Members in Action
January 1, 2017
When we first started raising funds to support our mission endeavor with Adventist Frontier Missions in Turkey, people often asked us, “Have you read the amazing book called Diamondola?” After we read it, we started asking other people the same question. It is indeed an amazing book, the true story of a young Adventist girl who spoke six languages and helped establish the Adventist movement in Turkey during a time of violent revolution.
My wife and I badly wanted to meet the book’s author, Mildred Olsen. We finally got our chance on a supportraising journey through the American Northwest. We called Mildred, and to our delight, she not only invited us to visit but also to stay a night at her home. She was likely about 80 at the time but full of vim and vigor, and she kept us in amazement with stories. One unforgettable story was about an Armenian man named Theodore Anthony, the first person to bring the Adventist message to Turkey. Theodore’s story is especially dear to me now because this gospel entrepreneur was a tentmaker—he received no funding from the church for his intrepid frontier mission. To be precise, he was a shoemaker.
“Theodore Anthony was a poor cobbler living in an obscure village at the foot of Mount Ararat,” Mildred begins the story. He badly wanted to move to America, so he applied to the U.S. government for immigration. He had to wait 28 years for the paperwork to return! (How’s that for a bureaucratic delay?) Finally, around 1888, he moved to California. He didn’t speak English, and no one nearby spoke any Turkish. Fortunately he knew some Greek and made a few Greek friends.
One day Theodore saw a large tent going up. Thinking a circus had come to town, he took a seat as the tent filled up with spectators. But there were no elephants, bears, or clowns. Theodore was surprised when a chorister began to lead the crowd in singing hymns—in Turkish! Then a man stood up and began to speak from the Bible in Turkish. Amazed, Theodore returned night after night to hear the Bible messages. After 20 nights, the evangelist made an appeal for baptism. Theodore stood to his feet and came forward.
But when Theodore got to the front and began to talk to the evangelist, both men received a shock. It immediately became clear that the evangelist didn’t know a word of Turkish! A Greek-speaking person was brought forward to translate, and questions and answers began to fly back and forth. Theodore correctly answered all the evangelist’s questions about the material he had shared. He had truly heard all 20 lectures in Turkish! God had performed a miracle for the salvation of this man and the future of Turkey.
After his baptism, Theodore determined that he should forsake his long-awaited U.S. citizenship, move back to Turkey and become a missionary to his own people. How would he support his mission? He would make and repair shoes, of course. It was the business he knew best. He moved back to Turkey, to Constantinople. Living on his meager cobbler’s income, he began to testify to his fellow Armenians about scriptures. Theodore won his first convert in 1890, a young man who became the first Turkish Adventist to get a seminary education in Switzerland. Years passed, and the church Theodore started in this unreached land grew rapidly. How? Not by salaried church personnel, but by tentmakers. Here is a paragraph directly from Mildred Olsen’s research:
“The national government’s Ministry of Religion granted only two types of missionary permits—one to the Orthodox churches, and the other to Protestants. The Orthodox could not, and the Protestants would not recognize Adventists, so the church in Turkey resorted to the same method for evangelism employed by the apostolic church: Capable craftsmen settled in various territories of Turkey and plied their trade while they witnessed for the truth. Theodore Anthony went to Bursa. Two Armenians, a tailor, and an umbrella maker went to Nicomedia. A Greek artisan went to Samsun; an Armenian carpenter moved to Adana. An Armenian colporteur sold literature on ships at Constantinople.”
I hope that excites you, because what once propelled the Advent movement around the globe must happen again—lay people armed with professional skills and conviction spreading the Good News. Notice that conviction pushed Theodore and these other tradesmen to choose the location of their work for purposes of strategic gospel telling.
If God could use a common shoemaker, umbrella maker and other humble tradesmen, what might He do with you and your profession? Where could you go? If you would like to increase your purpose by witnessing in the marketplace at home or abroad, I have begun a monthly e-mail that provides succinct training on being salt and light in your work world. Sign up at www. bit.do/gotential.
Ephesians 6:15 says to have “your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace.” Anyone know any good shoemakers?