EVIA, Greece – The European Evangelical Alliance (EEA)'s annual assembly opened in Greece on Tuesday with a heart-wrenching appeal from Turkey's Evangelical Alliance to pray for believers there following the horrific murder of three Bible publishing workers in April.
More than one hundred EEA members have gathered on the Greek island of Evia to share successes and to assess current challenges in European mission around the theme of "Increasing our influence in Europe".
Zekai Tanyar of the Evangelical Alliance in Turkey wept as he spoke of the shock he had felt at the time of the killings of Tilman Ekkehart Geske of Germany and Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel of Turkey in their Bible publishing office in Malatya.
"It was as if suddenly all hell had been let loose," he said. "I couldn't believe it. Sometimes I still can't."
Conference delegates were visibly moved as Tanyar, who knew the three men personally, appealed to them to pray for believers in Malatya and for the wider church in Turkey, which he said was suffering from a "sense of tiredness."
The killings have prompted some believers to leave Malatya, while others have stopped coming to church. The EU, meanwhile, remains concerned by the killings and the suspicion over the presence of missionaries that is commonplace in the predominantly-Muslim Turkey.
According to a report from Turkish news channel NTV this week, a Turkish prosecutor will press for extended life sentences for the five men suspected of the killings.
Tanyar, however, stressed forgiveness for the perpetrators of the crime. "We're sad but we don't hate," he said.
Gordon Showell-Rogers, general secretary of the EEA, then invited delegates to pray for countries where persecution is particularly fierce, and especially for Tanyar and believers in Turkey.
High on the agenda for the remainder of the assembly is the Strategic Plan for 2008, which sets out a strategy for making the church in Europe even more effective as salt and light in society in the coming years.
The European Evangelical Alliance Assembly concludes on Friday.