Compelled by the love of Christ, a pastor whose church was vandalized by a group of Muslim extremists refused to press charges and forgave those who persecuted him.
On February 25, a group of Islamists damaged the windows and a security camera of a rented church while shouting the jihadist slogan, "Allahu Akbar," or "God is greater." The mob was reportedly angered by the large amount of Muslims putting their faith in Christ at the church, located in the Black Sea region of Turkey.
During a court hearing several months later, church Pastor Matta (full name withheld for security reasons) surprised the judge, according to a report from the Christian Aid Mission.
"During the trial, the judge asked me whether I am pressing charges or not," he told the organization. "I replied, 'I'm not pressing charges because the Lord asked me to forgive.' The judge waited for some seconds and asked again, saying, "You're not even asking for the damages they caused with the broken windows and the camera?' I replied, 'No, I don't want to; the only thing I want is it to be known that we are not bad people.'"
The magistrate smiled, and stated that while pastor may not have wanted to press charges, he as judge was going to try them for causing harm to a place of worship.
But what man meant for evil, God used for good. Reports of the attack and the congregation's response quickly spread throughout the region, prompting many to visit the church: "We praise God because after this attack good reports for us were published in many papers, and some officials came to visit us," Pastor Matta said.
He revealed he was inspired by the words of Exodus 14:14, which state,"The LORD shall fight for you, and you shall hold your peace."
The pastor said that Muslims are accepting Jesus at a dramatic rate, drawn to the love and compassion demonstrated by Christians. He shared how he recently met a Christian refugee from Iraq who fled with his family to Turkey when ISIS began to approach their area after burning neighboring villages.
"As we were Christians, we had no chance of survival," the refugee told Pastor Matta. "So we left everything behind and came to Turkey."
A smuggler offered to take them to Greece by boat, and his son agreed to take family members against his father's advice. The refugee stayed behind as his wife, two of his sons, a daughter-in-law and three grandchildren undertook the voyage.
"Seven people from the family of this man lost their lives when the boat in which they were crossing the Mediterranean to reach Greece from Turkey capsized and sunk," Pastor Matta said. "He told us his sad story with tears in his eyes. There are many stories like this, of those whose lives are broken by the ugliness of the deeds of ISIS and then come to a church and hear the words of Jesus Christ, 'You shall even love your enemies.'"
Persecution in Turkey is shaped by Islamic extremism, and is increasingly marked by violence, according to watchdog Open Doors USA, which placed the country 45th on its World Watch list of countries where Christians face the most opposition.
Earlier this year, Muslim President Recep Tayyip Erdogan took control of six churches in the war-torn southeastern city of Diyarbakir, making them state property in an effort to squash freedom of speech and religious movement.
Amid backlash from the Christian community, the government claimed there were no religious motives because the government also expropriated a number of historic mosques in the town. However, World Watch Monitor points out that mosques in Turkey are state funded, while church foundations have to maintain the Christian churches.