Young faith in action

OM’s largest UK outreach: sixty teenagers, seven faith-filled days in north London, Turkish-style. Writer Nicky Andrews meets a new generation of evangelists…

It’s an overcast April morning on a north-west London high street. While the shutters of Asian and African shops are being unlocked, the voices of Muslim worshippers, gathered for public Eid al-Fitr prayers, come wafting from the park a few roads away.  But just round the corner, OM’s London Centre contain different sounds — laughter and happy chatter from sixty teenagers milling around the corridors and main meeting room. All are followers of Jesus, ready to share their love for Him on north London streets, in their heart-language of Turkish, or several other languages. Participant numbers have doubled each year, and now, in its third year, this is OM’s biggest UK outreach!

One language, several nations

Over a communal breakfast of fried bread and feta cheese, I talk with Deniz, the leader of this outreach and OM’s Turkish-speaking ministry in London. He explains how 200,000 Turkish-speakers, most retaining a Muslim identity, have made north London their home (with a further half million elsewhere in the UK). Their heritage mainly comes from mainland Turkey, Cyprus, the Kurdish lands of the Middle East, Central Asia or (like these young participants) Bulgaria. These hard-working and mobile peoples may be second or third-generation Londoners but have also spent years elsewhere in Europe, where a further ten million Turkish speakers can be found, outside Turkey itself.

As a result, each of the sixty young believers here on this week-long outreach, speaks at least three other European languages fluently. “I’d love them to deepen friendships across national boundaries and grow their own networks to bring the gospel into Europe,“ says Deniz. Indeed, whilst half the group are from north London or elsewhere in the UK, the other half have travelled here from Germany, reflecting Deniz’s existing European contacts. “But most of all, I want them to grow in their personal faith,” he continues, “with identities firmly rooted in Jesus, be passionate ambassadors for Him anywhere.”

A busy morning

Several teenagers form a music group at the front of the hall. Soon the room resounds with raucous energy, young voices loud in praise, prayer and Turkish worship songs, with distinctive melodies and rhythms. Most of the morning is spent on outreach training and practice; today, Deniz is explaining how symbols on special wristbands can demonstrate everyone’s need for salvation in Jesus. Then, with feedback from Deniz, pairs of teens rehearse this strategy by role-playing ‘believer’ and ‘passer-by’, initiating gospel conversations.

Other trainings for sharing faith on the street have included giving testimony, answering questions from people of other faiths, telling Bible stories and how to run a book table.

Nothing holds them back

Every afternoon, the outreach operates across three north London locations where Turkish-language church plants are located. Deniz himself leads one in Wood Green; also here this week are fellow Turkish Bulgarian pastors Talit and Mestan, whom Deniz mentors. They lead newer congregations in Edmonton and Walthamstow respectively, and they take groups over there.

I accompany the group Deniz is taking to Wood Green, an inner-city suburb with areas of great deprivation, a 30-minute drive from the OM Centre. We convene in front of Wood Green Library, a faded 1960s concrete structure on the main shopping street. Rain clouds are gathering and a cold wind keeps blasting past the library, so it’s a struggle to erect a book table and secure the books and pamphlets with a plastic sheet.

But nothing dampens the enthusiasm of the twenty teenagers, who grab handfuls of a leaflet called ‘”Who is Jesus?” and fan out along both sides of the busy High Road, loudly greeting shoppers and commuters of all ages. There’s love and excitement for Jesus on their faces and in their words; hurrying pedestrians from every nation, even Muslims in their finery for Eid al-Fitr parties, find themselves accepting leaflets from these impassioned young believers, and engaging in gospel conversations. By 16:00 it has started to rain heavily, but still the teens continue their distributions until, reluctantly, they follow Deniz’s instructions to ‘call it a day’.

Sharing ‘best moments’

Back at the OM Centre, young leader Severin aged 20 (from pastor Talit’s church in Edmonton, and here for the third year in a row) describes how the entire group and their leaders went to Walthamstow the previous Sunday afternoon, to support pastor Mestan’s church plant in its public witness. For two hours, while the majority gave out literature, a smaller group sang and preached outside the library. “ In seven different languages – it felt like Pentecost!” Severin recalls. Eighteen year-old Constantin from Germany agrees — after hearing him preach in their own language, two Romani people became followers of Jesus. Neli aged 16, from the Edmonton church, was giving out Gospel leaflets; her highlights include talking with Muslims and Satanists.

Talit aged 15, also from the Edmonton church, enjoys communal life in the OM Centre. “The practical service, even cleaning toilets, deepens our relationships,” he says. “And I’ve learnt a lot from the feedback with our outreach training practice.” Talit has been out witnessing with his church on the streets of Edmonton many times, but thinks this OM event is special because of its size and multi-national nature. “There are Turkish-speaking teens like me abroad — like the Germans who’ve come here — and I’d love to help on missions in their countries,” he says.

Three men partner to serve the Lord…

That’s a welcome comment, given Deniz’s wider vision of inspiring outreach to the Turkish diaspora across the whole UK and Europe. Born in Bulgaria himself, Deniz’s role with OM uses all his natural abilities to network and multi-task. Full of restless energy, he juggles leadership in the European Turkish Christian Network (hence the youth here from Germany) with developing digital and print materials for outreach and discipling; Deniz has just helped publish a brand-new ‘European Turkish New Testament’ translation that’s easy-to-read, for members of the diaspora with lower levels of literacy.

But Deniz also pours himself into pastoring his own Turkish-speaking church in Wood Green, and criss-crosses the rest of north London several times a week as well, helping Talit and Mestan lead and disciple their growing congregations in Edmonton and Walthamstow — over 300 believers across the three churches. “Our people have frequent needs and emergencies,“ shares Deniz. “So we get called on round the clock for prayer and counsel.”

…from north London to all of Europe

The three men support each other’s ministries in a perpetual sacrifice of time and effort. This OM outreach is just one example; like Deniz, Talit and Mestan are here from dawn to dusk, whether supporting activities in the Centre, or leading street-work activities in their own localities. They share Deniz’s passionate conviction that these young Turkish believers — with better education and job prospects than their parents’ generation, and shaped from birth by multiple languages and cultures — are key to reaching Europe’s Turkish-speakers for Jesus, starting on their own north London doorsteps.

After supper, Deniz, Talit and Mestan gather the young people for their evening debrief, and I head for home. In the following days, my head and heart are filled with memories of their irrepressible witness for Jesus. Praying for the next generation of evangelists? They’re already here!

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