Jeffrey Weiss of the Dallas Morning News continues our conversation from yesterday in a piece titled, “Does dying for religion’s sake merit extra attention?” I think that title is not the best way to frame the question. I say this because for some people such martyrdoms will merit extra attention, and for other people they won’t.
In an attempt to raise awareness about the Turkish martyrs, I sent their story to a religion writer at the Dallas Morning News. He posted links to reports about them on the Dallas Morning News religion blog: “The killing of Christians in Turkey.”
Unfortunately, one of the other religion writers at the Dallas Morning News got rankled by my concern for the martyrs. His frustration with me is posted here: “With all due respect to Professor Burk.” This reporter’s main problem with my efforts is that he thinks I am paying too little attention to all the suffering in the world. The murder of three Christians is not such a big story in light of the wars and genocides that occur daily around the globe.
In the Presence of Martyrs: A Reflection from Turkey
Recently Dindy [Mark’s wife] and I attended a funeral here in Izmir. I have attended many funerals, but this was my first in Turkey. And it was also the first time I attended the funeral of a martyr. I have been teaching and writing about martyrs and martyrdom for many years. We live in biblical Smyrna noted as the place where Polycarp was martyred in the second century. But such martyrdoms are personally and historically distant.
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Dr. Darrell Bock of Dallas Theological Seminary has a report out of Turkey from persons that he says were very close to the events on the ground. This new letter is sent to correct some of the exaggerations that have circulated since the story of the martyrdoms broke. I cannot authenticate or verify the veracity of the letter. The name of the sender has been removed for security reasons. Here it is in its entirety:
As I noted in my previous post, Smyrna (a.k.a. “Izmir”) was the hometown of one of the three martyrs from Turkey, Necati Aydin. The Protestant Church of Smyrna sent out a widely circulated letter describing the martyrdom of the three Christians in Malatya. The church has recently sent out another letter correcting inaccuracies in the first letter and reporting that at least three people have come to faith as a result of the testimony of the three men. Here is the letter in its entirety (HT: Peter Head):
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The three martyrs were buried in Turkey: Tilman Geske (46), Ugur Yuksel (32), and Necati Aydin (36). Necati (right) was the one reading the Bible when their martyrdom began. Reports say that he was stabbed multiple times during his three hour torture before his throat was finally cut. Necati was married and a father of two preschool aged children.
I noticed last night a change on the Voice of the Martyrs website. The “graphic description” of the martyrdom of the three Turkish Christians had been removed from the “Letter to the Global Church from the Protestant Church of Smyrna.” From the beginning I was wondering how much of the story contained in this letter could be substantiated. That is why I contacted a religion reporter from The Dallas Morning News yesterday to see if the details could be confirmed. He wrote me back saying that he would look into the story.
I had already sought to find independent confirmation of the details of the “graphic description.” Several news outlets published descriptions of the killings before that letter was posted on the Voice of the Martyrs website on April 26. I posted links to the following descriptions in my original post.
[Warning: Graphic descriptions follow.]
Two weeks ago, I saw a little story in the Associated Press about some Christians who were murdered in Turkey. The story was relatively non-descript. It briefly noted that three Christians had their throats cut by some Islamic radicals. The rest of the piece talked about how religious persecution might hurt Turkey’s bid to join the European Union. Little did I know then the horror and the glory of what really happened.
On Wednesday April 18 many people in America were still focused on the aftermath of the massacre at Virginia Tech and had already moved on to inane debates about who to blame (besides the gunman) for the awful tragedy there. On the same day in Turkey, 46 year old German missionary Tilman Geske made his way to his office along with two other Turkish Christians, Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel. The three men were heading to a previously arranged bible study with some Islamic “seekers” who had expressed interest in the Christian faith.
It turned out that the “seekers” weren’t interested in Christianity at all. After Necati read a chapter from the Bible, the “seekers” assaulted the three Christians. The assault turned into a gruesome three-hour torture session. According to various news reports, this is what happened:
[Warning: Graphic description follows.]
Their throats were cut and their bodies marred by multiple stab wounds (source). Tilman’s body showed 156 knife wounds, and Ugar’s genitals and fingers were slashed (source). World magazine describes the ordeal as follows: “What unfolded between the hours of 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on April 18 could add another chapter to Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. As the three men joined together for Bible study, a dozen assailants tied them to chairs, then brutally interrogated and tortured them for two hours about their church activities. A videorecording made with a cell phone shows the men being disemboweled, dismembered, and stabbed hundreds of times. Their throats were slit when police arrived.”
Necati is survived by his wife Semse and a preschool-aged son and daughter. Tilman is survived by his wife Susanne and two sons and a daughter, ages 8 to 13. Ugur was engaged to be married within a few months.
On April 26, the Voice of the Martyrs received a letter describing the entire ordeal and the aftermath of the martyrdoms. The letter begins with the following address: “A letter to the Global Church from the Protestant Church of Smyrna.” You must read this letter in its entirety as it contains a beautiful testimony to the glory of Christ in His saints. Not only does it recount Tilman’s wife’s forgiveness to her husband’s murderers, but it also asks for the global church to pray as follows:
“But we pray– and urge you to pray– that someday at least one of those five boys will come to faith because of the testimony in death of Tilman Geske, who gave his life as a missionary to his beloved Turks, and the testimonies in death of Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel, the first martyrs for Christ out of the Turkish Church.”
I am amazed that the martyrdom of these three men has been so underreported. I am happy to see that World magazine has picked it up in their most recent issue, but I am hoping for more. I think that word of their testimony would bring great glory to Christ.
The sacrifices of these three brothers has had a profound impact on me personally, and I have many more reflections that I would like to share about them and martyrdom. So I will be devoting all of my daily blog posts to this topic for the rest of the week. I am hoping and praying that it will be a blessing to you and that I might generate some more interest in their testimony.
“36 Others were tortured, not accepting their release, in order that they might obtain a better resurrection; 36 and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword . . . 38 men of whom the world was not worthy.” -Hebrews 11:35-38