It's time to look back and see what God's been up to.
Fresh off the press, we just had another tremendous Christmas Eve service. Christmas Eve is our biggest evangelistic event of the year at Oasis. Muslims respect Jesus as a prophet and some are open to join us in celebrating His birth.
This year, our place was packed once again with over 60 people. About one-third were Syrian refugees. I was personally encouraged when two of my friends, businessmen who I've known since moving to Ephesus decided to come for the first time. The message I shared, revolving around the wise men's journey of discovery and how we're all being guided to Jesus was very clear and to the point. One of my friends said he had a lot to think about after listening to me. He was visibly impacted as were others we talked to.
You can probably guess what our next biggest evangelistic event of the year is - Easter weekend. Normally on Good Friday, we show a movie with a clear message about Jesus. This year, we chose Risen which stars Joseph Fiennes as a Roman centurion investigating the disappearance of Jesus' body after His crucifixion.
One Muslim lady who came that night cried during a part in the movie showing Jesus healing a leper. She was sick and had an impending operation scheduled. She heard Jesus say to her that He was going to heal her in the same way as He healed the leper. Incidentally, this same lady gave her heart to the Lord one week before Christmas. She was one of my language tutors three years ago and we've been in relationship with her ever since. It demonstrates the need for patient and consistent witness in this country.
In 2017, we continued to make ourselves known in our community. Our new place for worship is in an excellent location that is highly visible. The motto for our church is "Connecting People to the Goodness of God" which is written in the front window. Every once in a while, someone will stop by and ask questions about it. Some even take a picture of it!
Every Saturday, streams of people pass by on their way to the weekly outdoor market. In the summer we started to cook a meal every week for people passing by. We stuck a water cooler out on the corner too for days when the weather was unbearably hot and people needed a drink. As each week passes, more and more people stop by. Some are asking for Bibles. We pray with those who have needs. One boy who initially was shy and really didn't want to come inside the church with her mom later told her, "It's so peaceful here. I could stay here for weeks!" That's the presence of God!
Many ask me about the refugee ministry and how that is going. We have a team of Mennonite women in our church who regularly visit families in our community, helping them with physical needs and sharing Bible stories. One of the ladies is quite fluent in Arabic.
Most refugees are able to work in Turkey now and their physical needs are not as acute as they were two years ago. I'm happy to say that more of the ministry I see happening with them is spiritual in nature. This is enhanced by workers who can speak Arabic. Less refugees are entering Turkey. Some are even going back. However this crisis has created a whole new demographic in Turkey which will provide ministry opportunities for years to come.
We've been encouraged the last two months at the number of Turkish people expressing openness and hunger to know more about Jesus. God is softening peoples' hearts more and more. I believe that we're going to start seeing fruit from seeds that have been faithfully scattered for years.
In March it will be 10 years since Cathy and I moved to Ephesus. It will be eight years since we started the church. One lady, another worker who visited us on Christmas Eve gave me an encouraging word. She told me that she can see our church growing in numbers and maturity, something she sees when she visits periodically which I might not see because I'm there every week. We don't always see the progress that's occurring right under our noses! I'm looking forward to more steady growth in the year to come.
In particular, I desire to see more local and less foreign leadership. This is one of my objectives this year, to gradually bring in more Turkish leadership. It's going to be a good year! And as always, I thank you for your faithful giving and partnership in this work, bringing the Light to the Turkic World.