GROWING UP AS A CHRISTIAN IN TURKEY
Stefanie Mitchell, now a Communications Officer at SAT-7, reflects on growing up in a Christian family in Turkey, a country in which Christians make up less than one percent of the country’s population.
As a child, I remember coming home from school feeling frustrated that I was not Turkish – because in my mind, I was. I was born in Istanbul. I went to a Turkish school, had Turkish friends, and spoke Turkish. Nevertheless, I was different. I looked like a foreigner – and I was, and am, a Christian.
I don’t remember ever having problems with my friends regarding faith; mine or theirs. We were children, and we had other, “more important” issues to deal with, like classes, tests, and what games to play. The only times I remember faith coming up were when our class congratulated a couple of classmates on their circumcisions, and when I was kindly excused from participating in the religious classes introduced in our fifth year.
With my family and a few Turkish friends, my church life resembled a house church. This part of my life was a huge blessing. It was beautifully simple. In the beginning we would gather at an old, abandoned Armenian church. Surrounded by scaffolding and white sheets, we would stand in the middle of the church singing and listening to our worship echo through the hall.
Gradually, as a few friends joined us, we started meeting at the café that my parents had opened. My dad taught from the Bible, and we used Turkish hymnbooks. It may not have been perfect, but it was rich.
When I attended a Christian summer camp, I discovered what a freeing experience it was to be surrounded by children my own age with whom I shared my faith. Arranged by Kucak Yayincilik, a ministry serving Christian parents and children in Turkey, these camps were where I could freely pray, worship, and learn about my faith with other kids. It was a chance to be free to be me – a freedom I will never take for granted. In fact, it was at one of these camps that I made the decision to follow Christ.
As Christians, our faith is our identity and we can find freedom within it. However, isolation, ostracism, and persecution can take their toll on believers who are not free to live and express their faith. My experience in Turkey gave me a glimpse into the challenges many SAT-7 viewers face today and why SAT-7’s ability to connect with them is so vital. It is important that they have the chance to connect with other Christians, to grow in faith through teaching, and to know that in Christ they have a new identity, one in which they are loved beyond measure.