Pastor Ramazan Arkan leads two congregations in Antalya, southern Turkey, just 12 miles from where Paul and Barnabas planted a church in New Testament times. He says, “Two million people live here and there are only 450 Christians.” Pastor Arkan shares his journey to Christ, and how SAT-7 is instrumental in the growth of his congregation.
Like most people, Ramazan Arkan is often faced with the question “What do you do?” When he answers that he is a pastor, they always follow up with another one: “Where do you come from?” They cannot believe that anyone can be a Turk and a Christian, he explains. Turkish identity is very much wrapped up in the country’s main religion – even though most Turks are actually quite secular.
Today, Ramazan pastors Antalya Evangelical Church, a growing church of two congregations in the south coast Turkish resort of Antalya (pictured right). But he once shared his fellow Turks’ misconceptions. “I used to believe what people taught me and was very dedicated, practicing my religion every day,” he says.
It was in high school, when atheist and communist friends threw questions at him he couldn’t answer, that Ramazan began to study his religion and Scriptures more closely. “I thought it would give answers to all my questions and doubts,” he says. “But in fact, the opposite happened.”
TURNING POINT FOR AN ATHEIST
The answers that his spiritual leaders gave to his questions were unconvincing, so for a time, Ramazan drifted into atheism. A turning point came through a close friendship with a Christian colleague.
“I had never met a Christian until that time and we argued over many things,” Ramazan remembers. “Every time I lost because everything I thought I knew about Christianity – from society and television – was all wrong. I told myself that if I read the Bible I could show my friend he was wrong too: maybe I could find some contradictions in the Bible.”
So Ramazan obtained a Bible from his friend and began to study it. He also accepted his friend’s invitation to go to his church, even though he admits he was more interested in finding a girlfriend than meeting God!
There were no young women his age among the small fellowship of 15 people. But they were so kind to him that he carried on going for the next two and a half years. “I liked them because of their friendship and because of their lifestyle,” Ramazan said.
At age 20, like other male citizens in Turkey, Ramazan began a year’s military service. He didn’t enjoy it and suffered with depression. But the verses he had read in the Bible came back to him. “I was on a night shift and started remembering verses of invitation from God,” Ramazan explains. He became very aware of God’s presence and felt like Jesus’ hand was on him. As a result, Ramazan bowed down and gave his life to Christ.
“After that, everything changed,” Ramazan says. Straight after finishing military service, he returned to that small church and was baptized. Ramazan quickly began to serve in the church and was given occasional opportunities to preach.
“I felt God was calling me to something bigger,” he says. As there are currently no Bible schools in Turkey, he trained within the church and through a correspondence course. Three years later, he became the church’s pastor.
A FLOURISHING CHURCH
Now, after 17 years of leading the church, he sees how God has grown a tiny fellowship, begun in 1990 by a Swiss couple, to a flourishing, mission-minded church of over 180 people.
Ramazan explains that older generations have been influenced by religious and nationalist leaders who have long claimed, “Christians are trying to destroy our culture and land.” Due to a disillusionment with politics and traditional beliefs, young adults are far more open-minded and looking for alternatives in other faiths. Ramazan says, “Almost all our visitors are young people.”
LEARNING FROM SAT-7 TELEVISION
Ignorance and misinformation about Christianity has been entrenched since the birth of modern Turkey, when national and religious identity was closely intertwined. Since Turkish language broadcasts began on SAT-7 in 2006, it has played an important part in challenging these views and in supporting Turkish believers. Ramazan shares:
“Many people in my church watch SAT-7. Our culture learns from television. Everything they see on TV is more real to them. I see that SAT-7 is becoming more and more professional and more and more interesting.”
Sections of the media also make many allegations against Turkey’s small Christian community (some 0.2 per cent of the population). Ramazan says:
We don’t have a platform to defend ourselves, but when people hear from SAT-7, then these ideas will change.”
And he thinks the channel’s potential to equip believers is just as important as its role in presenting the Gospel. SAT-7 helps to overcome the shortage of Turkish language literature and resources that enable believers to mature and live out their faith in a sometimes hostile environment.
Pray for Turkish “deists” who still believe in God but have given up on religion, or any relationship with the Living God. Pray for churches in Turkey to be a surrogate family to new believers rejected by their own families, and for the SAT-7 TÜRK team to impact Turkey for God.
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