Transcription by Kyle Gilmore
Due to the current political climate in Turkey, we have changed the names of these two Christian missionaries to “Gwen” and “David,” and we are unable to show their faces.
“Gwen,” tell us a little bit about your upbringing and when you started understanding who Christ was.
“Gwen”: I grew up in an amazing Christian family that deeply loved God. They taught me so much about how to love the Word of God, to listen to it, to follow it, and to obey it. My family helped start a church and were a big part of running it. We were typically the first ones to get there and the last ones to leave. My dad was a preacher, as were several other family members.
However, our family focused a great deal on rules and regulations, and I had a tremendous fear of God. I would wake up in the middle of the night scared that I hadn’t ask for forgiveness for my latest sins. When I heard thunder or a train, I would think, “Oh, that’s Jesus coming back! I must remember my latest sins and ask for forgiveness, or I am going to go to hell.” That is the kind of relationship I had with God at the time.
Later, when I went to college, I met people who talked about Jesus as if he were a real person. I was so attracted to the relationship they had and thought, “There really is something more to this than a checklist of do’s and don’ts.”
I saw something deeper—more joy than I had ever experienced before. From that point on, my life began to radically change.
Three girls took me under their wing and walked with me throughout the rest of my college years. They taught me how to spend time in the Word. This changed my life because I really began to go deeper into God’s Word. It wasn’t long before I decided to dedicate my life to campus ministry.
Can you think of a time when you were at college when you first experienced God for yourself?
During my freshman year in college, my mentors asked me to help plan a girl’s retreat. I really thought a lot about how to make the retreat great for everyone.
On the second day of the retreat, I was alone, and the love of God was revealed to me. I can’t explain how or what happened. I lost it and cried for a long time over the grace that had been extended to me—a young woman who was lost and so far from God. Even though I grew up doing the ‘church thing,’ my life behind the scenes was far from God—far from living the way He wanted me to live.
I knew then that the guilt I had carried for so many years because of my past sins could be gone. I could walk in freedom and enjoy the love of Jesus.
Tell us little bit about how your friends could tell a difference in you.
During Christmas break, I went back home and saw all of my high school friends again. Most of them had never gone to college at that point. They were living the same way we had lived before.
In going home, I knew that it was going to be a real challenge for me to live out the joy and freedom I felt in Jesus Christ and to love these people when I was around them. I really wanted them to see a difference in me.
It was a difficult Christmas break in that way, but God showed me some powerful things, and my friends could see the difference. Everyone around me could tell that I was different.
It has been thirty years ago, but I still remember those days and the power of Jesus’ love changing everything.
Tell us a little bit about campus ministry and why you got involved, and why it is so important to you.
I originally intended to major in education because I had always wanted to be a teacher, but so many people showed me how to walk with Jesus. They spoke of him like they were his friend. Getting to stay up late at night and hear them talk about their faith was truly life-changing.
I thought to myself, “I’m a female in the church; I’m probably not going to go into campus ministry full-time. I’ll marry a minister, so that’ll be good enough.”
However, God just kept pursuing and pursuing me, and people kept showing me other females who were in campus or youth ministry full-time. I began to realize that God was opening doors for me. I would wake up every morning and wonder, “What do I want to do with my life?” I didn’t want to do anything except pour Jesus’ love into college students and help them walk with the Lord.
I realized that God had given me a passion for campus ministry and that I should pay attention to it.
How did you meet “David?”
Our campus ministry hosted a seminar that year, and for the entire week, our staff had been praying for me to find a full-time position somewhere. The last thing we did at the seminar was to conduct a business meeting. I was sitting next to a fellow who stood up and said, “I am a campus minister at a nearby university, and we plan to hire a full-time female campus minister within the next year. If anyone is interested, please see me after the meeting.”
I thought, “Did he just say what I think he said?” All of the other campus minsters flooded around him and told him that he needed to talk to me. So he looked at me, and said, “Well, I guess you and I need to talk.” Within six months, I was working full-time in campus ministry.
About a year later, I was at an event where one of the activities was bobbing for apples. “David” and I went for apples at the same time and bumped heads. It was a hard hit. I had a goose egg for a couple of weeks.
Later on, he came by to check on me. We started talking and realized that we had a lot of common interests. About a year later, we were engaged and later married. He joined me at the campus ministry at the university.
So, how did you guys end up in Turkey?
God had put it on our hearts to move. It certainly wasn’t what I wanted. I loved what we were doing and had no desire to leave. But we felt God had made it very clear that this is what he wanted us to do. So “David” began looking for a new job, and I resigned from the campus ministry. He found a great job in another city where we lived for seven years.
Shortly after we moved there, a couple from our church told us they were planning to become full-time missionaries to Turkey. We spent a lot of time with them and grew to love them. We enrolled in a class called Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, which teaches people about what God is doing in the world.
For the first time, we were exposed to unreached people groups—people who had absolutely no access to the Gospel. I had spent my entire adult life with kids who had plenty of access to Bibles.
This shouldn’t have surprised me, but it took me aback to think that there were people out there who didn’t even have the Bible in their own language. I didn’t sleep for a while—it really messed up my thoughts. I thought about all of the people who will live and die and never hear the name of Jesus. I couldn’t handle it! Nor could my husband.
We had considered going into missions at some point, but we figured we’d stay in campus ministry and take short-term mission trips. We went with our friends to Turkey for ten days, and while we were there, it felt as if a door was opening for us.
After that, we returned to Turkey every year for five years, taking teams with us. We figured that would be the extent of our mission work, but it seemed as if God was wanting more from us.
We attended a Turkish worship service (where I didn’t understand a single word), and I wept at the faith that these oppressed people had. I knew the pastor who stood before the church had his life threatened because of his faith. I also knew that members of the congregation had risked so much to follow Jesus. It was gut-wrenching and powerful.
Even then, I still felt as if my place was in campus ministry. Later, my husband and I attended a university seminar where a professor talked about how he had gone back to school to earn his Ph.D. in order to be able to be a professor on campus. Afterward, still thinking only of campus ministry, my husband asked me, “What if I do that? What if I go back and earn a Ph.D.? That way I can spend more time on campus, and we can keep doing what we are doing.”
So with two children in the family, he quit his job and got to work on his doctorate. It was tough; we even had to get food stamps and do whatever else we could in order to survive.
During this time, our missions minister approached us and said, “You know, I don’t think this is what God has in store for you for the long term. I think you should be thinking about moving to Turkey full-time. The family that lives there wants you to join them. They’re looking for teammates, and you guys are perfect.” To be honest, we had already been thinking about it, but I suppose we just needed someone to spur us on.
That’s the story of how we ended up moving to Turkey four years ago. Since then, we’ve both been involved with campus ministry and working with refugee camps.
“David,” let’s start with your journey to Christ.
“David”: I was raised in a very strong Catholic family. We went to mass almost every Sunday, but I wouldn’t say that we were followers of Jesus. When I would complain about going, my mom would say, “God only requires one hour of your life per week, and you’re complaining about that one hour?”
That was the perception I had of God, of Jesus, and of church. I give only one hour per week.
When I became a teenager and went off to college, that one hour per week became ‘no hours per week.’ I jumped right into the freshman life. Late Saturday nights don’t make good Sunday mornings.
However, during my sophomore year in college, I was at a study session with a friend of mine who would later go on to become a preacher. After we studied and I was getting ready to go home, he had a talk with me about whether or not I thought I was missing something in my life. I don’t recall exactly what he said, but I do remember that at some point he tapped me on the shoulder and said, “You know that feeling that something’s missing? That’s God—that’s the Holy Spirit trying to get your attention.”
It really stuck with me.
Over the next few years, I began attending church with him. In fact, I took an internship with the church and attended regularly. One day, one of the elders asked me if I’d ever been baptized. At that point, I thought getting baptized just meant that you become a part of the church. Maybe he sensed this misconception in me, so he asked me if we could talk about it sometime.
I didn’t want to wait. That night, we sat down and opened the Bible, studying for an hour and a half. When we finished, he asked me what I thought. I told him I wanted to be baptized. When he asked me if I was ready to do it on the spot, I was like, “What? Right now?” So we went to the baptistery, just he and I, and did it right then and there.
So from that point on how were you different?
The lack of fear was noticeable right from the moment I became a
true believer in Christ. I grew up with the belief that the only way you were going to be able to go to heaven was if you died without any sin at all. Like when I left the confessional when I was a kid, I would think, “Man, if I could just get hit by a truck right now, I know I’d go to heaven.” That’s really no way for a kid to grow up.
That fear of constantly going in and out of salvation was now gone. I was now walking in the light, and I think the peace that comes with that had to be noticeable.
Tell me about how you got involved with Turkey.
I was working full-time as a software developer, but I was still active in our local college ministry. One of the things I became really passionate about was video editing. So, I started editing for a campus ministry conference where “Gwen” was a board member. One day during the conference, she came to me and said, “For years, you’ve supported me and my passion for campus ministry. God told me today that it’s now time for me to support your passion.” Now there was an outlet for us to do some video editing at a church in another town; all we had to do was move there.
I began to look for other jobs because I knew that I couldn’t support our family on what I would make starting a business like this. Finally, I was offered a position. I took the offer, and we moved.
During the first couple of years in our new church, we met a young couple that was heavily involved in missions. We immediately became good friends. Our church was sending them to Turkey as missionaries to share the Gospel. My wife went with them on a trip to scout for a place to live. When she returned, she told me, “You must go to Turkey; it is an amazing place.”
We had previously been on a couple of short term mission trips, so I thought that this trip was going to be like another one of those. However, about six months after that couple had gone into the mission field, my wife and I decided to go to Turkey and offer our support.
We got to see where they lived while staying with them in their house. It was an incredible experience. We knew that God was doing something remarkable in Turkey, and we wanted to be a part of that. For a few years, we would lead mission teams and stay for a week and a half.
One of the things about Turkey is that Americans would consider it a culturally closed country. If we were going to stay for an extended period of time, the government required that we have a legitimate reason to stay there. In other words, we needed a job. We wanted to go there to share the love of Jesus, but the Turkish government didn’t accept that as a purpose.
As a result, one of the things we were praying for is that God would open up opportunities for us to find employment in Turkey. You can only claim ‘language learning’ as your purpose for being there for so many years. A man I met at a campus ministry conference had found out that if he worked as a psychology professor, he could stay in Turkey, work as a professor, and still work as a campus minister. I thought that maybe God was saying to me, “That’s the way for you!”
And I began to tell my wife, “I think God wants me to be a university professor in Turkey, so I can be on campus at the university.” She agreed with me, “That’s amazing! That would be a fantastic way to do that.” So, I began taking classes online through a university.
About a year into my online studies, I had a meeting with our minster, and he asked me how long it would take me to complete my degree. When I informed him that it would be another five years due to the fact that I was not enrolled part-time, he asked me if there was any way I could speed that up. I told him that if I could quit my job and pursue my studies full-time, I could be finished sooner.
He asked me to pray about doing just that. My wife and I did begin to pray about it with our missions committee, and I began to make preparations to attend school full-time.
As soon as I finished my studies, a door opened for us to move to Turkey. We started looking for universities that might have open teaching positions in my field. Finally, I found one, went for an interview, and they wound up offering me the position. We’ve been in Turkey ever since.
“Gwen,” “David,” and their children are all now safely back in Turkey.
We felt extremely blessed to have them stop by our offices and share their stories. We are happy to help in supporting their work, and donations like yours make this work possible. Please pray for this family, their safety, and for them to continue to share the Kingdom with those around them.