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Eileen thought about the political changes happening in Turkey, thinking she had neither the faith nor capacity to lead a project to reach every home in the country. But she believed she could find teams to go to each of Turkey’s 81 provinces to do literature distribution and evangelism in a bold, public way.
With that, The 1881 Project was born with a vision to see each of the country’s 81 provinces engaged over an 18-month period. Starting in July 2011, the project also helped commemorate the Bible Correspondence Course’s (BCC) 50th anniversary in 2012.
Local staff at the BCC relayed one experience to Eileen. “Four of them travelled to a province in the southeast,” she reminisced. “They were two Turks, an Armenian and a Kurd—an expression of the gospel itself! While doing literature distribution and sharing with people, they met the priest from the local mosque who was excited by what he heard and invited the team to stay at his house. They shared for hours with him when, at 21:00, he jumped up and said, ‘Oh no; I forgot about my Qur’an class! Would you come to the mosque and tell them the things you are telling me?’ They went with him and shared from the Scriptures with nine curious Muslims until after 1:00 in the morning.”
Prepare, but pay attention
Eileen, team leader of TACO, a creative arts ministry, excited her team about the project too. One team member built the website, the1881project.org, to track progress. TACO had recently created a show using Turkish music, theatre and folk dance that told the story of Abraham and Sarah, ending with a bold proclamation of Jesus being the final sacrifice. In support of The 1881 Project, they took the show around the Marmara region and engaged every province in that region.
“It was the first time we had done what we ended up calling ‘The Holy Spirit Tour,’” said Alan*, a long-termer worker with TACO. “We spent every morning in prayer and worship; in the afternoon and evening, we’d stop to perform anywhere we felt the Holy Spirit was telling us to.”
As the team’s van bumped down the gangplank on their way to Çanakkale, Alan felt from the Lord that they should stop and perform on the seafront nearby. The team was dubious, since there didn't seem to be a soul in sight, but Alan was adamant. So the team set up their stage, put their costumes on and took their instruments out, even though there was only one woman on a park bench. The team began with a few Turkish pop songs to draw a crowd of about 25. After they played, the team engaged with the crowd, offering tracts, New Testaments and a short survey for those who wanted more information.
Two girls on the team noticed the woman on the park bench crying, so they approached her. They were stunned by her story: She had been sitting waiting, her ankles already weighted, to throw herself off the pier and commit suicide. She had been thinking, “No one cares about me, even God.” Imagine: At that moment, people pour out of a van in front of her, perform a play, and the soundtrack asks, “Do you think that no one cares about you, and even God doesn’t care about you, like He did about Abraham?” The woman then prayed to receive the Lord.
The website map started out grey, and as each story poured in, Eileen would post it, turning the province red. Hundreds of people joined the vision in intercession, receiving prayer requests every 18 days, with some attending a live prayer meeting in Istanbul every 81 days.
In December 2012, the website map became completely red when the last province was engaged. Yet, many who had participated weren’t willing for the project to end. One church in South Africa sent representatives to Eileen to deliver the message that it needed to happen all over again. So, in 2014 the project launched for the second time; in 2016, the provinces are turning gold through a special year of prayer to ask God how He wants to use The 1881 Project in the future. We think something special might be in store for 2018.
Aylin Mardin has worked with OM in Turkey for more than 30 years. She’s been involved in church planting in three cities and the development of Turkish worship on a national level. Together with her husband, Aylin has worked to develop the ministry of the Bible Correspondence Course, which has birthed other ministries such as The 1881 Project and Taco, a ministry creatively proclaiming the gospel to Muslims.
Published: Thursday, 02 November 2017
Credit: Aylin Mardin