ISTANBUL, TURKEY (BosNewsLife)-- American evangelist David Byle, who faces deportation from Turkey for "endangering public order”, has thanked his supporters for their prayers after he was unexpectedly released.
“Praise God, I was released from the deportation center...and just arrived home,” he said. "Thanks to all who prayed and did advocacy for me, also to my tireless lawyer and most of all to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who never left my side, and never will," added Byle, who was freed Friday, April 15.
The Istanbul-based preacher had been detained April 6 after the government reportedly filed a “no-reentry order”, forbidding him from coming back into the country once deported.
Officials allegedly told him that he is "a danger to public order." Byle’s wife Ulrike rejected these charges. “I think the reason he is being held is because of his evangelistic activities,” she said in a statement.
Her husband founded a successful Bible correspondence course, which reportedly suffered an arson attack in 2014 that destroyed thousands of New Testaments. He raised even more controversy within this heavily Muslim nation for his street evangelism.
Byle, 46, has faced previous attempts to expel him from Turkey. Last year, he won a five-year battle over his residency—becoming one of the few missionaries to bring such a legal challenge and win, according to Christians familiar with the case.
Police first detained Byle for street evangelism on April 25, 2007, in the Beyoglu District of Istanbul after officers reportedly said people complained about "aggressive evangelism" especially on the part of a fellow South Korean missionary worker.
Byle said at the time that police charged him with “forceful missionary activity” and disturbing the peace. He was released after two nights and all charges were eventually dropped, but police briefly detained Byle a second time in November, 2009, in the Pendik District of Istanbul, along with several other team members.
While in custody, Byle was reportedly forced to provide written statements about his activities before being released.
In February 2010, police told Byle his upcoming application for residency would require further investigation, and less than a month later, in March, two plainclothes police officers arrived unannounced at his door and took him into custody for deportation, Christians confirmed.
Byle's lawyer was able to temporarily block the deportation until an Ankara court ruled in April 2011 that he could stay as he was never found guilty of a crime and his activities were within the law.
However the evangelist never halted his actitivies. While being jailed or detained several times, the evangelist even preached to other detainees and found ways to get donations for much needed clothing for those held with him. He also wants to start teaching Turkish and English to other detainees.
“He’s much more relaxed than he was last time,” his wife told reporters before his release. “He said to me the other night, ‘I am just so thankful to the Lord. He has given me strength and ideas.’”
The family was allowed limited visitation. His family was holding up well, except for his youngest child, a 10-year-son who “isn’t himself,” Ulrike Byle said before the release. “I think he is angry.”
Their struggle to stay in Turkey and difficulties faced by other evangelical Christians in the country come despite efforts by the Turkish government to speed up European Union membership talks.
The EU claims respect for religious rights is among the fundamental values linked to membership. But activists fear Brussels will soften its stance towards Turkey on this issue as it needs Turkish support in stemming the flow of refugees into overburdened Greece.
Under a controversial deal, the EU will pay and send new migrants arriving in Greece who don't qualify for asylum back to Turkey. For every migrant returned, the EU will accept one Syrian refugee, for a total of 72,000 people to be distributed among European states.
In exchange for the help of Turkey — home to 2.7 million Syrian refugees — the EU will offer up to 6 billion euros ($6.6 billion) in aid, an easing of visa restrictions for Turkish citizens and faster EU membership talks.
Amid these geopolitical battle and pressure on their family, Ulrike Byle hasn't given up hope. She said she even felt "a sense of peace" despite her husband's detention.
“I’m a very ordinary person and not ‘spiritual,’” she explained in published remarks.
“But I feel like the Lord spoke to me through [Bible verse] Psalm 37: ‘Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.’ I really feel, because so many people are praying, there is a peace about this. Which doesn’t mean I am not worried about whether we will have to leave–but I sense an incredible peace.”