Over the past few years, Zach B. (last name withheld for security reasons) played a major role in opening the door for the gospel in Turkey—but he always had a hand on the pepper spray in his pocket when he opened the door to visitors to his Istanbul church.
The American father of four’s security consciousnesses was prompted by three death threats received during his time in the Islamic country, anger that was provoked by the impact he was making. Zach helped start seven new churches, seeing 100 former Muslims baptized in a two-year period—remarkable results in a nation of some 80 million where the total Christian population is less than the size of an American megachurch: under 10,000.
As a result, he was one of around 60 foreign Christians forced to leave the country recently—along with his wife, Laura, and their children—when their visas were not renewed. But aware of the increasingly strategic nature of Turkey in the staunchly Muslim MENACA (Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia) region, he expects to be involved with the country in some ongoing manner.
“I believe we’re in the century for more Muslims to come to Christ than we have ever seen in history,” Zach says. “It is exciting to see what God is doing, not only in Turkey but in other countries in that part of the world. But we need to see the vision for missions. The church doesn’t grow unless people go.”
Zach and his family went to Turkey in 2007, spending their first five years in the capital, Ankara, working alongside longtime Foursquare National Leader Ihsan Ozbek. Foursquare Missions International’s area missionary for MENACA, Sam Winston, notes how Zack and Ihsan share the same vision for Foursquare in Turkey, “reaching their major population, ministering to refugees and immigrants within their boarders, and sending workers out to the surrounding nations.”
After moving to Istanbul in 2012, Zach was part of starting several Turkish- and Arabic-speaking churches in the region as well as in Iran and Germany, in part through refugee ministry. Dreams, visions and miracles featured in many former Muslims coming to faith in Jesus.
Zach ascribes much of the fruitfulness to two emphases: teamwork and reliance on the Holy Spirit. “We had a high value for being led by the Spirit in every single decision we made,” he says. “We just tried to be clay in God’s hands for Him to be able to shape a little kingdom work.”
“I believe we’re in the century for more Muslims to come to Christ than we have ever seen in history.” —Zach B.
Those advances didn’t come without opposition. There were those three threats on his life, one of them from an ISIS group. Soon after the new church in Istanbul opened, it was attacked by a mob of young men—hence the cautionary pepper spray he carried. Now armed police stand watch outside each Sunday.
While Turkey is officially a secular state, there is a strong Islamic influence, and it is illegal to share the gospel with anyone under 18. “It’s not an easy place to serve,” Zach acknowledges. “It’s a dark place.” Ihsan speaks of the high price people can pay on becoming Christians; they risk being ostracized by their friends and families, losing their jobs, and facing violence or even death.
Yet “there is a spiritual hunger here,” says Ihsan, who in addition to pastoring the country’s largest church, in Ankara, oversees Foursquare’s 33 Kurtulus congregations, which take their name from the Turkish word for “salvation.” Among those who will be continuing the work Zach started are Kurtulus members who have completed a leadership training program he also established.
He downplays his part in all that has happened. “What we’ve seen is that God calls many different people from different backgrounds,” he says. “We need everybody; everyone has something to offer, something to give.”