Office Hours—To the Church at Smyrna: The Story of Fikret Bocek

This week Office Hours talks with Fikret Bocek, graduate of Westminster Seminary California and a Reformed church planter and pastor in Izmir (Smyrna), Turkey. In this interview, recorded last summer, just after the planting of the congregation in May, 2009, Fikret tells the story of his conversion from Islam to Christianity, of his arrest, of the martyrdom of Turkish Christians, and of the establishment of the congregation. This is an episode you won’t want to miss and one that you will want to share with friends so that they can hear this story and pray for the advance of the gospel in Turkey.

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18 Comments

  1. Pingback: Office Hours—To the Church at Smyrna: The Story of Fikret Bocek (via Heidelblog) « Narrow is the Path

  2. Pingback: Office Hours—To the Church at Smyrna: The Story of Fikret Bocek (via Heidelblog) « Pilgrimage to Geneva

  3. Very interesting listen.

    I hear stories about how Muslims in the middle east are coming to Christ because of dreams and visions of Christ. I tend to discount these stories because the method is irregular (QIRE-y), the stories have the “feel” of possibly having grown in the retelling, and we’re not told anything about the actual content of their belief. I note that Rev. Bocek didn’t mention anything like this.

    Any thoughts or insights?

    • I understand your skepticism but you might listen again to the last third or so. Fikret described the struggle of getting converts into church but yes, there is an actual congregation of believers, many of them converts, attending to the due use of the means of grace in Izmir.

    • I may not have been completely clear in my question. I do not doubt Rev. Bocek story at all. He’s doing it the right way, and seeing true though slow fruit.

      What I’m skeptical about are stories that I see about mass conversions in the Muslim contries fueled by dreams and visions.

    • Hi Chuck,
      Whenever I am in the US people in different churches tell me that thousands of Muslims are converting through dreams and visions. Some missionaries here are exaggerating the situation when they tell their tales in their own countries. Some missionaries even encourage each other to look look for those stories in Turkish villages where dreams are shared in public gatherings with some folk tales…etc. I have even seen some missionaries asking Muslim converts whether they remember seeing an old man in their dreams! And encouraging a form of deception.
      I don’t see people converting through dreams or visions here in Turkey. I have heard some people dreaming about an old man with white beard.
      Old man with white beard is common among the Muslim Arab, Iranians and Shamanistic Turkish cultures. When you encourage people to talk about their dreams they will tell you stories. But Christians should abandon this practice.
      How can Muslims repent without the preaching of the Word? How can a Muslim become a Christian after seeing an old man in his/her dream without knowing anything about Christ’s substitutionary atonement?

    • Thank you very much for the reply.

      “How can Muslims repent without the preaching of the Word? How can a Muslim become a Christian after seeing an old man in his/her dream without knowing anything about Christ’s substitutionary atonement?”

      Indeed. That was my concern.

  4. Fascinating interview. I was recently in Istanbul and unlike a lot of other Muslim countries I have visited I had no trouble finding a place to worship (I however was looking for an Anglican Church not a reformed one, although one of my fellow worshipers at the Crimea Memorial Church in Beyoglu was a graduate student from the Free University in Amsterdam doing a desertion on mosque and state relations in Turkey). I did however find a few small Turkish (and in one case Persian) language evangelical congregations as I wandered around the city looking for traces of the Byzantine city. One thing that I was especially struck by was the ubiquity of Turkish language apologetic material written by Josh McDowell. As an aside I think your guest must be mistaken when he suggested that there were only about 80 christens in the city in the mid 80’s I would think that there would be at least 80 Christians in the compound of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch alone and I saw at least 10 other churches of varies sizes that were living communities not museums (The 4:00 pm Sunday Mass I witnessed at the RC Saint Antoine Church must have had about 300 people at it). My bet is the number today is more like 10,000. I was also struck by how eager people were to discuss there faith. The cobbler who fixed my wife shoes gave us a bilingual Koran and I had a terrific if somewhat surreal discussion about the music of Cat Stevens with a Muslim Theology Student. The merchant who gave me directions to the seat of the Patriarch insisted that Muslims and Christians were brothers. To my surprise their biggest objections to the Christen faith was not the incarnation as I had suspected but what they perceived as the vengeful and bloody nature of a God that would need the sacrifice of his son in order to forgive a sinner.

    God Bless
    Steve in Toronto

    • Hi Steve,

      He qualified his language at one to say that, at one point, there were 80 ex-Muslim converts. There have been 100 converts alone through his congregation.

      He wasn’t describing all the Christians in Izmir or in Turkey, only giving a snapshot of conditions at a certain point.

    • That makes more sense. As an aside when the Anglican’s built their beautiful church in the nineteenth century they included a font to accommodate full immersion baptism expecting a flood of adult converts. Sadly the present priest informs me that Anglicanism never had much appeal to the native Turks and that his converts come mainly from the city’s imigrent and refugee communities (no dout the churches primary role of ministering to English speaking ex-pats has a lot to do with this). It should also be noted that The Anglican community in that city has also suffered a great deal one of the woman that we worshiped with that morning husband was killed when Al Qaeda bombed the British Consulate destroying its chapel. (To their credit the Anglican’s responded by renovating the memorial Church (it had fallen into disrepair after the First World War) and making it the focus of there worship instead of the more cloistered consulate chapel.

    • Hi Steve,
      Modern missions to Turkey began in 1961. There were no Turkish Christians in 1961. The missionary work between 1961 to 1988 yielded 80 Turkish Muslim converts. Yes, there are some minorities who are Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Assyrian Orthodox and Arab Orthodox. There are some catholic church buildings and German Lutheran church buildings as well. Most of these buildings were built in the 1800s. The new Turkish state did not give permission to build new church buildings since 1923.
      There were 80 Turkish converts from Islam in 1988.
      The number of Turkish converts went up to 1450 in 2000 and,
      According to our statistics, church attendance in all over Turkey was about 2600 (Turkish converts) in 2009.
      There are probably about the same number of Turkish converts who do not or cannot attend any churches due to several reasons.
      99.8% of the 76 million people are Muslims. Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians, foreigners and some refugees living in Turkey attend the orthodox, catholic, Anglican or Lutheran churches built in the 1800s.
      There is a great study on the missionary movement to the Middle East in the 1800s. It is a doctoral dissertation by Peter Pikkert. You can read it as open it as a pdf file here:
      http://uir.unisa.ac.za/bitstream/10500/722/1/thesis.pdf

      Or purchase it from Amazon:
      http://www.amazon.com/Protestant-Missionaries-Middle-East-Ambassadors/dp/1440401500

    • Hello Fikret
      It is a pleasure interacting with you. I hope very much to worship with you and your congregation during my next visit to your lovely country. I am curious about how you define the word Turkish. Am correct that you do not consider Armenian or Greek Orthodox citizens of Turkey to be Turks? If your answer is yes I can understand why the Turkish state see’s Christianity as a threat. If even a Muslim convert does not consider members of these to ancient indigenous churches to be countrymen one can understand why the even the (relatively) secular Turkish state sees converts not just as apostates but as potential traitors (the sad history the Greek Orthodox community illustrates that this prejudices is not always unfounded). Are you making any special efforts to convince your fellow country men of your loyalty to the Turkish state (one thinks of the sometimes comical length English Catholics went to demonstrate their loyalty to the English crown)? I am also interested in how well you church was greeted by the cities other christens (both indigenous and otherwise) I know the Greek Orthodox are often very hostile to protestant missions. I would also like to know how typical my experience at Saint Antoine was It seemed to me (based on what I know is a very small sample) that the Roman Catholics were way ahead of the Protestants in terms of evangelism. Lastly I was fascinated to hear that so many of your congregation is Alevi. The guide that showed us around Cappadocia was Alevi and not only did he tell us that many Turks do not consider him to be a Muslim but that many of his co-religionist is actually crypto-Christians)
      God Bless you and your ministry
      Steve in Toronto

  5. We would love meet you here in Izmir.

    In Turkey Armenians are not Arabs, Turks are not Greeks, Greeks are not Assyrians…etc. However, we are all considered citizens of Turkey.

    You ask “Am correct that you do not consider Armenian or Greek Orthodox citizens of Turkey to be Turks?” Your assumption is from an American or Canadian perspective. Turkey is a nation state, not a multi-ethnical state. Yes, there are approximately 0.1% Eastern Orthodox, Catholic and Jewish citizens who are from other ethnicities. They are all considered Turkish citizens.

    Although there are some Turkish Muslims converted to Orthodox and Catholic religion, they are not involved in active evangelism among the Turks. Orthodox and Catholics (and a few European Protestants such as Germans and English) have more rights to have their own schools, churches, camps… etc than the Turkish Protestants.

    We don’t have to show additional loyalty to the Turkish state. We are law abiding Turkish citizens. We do not encourage nationalism or patriotism.

    If you are interested in a more detailed study on the missions movement in the Middle East, you can read “Protestant Missionaries to the Middle East: Ambassadors of Christ or Culture?” by Pieter Pikkert

    http://www.amazon.com/Protestant-Missionaries-Middle-East-Ambassadors/dp/1440401500

  6. Thanks for your time Fikret. I too look forward to meeting you in Izmir (my last visit to your fair city was marred a nasty case of food poisoning). I know my question about Turkish identity is rooted in my own peculiar Anglo-Canadian-American identity. There does however seem to something peculiar about the formation of the modern Turkish state that made it particularly hostile to religious minorities.
    You and your congregation are in my prayers
    God Bless
    Steve in Toronto

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