February 20, 2014
“I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).
I recently traveled to Turkey, where I was honored to meet with some incredible brothers who are “fighting the good fight” in a very difficult place. Turkey has long been a distinctive junction, bridging Europe and Asia in the historic city of Istanbul, which was sometimes historically referred to as “Islambol,” meaning “City of Islam.”
These brothers traveled to meet with me in the shadow of the Hagia Sophia, the former church that witnessed the slaughter of Christian martyrs after the fall of Constantinople. As we talked about their own experience of persecution in their city, they lit up with joy as they related how God continues to work in the very city where Emperor Diocletian’s palace was discovered following an earthquake in 1999. The brothers I met with are actively overseeing an indigenous-led community of Christians that meets just steps away from this palace.
Why is this so remarkable? The Roman Emperor Diocletian instituted an empire-wide persecution of Christians soon after he assumed leadership in 284 A.D. During a period that is now referred to as the “Diocletianic Persecution,” or the “Great Persecution,” he launched the most aggressive and far-reaching attempt to destroy Christianity in Roman history. He specifically issued four edicts in an attempt to destroy Christianity. Diocletian’s first edict fiercely forbid Christians to assemble and ordered the destruction of Bibles and meeting places.
The day prior to Diocletian’s first edict, he demanded that the church at Nicomedia, where he spent his winters, be burned along with all of its Bibles. Diocletian’s dream was to wipe Christianity off of the face of the earth. But, of course, that is not the end of the story.
One of the Turkish brothers I met with is now pastoring a church literally feet away from Diocletian’s winter palace. After foreign missionaries were forced to leave, he stepped up and is leading a thriving congregation in the same neighborhood where martyr’s blood once stained the streets. He has been directly targeted by his adversaries, and he and his family have endured much suffering.
When I asked him about his suffering, he reflected thoughtfully on the persecution that he endured and said, with a smile, “It was not a pleasing experience, but it was a powerful experience.”
Join with me in praying for our brothers and sisters who are earnestly contending for the faith in Turkey, and let’s pray that God will enable us to stand strong wherever He has called us.
Dr. Jason Peters serves in VOM’s International Ministries department, traveling frequently to meet with our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world. He lived overseas for five years and has ministered in more than 30 countries as diverse as Cuba, Nepal, Iraq, Nigeria and Indonesia. He and his wife, Kimberly, along with their five children, count it a great honor to serve with the persecuted church.