More than five months have passed since Esther Aydin’s father was beaten, tortured and then slaughtered with a knife in Turkey’s eastern city of Malatya by five young Muslims who claimed in initial statements they had done it “for our religion.”But Esther and her brother Elisha, 7, are still struggling painfully with the loss of their father, Necati Aydin, who shared his martyrdom on April 18 with another Turkish Christian, Ugur Yuksel, and German Christian Tilmann Geske. They were bound hand and foot, tortured with multiple stab wounds and had their throats cut.
The ritual slayings appeared to be a deliberate observance of the Quranic instruction to “strike terror into the hearts of unbelievers” by smiting them above the neck and striking every finger (Surah 8:12). The victims’ fingertips were sliced repeatedly and their windpipes and esophagi severed.As their mother put them to bed one night last week, Elisha finally asked, “Mommy, are you crying about Daddy?”Admitting it had been hard for her to cry since his death, his mother told him, “I am crying in my heart every day, Elisha.”Bravely trying to comfort her, Elisha answered, “You don’t need to cry, Mommy. We know he is in heaven with Jesus, along with Uncle Ugur and Uncle Tilmann.” But a few nights later, as he again dissolved in a flood of tears, he sobbed out his own fears to her, admitting he was terrified that she might die, too.
For Semse Aydin, who spoke at a recent memorial service near Istanbul to her husband’s Zirve Publishing Company colleagues, the shock of the cruel and sudden death still hits her every morning when she awakens.Equally painful, she said, is knowing that Elisha and Esther will grow up without their father’s loving care and nurture.“Necati’s absence is a cross for me every day,” she admitted. “It’s as if after nine years of marriage and two children, God is saying to me, ‘I want him back.’”Ten years ago, Necati Aydin’s strict Muslim family had violently opposed his decision to become a Christian. They literally kidnapped him when they learned of his pending marriage, threatening both of them if he did not change his mind and come back to Islam.
“I was afraid for his life, and that he would renounce Jesus,” Aydin said. “So I told the Lord I would give him up, that I would sacrifice our marriage. I prayed that the Lord would just keep Necati for Himself, not for me.” But Necati Aydin stayed firm in his new faith in Christ, and after writing a farewell letter to his family (see sidebar), he married Semse in 1998.“Now, God has taken him back,” she said. “He is the one who gives and takes away. So how can I be angry with the God who is over everything?”But the realities of single motherhood still overwhelm her, despite the comforting support of her older sister, who squeezed them into her modest apartment in western Turkey the week after the tragedy.After months of searching, it was only in early September that Aydin was able to rent an apartment for herself and move her household goods from Malatya to western Turkey. She now lives a few blocks from her sister, who is married to the pastor of the Protestant church in Izmit.One prospective landlord backed out of signing a contract with her after learning her husband was one of the Muslim converts to Christianity killed in Malatya.
Threats, Eviction and Attack
In June, her sister’s landlord bowed to neighborhood pressures, asking them to move out because of complaints that it was “dangerous” to live in the same building with them; local and national media had reported that her pastor husband had been openly targeted as the next Christian the Malatya murderers said they planned to kill.Because of these threats, the pastor has a full-time, government-provided police guard who accompanies him in the city and is posted on duty whenever the church building is in use.Even so, their church has been attacked twice since Aydin and her children moved to Izmit. It was splattered with eggs in late July, and in early September an overnight attempt was made to set the entrance on fire.“It’s a daily stress on all of us,” Aydin said, “for my 9-year-old niece and her parents as well as for me and my children, to know there are people who hate us so much they want to frighten us and even kill us.”Because both of her young ones have distinctively Christian first names, she said, even last year in Malatya they were confronted in their first-grade and kindergarten classes with inevitable questions. The surviving family was subjected to practically subconscious ostracization by their Muslim schoolmates and teachers.No school official or parent from Elisha’s school in Malatya contacted Aydin after her husband’s murder, she said.
‘A Knife to My Heart’
The draining process of returning to Malatya in early September to pack up and move their former home was like “a knife to my heart,” she said. “It was as painful as death itself to close that chapter of my life.”“Without Necati, I feel like I don’t have a home anymore. I can’t feel like this is really my home now, because he’s not here.”Even so, she made time during the visit to call on her Muslim neighbors, once again testifying to them of the love and forgiveness she had found in Christ. She gifted each one with a New Testament and a copy of her husband’s letter to his family explaining why he had become a Christian.It was one of the hardest things she had ever done, she admitted. “It took so much energy, and it was so painful, but Jesus would not let me dodge this last opportunity,” she said.She also braved the strain to again visit the relatives of the other Turkish victim, comforting them and sharing the hope of Christ’s message with them.
But there were encouraging times as well, she said, meeting singly or in small groups with many of the Christian believers in Malatya who had come to faith through the witness of herself and her husband, who had been their pastor.Despite the personal cost of her pain, Aydin stands by her public statement to the Turkish media two days after her husband’s death, declaring that she has forgiven the five culprits, now jailed and awaiting trial.In fact, she is actively praying for at least one of them to repent of their deeds and come to faith in Christ. “That’s the ultimate revenge, isn’t it?” Aydin asked.“It was not easy for me to say that I forgive the killers,” she said at the Zirve memorial service. “To be honest, my heart is broken and my life feels shattered. I really loved Necati. He was the love of my life, my closest friend. But there is no one I love more than Jesus. Only because of this, I can bear it.