Sowing among Syrians in Turkey

Nicole James | Turkey

Clarissa*, a long-term worker who had been serving in the OM Near East Field, needed to leave her host country for six weeks while applying for a visa. During that time, she decided to volunteer in Turkey with a group working amongst displaced Syrians. In the end, Clarissa could not return to the Near East so she extended her stay in Turkey, recognising the opportunity to continue reaching out to the people group God had placed on her heart.

“Years before, God gave me a heart for being in a war-torn country. Then God gave me Isaiah 61:1-3, ‘Bring comfort to my people, bring healing to my people, then they will be the ones to rebuild the land’… Two years ago, God [gave] me this passage for Syria,” she explained.

Even before Europe started returning migrants to Turkey in April 2016, Clarissa realised what was happening. “When the doors [to Europe] close, there will be so many Syrians in Turkey. The Turks don’t want them here. Syrians don’t have a home; they’re not wanted in Turkey, Jordan, or Lebanon. A local told me that Syria’s becoming a stench to the world… My question is how do I give healing and comfort to Syrians so they will be the ones to bring healing to their country?“

In Turkey, Clarissa works alongside two Syrian men, believers for 7 and 11 years, respectively.  “It’s been really exciting seeing their heart for the [Syrians]. They work really well together.”

Her presence as a woman strengthened the team. Clarissa said, “having a female on visits means that ladies will stay in the room and hear the gospel, and when people come to visit, if there’s a lady there, they will bring their wife and daughters.”

Clarissa also discovered her struggle to learn Arabic for three years in the Middle East had equipped her to dive straight into ministry in Turkey, filling a language gap that other workers and Turkish church members couldn’t. “People have seen the need and opportunity, but they haven’t had the language. All the workers that come to Turkey learn Turkish,” she stated. “I realized that what we’re struggling with today can be a huge blessing to people in the future.”

Using Arabic, Clarissa encouraged a Syrian girl in a crowded Turkish shop. When she heard Clarissa speak her language, the girl gave her a huge hug. Then “she kept following me and talking in Arabic,” Clarissa remembered. A few months later, Clarissa visited the girl at her house. Again, the girl gave her a hug. The girl also came and watched the Jesus film with Clarissa. “She’s very open for the gospel. She’s afraid of what her parents will say, but she really wants to know. She’s tired of Islam…She has this hunger in her eyes,” Clarissa said.

During an outreach, Clarissa and the two Syrian men provided training for three Syrian couples. The husbands had been believers for six to nine years, but the wives had only come to Christ within the previous few months in Turkey. While praying with one of the women, who was pregnant, Clarissa discovered a cord tied around her waist, attaching a bag containing Qur’anic verses.

“I know this is wrong, but is this ok? I’m really afraid,” she told Clarissa.

“Let’s ask Jesus,” Clarissa suggested. “We prayed, and she felt that she needed to take it off. But she didn’t take it off. Then we prayed again, and she took it off.” Holding the bag in her hand, the woman reached into her clothing and removed a second bag, given to her by a powerful sheikh. She used to be filled with fear, Clarissa remembered, but now “every time I see her, she is so filled with joy and has this twinkle in her eyes.”

Recently, Clarissa re-read the parable of the sower in Matthew 13. She recalled conversations with other workers, who were sad about some Syrians along the Turkish border who had become believers but lost interest after a while. From the parable, though, she realised some seed on the rocky ground “springs up and then dies down. But then I read the last line, about the seed that falls on good ground and reaps 100-fold.” Yes, some Syrian believers had already fallen away, but “there are others that have the seed in their heart, and I believe God will use them to bring 100-fold ministry in Syria.”

Ahmed*, for example, already desired a relationship with God before ISIS invaded his small town in Syria. His family contradicted him, though, telling him it was wrong to make God human. At one point, he sensed Jesus’ presence with him, but his friends, too, told him he was wrong. Soon, Ahmed stopped seeking God.

The day ISIS arrived in his village, Ahmed’s friends warned him to flee. Ahmed saw his friends and family packing their things and leaving, but he didn’t believe the threat was real. Instead, he hopped on his motorbike and rode out of town. He saw a group of men approaching and decided to ask them what they had heard. As he got closer, he realized they were ISIS. Both sides were equally scared of each other, but after the ISIS soldiers seized and searched Ahmed, they ended up throwing him in prison. Later, held in a small ISIS-controlled town, Ahmed became the local Islamic religious leader, replacing a counterpart who couldn’t speak Arabic well enough to lead the five daily prayers.

Eventually, ISIS released Ahmed, providing him a paper to travel without fear of capture for 30 days. He ended up in Turkey, where, within a few days of arrival, he attended a church service. Immediately, he became a believer. Clarissa remembered his transformation: “He was very very hungry, wanting to know Jesus, ministering to others,” she described.

In Turkey, Clarissa and the two Syrian men she served with visited Ahmed and his parents. They saw Ahmed lead his family to Christ—first his brother, living in Africa, then his brother’s wife. “His mother was kind of open, but his father was very against it,” Clarissa said. “The last time we went to visit, the father acted very differently towards us and said, ‘All my children have become believers, all my siblings, and now, even my father has become a believer. What am I going to do? I don’t have any choice.”

Now Ahmed is back in Syria, living with another believer and continuing to reach out to others.

Like Ahmed, the Syrians in Turkey who are ready to receive and accept the truth of Jesus “receive very quickly,” Clarissa said. “The people who aren’t ready to receive: we can give them aid, show them love, and wait for them to come and ask us questions.”

“The whole world is praying for Syria at the moment,” she continued. “I just feel that I’m riding on a wave of prayers. God has shown me that it’s not hard, God just needs someone to come and bring the answer to these prayers that have been prayed.”

Pray for Arabic-speaking teams to be established in Turkey. Pray for workers and resources, such as Arabic Bibles, to minister to the thousands of Syrians stranded in Turkey. Pray that God will raise up Syrian believers to return and rebuild their country.

*Name changed

Published: Thursday, 15 June 2017
Credit: Nicole James
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