Monday, September 10, 2007


It’s Sunday and we’re docked at the strikingly beautiful city of Istanbul, Turkey. We had our own worship service this morning for those not on an early excursion, and most of our folks who weren’t on a planned tours visted different sites in the city.
It’s now Sunday afternoon, and at this moment, I can hear at least six different Muslim calls-to-prayer over loud speakers across the city – and that’s just within my hearing range (there must be a hundred others I can’t hear in this city of 15 Million people that sprawls for about 50 miles.) Each warbling, high-pitched sing-song chant in Arabic is in painful disharmony with the others, and the different calls clash with each other like playing five notes next to each other on a piano keyboard. It’s really unnerving and unsettling to hear. What a contrast with the beautiful musical harmony that is a part of our worship experience – and which I missed so much today at Green Acres!

Istanbul is a city in transition trying to find its identity. The city truly bridges east and west, because it is located on the dividing point between Europe and Asia. The city spans the narrow body of water (Golden Horn – or Hellespont in earlier literature) that connects the Aegean Sea with the Black Sea. As I look to the left, I see buildings and ornate mosques in Europe, and as I glance to the right across the Bosphorus (the thriving harbor), I see buildings and mosques in Asia. Istanbul is at a cultural and religious crossroads and it could play a major role in the unfolding of history in these last days.

A LITTLE HISTORY: In 330 A.D. Constantine moved the capital of the Empire from Rome to the city formerly known as Byzantium (Byzantine art and culture stem from this site). At first Constantine called the city New Rome (like New York) but the name was later changed to Constantinople in his honor. In 395, Theodosis divided the Empire between his sons, with the western empire administered from Rome and the eastern empire centered in Constantinople. A little later, the catholic church (“catholic” with a small “c” just means worldwide church) divided between West and East. The West became the Roman Catholic Church and the East became the Eastern Orthodox Church (also known as Greek Orthodox or Russian Orthodox).

With the spread of Islam in the 8th century, most areas in the Byzantine Empire fell to the Muslim armies. Constantinople held out longer than other areas. (The European Crusader armies of the Fourth Crusade controlled Constantinople from 1204-1262).

But in 1453, the Islamic warrior, Sultan Mehmet II, captured the city and changed the name to Islambol (“the city of Islam”). The modern version of the name is “Istanbul.” The Ottoman Empire grew and thrived for the next 400 years. The Ottoman Turks were one of the most prosperous and powerful dynasties in world history. With the arrival of Islam as the only religion, the churches were closed and turned into mosques.

For instance, one of the oldest Christian Church buildings in the world is found in Istanbul. It’s called Haghia Sophia (Church of Holy Wisdom) and dates back to 537 A.D. When Constantinople was captured by the Muslims it was converted to a mosque, and today it is a museum. As an avid lover of church history, I couldn’t make myself visit it today because I’m afraid I would have been saddened by the way the beautiful church had been kidnapped by the Muslm Conquerors. Since that time until now, Turkey has been a predominately Muslim nation.

A LITTLE TRIVIA: Istanbul is where the British nurse, Florence Nightingale, became famous. During the Crimean War in 1854-56 she set up a hospital for wounded British, French, and Turkish soldiers. She is credited with creating modern nursing practice.

After WWI, the sultanate was abolished and Turkey became a republic. For the past 80 years Turkey has mandated a separation between government and religion. While being a Muslim country, it has maintained a secular government which has also allowed Christian churches to exist in Turkey. There aren’t many churches, but they are not illegal. Currently about 5% of Turks are Christians. However, that could change soon – and not to the advantage of Christians.

Unless you’ve had your head in the sand for the past decade, you know that it is the stated goal of militant Islamic forces to establish Islamic states in EVERY country – but especially in every country where Islam is prominent. I read just today in an English newspaper that in recognition of the 9/11 attacks that Osama Ben Laden’s has released a video in which he directs all Americans to embrace Islam – as if it’s an option. For much of history, Muslims converted nations by saying, “convert or die.” That’s basically the same message that OBL is still mouthing. At least he’s not guilty of political doublespeak – he doesn’t beat around the Bush (no pun intended).

Unfortunately, times are changing in Turkey. There are loud and vocal forces who are attempting to steer Turkey away from its distinction between secular and religious governments. In the last election, a pro-Islamic party was placed in power. There is an alarming trend in Turkey to make it less like the West and more like the radical Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia and other Arabic countries.

I’ve read that ten years ago, it was rare to see a Turkish female wearing a burkha (head covering). Over the past two days, I estimate that about 50% of the Turkish women are now wearing them – an indication that the population is embracing a stricter form of Islam than before. There have been recent large demonstrations in Istanbul to change the country from their current republic back to a more religious-based government. If Turkey becomes an Islamic state, it will be a huge plum for militant Islam. If that should happen, God forbid, then once again the churches would be closed and Christians might be expelled. In other words, as in other Islamic Sates, Christianity would again be illegal.

Based upon my observation, it could go either way. We need to pray for the wonderful, friendly, people of Turkey – that they will resist the extremist forces that want to drag them back into the 15th Century.

Don’t be fooled, Istanbul!

If they become an Islamic State, our mission efforts in this part of the world would be severely hampered. So, pray for Turkey, and for the people of Turkey. Ask every Christian you know to that the Turkish people will refuse to be drawn into militant Islamic extremism.

In my humble opinion, Islam is not just another nice religion that we can place beside Christianity and politely say, “Muslims get to paradise through Mohammed, and Christians get to God through Jesus.” It is a dangerous, deceptive, false religion that prevents people from even listening to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s true in Turkey just as it is in Texas, Tennessee, Tanzania or Tazmania – “Salvation in found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

I’ve enjoyed seeing Turkey today, but now I’ve got to go … it’s time to dress for dinner. So you might say today has been all about Turkey and dressing.