could meet there for three months.
When they finally put on their first performance, the seats were jammed, and word about the successful production spread to other churches.
Tilmann & Susanne Geske & family
The following year, a church in Ankara requested the play. A month before it was set to begin, police arrested Aydin a second time, as a result of his Bible distribution efforts. Local authorities held him for a month on charges that he defamed Islam and “forcibly” sold Bibles. Finally, police released him after several accusers confessed they fabricated the charges.
The passion play moved to Istanbul in 2001, and this time it was filmed, with the video informally distributed to other churches throughout Turkey. The cast of 40 – mostly Turkish believers – knew this could be costly for them. Indeed, as their own video equipment recorded the event for church use, the secret police were also there filming the participants.
“He was not hiding his face,” recalls Fikret Bocek, pastor of the Izmir Protestant Church, and a close friend of Aydin’s. “He was open and courageous about sharing his faith,” he says. “Aydin was receiving threats in Malatya from ultra-nationalists and Islamists for distributing Bibles.”
Widows Susanne Geske & Shemsa AydinAydin became the pastor of the Malatya Protestant Church after he moved there from Izmir in 2003. Its 22 members met mostly in his living room, according to Bocek. Of these, eleven left Malatya after the killings, he said.
Malatya is far-removed from the cosmopolitan, European influence of Istanbul. Nationalistic and religious passions form a turbulent undercurrent in Malatya, which is also the hometown of Mehmet Ali Agca, who attempted to assassinate Pope John Paul II in 1981.
In 2001, the political climate throughout Turkey changed after the National Security Council made statements implying that Evangelical Christians posed a threat to national security. A campaign began in the media, as leading commentators and politicians railed against missionaries who “bribed” young people to abandon Islam.
Entering this poisonous atmosphere were a group of impressionistic teens who joined a group of “faithful believers” in Malatya known as a tarikat. “Tarikat membership is highly respected here ; it’s like a fraternity membership,” notes Darlene Bocek, the pastor’s wife, in a letter she sent out about the killings. “In fact, it is said that no one can get into public office without membership in a tarikat.”
Two of the assassins from the tarikat feigned interest in Christianity to gain the trust of Aydin and Geske, and even attended an Easter service some weeks before their crime.
The autopsy report has not been released, but various reports describe anywhere from 16 to 156 knife wounds as gruesome confirmation of their torture. The Turkish Daily News quoted Dr. Murat Uğraş, a spokesman for the Turgut Özal Medical center. He described the hospital surgeons’ fruitless efforts to save Yüksel, the only one barely clinging to life when he arrived at the hospital.
“He had innumerable scores of knife wounds,” Dr. Ugras said. “It is obvious that these wounds had been inflicted to torture him," he said. “His fingers were repeatedly sliced to the bone lengthwise. His buttocks, his testicles, his rectum, his lower and middle back had dozens of cuts. There was a very long and open cut on his neck from ear to ear.”
When Aydin’s wife arrived at the morgue to identify her husband, the attending official urged her not to remove the sheet covering his body from the neck down. “You don’t want to remember him that way,” she was told.
Despite Aydin’s sufferings, his face had a beautiful expression — frozen at his passing — as if he beheld heaven’s open embrace.
In a culture marked by an endless cycle of revenge killing, German missionary Tilmann Geske’s wife, Susanne, shocked many Turkish commentators when she offered the grace and forgiveness of Jesus Christ to the perpetrators. In one of her first statements to the press she quoted Jesus on the cross, saying to surprised reporters, “Oh God, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
Pastor Bocek affirms this attitude. “Overall, the reaction in our church is forgiveness,” he says. “There really is not fear, but a little more caution in the way we bring people to church. We already feel we are ready for whatever comes. We continue to evangelize, do our Bible studies, and have prayer.”
He sees evidence that God is already turning this horrible offense around for good. “Over the last 10 days, we’ve had four commitments to follow Christ,” he notes. Even a Jewish man in Jerusalem received word of the Turkish martyrs, contacted Pastor Bocek, and gave his life to Christ. “They didn’t die in vain,” he says. “God is really going to use this event. We all sense that something is coming.”




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