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Lutherans in Turkey ask for prayer following devastating earthquake

A collapsed building in Diyarbakır, Turkey (VOA).

UPDATE (February 21, 2023): Another large earthquake hit Turkey on February 20, leading to additional death and destruction. As of this update, more than 47,000 people have been confirmed dead in Turkey and Syria following the first earthquakes on February 6. The ILC urges continued prayer for the people of Turkey and Syria, and invites readers to contact their local church body for additional information on ways to support victims.

TURKEY – The Istanbul Lutheran Church (İstanbul Luteryen Kilisesi – ILK) is requesting prayer following a catastrophic earthquake on February 6, 2023 which has left parts of Turkey and Syria devastated.

As of this publication, more than 6,000 people are confirmed dead and tens of thousands are injured, but officials warn that number will continue to rise. Thousands of buildings have collapsed, and rescuers are facing a race against time and freezing temperatures to save survivors. Countless people have been left homeless, and critical infrastructure has been destroyed. The World Health Organization estimates that upwards of 23 million people have been affected by the earthquake and subsequent aftershocks.

In response to the tragedy, the head of the Istanbul Lutheran Church, Rev. Bahadir Argönûl, is calling for urgent prayer. Some of his congregation have lost family members and many are among those affected by the disaster. “We thank the Lord that our brother, his wife, and their daughter, were saved from the earthquake,” he says. “We request prayers for them and for the tens of thousands of others who are in a similar situation, lacking shelter and daily necessities.”

“Pray for those who are working to help those who are still trapped under collapsed buildings that many might still be saved,” ILK Pastor Argönûl continued. “May the Lord have mercy on all those who suffer and provide comfort for those who have lost loved ones. And may all this strengthen our faith in Jesus Christ.”

The International Lutheran Council’s Chairman, Bishop Juhana Pohjola of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF), is also calling on the international Lutheran community to remember Syria and Turkey in prayer. The ELMDF has close ties to the Istanbul Lutheran Church. “We are witnessing enormous human suffering in Turkey and Syria,” Bishop Pohjola noted, “and we offer our deepest condolences to those who have lost loved ones.”

“We pray for those who have been injured and those who have seen their homes and livelihoods destroyed. Even when the television cameras have moved on to other places, we know that our Lord Jesus Christ and His words of mercy and hope will remain. We pray for the Istanbul Lutheran Church and her witness, that many will receive true comfort in Christ, through whom we find life and salvation. ‘God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea’ (Psalm 46:1-2).”

Lutheran ministry in Turkey first began in 1709 but came to a hiatus in the late 19th century. In 1999, Lutherans living in Istanbul came together to form a congregation. Rev. Risto Soramies—who would go on to serve as the ELMDF’s first bishop—was eventually called to serve as the Istanbul congregation’s first pastor (he had previously served a Turkish-speaking congregation in Germany). Today the Istanbul Lutheran Church has congregations in Istanbul and Izmir, Turkey, as well as Turkish-speaking congregations in Peshtera and Krushevo, Bulgaria.


Istanbul Lutheran Church develops connections with German Lutherans

Rev. Mikko Tiira and Rev. Ville Typpö of the Istanbul Lutheran Church during meetings with SELK in Germany.

HANOVER, Germany – From May 1-2, 2017, Rev. Ville Typpö and Rev. Mikko Tiira of the Istanbul Lutheran Church (İstanbul Luteryen Kilisesi – ILK) visited the national office of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (Selbständige Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche – SELK) in Hanover. Rev. Typpö oversees the young Lutheran church body in Turkey. Meanwhile, Rev. Tiira is stationed in Izmir, the Biblical city of Smyrna.

The Istanbul Lutheran Church numbers 200 members in four congregations: two in Turkey (in Istanbul and Izmir) and two in Bulgaria (Peshtera and Krusevo). Some ILK members from Bulgaria have emigrated to Germany in recent years. ILK pastors seek to help the transition of these people to German Lutheran congregations. The SELK’s pastoral leader, Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt, pledged the spiritual support of his church.

In addition there was discussion about possible cooperation between the Lutheran Theological Seminary of the SELK in Oberursel, Germany and the Evangelical Lutheran Institute of Religion (ELRIM) in Istanbul. The visitors from Turkey emphasized that students from Germany are always welcome at ELRIM. There one can learn of Islam as practiced in Turkey, while cultivating contacts with the Orthodox and other Eastern churches. Lectures by visiting German professors would be very much encouraged.

Following the Hanover consultations, Revs. Typpö and Tiira traveled on to Luther’s Wittenberg to participate in a conference at the Old Latin School, a joint project of the SELK and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS). Bishop Voigt remarked to the SELK News Service that the Lutheran work in Turkey impresses him deeply. Along the way there was also discussion on political issues. The conversation with the visiting pastors confirmed his impression that one cannot ignore the ideologizing taking place in Turkish society.

The Istanbul Lutheran Church is a Turkish-speaking confessional Lutheran church body officially established in 2004. It carries on the tradition of the first Lutheran congregation in Turkey established in Constantinople in 1709. In addition to SELK, it has developed closer relations with the LCMS in recent years, signing a Working Agreement with them in 2015. (You can find out more about the history and work of the ILK by reading this 2013 interview between The Canadian Lutheran and Rev. Typpö).

SELK and the LCMS are member churches of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies. Bishop Voigt of the SELK serves the ILC as its chairman.


With files from a SELK News story as translated by Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee, Lutheran Church–Canada.


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