Turkey's church sees trouble ahead. American Pastor Andrew Brunson, testified this week before the US Commission on International Religious Freedom about the coming danger.
Brunson spent two years in prison and house arrest in Turkey, accused of being a 'terrorist' by the Erdogan government. He told the commission the same tactic is being used against other foreign Christians to force them to leave the country, and that's causing hardship for the church.
"The Turkish government does not allow the church to set up training and education programs to develop leaders and one result of this is a lack of trained pastors, so foreigners have helped to fill this gap. Over 50 Protestant families have had to leave the country in recent years," Brunson said.
"Many churches have been negatively affected, and in Izmir where I served, five churches have lost their senior leaders. To put this in perspective, this is close to half the churches in that city of four million people," he said.
The Turkish government sees Christian activity such as evangelism and social ministry as a threat to the country, claiming it divides Turks against each other and threatens national unity.
Compared to other Muslim nations, Turkey's Christians are still relatively free to practice their faith, but Brunson says they see danger on the horizon.
"Another Turkish leader wrote to me a few days ago. He said, some Turkish Christians have started to ask, 'After the foreigners are sent away, what will the government do to us?' And this is a good question. According to some Turkish leaders, there is, I quote, 'an expectation' from the government of action against Turkish church leaders -- arrest, investigations, we don't know. So I think the acceleration of Turkish church leaders is a sign of dark times to come. Turkey is not there, yet, but it is careening in the wrong direction."
Turkey's Christian community is very small. There are about 6,000 Muslim-background believers in the nation of 80 million people.
But Brunson said the media attention on him and other foreign workers has created curiosity, and more Turks are visiting churches and showing interest in the Bible.