INSTANBUL, Turkey - Three years ago, a brutal slaying of three Christians in Malatya, Turkey, shook believers there.
Many believed the murders would stop the gospel in the Muslim nation. But a small, vibrant Christian community has worked to ensure that doesn't happen.
The Malatya incident was perhaps the most tragic and brutal murder of Christians in modern-day Turkey.
On April 18, 2007, German Christian Tilman Geske and Turkish Christians Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel were bound to their chairs, tortured, and stabbed at a Bible print shop in Malatya. The throats of the three house church leaders were slit. Five suspects were put on trial.
Murders Leave Their Mark
The horrifying attack has left its mark on the evangelical community.
Pastor Carlos Madrigal says many Turkish believers have received threats over the years, but they never expected to see such an act of violence against fellow believers.
Now, they're much more aware of the risks of being Christian in a Muslim-dominated society.
"For years, we have seen people coming to the church sometimes asking for financial help thinking that if they become Christians, they will get a passport, or best job, or things like that," Madrigal said.
"But now, after the Malatya murders, we saw that people coming are taking seriously, or considering seriously, what it means to become a Christian and it helps at some level to purify the church in Turkey."
Risking Lives for Faith
Originally from Spain, Madrigal fought with the Turkish government for years to win recognition for his evangelical church.
In June 2001, the Evangelical Protestant Foundation of Istanbul was finally granted registration. It was the first time the Turkish government allowed a foundation to provide legal covering for churches.
Most people who come to Madrigal's church, Vakfi Protestant of Istanbul, are former Muslims. He asks Christians around the world to pray for Turkey's small body of believers. They number only about 5,000 in a nation of 70 million people.
"Many people I'm sure are seeking for something else, but they don't know what they are looking for is Jesus Himself," Madrigal said. "By your prayers you are opening doors that will help us to reach all these people."
And some Christian evangelists risk their lives just to share their faith in Turkey.
"When I first felt that little blood trickling down my throat, I thought 'Oh boy, I'm dying now. This is it. This is the end,'" former Muslim Murat Aydin recalled.
Aydin almost died while meeting with a young Muslim soldier named Yasin Karasu. Karasu said he wanted to know more about Jesus. When they met at a church to study the Bible last August, Karasu put a knife to Aydin's throat. He dragged him into the street, placed a Turkish flag on his head and threatened to kill him.
"He was saying 'This man is a traitor. He's a missionary dog and we're not going to allow him to do this stuff and we're going to stop him,'" Aydin recalled.
Turkish 'Identity' Conflict
Even though Turkey was home to the early Christian church, many Turks like Karasu believe Christianity is a Western religion. They believe Turks must be Muslim.
"It's obvious he's been taught and believed to think that it's impossible for a Turk to be a Christian. And the fact that someone like me will claim to be a Turk and yet can be a Christian just drives them mad, I guess," Aydin said.
Karasu dropped the knife and was arrested and sent to prison. Aydin said if he ever sees Karasu again, he will tell him that he forgives him and that he only wants him and other Turks to come to know Jesus.
That's the desire of another evangelist in Turkey, named Ali. His story is told in the DVD "More than Dreams."
Ali was an alcoholic who would often sneak drinks at work. He was an abusive husband and father.
But all that changed when he joined some friends on the Haj, the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. That's where Ali had an encounter with Jesus in a dream.
After that, he set aside the alcohol and started treating his family and others with respect. He eventually started a church in Ankara right next to a mosque. He's anxious to share Jesus with anyone who will listen.
He too met a young Muslim who was seeking to learn more about Christianity After about a month of prayer and instruction, the young Muslim put a gun to Ali's head started to wonder if he would go to Hell.
"I feel at that time, during this process, the Holy Spirit began to settle upon him," Ali said. "I believe that the fact he did not kill me comes from the seed of God's Word entering into his heart."
The young assailant threw down the gun and ran. He's since accepted Christ into his life.
Seeds of the Martyrs
Ali and his family have received many other threats over the years, but he insists he won't stop. He said he's unafraid each time he leaves his home or church office because he knows where he's going.
"I am sure I am going to Jesus and to the presence of God," he said.
So three years after the Malatya murders, Christians like Ali, Aydin and Madrigal are boldly helping to move the Turkish church forward.
"People are coming again to the church as maybe two, three years before again with a thirst for Christ," Madrigal said. "I believe that the seeds planted through the martyrs will bring great fruit in this country."
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