Turkish Christian children are often singled out and ridiculed in school for not being Muslim, (I.N. Network photo)
Turkey (MNN) ― There is a saying in Turkey: "To be Turkish is to be Muslim, and to be Muslim is to be Turkish."
This mindset has deep roots in the history of Turkey and originated in 1923. Just years before, the Ottoman Empire had collapsed in World War I at the hands of the Allied forces. With the help of other military officers, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk led a successful resistance against the Allies and formed the Republic of Turkey.
Since then, depending on the regime in power, Islam has held a varying degree of importance, but nonetheless, it has always been the nation's assumed religion.
Fast-forward to present day and a country where 99.8 percent of its inhabitants are Muslim, and the few Turks who do turn to Christ are misunderstood and ridiculed for their decision to leave Islam.
"There is kind of a mental conflict on how you can be a Christian and also a Turk, because that does not really compute with the thinking of most Turks. It's a secular society, but never forget there is this strong tie to being a Muslim," said Rody Rodeheaver of I.N. Network. With the current political party, "There has been more of a swing toward the idea of Islamic involvement in government and more of an Islamic role tied to the patriotism," he said.
Among Christians, it is often the children who bear the brunt of this misunderstanding, as they are often isolated at school and labeled "different."
Regulated by the government to attend public school, children are also required to take Islamic classes. Rodeheaver said, "It forces them to be singled out [and] be subjected to bullying by other students. They are embarrassed often by teachers who have a way of pointing out that these children do not believe in the Islamic faith."
After day in and day out of this treatment, Rodeheaver said children desire to leave the country as soon as they are old enough and attend university elsewhere.
However, I.N. Network wants to see these kids stay in the country and grow into strong Christians, spreading their faith in whatever they do in the future.
"It's our purpose as an organization, the I.N. Network in Turkey, to work very hard at helping to disciple the children and young people because they will become the leaders of tomorrow," Rodeheaver said. To do this and also give students refuge from the ridicule they receive at school, I.N. Network has children's ministry to encourage these kids. This ministry includes a summer camp for two weeks each summer, as well as holiday festivals for Christmas and Easter, since the country does not observe these holidays.
There, Christian kids do not feel singled out or different. Instead, they form friendships, worship, and share with like-minded youth.
Rodeheaver said summer camp is taking place right now with over 100 kids from between 25-30 different churches represented. When the session concludes, I.N. Network hopes the kids will leave feeling refreshed and rejuvenated, knowing they are not the only ones ostracized at school or at home, if they live in non-Christian homes.
Rodeheaver said they are still $5000 away from hitting their goal this year for summer camp. You can help out with a $100 scholarship to help a kid go to camp for a week. Click here to donate.
And pray. Pray for these kids to gain courage and understanding to help them stand up for their faith and not grow discouraged.