If someone had told me that one night I would be on my knees praying to Jesus and calling God by his most personal, intimate name, ‘Abba Father,’ I would have thought that person was insane.” Baris Kaya (not his real name for safety reasons) seems astonished when he recounts the moment he rejected everything he’d learned in 40 years as a devout, practicing Muslim.
Born in Istanbul, Turkey, Baris moved to the United States for graduate studies. But that intellectual pursuit began a spiritual journey, and the result was as unexpected as it was profound—Baris became a Christian. He wasted no time turning his newfound Christian faith into action. He studied the Bible intensely, later began work on a master’s of divinity degree and helped start a house church.
Recently, he stepped even more boldly out on faith and into what he says is his purpose: He returned to Turkey to share the Gospel with Muslims there.
Choosing a Christian Heartbeat
His Muslim upbringing might make Baris’ dramatic conversion to Christianity appear far-fetched, if not impossible. He was born to devout Muslim parents and raised in strict adherence to Islam, which views the Bible as a corrupted text.
Baris describes Islam as “a religion of rote rituals practiced to worship a distant God.” By contrast, “Christianity is a faith whose heartbeat is love. Love is God’s greatest commandment, and I am attracted to God and Jesus who teaches love,” he explains.
Officially, Turkey is considered a secular country, but 98 percent of the population claim allegiance to the Muslim faith. “It is a different thing to say you are Muslim than it is to practice Islam,” Baris explains. “My family actively practiced all Islamic rituals and attended to our prayers. I began memorizing many parts of the Quran when I was ten years old.”
Recognizing a Restlessness
Baris vividly remembers the night in May 2014 when he had his vision. “Jesus was very real. I saw the world safe and protected under His care. Then, I felt His incredible love. That’s when I fell on my knees because I knew that I could never turn back.” Although he says his vision convinced him that Jesus is the one true Son of God, Baris now recognizes smaller epiphanies that prepared his heart to follow Christ.
Christian friends in graduate school initiated his interest in the Bible. “They prayed for me. My heart must have been open to some extent for me to have agreed.” He distinctly remembers, “It was a strange feeling. No one had ever prayed to Jesus for me. We were holding hands, and I can only describe it as a restless energy that came over me.”
Counting the Cost
Most Christians aren’t placed in the extreme position of having to choose between their faith and their loved ones. But even as he knelt in emotional prayer that night, Baris grasped the enormity of his decision. For a Muslim to accept and follow Jesus is a conscious abandonment of Islam. He would be rejected by Allah, by his family, and in many Muslim countries, he could be put to death.
“I asked Abba to help me deal with the weight of this,” he said. “I knew this would hurt my parents terribly. They wouldn’t understand. I needed God’s strength to help me. I knew I had to leave everything behind.”
Indeed, the cost has been great for Baris. His wife filed for divorce and immediately took legal action to prevent him from seeing their daughter. His voice shakes with emotion when he speaks of his daughter, who is now six.
“My prayer is that, in the fullness of time, she will come to know Jesus as I have,” he quietly adds.
His father threatened to disown him and treats him like an atheist—devoid of any God. When he confided to his brother that he had a vision of Jesus that made his belief unshakable, Baris was temporarily committed to a psychiatric hospital. He doesn’t deny the sad irony that less than two years ago, he would have though someone crazy to think he would be a Christian.
“But I cannot turn back now that I have seen the truth,” Baris states.
Reaching Beyond Preconceived Notions
Baris believes God has equipped him for a special purpose to share the Gospel and love of Jesus Christ with his own people. “I have first-hand understanding of the challenges we Christians face in reaching out to a people steeped in the Muslim culture and Islamic mindset,” he says.
In Turkey, Baris works with a mission distributing Bibles that have been translated into Turkish and helping seekers connect with additional Christian resources. Baris passionately prays the world will join together to help break down preconceived notions that to be Turkish is to be Muslim and that to be Muslim, as he once was, is to be beyond the saving grace of Christ’s love. Baris is adamant, “Jesus’ grace is for everyone.”
Speaking the Language of Love
Baris will have an opportunity to share this faith in a very personal way. His father has agreed to meet with him with the sole intention of re-converting Baris to Islam. “I recognize that this will become a defense of my Christian beliefs,” he states. “My father thinks he is giving me a second chance to return to Muslim beliefs, but I see this as God’s opportunity to step into our conversation and open my father’s eyes to Jesus.”
“To all Muslims, I say just be open-minded. Curious. You must feel secure to come out of the box and look at your own beliefs without fear of losing your souls,” Baris exhorts. “God is not dangerous. His Son Jesus is full of love and mercy.”
Baris says a warm heart melts all barriers. His favorite scripture echoes the transformative power of love. “If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love other, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (I Corinthians 13:1).
He leaves his Christian brothers and sisters in the United States with a simple challenge: “Don’t be afraid or shy. Invite Muslims—any unbelievers—to join in activities. They long for friendship more than you can imagine. Believe me.”