This morning as I was eating breakfast in a restaurant in Istanbul, Turkey I watched as literally thousands of people passed before me on the busy streets of this city of 15 million people. I drank my coffee and watched the frantic scene in front of me. Some of the people walking by were dressed very conservatively -- women with headscarves and men in their working clothes. Others -- mostly younger men and women -- would not have been given a second look in any city in Europe or North America. As I watched the parade of people I wondered how many of them ever had the opportunity to hear the Gospel in a way they could understand. My guess -- very few of them.
You see, Istanbul is in Turkey -- a country of 74 million people. In this vast nation only about 3,000 Turks are followers of Jesus. Which brings me back to the question -- Does God Live in Istanbul?
The answer to that question is a resounding YES. On Sunday morning I was privileged to attend a standing-room only worship service in a Turkish church in this city. The 100+ believers were crowded into a small building. The worship was exuberant. The joy was palpable. The preaching passionate. It was a wonderful worship experience -- and after the service people hung around talking, eating lunch together, and sharing their lives over a cup of chi or coffee. I knew that God was in Istanbul!
As I talked with some of the people yesterday morning I discovered that one man has been on trial for 18 months because he led 45 people to Christ and planted a church in another city. His wife and 2 small children are obviously concerned. The man who took the offering is a former communist who was tortured by police for 2 weeks. Story after story emerged of people who are following Jesus despite challenging circumstances.
Yet there was a deep sense of joy in this community of Christians. The same joy I have seen among believers in Indonesia who are planting churches among unreached Muslims - or the poor descendants of Mayan Indians in the mountains of Guatemala, or among those living in poverty in the middle of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Malawi. It seems to me, as I travel around the world, the God's presence is especially close to those who suffer and who hunger for Him.
Is God in Istanbul? YES HE IS! But how will the 15 million people in this world-class city know that He is there and He is not silent? How can we in the west walk alongside the our brothers and sisters in Istanbul and the rest of Turkey as they live out the Gospel in this nation?