Turkey is in two continents, with 3% in Europe and 97% in Asia. Its strategic position of being located on the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea has made it of prime importance throughout history. The Turkish Ottoman Empire once stretched across North Africa, Western Asia and Southeast Europe, but WW I led to its demise and fragmentation and also the birth of modern Turkey. Turkish society is split – it is secular yet Muslim.
For over one thousand years, Turkey was a bastion of Christendom. Mt. Ararat, the place where Noah’s ark landed, is located in Turkey, but is closed off from most of the world. Much of the activity of the New Testament apostles was located in Turkey. The ancient city of Antioch, now called Antakya, is where Paul and Barnabas preached, and it is there that the disciples were first called “Christians”. Much of Paul’s missionary journeys were in Turkey, and he wrote his letters to the assemblies in Turkey: Galatians, Ephesians and Colossians. The book of Acts records a lot of this history.
Turkey later became a strong propagator of Islam. Christians have since declined from 22% in 1900 to .21% today. Few Muslims today have ever heard the gospel or the teachings of Paul. The ancient churches have nearly been wiped out by massacres, persecution and emigration over the years. Pray for the remnant that survives, and for a re-kindling of the Christian faith among this ancient and special place.
Syria is an ancient civilization, located on the Mediterranean coast between Turkey and Iraq. Damascus is known as the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. Syria is written about throughout the Bible, both Old and New Testaments. Its people trace their origins back to Noah, as descendants of Shem, Noah’s son. King David of Israel led a successful conquest against Syria and the Hittites, Jebusites, and Amorites who occupied the land. In New Testament times, Syria became a Roman province.
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. Matthew 4:23-25
The apostle Paul and members of the Early Church spent a lot of time in Syria. Antioch was the center of one of the first Christian churches and they primarily preached to the Gentiles. In 634-640 AD, Syria was conquered by the Muslim Arabs. The Orthodox and Catholic churches that had existed since before Islam still endure and have many members. The majority in the Church are Arab but there is also a large Armenian community. Christians do experience some discrimination in housing and employment, and must exercise caution and wisdom in relating to the state and Muslims.
Pray for this ancient country, once walked upon by Jesus and where Paul had his conversion. Pray that the historical sites will be preserved and not destroyed by the fighting, and that the people will once again be renewed in the faith of Jesus Christ and the Apostles, in one of the most ancient and historical countries on earth.
Malta is an island in the center of the Mediterranean Sea. The Apostle Paul shipwrecked on the island during his missionary journeys, and it became one of the first nations in Europe to embrace Christianity. Can you imagine seeing Paul swimming to the shore or climbing out of his shipwrecked boat onto the island, and then beginning to tell the islanders about Jesus Christ? Even to this day, the bay is named after him – St. Paul’s Bay.
The Phoenicians in 1000 BC occupied the island, and it has since had many seizures from Romans, Arabs, Normans, Ottomans, French and British, yet it has maintained its Christian heritage ever since Paul came. Today, most are Catholic. Pray that they will remember their heritage and continue to stand in their Christian identity.
Macedonia is a landlocked state surrounded by Serbia, Kosovo, Bulgaria, Greece and Albania. It is one of the poorest of the former Yugoslavia state. There is high unemployment and low standard of living, which has spurred an exodus of young people. The ethnic composition is made up of Albanians, Romani and Turkish communities.
In New Testament times, Paul visited Macedonia several times on his missionary journeys. The first European convert was from Macedonia after Paul had a vision about a man from Macedonia. Today, the evangelical population is small and has a stigma of being a cult, but they are growing. The people of Macedonia are responsive to the gospel, and their needs are great. Pray for the people of Macedonia, that they will embrace the good news that Paul brought to them many years ago. While our circumstances may have changed since then, the truth and message of the Good News of Jesus Christ has not changed over time.
Greece was the first European country to be evangelized. The Apostle Paul went to Lystra (Turkey) where there was a disciple named Timothy, the son of a believing Jewish woman, but his father was a Greek. The brothers at Lystra spoke highly of him. They traveled through the towns, and the churches were strengthened in the faith and increased in number daily. Then one night Paul had a vision. A Macedonian man was standing and pleading with him, “Cross over to Macedonia (Greece) and help us!” After he had seen the vision, they immediately made efforts to set out for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to evangelize them. (Acts 16)
In Acts 17, we have a record of Paul’s famous sermon at the Aereopagus in Athens given to the philosophers of the day. It is still worth reading today and seeing Paul’s boldness in a foreign world that did not yet understand. Truth stands the test of time. If it was true 2000 years ago when Paul spoke, it is still true today.
While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, his spirit was troubled within him when he saw that the city was full of idols. Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers argued with him. Some said, “What is this pseudo-intellectual trying to say?” Others replied, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign deities”—because he was telling the good news about Jesus and the Resurrection. They took him and brought him to the Areopagus, and said, “May we learn about this new teaching you’re speaking of? For what you say sounds strange to us, and we want to know what these ideas mean.” Now all the Athenians and the foreigners residing there spent their time on nothing else but telling or hearing something new.
The Areopagus Address
Then Paul stood in the middle of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that you are extremely religious in every respect. For as I was passing through and observing the objects of your worship, I even found an altar on which was inscribed: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.
Therefore, what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it—He is Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in shrines made by hands. Neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives everyone life and breath and all things. From one man He has made every nationality to live over the whole earth and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live. He did this so they might seek God, and perhaps they might reach out and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us. For in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ Being God’s offspring then, we shouldn’t think that the divine nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image fashioned by human art and imagination. Therefore, having overlooked the times of ignorance, God now commands all people everywhere to repent, because He has set a day when He is going to judge the world in righteousness by the Man He has appointed. He has provided proof of this to everyone by raising Him from the dead.”
When they heard about resurrection of the dead, some began to ridicule him. But others said, “We’d like to hear from you again about this.” Then Paul left their presence. However, some men joined him and believed.
Current day Greece has many challenges – financial, immigration, social, and spiritual. Pray that Greece will recognize their wonderful Biblical history and choose to follow the truth that Paul once spoke to them. The Macedonian vision is just as true today as well: “God, come help us!”