As a Turkish Christian, Ender Peker is used to facing hostility from religious Muslims, so he was shocked last fall when an imam asked him to take over food distribution at a nearby refugee camp.
“He said to me, ‘I want you to talk to them and distribute food to them.’ He was glad to give me this responsibility,” Peker told World Watch Monitor.
The “them” the imam referred to are Iraqi Yazidis. As a monotheistic religion that includes elements of ancient Iranian religions, Christianity and Islam, Yazidis are so unorthodox that most Muslims have traditionally derided them as “devil worshippers.” So when, along with other Iraqis fleeing ISIL attacks, traumatized Yazidis escaped to Turkey last summer, they were afraid to live among Iraqi Muslims in refugee camps set up by the Turkish national government.
On arrival in Turkey, the Yazidis were placed in empty schools and municipal buildings, and many also ended up living in a city park. So the Diyarbakir Protestant Church stepped in to help them, visiting them and donating blankets and food.
The Church also helped the local government establish the first Yezidi refugee camp in a former airplane hangar. Members donated 50 large tents that had been used for its summer church camps.
This opportunity was an unexpected one for such a small Turkish church with only 65 members. But it began a process of reconciliation between the tiny Protestant community and local authorities who had been mistrustful of it, and even hostile.
“They thought we would come to offer aid, but then leave just as quickly. We stayed. They complimented us, that we did what we said we would do,” Peker said.
The Diyarbakir church continues to serve the 30,000 Yezidis who have settled in south-eastern Turkey. It has also been able to provide food, clothes, shelter and other forms of aid to Kurdish Muslim families who fled the Syrian city of Kobani.
Through these relief efforts, doors have opened for Church members to improve their relations with officials in the region. Local government leaders told them they are “deeply grateful” for the help of the church.
As one of the Church leaders said: “God never causes evil to happen, but He can do wonderful things by using the church in difficult situations.”
- Give thanks for the Turkish Church and the opportunities it has to help and witness to the refugee communities.
- Give thanks for improved relationships and understanding between the Church and local authorities is south-eastern Turkey.
- Pray for the Church in other parts of Turkey, where there is still mistrust and persecution for Turkish believers. Pray that the witness and integrity of the Diyarbakir Church will spread to other areas.
- Pray for many refugees to come to know Christ through the relationships that are built with local Christians.
Matthew 25 vs 40: “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”