Malatya Martyrs: Oaks of Righteousness

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MALATYA, Turkey- On Easter Sunday, April 8, 2007, Necati Aydin was in the performance of his life.

The 36-year-old was playing the role of Jesus Christ in an Easter production.

"He loved to serve the Lord. That was his passion and goal in life," said Shemsa Aydin, wife of Necati Aydin.

Born into an Islamic family, Necati converted to Christianity in 1994.

"His family was so upset about his conversion," Shemsa said. "They even put a gun to his head and asked him to recant. But he did not."

Sitting in the audience that Easter morning were five Muslim men who had befriended Necati. According to Turkish authorities, the men wanted to know more about Christianity.

"They were pretending to be seekers," said Pastor Ihsan Ozbek.

Ten days later, on April 18, the men's true intensions would unravel in a brutal attack that would shake Turkey's tiny Christian community.

The five men stormed into Necati's office on the fourth floor of a building.

Armed with kitchen knives, the men tied up Necati and two other Christians, 46-year-old German citizen Tilman Geske and 32-year-old Ugur Yuksel, another Turkish convert from Islam.

"Every time I close my eyes, I can picture things very well," said Susanna Geske, wife of Tilman Geske. "So when I close my eyes I can see him sitting in the office."

Tilman and Susanna moved to Malatya in 1997. They knew that living here wasn't going to be easy. The city has deep Islamist and nationalistic roots. Anti-Christian sentiments run high here.

Ugur Yuksel experienced the tension in 2005 when protestors stood outside the same building, accusing him and other believers of using a publishing company to distribute Bibles.

Shemsa said, "The Bible tells us that when we accept Jesus into our lives, we must be willing to count the cost."

What happened next is still under investigation. But authorities tell us that for two hours the men were repeatedly tortured.

Susanna said, "He had lots and lots of bruises. He must have been beaten up a lot."

"During the torture, the men forced our husbands to recite Islamic prayers to try and get them to renounce their Christian faith," Shemsa said.

Police were dispatched to the scene after getting calls from a nearby office about suspicious activity.

Sources have told CBN News that as soon as the suspects heard the police coming, they decided to end the lives of the three Christians.

"They cut their throats!" Ozbek said.

When the police burst through the door, they found the three with their hands and legs tied to chairs. Tilman and Necati were dead, their throats slit open.

In a video obtained by CBN News, the police can be seen arresting some of the suspects inside the office. The alleged ringleader tried to escape by jumping from the fourth floor balcony. He is still in the hospital.

Ugur was on the floor but still breathing. He was rushed to a hospital but died several hours later.

The suspects reportedly told investigators that they killed the men in defense of Islam. All five were carrying a letter that read: "This should serve as a lesson to the enemies of our religion. We did it for our country."

When asked if she considered her husband a martyr for Christ, Susanna said, "Yes, I do. I think he died for the sake of Christ.and I can tell this to my kids and they'll know their father died for Jesus."

"I miss him a lot, but I know that my father is up in heaven having fun with Tilman and Ugur!" said 7-year-old Elisha, son of Necati.

The attack was the third against Christians in Turkey. A Catholic priest and a prominent Armenian journalist were killed in the last 12 months.

"Our prayer is that their blood will be seed of the church," Shemsa said.

Christians make up less than one percent of Turkey's 70 million people. The rest are Muslims. Evangelicals are an even smaller minority, numbering less than 3,500. Most of them are converts from Islam.

The situation for Christians has gotten worse in the last couple of years, especially after repeated negative stories about them in the national media.

Mustafa Akyol, a prominent Turkish journalist, believes that false claims only fuel the anti-Christian sentiment.

"The media unfortunately has repeatedly depicted missionaries as the fifth column of Western imperialism, and this Western imperialism supposedly tries to carve up Turkey into pieces," said Mustafa Akyol, Turkish Daily News.

And it's not just the media. Turkey's National Security Council has listed missionaries and several evangelical groups as threats to the country.

"They have set us up as a target for someone or whoever wants to make himself a hero," Jerry Mattix, missionary to Turkey, said. "and you know the government and the media are saying that these people are poisoning the minds of individuals and youth. And so anybody, any youth, will get up and say, 'Hey, you know if I kill one of these, then I'll look good.'"

Turkey is a secular country. Freedom of religion is guaranteed under the constitution. But some fear the country is edging towards a religious state ruled by radical Islamists.

A few days after their deaths, Susanna and Shemsa publicly forgave their husband's killers. It was an act that stunned the community and drew national attention.

Shemsa said, "We forgive them because Jesus forgave us."

"And He said we should love our enemies," Susanna said.

Susanna says her husband found comfort in the words of the prophet Isaiah. His last journal entry quoted Isaiah 61:1-3. Those words bring comfort and hope to the family he left behind, and a resolve to stay and finish the work.

Susanna then read the Scriptures,"The spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me because the Lord has anointed me to preach Good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives.They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor."

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