Looking back on December it is hard to believe all that was accomplished in just a few short weeks. More than once we have sat back and marveled that God could use a small team like ours to shine such a bright light of truth on this season of Christmas. If you’ve never been to Turkey in December, you might be amused to know that every mall and every shop is decorated — but the signs all read “Happy New Year” as opposed to “Merry Christmas.” This makes sense when you consider the consumerism that is being pushed at this time of year coupled with the fact that Muslim countries do not recognize or celebrate Christmas.
Rather than miss out on all the fun, they simply call it a “New Years tree” and decorate it all the same. The rest of it, the carols, the gifts, etc. is not done by most Turks though. So, putting on a Christmas concert full of songs about the birth of Christ was our way of shining a gentle but direct light on the true meaning of this season. What might seem ordinary in America is extraordinary here.
In the weeks leading up to the concerts, we tried to think how to maximize the number of contacts we could make. One of the ways was to open a church Instagram account and put it in on the posters and invitations we made. We also made and decorated over 250 cookies, packaged them in gift bags that included Isaiah 9:6 Bible verse and the IG account name. At the end of the concert, every person was given one of the cookie gifts. Several people followed our account based on those cookies!
By God’s grace, we were able to find three different venues to host our concerts; Friday evening at our friend’s cafe on a busy walking street, Saturday evening at our friend’s restaurant in the countryside, and Sunday night at a well known Catholic church in the heart of Izmir.
But what really made these concerts such a success came all the way from Finland. Four incredibly talented and passionate musicians from Helsinki poured out their gifts for the Gospel’s sake. They added a depth of quality to the concerts that would have impressed even the biggest cynic. They made our Christmas concerts come alive!
The first two nights were kind of like dress rehearsals for the big event on Sunday night. When Sunday came, it was cold and rainy and the main metro to the location was shut down due to an unexpected workers’ strike. Although we were excited for a great night, we were also unsure how many people would actually come.
Much to our surprise, by the time 6 pm rolled around, the place was filled to capacity! We counted about 120 people, with some having to stand in the back of the church. In the middle of the concert, with the attention of every soul, Roger preached a bold direct gospel message about the true meaning of Christmas and the star that we must all look to for saving light – Christ Himself. It was powerful to witness how God used us to shed His love abroad into the hearts of these sweet Turkish people.
Our Turkish believers were incredibly encouraged and proud to be a part of God’s work. Some of them sang in our small choir, invited friends, co-workers, and family, helped set up and break down, welcomed people at the door, gave out cookies at the end, and mingled with attendees afterwards.
We could not have done this without them and at the same time it was for them to be emboldened and strengthened in their faith and in what God can do with willing hearts. It is hard for the Western mind to comprehend what it is like to have your faith be put on display in a culture that knows nothing about it.
Although the concerts were held two weekends before Christmas, in many ways they felt like the climax of the season. However, that did not stop us from taking advantage of the time to continue celebrating with as many Turks as possible.
Serving and Loving
The following Friday, we had a great time at a Christmas party with our non-Christian friends. Almost every single person was someone who had never been to our house, and it was definitely their first time playing the White Elephant gift swap game. We were able to share the reason we are in Izmir to several people throughout the night. It was a wonderful outreach-type night for us and we really shone as a team, each person serving and loving in their own way.
Then, on Sunday Dec. 23rd we had a Christmas service followed by Secret Santa. We had picked names in advance and loved seeing the thoughtful gifts that each member gave to another and the joy it brought. This little group of believers is starting to be more and more unified. It is incredibly beautiful and humbling for us to witness.
Christmas itself, an average week day in a Muslim country, was celebrated quietly with our family, grandparents Pastor Roger and Elwira from Istanbul, and team members. Our children were spoiled with wonderful gifts, blueberry pancakes, lots of quality family time and a couple days off from school. This was our first Christmas in Izmir and we know it is one we will never forget. The Lord has been faithful to us once again.
We have been looking for a church space to rent and have found an amazing space in an excellent area, safe, nearby, and right by a major road and tram stop. If you would like help in renting this facility for Izmir GG, you may do so easily online.
The impact the Gospel can have and is having in this 99% Muslim country is so incredible! Please pray and join us as we watch God do more miracles in the hearts and lives of Turkish people in Izmir. – The Robbins Family