Open Doors Asks For Prayers After Church in Turkey Forced to Close its Doors

Sunday, August 11, 2002

Open Doors Asks For Prayers After Church in Turkey Forced to Close its Doors

SANTA ANA, CA (ANS) -- Turkish security police ordered a Protestant Christian congregation meeting for 40 years in the southeastern port city of Iskenderun to close its doors in mid-June, declaring the church had "no legal basis" and that its activities were harmful to society, Compass Direct reported today.

Pastor Yusuf Yasmin, 71, was served official notice by the security police of Hatay province to close and stop all activities of the New Testament Church in Iskenderun.

Compass Direct reported the abrupt two-page order was dated and delivered on June 14 to Yasmin, who was ordered to remove the church sign and list of worship services from the building by 5:00 p.m. the same day. According to a copy of the directive obtained by Compass Direct, the church was ordered to close "because your activities will incite religious, sectarian and dervish-order discrimination; will harm religious and national feelings; and will create offense in the society."

Signed by District Security Director Salih Gokalp, the order declared that the church's location had not been approved in the municipal zoning plan and that no religious or other private education of any kind could be allowed on the premises without the express permission of the Ministry of Education, Compass Direct reported.

The church has met in its current location for the past seven years without previous complaints from the Turkish authorities. "What a tragedy. This faithful congregation has a constitutional right to worship the Lord…yet, they're forced to close their doors. This is another example of harassment and persecution of Christians," says Jerry Kitchel, Director of Communications for Open Doors USA. "We must lift up these believers in prayer that they might regain the freedom to worship Christ in their church as they have done for many, many years."

According to Compass Direct, Yasmin and the majority of his congregation, averaging 80 to 90 worshippers at Sunday services, are Turkish citizens from a variety of ethnic Christian backgrounds.

"We are not enemies of the state," a bewildered Yasmin said by telephone from Iskenderun to a Compass Direct reporter. "We love our nation. So why are they doing this to us?" After pastoring and preaching for 43 years, Yasmin admitted he had found it very difficult to be forbidden to worship with his congregation for the past month.

A lawyer retained by the New Testament Church confirmed to Compass Direct that he is preparing to file a case later this week before the administrative courts on behalf of the Iskenderun Protestants to regain their constitutional rights to freedom of worship and religious activities.

Iskenderun is located just 25 miles from Antakya (ancient Antioch), where the New Testament says Christ's followers were first called Christians. Currently working in 60 countries with 25 international offices and over 300 employees worldwide, Open Doors with Brother Andrew delivers Bibles and other study materials, provides literacy training and pastoral training and advocates on behalf of those who are persecuted for their faith in Christ Jesus. Open Doors will celebrate 50 years of ministry in 2005.