Recently, I went to Kurdistan with three brothers in Christ from Wichita, Kansas, United States. We left at 1:30 am and it took us almost 24 hours to travel to Erbil, Iraq with much of the taxi travel being through ice, mist, rain, and flooded roads. Some of us were sick for the first couple days of the trip but The Lord strengthened us. We flew through Istanbul to Diyarbakir, Turkey before taking a taxi across the border to Erbil, Iraq. At one point during this taxi ride, our driver was going 90 km per hour on ice which is good for my prayer life.
We had a five hour layover in Istanbul the city known in ancient times as Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, so we took the opportunity to visit the Bible Society in that city to arm ourselves with literature to give out on the way. Unfortunately, the Bible Society was closed. This has been the fourth time I tried to visit it but it has always been closed for unknown reasons. Since the Society was closed, we found a Catholic church that had Bibles for sale at a very cheap price. We purchased around 60 Bibles that just had the Gospels and they gave us 10 complete New Testaments in Turkish. The woman who helped us asked for prayer for her and her family which we did on the spot in the Roman Catholic Church building. As we walked around the streets of Istanbul and travelled on buses to and from the airport, we were able to give out films and also a number of the New Testaments that we purchased. It was cold and snowing in Istanbul so we stopped for some hot drinks and evangelized the workers in the restaurant. During the bus rides, we were able to pass out literature to some fellow bus travellers.
The next flight took us to Diyarbakir in eastern Turkey where we obtained a taxi that took us to the Iraqi/Kurdistan border. The ride took us about five hours which included a stop along the way for refreshments. We had opportunities to give Kurdish Bibles at the restaurant and to our drivers. The border crossing was very easy and we did not have to answer many questions. Once we crossed the border, we took a new taxi to Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan.
We hoped to stay where I previously stayed but on arriving at the capital we knocked at the door but no one answered. The first hotel was too expensive but a second hotel was cheaper and we stayed there for the night. In the morning we stopped at a Christian organization to pick up DVDs in Arabic for distribution. While we were at the hotel, I tried to switch out the SIM card on the phone. But the new card would not work and we spent some time trying to get it to work. While doing that, we met some Kurds in the lobby and gave them some DVDs and New Testaments and they invited us to their city which we were planning to travel to in a few days. The delay was providential because we met the Kurds and afterwards, when we went to the Bible Society, we met a Kurdish brother who was a convert from Islam. He wanted a MacArthur Study Bible. If we were not delayed because of the SIM card, we would have left the Bible Society before the man arrived. It was God’s timing in allowing the SIM card not to work. At the Society, we purchased lots of New Testaments in Arabic and Sorani Kurdish.
Because of the SIM card issue, we went to a mall and ended up purchasing another card and because the card was too large we had to get it cut down to size to fit my phone. The store owner was a nominal Christian so we were able to challenge him in his beliefs. With him in the store was a Kurdish Muslim friend who gladly received a DVD and New Testament. We thanked God for this phone problem because it resulted in the planting of seeds for the kingdom of God. When we were in Kurdistan, our main means of transportation were taxis and thus began our taxi ministry. Through these often cramped taxi rides, we had many opportunities to give out literature and witness to the drivers. Most of the drivers were open to the gospel and received the materials gladly.
There are two Bible Societies in Erbil and a Christian book store all of which we visited. Since we were not familiar with the locations of the Bible Societies, we got a little lost, which was a good thing because we were able to ask directions, witness to people, and give out literature. God enabled us to purchase MacArthur Study Bibles in Arabic at a very cheap price and we distributed 42 study Bibles throughout the week.
After dropping the Bibles off at our hotel room, we went to look for a contact from the last time we were in Erbil. Our contact was no longer employed there but we were able to give the new worker the gospel and literature. Our next stop was at a men’s only tea room. After paying our bill we gave the owner our customary tip of literature. This was the first of many profitable evangelism opportunities and discussions over tea while we travelled. Afterwards, we took a taxi to the hotel to meet a Kurdish brother. In addition, we met another believer in the lobby who had destroyed his reputation among Christians due to some decisions he had made. After encouragement and the gift of the study Bible, we left for dinner with our Kurdish brother. We intended to ride in his van to dinner but his van providentially would not start so we walked to a nearby restaurant. The restaurant manager was an acquaintance of our brother and he was willing to talk to us about Christianity. He gladly sat down with us for the entire meal as we shared the gospel with him. He even drove back to his house to retrieve medicine for an ill member of our group. When we arrived back to the hotel, we gave literature to the night porter to read.
The following morning, we met with two pastors and heard an update of what is going on in Iraq. We were concerned with one of these pastors’s involvement in the Insider Movement. The Insider Movement is where Muslims who profess faith in Christ continue their outward Islamic lifestyle. One of the pastors’ brother serves as a pastor in Baghdad and he happened to be at the house. He gave us some insights from his perspective in Baghdad. We were able to give him eight study Bibles for distribution to the pastors in the Baghdad area. The Baghdad area is very unsafe for foreigners so in God’s providence, He provided a messenger to take the Bibles to the area.
After the meeting, one of the pastors took us to a third Christian bookstore. This one had a wider selection of Christian literature but unfortunately most of the books were harmful to the church. One thing they did give us that was beneficial was the Bible in Arabic on memory cards. We gave several of them to taxi drivers and they were able to listen to the Bible by plugging the card into their radio. We are praying that they will listen to the Bible as they drive around the city. In the evening we went into town for supper. We stopped at a restaurant and the man sitting next to us was a translator who was translating books from English to Arabic. We spoke with him for a few minutes and gave Bibles to him and his two friends who were with him.
For the remainder of the evening, we evangelized in the town. We had some tea at a restaurant and they gave it to us as a gift. We gave them a film in response. When we were a few meters from the restaurant, a young man from it came running out and asked us for a copy of the DVD for himself. Shortly after that, we met some friendly men at a fish company who showed us their operations and received some literature. After that, we met some energetic Kurds at a juice stand and we were able to give them the gospel after purchasing their tasty drink. We met also a man who lived in the UK and he received the gospel as well. When we decided to go back to the hotel, we realized quickly that we were going in the wrong direction and not certain which way to go. We stopped at a shop for directions and the man there helped us get a taxi to return to the hotel for the night.
The next morning, we met with two friends for breakfast. They were business men in Erbil and we discussed the gospel and our travels with them. Following the meal, we took a taxi to Sulaymaniyah which is around two hours southeast of Erbil. Once we checked into a hotel, we walked around and did some evangelism before meeting with a local believer at the hotel. It was an interesting conversation and we learned a few things about the church and the Christians in the town. We spent the remainder of the evening evangelizing and walking around the town.
We did some eat-evangelism where we walked in a shop, purchased some food, and shared the gospel. At the first shop, we had multiple conversations about the gospel and handed out some literature. There were some locals there, a man from India, and some accountants from Cairo, all of which received the gospel. At a second shop, we stopped to purchase some sweets and we talked to some Iranian young men. They were eager to hear our message and we gave out some Persian New Testaments.
Another goal we had at the town was to visit the local church so we spent some time looking for it. Along the way, we walked across a road and met two men walking a dog. They could not speak much English but we were able to communicate that we wanted to see the church. It turns out that they were believers who had rejected the Islamic lie and had turned to Jesus. We could not speak the same language yet at the same time we could encourage one another in the Lord as best as possible. Our church locating skills proved ineffective and we ended up at the hotel where we ordered coffee and tea and opened the sweets we purchased previously. When a family entered the lobby, we invited them to help themselves to the sweets and talk to us. They were Muslims from Baghdad and had professional careers. We shared with the father our political views on Iraq. Our political views consist of three possible solutions: 1) the Kurds, Sunnis, and Shiites can kill each other; 2) the country can be divided based on ethnic grounds; or 3) everyone can become a Christian. The man responded that if the Prime Minster turned to Christianity it would be better for the country which was a very interesting comment for a Muslim to make. He took a New Testament after the conversation. We spoke also with the night manger of the hotel who could speak English and gave him some literature. There was an Indian server at the hotel as well from Hyderabad and he took a DVD. In the morning, we were encouraged when the same waiter requested an English New Testament. Before leaving we gave literature to the day manger at the hotel, who was from the UK, and the receptionist.
The taxi terminals in Kurdistan are known as “Garage” so we went there and got a taxi to a certain city, our next stop. There was not a direct route to the certain city so we had to go back to Erbil before going to the city in the north east part of Iraq. At both garages, we were able to distribute DVDs and literature. We spoke with an English speaking Kurd who told us he would like to meet us and practice his English. Although we never had the opportunity to spend time with him, we did pass his contact on to the local missionaries. Along the way, we gave the memory chip to the taxi driver and he put it in his radio and began listening to the Bible.
The city is in a valley in the mountains so during the winter it is extremely cold and in the summer it can get up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. We arrived in snow and freezing temperatures. The families there had some problems with pipes freezing since the temperature dropped well below freezing. There were several families from America and one from Holland who were serving there as missionaries and we were able to meet and have fellowship with them. There is a high illiteracy rate in the area making it more difficult to distribute literature so to deal with it these families decided that the best way was to convert some of the important Bible stories into oral stories that can be recorded and repeated. They are nearing completion on this project but it remains to be seen how beneficial it will be.
The evening we got there, they had an English speaking fellowship service which we attended before going out for dinner with some of the group. Afterwards we went for a walk in the dark frigid night. We walked around for a while and then ended up in what turned out to be a café ran by Iranians. We got to speak with a young man there for a while about his life and the gospel. In the end we gave him two New Testaments in Persian for him and his wife. When we left, he did not charge us for the drinks and he said to tell Americans that the Iranians love them. He even said that the Iranians love Israel. We met several Iranians during our travels and most of them were pro America. This was another providential happening. We took a taxi back to the house and gave a DVD and New Testament to the driver. It was a cold night and when we awoke the water was frozen in the pipes even though there was a small heater.
The frozen pipes were providential because we were anticipating meeting the man that we met at the taxi station but we were not able to because his car water was frozen and he was immobile. Instead of meeting him, the Lord had another meeting for us. Our host wanted us to go with him into town but before that happened there was a knock on the door from two men. One was an Arab brother from Jordan and the other was a local professing Kurdish believer. The Kurdish believers in general go through much pressure when they believe in Jesus and this man was no exception. We were able to encourage him and since he was an Arabic speaker we were able to give him a study Bible. A couple of hours later, he came back to our friend’s house so he got more encouragement from us. He had not been to our friend’s house in about one and a half years and then suddenly he was there twice on the same day that we were there. Once again, God’s providential hand at work.
In the afternoon we returned to Erbil for another night and to purchase more Bibles. One of the local brothers was planning to go there anyway and he had room for us in his vehicle. We returned back to our Erbil hotel and then started looking for the bookstore we visited previously to buy some more memory cards. Our memory of the location was not accurate and we got lost trying to find the shop but this enabled us to give out more literature. We were also able to spend more time with one of the brothers that we met previously.
The next day we were able to locate the bookstore and obtain more memory chips with the New Testaments for distribution to the taxi drivers. We stopped also at the two Bible societies to trade out extra Bibles and replenish our supply. Afterwards we went out for lunch with a friend in Erbil. We did some taxi evangelism on the way. The man took us to a restaurant but told us not to hand out any Bibles to the owner because he was there the previous day and the owner said, “Thank god I am not a Christian or a Jew but a Muslim.” We had a great local Kurdish meal and had our picture taken with the owner so he could put it on the wall of the restaurant along with other pictures of foreigners. In the end, our friend said to give him a Bible and the owner took the Bible gladly.
We had a meeting to go to that afternoon so we took a taxi. This time the driver spoke English. He had lived in the UK and we had a good chat with him. On leaving the taxi, we took his number for future follow up and gave him a DVD and New Testament. We met a local Kurdish pastor that afternoon. It was a great conversation and we were able to hear of his needs and desires and how we could pray for him, his family, and the church. He was not happy with the insider movement and we discussed that movement. Outside influences had tried to pressure the local government into closing his church but the government did not yield to the influences. A main prayer request he had was for the schooling of his children. On your ID card in Iraq, you must identify your religion and you are not permitted to change your religion from Muslim to Christian. Because of that, his two young children have not been issued cards since they will not consider themselves Muslim. It is necessary to have these cards to attend public school or rent apartments when the time comes. There is the option of attending a Christian private school but the one nearby will not accept the children without the ID cards leaving the family in a difficult situation. Homeschooling is an option but it is still undeveloped in Kurdistan and the resources necessary are not readily available.
After praying with him, we left and took a taxi to another City. We had a crazy taxi driver and it was a fast three hour drive. At one point, we were going 160 km (100 miles) per hour. On the way, we found a random hotel on the internet to stay at. Providentially, the hotel turned out to have some Christian staff and accommodating managers. The porter was a believer and we arranged to meet his pastor for lunch the next day. That evening, we met with a brother who is a leader in the local churches to encourage him and to give him ten study Bibles. The meeting was very informative and the time was well spent as we got to hear his testimony and about the ministry in the area and his plans for the future.
The next day we had a meeting at 1:00 pm so we decided to go to the mall in the morning. We arrived at what turned out to be a big department store. The taxi driver that drove us took an Arabic/English New Testament. For security reasons, the store had us put our bags in a locker before entering the mall. It did not take long to determine that this was not a great place to witness because of the atmosphere. As we were leaving, we tried to leave through the entrance but an employee made us go across the store to the exit and then walk back to the entrance from the outside to pick up our bags. Two shoppers offered to guide us in the right direction. One was a Syrian Kurd who deserted the Syrian army after refusing to kill innocent people. Like many Kurds, he was a lover of George W. Bush. He invited us to his house for coffee but we were not able to do that due to the time. We opted instead for a coffee shop. On the way a man heard us speaking English and stopped to talk to us. He knew some believers and we gave him a New Testament in Arabic before continuing with our Syrian friends to a coffee place. After conversation we gave them some literature before getting a taxi back to the hotel for our meeting. Our taxi driver was Kurdish and had lived in the UK so we got to speak to him about the gospel and give him a New Testament and DVD.
After waiting in the hotel for a while, we discovered that the pastor had sent us a message cancelling the appointment but we did not get it in time. It was providential to see all these events work together. If we had not tried going out the wrong door, we would not have met the Syrian man. If we had received the message, we may have stayed with the Syrians longer and not met the taxi driver. Since our planned meeting was cancelled, we met instead with two other pastors and had a great time of fellowship.
After our meeting, one of the men, who was from a nearby City, volunteered to take us to his house. Since it was on the way, we accepted the invitation and had an informative time of fellowship at his house. We talked to a young lady who encouraged us to visit her area next time to do evangelism. Since there are people in her village who worship fire and nature it would be a great opportunity for future ministry. We had some extra time so we walked around the town and got lost. There were two young men who were pushing a car out of the road so we helped them out before asking for directions. We were able to speak to one of them about reading the gospel online as he gave us directions.
That evening we took a taxi across the border and went to Diyarbakir. The border crossing booths are open 24/7 and it is better to cross over at night because of the traffic. Our taxi driver to the border was a kind man and he took some literature from us. We were armed with many Kurdish and Turkish Bibles and we prayed to the Lord to help us cross without delay. At the border we were transferred over to a van with five other guys. It did not take long to realize that they were smuggling cigarettes into Turkey. They tried to enlist our help but we declined. We dubbed the van the lung cancer express because what the drivers were smuggling brings death but for once it carried books which bring life. Because of the cigarettes, the drivers had a vested interest in not getting stopped or delayed and they did all they could to help us across the border. In God’s providence we were not delayed nor had our luggage questioned by the border security. In the end we were able to give out many New Testaments to our Kurdish friends in the van and at a taxi station where we stopped in Silopi, Turkey. A few hours later after transferring to another taxi, we arrived in Diyarbakir where we spent the night. We were able to give a parting gift to the taxi driver. In God’s goodness we were able to give out 40 New Testaments in less than 24 hours which is more than most missionaries will give out in a year.
Our plane did not leave for Istanbul until mid afternoon so we had some time in the morning to walk around and talk to a number of people. We met a man near the hotel who was from the UK and had studied Hebrew and Arabic. We got to witness to him but he rejected the Bible because of his perverted lifestyle. Our goal was to locate the local church and as we walked, we got directions from the people around us. When we got to the neighbourhood, a friendly man offered to take us to the church. We followed him for several minutes and then when he got to a vacant alley, he demanded money from us. When we refused, he pulled out a gun and started threatening us. At first, we tried walking away because we did not think he would actually shoot us but an armed accomplice walked up and blocked the exit. In this case, the wisest course was non-resistance so we gave them all the money we had. Both men were very nervous which increased the risk of an accidental discharge. At first they took our phones but at the end they returned them to us. In God’s providence, we had spent the bulk of our money before this time and we had only around $45 between the four of us. The thieves were disappointed but they accepted the money and gave us a traditional Middle Eastern kiss on each cheek before leaving. We tried to give them a New Testament before they left but they declined it. It was a remarkable robbery in that nothing was taken other than a few dollars when we had cameras, phones, credit cards, and passports that could have been stolen. God was good to us in only allowing a few dollars to be taken.
Afterwards, we talked to some people who had saw the robbery and one of them a young man invited us to his shop for some tea. He could not speak English but as we were leaving, we gave him a New Testament which he took gladly. Since we were now without cash, we had to stop at a bank to withdraw enough money to pay for lunch and the taxi to the airport. After using the cash machine, I left and forgot my visa card. A lady noticed this and ran after us to return the card. That delay slowed us down enough so that as we were returning to the hotel, we met a man near the hotel entrance. We started talking to him and offered to take him out for lunch. He was unemployed and we were able to witness to him and give him some literature. He knew a taxi driver, and after lunch he arranged for his friend to take us to the airport. If we had not been robbed, we would never have met the young man at the tea shop, the man at the hotel, or his taxi driver friend.
Our flight path took us through Istanbul and then down to Izmir. During our flight to Istanbul we were able to share the gospel to several college students through the “Are you a good person?” app which comes with twelve languages. In Izmir, a brother met us at the airport and took us to the local church to meet with some brothers in Christ. While we were on the moving sidewalks at the airport, a man and his mother tried to pass us but we had some luggage in their way that slowed them down. The young man asked where we were from so I replied “Manchester” and he said “United” and I said “Isa, Jesus.” Before moving on, he accepted a copy of the gospels from us. When we got on the train, the same man was in the same car and came over to speak with us more. He informed us that there is only one God and Christianity and Islam have the same god and will get to the same place. We replied that yes, there is only one God but Christianity and Islam do not have the same God. It is like two people getting on trains going in two different directions; they do not lead to the same place though they are both trains. We think this man will read the gospels as he was very open to us about it. That evening we spoke with some brothers from the church in Izmir and encouraged one another.
The next day we spent some time walking around the university area in town and evangelizing. On the way we stopped to offer a lady seamstress a gospel. When we showed it to her through the window of the shop, we at first thought she was angry with us because she started talking and motioning to us but we finally realized that she was asking how much the price of the book was. Once we told her it was free, she took it. Down the street we stopped to ask a woman for the direction to the train and she took some literature as well. Turkey is not an easy place to evangelize for many reasons. It is a country of two extremes: the religious Muslims and the secular people, both of which are against the gospel. The Turkish people are not as friendly as the Kurdish and are not as willing to listen to the gospel. In spite of the difficulty, we were able to speak to a number of students and give out literature. We spoke with three Nigerian Muslim students among others.
The next morning we planned to meet two Christian brothers for breakfast at 10:00. When we got to the train station, we mistakenly took the train going in the opposition direction. Once we realized what had happened, we got off the train at the first available station which was a small station. The train to take us in the opposite direction did not come for 15-20 minutes so we had time to start a conversation with a Turkish man. Someone had given him a New Testament and he had started to read it but he had objections to the trinity. One of the brothers in Turkey has a PDF book in Turkish explaining the trinity so we offered to email it to him. He wrote down his email address for us but the paper was blown away by the wind. The man proceeded to tell us that God did not want him to receive the book but someone picked up the paper and returned it so we will send him the book. When we got on the train, we were able to witness to him and explain the Justice of God.
We were late for breakfast but it was through divine diversion that we met this man who questioned the trinity. Afterwards we went to a different university for coffee and to give out literature. We split up into two groups and were able to talk to many people about the gospel. We had some great opportunities to speak to students and hand out the gospels. The second group ended up in a restaurant and spoke with a group of young Muslims for a long time. The main speaker of the students was a young man who had several counter arguments to Christianity but his biggest objection to the Christian faith was the trinity. We spoke with him for a while and offered to send him the book on the trinity. Once again we used “The Good Person Test” app during this conversation by passing it around the table for each student to take. The discussion was not conclusive but we encouraged them to read the New Testament and study it for themselves.
That evening we flew back to Israel through wind and rain and arrived back safely. On the plane, we spoke with a young Israeli Palestinian who lived in the old city of Jerusalem. After our beneficial conversation, he eagerly took a memory chip with the Arabic New Testament. Our trip was very successful; we learned much that will be useful in the future and we were able to give out much literature, further the Gospel, and encourage God’s people.
- In our travels we discovered that the Insider Movement was growing within Kurdistan and Turkey. In this movement, people will inwardly profess to be Christians but outwardly will practice their Islamic lifestyle. Since we believe this is a form of deception, pray that those involved in the movement will be convicted to stand for Christ.
- Many foreign organizations are involved in Kurdistan. Sadly, many of these foreign organizations are either wasting resources on unprofitable projects or are causing divisions among the Kurds. Pray that these organizations would be wise and focused on the gospel.
- There is much false doctrine infiltrating the church. Pray that the local pastors would test all things according to scripture and would hold fast to that which is godly. Pray that the MacArthur study Bibles that were distributed will be used to strengthen the pastors. Pray also that more godly and beneficial literature would be translated into the local languages.
- In north Kurdistan there is a dialect spoken by around 7 million people and this dialect does not have the full New Testament or Bible in their language. There are translators working on it now but they have completed only a few books of the New Testament. Pray for an accurate translation.
- There are many disputations between the various denominations. Pray for unity and humility among the brethren.
- For various reasons it is often difficult for former Muslims to be integrated into the local church. Pray that the church would open its doors with godly discernment to all believers no matter their religious background.
- The fields are white unto harvest in Kurdistan and the Middle East. Pray that God would raise up reapers for those fields.