During the first week of March, as many of you know, I had the pleasure of being a speaker at the Turkey Internet Evangelism Network’s 2010 conference in Istanbul (TIEN). I was invited to speak about my research in the areas of best practices and strategy, and also to share my insights into some of the current trends we are starting to see. There were over sixty different people in attendance, representing dozens of different groups from Turkey and around the world.
The Turks are serious about the Internet. Turkey is now the #4 country in the world in number of Facebook users behind only the US, UK, and Indonesia. The government has banned YouTube, but everyone I talked to knew a way to get around it. Wireless access was everywhere, and the quality was good. At the conference, I was struck by the fact that everyone had laptops and cellphones, including Mac laptops and iPhones. When I spoke at the conference, I never felt like anyone there did not understand what I was talking about – in fact, they were more Internet-savvy than many of the church leaders I have talked to here in the US!
In many ways, I felt right at home in Istanbul: most everyone dressed Western, many people spoke English, and I saw many of the same stores and brands that I see at home. In fact, at the local Starbucks, I could order the exact same thing I order here, no Turkish necessary (see picture). Yet in other ways, it was very obvious I was not at home: mosques were everywhere and the Muslim call to prayer was heard five times a day (see my Facebook video to hear what this sounds like – Facebook account required).
My time in Istanbul was a pleasure (at least once my body figured out that day was night and night was day). The people were wonderful. And brave. To live as a Christian in Turkey is to be different from the majority. It is to always wonder if the government is going to add some new restriction to your ministry’s efforts, or even remove you altogether. Though it is legal to be a Christian in Turkey, it is still not easy.
The title of this post, ”They use the Internet in Turkey too”, is obviously meant tongue-in-cheek. Many times, when thinking of ministering to muslims in a muslim country, we picture something out of Indiana Jones. But it is not like that, as I have described here in this post.
To be successful in fulfilling the Great Commission, we are called to understand other cultures and then determine how to best share the good news within them. This conference gave me a look at how this is being done; both through the people at the conference and through the Internet. The Lord is working in Turkey and, indeed, throughout the world. The Internet is being used as a tool “that everyone may hear”. And they all will, very soon.