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Please Pray for Prison Ministries in Turkey

Agape Church: Samsun, Turkey
(on the Black Sea Coast)
June 2010
 Special prison ministry letter

“… he looked down from his holy height, from heaven the LORD looked at the earth, to hear the groans of the prisoners,  to set free those who were doomed to die.” (Psalm 102:19, 20)

Dear Brother and Sister,

I greet you in the peerless name of Jesus Christ.  Again, I wish to thank you for your fervent prayers and very gracious gifts.  I would also like to convey the greetings and deep gratitude from the inmates I am ministering to in two Turkish prisons.  Today, June 9th, I had the opportunity to visit the prison in Bafra, a town seventy kilometers in the interior from Samsun.

My introduction to this prison was initiated through an inmate who wrote asking me to visit him if I could. Somehow, the Gospel of John which I distribute had come into his hands.  I can only go to a prison if one of the inmates desires a visit from me.  I gladly complied.  Of course before I visited him I had to go to the office of the responsible prison authorities.  As I am a recognized Protestant pastor, they cordially received me.  Then I met the prisoner who had written.  Upon leaving, I left nine copies of an evangelistic production of the Gospel of John “Water, Bread, Life” with him. Along with the Gospel of John, I also gave a Bible. 

On my next visit I learned that a number of prisoners had read with great interest Acts 16 about Paul’s and Silas’s imprisonment in Philippi, the earthquake, the foundations of the prison being shaken, all the doors being immediately opened, and everyone’s chains falling off.  They excitedly asked: “Orhan bey, what will happen if we pray that the prison walls collapse?”  At this point, Murat intervened, “No, no, you cannot do that.  You will be tempting God, which you are not supposed to do.”  Here I was making a visit to encourage these prisoners, and I was receiving fresh truths about God and was being deeply encouraged in my faith through them!  Then a touching request followed: “We have submitted our lives to Jesus Christ, believing in him as our Savior.  Now we wish to be baptized.”  Immediately I sensed the difficulty in answering their earnest appeal.  I said, “It is not baptism which saves you, but faith in Christ as your Redeemer”.  I continued my explanation, referring to the criminal crucified with Christ who confessed him as his Savior and received Christ’s assurance that “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:39-43). They were not entirely satisfied, but realized that there was no possibility to fulfill their longing at this time.

I reassured them, “As soon as your sentence is completed, I will meet you at the exit gate and that very day I will baptize you.”  What a pity that they still have quite a bit of time to serve!  Especially one guy who was involved in the universal Islamic offence of ‘honor killing’ will be in for a while.  He immediately responded, “I took a life and ended up here.  But in this place God gave me new life!”  I could hardly hold back my tears.  I didn’t know what to say; I turned my head to hide my emotions and thanked the Lord Jesus Christ for revealing his marvelous grace to these men. A number of prisoners in this penitentiary trusted in Jesus Christ as their Savior.  One of them, Lütfi, was converted after my initial visit to this prison.  He is a very enthusiastic believer.

My conversation with the new Christians in this prison is carried on through an open window of about one meter square.  I am not able to relate their deep joy for my visit.  The only information they have about Christianity is a bit of subjective, gossipy material which they hear on TV from time to time.  Other than that, until now they knew nothing.  One after another they started bombarding me with questions.  Actually, some of their questions were quite difficult.  I am a believer in Christ for fifteen years, yet I was unable to answer some of their questions offhand.  I would ask them to give me a minute, then I would do some serious thinking so I could come up with a proper answer.  Strange and also encouraging was that as I was beginning to answer them with a verse, they would quote the rest of the verse!  They had already memorized it, especially one man, Murat Yilmaz, who was the first believer.  This man had begun memorizing the Gospel of John.  He already has completed three chapters. Humorously he said, “When I get out of here, I will become a ‘hafiz’ of the Incil (New Testament).  ‘Hafiz’ is a well-known title for those who have memorized the Quran.  With this joyful assurance he was actually implying that he will memorize all the words of the New Testament! 

Please pray that I may be able to continue making these visits and always enjoy the favor of the officials. During my visits they receive me gladly, offer coffee and tea, reassuring me that I can continue to come.  Pray that there may be no unfavorable change in policy due to pressure from some authority.  There are approximately one thousand prisoners in the Vezirköprü prison.  In the Bafra prison there are approximately six hundred long-term prisoners.  Visiting these prisons is a great responsibility on my shoulders.  Week after week I always convey your greetings to them and they respond with, “Please greet those friends from us.”  I am very thankful to the Lord for those who contribute to assist with fuel costs, which are very high at this time.  There is one church in particular which is supporting my prison outreach with prayer and financial assistance.

Before I went to the prison this time I did some shopping for the prisoners, especially Turkish sweets which they never get.  In front of the prison gate there is a kebapci -- the man who prepares hot kebab for visitors who buy it and give it to an incarcerated relative or friend.  One of the prisoners told me he has no one.  He hadn’t had a visitor for three years.  This time I came with some underwear, shaving gear, and detergent to wash his clothes.  I am thankful that I can carry necessary items to them, which bring joy to their hearts.  The words of Christ came to mind: “…I was in prison and you came to me” (Matthew 25:36).  “…and the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least of these my brothers, you did for me” (v. 40).   I wish you could have seen their genuine joy and appreciation.

I give all this information, not as interesting experiences, but in order to burden your hearts for the prison ministry in Turkey, where hardly anything is done.  Pray also for my safety as I move around. And don’t forget the officials in these places, whose attitude is most favorable. Many of them have received Scriptures, along with my verbal witness to them. 

Your brother in Christ,