On 15 July 2017, one year after the attempted coup against the Turkish government, people flocked to the streets to show national pride and celebrate the attempt’s failure.
The following day, the TACO (Turkey AfriAsia Creative Outreach) team gathered in a crowded park to perform a short programme including traditional Turkish music, a dance to Pharrell Williams’s “Happy,” and worship songs in Turkish.
It was only the second time since the coup attempt that the team had felt the environment during the state of emergency would allow a street outreach in Turkey, although they had performed programmes in other countries around the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asian regions in the past year.
“God, we are here to do outreach, but let us worship you as well,” a teammate from South Korea prayed before they began.
As the team tuned their instruments, people gathered to watch what was about to happen. Harry*, an OMer from England, began to croon a familiar Turkish ballad, and two local girls got out their mobile phones to record. Children started dancing, getting up close and personal to inspect the foreigners with the instruments.
When they finished “Happy,” team leader Eileen* took a moment to address the crowd: “Even though it may feel like there’s a lack of unity in this country right now, we are a group of many nationalities that are unified through our faith in Jesus Christ,” she shared in Turkish. “Now we want to share these worship songs with you.”
As the programme switched into a time of worship, a few listeners got up to leave but not many. Team members handed out lyric sheets, and many people accepted them with interest. Afterwards, the team spread out to talk about Jesus with the groups gathered, using the Turkish they had worked hard to learn.
The TACO team focuses on using the creative arts to reach Muslim people groups. They tour around the region at the invitation of local churches and pastors. This way they know that when they leave, there will be someone contacting and discipling new believers.
After every performance, the team talks with audience members, and if they want more information, the team connects them with resources like the BCC (Bible Correspondence Course) in Turkey or a local church in other countries.
“It’s an impact ministry,” explained Harry. “There’s a big foundation on follow-up and making sure local partners will pursue the people who are interested. It’s a seed-sowing ministry, but we’re doing what we can to make sure those seeds can grow.”
Esther*, from Australia, heard about the team when she was praying about how God might use her sound engineering degree in cross-cultural ministry. Joy*, an OMer from the US who has been with TACO for three and a half years, also found the team because she wanted to use her music degree to reach out to Muslims.
“[Drama, music, and dance] is a great way to be able to share with people without causing trouble and without people feeling uncomfortable,” Esther explained. “People can put up a wall with street evangelism—there’s a fear of other people shaming them or judging them. But when it’s just entertainment on the street with pop songs and testimonies, sharing and drama, we find that those things transcend culture and language.”
TACO members spend a lot of time together on tours and act as a strong support system. Since everything is done together, the team provides community for both introverts and extroverts to thrive.
“Our team feels like a family,” explained Joy, “especially from travelling around. We don’t always get along, but we’re always there to encourage each other; we’re all there for the same reason.”
“When I first came I knew there would be ways to serve in practical ways, but I was nervous about sharing with people,” Esther confessed. “It was really scary for me, being an introvert, but God’s really showing me that it’s not about my own ability, and that he uses everything.”
Recently, Joy was leading the team on tour in Central Asia--her first time leading.
On one of the days, there was a miscommunication with the local church, and a drive that the team expected to take two and half hours, took four hours instead. Although tired and frustrated from the travel and the heat in the van, the team performed the show with their usual energy and passion.
Later they found out that a close friend of the pastor, whom he had been sharing with for years, asked Jesus to be his Saviour at the show.
“We hardly ever see people accept Jesus, especially [in Central Asia],” shared Joy, “but God is working, even when we get frustrated and tired.”
Conversely, Albania is very open, shared Esther. Every time the team goes there, they’re encouraged by the exponential growth of the church. TACO works together there with a group of local Albanian church planters with a vision to see a church in every town of 10,000 people or more. The church planters are using TACO to do this, and it’s estimated that 25 churches have started or grown from TACO outreaches in Albania.
Please pray for the TACO team to continue to share the good news in this region through creative outreach. Pray for those who have attended their performances, as well as those they interact with on a daily basis, to know the love of God through Jesus Christ.