Pastor Emre Karaali, 33, is calm and often quiet. He is a husband and father of two young children. He wears glasses and dresses like any other Turkish man, in a buttoned shirt and trousers. But, in this country that is predominantly Muslim, Emre is different. He is a native Turk who converted to Christianity and became pastor of the only Protestant church in the northwest province of Kocaeli. He has been pastor of Izmit Protestant Church for 4 years.
The church was founded in 1999 after the terrible Marmara earthquake shook Kocaeli and killed 50,000 people. Last week, during several days of church celebrations which were attended by both foreigners and locals, Turkish anti-terrorist police foiled an assassination plot against Emre.
An undercover police investigation resulted in the arrest of 14 people on January 15. Three of these people were women, and two of them had been attending Izmit Protestant Church as members of the small, mostly Turkish congregation. During a raid of the suspects’ homes, police found photos of church attenders (including foreign Christian visitors), maps of Emre’s home and the church, details of church activities and Emre’s daily schedule, and even architectural layouts of the church. Two guns were also confiscated. Pastor Emre had received two death threats in the past year, and often passers by the church would hurl insults. The Hurriet Daily News of Istanbul reported that some Izmit residents were “annoyed” by recent passing out of fliers that invited people to attend last weeks’ celebrations. Some people even accused the church of missionary activities and of “aiming to detach local youth from Islam and bring them toward Christianity.”
Information that the suspects had contacted a hit-man from eastern Turkey to carry out the assassination caused the police to make arrests quickly. However, Izmit anti-terrorist police were hesitant to give an official comment, as this is still an on-going investigation. The Hurriet Daily News reported that at least 6 of the 14 people arrested were released on January 18. In the last few years, several Christians leaders have been killed in Turkey, most notably three Bible publishers in eastern Turkey whose throats were slashed by Muslim youths, a Catholic priest who was shot inside his church while kneeling in prayer, and a Catholic Bishop who was stabbed near his home.
But Pastor Emre is not afraid. “Even after all of this difficulty, I love working at the church even more,” he declared with a smile. “I will not stop being a Christian pastor in Turkey. Whether I live or die, I want to glorify Christ.” “I am not a Christian,” one Izmit man reacted to the recent local news. “But I think that Pastor Emre is very brave.