Istanbul Streets

For the past two days, I have been visiting Istanbul, Turkey. We have been making our way around this city of more than 15 million people.  This is my third trip to Turkey and I am still stirred deeply by the fact that at least 99.8% of these people have NEVER heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. Many of them have never even heard His Name. As I meditated on these facts, the following thoughts came to my mind.

Anywhere you go in America, you will find “churched” or “Christian” people. Walk through crowds at a shopping mall, a city park, a festival or a July 4th celebration and you will no doubt walk by some who are dedicated Christians. It is highly likely that the people walking past you or sitting next to you were raised in church. Many of them still attend some kind of church whether frequently or infrequently. Even those who don’t go to church will have some knowledge about Christianity or about God. Though certainly not all would answer with doctrinal accuracy, you might never encounter anyone who could NOT tell you who Jesus is. If you could get on the public address system at a baseball or basketball game and ask all those who have ever been to a church of any kind to raise their hands, probably 99.8% of them would respond.

Istanbul is a huge city. There are teeming throngs of people everywhere. It never stops. The buses are always full. The trains and trams are standing room only. The busy traffic is non-stop. The markets and shops are flooded with customers continuously. If I could stand in the center of the market, get the attention of the hundreds of people walking by and ask them in Turkish, “How many of you are Christians, go to church, have ever visited a church, can tell me who Jesus is…?”  99.8% of them would give me a blank stare.

These people are walking in darkness–in total darkness!  I cannot explain the affect of this on my heart. I have heard about the untold millions for years, but the wonder of this has only come through being an eyewitness. There are a few lights shining here. The few dedicated workers from around the world who have come here are but small lights in this huge sea of darkness. Thank God for them and may their tribe increase!

But I am overwhelmed by the darkness. My spirit grieves because the glory of God is not known here. This is a culture that is truly without God and without hope in this world. I do not claim to have arrived at any particular spiritual level of maturity, but having visited a few places in the world now, my jealousy for the glory of God is growing. I must say I am greatly affected by what I see. His glory is NOT being made known here.

America’s landscape is dotted with Bible colleges, Christian universities, seminaries and Bible institutes. It is a normal thing to drive past an institution where young people are being taught in Christian day schools. A couple of days ago we strolled through the campus of the University of Istanbul where 1000’s of students are being educated. You might not expect this university to have any classes on the theology of God, but finding a Bible college in Turkey would be like finding a needle in a haystack. Again, there are a few who are doing discipleship in small numbers and I thank God for them.

What should our response be to such great darkness? Should we despair? Should we just declare it a godless place with no hope and walk away to let them die in their sins? Should we write this place off as a loss in the spiritual warfare of Satan versus God? Should we consider them to be Christ-rejecters who are simply “getting what is coming to them?” NO! NO! NO!

Our first response should ALWAYS be PRAYER. We should pray that God will work in Turkey and places like it for His Name’s sake, that His kingdom will come and His will be done right here on this part of the earth and that He will send forth laborers into this harvest field that will shine as lights here in this darkness. Someone said, “If we Christians are to be shining lights, then our greatest significance would be in the greatest darkness.”  Would you like to be significant for the cause of Christ?

We should pray that the mighty power of God will work through the few Christians who are here, whether nationals or foreign workers. We should pray that God will strengthen, comfort and protect those who have sacrificed their homes and families in America to play some part in advancing the Kingdom of God.

Our second response should be JOY and EXULTATION! With my spirit overwhelmed by the absence of God’s Name among the Turks, this morning I picked up my Bible and began to read. In just a few minutes I found these words in Psalm 86:8-10, “Among the gods there is none like unto thee, O Lord; neither are there any works like unto thy works. All nations whom thou hast made shall come and worship before thee, O Lord; and shall glorify thy name. For thou art great, and doest wondrous things: thou art God alone.”

In three short verses I went from grieving to rejoicing. I began to rejoice in the fact that there is no God like OUR GOD. There is no power equal to His. The works of OUR GOD in this world are unmatched by any other. Tears filled my eyes as I was reminded that someday OUR GOD WILL REIGN in Istanbul, Turkey!

He will triumph over this darkness. He is the Maker of all and someday they will bow at His name and confess that Jesus is Lord to the GLORY OF GOD THE FATHER!  May God help us to take the Great Commission seriously and may we strive together in His plan to bring all nations to worship His great Name. May it become our consuming passion to make His Name known and see God worshipped by the masses in Istanbul, Turkey in this generation.