Refugees from Syria are so desperate for help they usually don’t see beyond their own needs, but native missionaries in Turkey recently noticed something different in them.
When a food truck arrives at a given refugee settlement, usually the predominantly Muslim refugees from Syria crowd around it and clamor for distribution to begin, the director of an indigenous ministry in Turkey said. On a recent distribution delivery, however, several Muslim women went not to the truck, but straight to the director.
“I said, ‘Go around to the back of the truck, that’s where the food will come from,’” he said. “But they replied, ‘First we want prayer. This child is crippled, he has no mother, and his father died. He is disabled, please pray for him. We don’t want food, just prayer.”
The director was speechless.
“This really is a miracle. These people weren’t like this just a few years ago; it is your prayers that have changed their hearts.”
“Because they had heard that all the sick people for which I have asked for prayer have been healed, they immediately came to me for prayer,” he said. “There are several crowds who just see us as the Christians who do food distributions, but now many people at the camps are seeing us as children of God and want prayer from us. I found this child and prayed for him, but I need your prayers as well; please pray for this child.”
A great awakening has begun among refugees in the camps, he added.
“They don’t just think of Jesus as a prophet, but they realize that he is the God of the Christians,” he said.
After distributions, when workers have tea with refugees in their tents and pray for them, they can see that attitudes have changed, he said. Previously the Muslim refugees would make comments such as, “There is no way that Jesus is God,” or, “The Bible has definitely been changed,” he said, but now team members get questions like, “When a Christian dies, do they immediately go to heaven? Do Christians fast?”
“This really is a miracle,” he said. “These hungry people run to us to receive not flour, rice, oil, and formula, but prayer. These people weren’t like this just a few years ago; it is your prayers that have changed their hearts. I sincerely thank you for being the reason that people here, tens of thousands of kilometers away, have encountered Christ and dozens of people have believed on him.”
After eight years of refugee flows from Syria into Turkey, the Turks are as weary of the continuing arrivals as the sojourners are of being homeless. The nearly 5 million refugees in Turkey, up from 4.2 million in 2017, are seen as a drain on resources for a country whose economy is faltering. Syrians make up 3.6 million of the nearly 5 million refugees, according to Turkey’s Daily Sabah newspaper.
Turks also see refugees as driving down wages with cheap labor, and racial and national prejudice ignite tensions; some refugees have been attacked.
Their property in Syria demolished and legal ownership compromised by authorities, many refugees have neither the resources nor the will to return; those who sympathized with now largely crushed opposition forces believe that if they did return, authorities would punish them. Unofficial camps remain swollen.
For the Christian workers, the continued influx of refugees means the unprecedented window for sharing the message of Christ’s salvation remains open. But they are no less cautious; Islamist punishment for leaving the religion continues to instill fear.
“Over the past six months, we have shared the gospel with around 200 men and women, but we have been more careful than before,” said a native missionary providing aid in another area of Turkey. “It’s not easy to do so, but we are working slowly but productively with them.”
Many refugees have filtered out of the unofficial camps and into cheap apartments. Outside of the Muslim fishbowl of the camps, they can talk about Christ more freely but still have to move furtively. Some formerly Muslim women who have become Christians invite their relatives and friends to their apartments to have tea and talk about the gospel once a week, the ministry leader said.
“Our sisters are also preaching the gospel with unreached people in the city,” he said.
He too has seen a change in refugee attitudes toward Christians. They arrive hardened from trauma and a journey in which no one was willing to help them, and they find it hard to trust anyone, he said. When they arrive in Turkey they are threatened by people on the street, he added, and they don’t regard Allah as someone they can look to for help.
“But right after they came to know us and witnessed what we were trying to do for them without expecting anything from them, they changed,” he said. “After we delivered the Good News of Christ to them, they started to act differently from when we first knew them. They became trustful and helpful for the others as well.”
There are still many people who have closed their hearts to everyone, he said.
“They are not open to anyone yet, and we are trying to earn their trust and build a good connection with them,” he said. “We are telling them all the time that we are not expecting anything from you, just your trust. That’s all we telling to them; we are praying hard to win these people.”
Native missionaries are working throughout the region to win people’s trust and give them a rare opportunity to know Christ. Please consider a donation today to help them win people into the kingdom.