A light in the darkness

Malatya is a Turkish province 300 miles northeast of Antioch, the city where believers were first called Christians (Acts 11:26). Earlier this year, the people of this city experienced a great tragedy.

On Wednesday morning, April 18, 2007, 46 year old German missionary and father of three Tilman Geske prepared to go to his office, kissing his wife goodbye taking a moment to hug his son and give him the priceless memory, "Goodbye, son. I love you." Tilman rented an office space from Zirve Publishing, a ministry of the Malatya Evangelist Church, which prints and distributes Christian literature within Malatya and nearby cities in eastern Turkey.

In another area of town, 35 year-old Pastor Necati Aydin, father of two, said goodbye to his wife, leaving for the office as well. He had a morning Bible Study and prayer meeting that Tilman and other believers in town including Ugur Yuksel would be attending.

None of these three men knew that what awaited them at the Bible study was the ultimate testing and application of their faith, which would conclude with their entrance into glory to receive their crown of righteousness from Christ and honor from all the saints awaiting them in the Lord's presence.

That same morning, ten young men, all under 20 years old, put into place final arrangements for their ultimate act of faith, living out their love for Allah and hatred of infidels who they felt undermined Islam. The men, one of whom is the son of a mayor in the Province of Malatya, are part of a tarikat, or a group of "faithful believers" in Islam.

The young men got guns, breadknives, ropes and towels ready for their final act of service to Allah. They knew there would be a lot of blood. They arrived in time for the Bible Study, around 10 o'clock.

They were known to the three Christian men as 'seekers' who had attended an invitation-only evangelistic meeting on Resurrection Sunday. Reportedly, after Necati read a chapter from the Bible the assault began. The boys tied Ugur, Necati, and Tilman's hands and feet to chairs and as they videoed their work on their cellphones, they tortured our brothers for almost three hours (details of the torture are recorded in the footnote 1). Neighbors in workplaces near the printhouse said later they had heard yelling, but assumed the owners were having a domestic argument so they did not respond.

Another believer who worked at the printhouse, Gokhan, and his wife had a leisurely morning that day. He slept in till 10, ate a long breakfast and finally around 12:30 he and his wife arrived at the office. The door was locked from the inside, and his key would not work. He phoned and though it had connection on his end he did not hear the phone ringing inside. He called the cell phones of his brothers and finally Ugur answered his phone. 'We are not at the office. Go to the hotel meeting. We are there. We will come there," he said cryptically. As Ugur spoke, Gokhan heard in the telephone's background weeping and a strange snarling sound.

He phoned the police, and the nearest officer arrived at the hotel in about five minutes. He pounded on the door, "Police, open up!" Initially the officer thought it was a domestic disturbance. At that point they heard another snarl and a gurgling moan. The policeman understood that sound as human suffering, prepared the clip in his gun and tried over and over again to burst through the door. One of the frightened assailants unlocked the door for the policeman, who entered to find a grisly scene.

Tilman and Necati had been slaughtered, practically decapitated with their necks slit from ear to ear. Ugur's throat was likewise slit and he was barely alive.

In an official televised response from Ankara, the Interior Minister of Turkey smirked as he spoke of the attacks on these three men. Amid public outrage and protests against the event and in favor of freedom of religion and freedom of thought, media and official comments ring with the same message, "We hope you have learned your lesson. We do not want Christians here."

The Church in Turkey responded in a way that honored God, as hundreds of believers and dozens of pastors flew in as fast as they could to stand by the small church of Malatya and encourage the believers, take care of legal issues, and represent Christians to the media.

When Susanne Tilman expressed her wish to bury her husband in Malatya, the Governor tried to stop it, and when he realized he could not stop it, a rumor was spread that "it is a sin to dig a grave for a Christian." In the end, in an undertaking that should be remembered in Christian history forever, the men from the church in Adana (near Tarsus), grabbed shovels and dug a grave for their slain brother in an un-tended hundred year old Armenian graveyard.

Ugur was buried by his family in an Alevi Muslim ceremony in his hometown of Elazig, his believing fiance watching from the shadows as his family and friends refused to accept in death the faith Ugur had so long professed and died for.

Necati's funeral took place in his hometown of Izmir, the city where he came to faith. Boldly the believers took their stand at Necati's funeral, facing the risks of being seen publicly and likewise becoming targets. As expected, the anti-terror police attended and videotaped everyone attending the funeral for their future use.

In an act that hit front pages in the largest newspapers in Turkey, Susanne Tilman in a television interview expressed her forgiveness. She did not want revenge on those who killed her husband, she told reporters. "Oh God, forgive them for they know not what they do," she said, wholeheartedly agreeing with the words of Christ on Calvary (Luke 23:34).

In a country where blood-for-blood revenge is as normal as breathing, many reports have come to the attention of the church of how this comment of Susanne Tilman has changed lives. One columnist wrote of her comment, "She said in one sentence what 1000 missionaries in 1000 years could never do." Instead of hating she had forgiven.

"Don't pray against persecution, pray for perseverance," urges Pastor Fikret Bocek.

Reported by Darlene N. Bocek (24 April 2007)
Edited by Judith Atkins on behalf of Outreach Media

----------------------------
1. Tilman was stabbed 156 times, Necati 99 times and Ugur's stabs were too numerous to count. They were disemboweled, and their intestines sliced up in front of their eyes. They were emasculated and watched as those body parts were destroyed. Fingers were chopped off, their noses and mouths and anuses were sliced open. Possibly the worst part was watching as their brothers were likewise tortured. Finally, their throats were sliced from ear to ear, heads practically decapitated.