Monday 16th April, Andrew Brunson will go on trial in the Turkish city of İzmir, for being a follower of Jesus. Of course, that not how they’re framing it. Instead they’re charging him with being an “executive” of a terrorist movement which suits them because he is a foreigner and therefore regarded as a bargaining chip. Up to his formal indictment in March he was held without charge for 17 months.
Church in Chains, the Irish organisation supporting persecuted Christians, reports that Andrew’s daughter Jacqueline described the allegations as “absurd”. She said, “My father is a peaceful pastor. My family loves and respects the Turkish people, and my father has been dedicated to serving them for over two decades.”
Precisely because he is a Bible-believing Christian, Andrew has an advantage. Right there in prison he will still remember that the ancient name for İzmir is “Smyrna”, which appears towards the end of the Bible (in Revelation chapter 2) as a symbol of difficult persecution. And Smyrna was just the latest in a long line of persecutions endured by the 1st century Christians.
Somehow this issue gets missed when missiologists study the “Acts of the Apostles” as a handy-dandy movement manual. That’s because we seem to suffer from a kind of snow-blindness that causes us to pay no attention whatsoever to one of the early church’s main driving forces – persecution. It’s the elephant in the Acts sitting room.
Did all this first century persecution turn them into a group of grumpy old men? Far from it. They “rejoiced because they were counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts chapter 5). No persecution complex for them!
But look closer at the locations of early persecution (and Andrew, as a lover of Turkey, will know this too) – a lot of it was in (modern-day) Turkey. In the Anatolia city of Lystra they stoned St Paul, dragged him outside the city and left him for dead.
So did that finish the Turkish church? Quite the opposite! The disciples were first called “Christians” in Turkey (in Antakya). The apostle Paul himself was born in the Çukurova region (in Tarsus). Timothy was from Anatolia.
And it was in Turkey that the following centuries saw the construction of the biggest church building in the world for a thousand years!
We’re proud of you Andrew. You are in distinguished company. You are much more valuable than an bargaining chip in geo-politics.