By BosNewsLife News Center
ISTANBUL, TURKEY (BosNewsLife)– An American evangelical pastor in Turkey faced uncertainty Thursday, October 9, after authorities reportedly cancelled his long-term residence permit and ordered his deportation.
Local police also sealed the premises of Pastor Patrick Jensen’s ‘New Life Church’ congregation in the southeastern city of Gaziantep, said the church leader and other Christians.
Jensen was detained for some 30 hours on September 14, before being permitted to return to his home. His Turkish residence permit — valid through to November of 2015 — was cancelled, but a temporary 30-day permit was issued until the court rules on his appeal, BosNewsLife learned.
The pastor said he was ordered to pay 3,043 Turkish lira (some $1,331) for allegedly violating the country’s labour laws, which require a work permit for legal employment status.
In published remarks Jensen made clear he would not pay the fine as he was only “a volunteer serving in the church.” He said Labour Ministry officials had “mistakenly classified the church as a place of business.”
The pastor started the small congregation of up to 40 adults nine years ago when he and his family moved to Gaziantep, among the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world.
However, “It seemed we were being viewed negatively, as if we were enemies. Some pressure is being put on us, although our open presence and activities here had not been an issue before,” he said.
Jensen isn’t the only foreign church leader experiencing problems. “It is not clear according to which criteria they say yes or no,” explained General Secretary Umut Sahin of the Association of Protestant Churchescps. “Currently, only four Protestant church leaders have been able to obtain this visa status.”
Following last month’s police crackdown, the New Life Church congregation has been meeting informally in a park and in private homes.
Voice Of the Martyrs Canada (VOMC), an advocacy group supporting “persecuted Christians” noted that the fledgling congregation has not yet applied for official status as an association, “which is the only legal option open to register new Christian congregations.”
Despite an estimated 5,000 Protestant Christians meeting in 120 small congregations in Turkey, the state prohibits institutions for the theological training of their clergy, according to activists.
The same ban apparently prevents traditional Orthodox, Armenian and Syriac communities from opening seminaries for their local priests and church workers.
Christians comprise less than 0.2 percent of the country’s over 80 million mainly population, according to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and church leaders have expressed concerns about Islamic threats and violence against Christians in the Muslim-majority country.
Turkey has come under international pressure to improve religious rights following several deadly attacks against priests and missionaries.
However Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has strongly denied U.S. suggestions that his nation supports Islamists fighters such as Islamic State, which has been known for killing Christians and others it does not like.
American Vice-President Joe Biden apologised Tuesday, October 7, to Saudi Arabia, after already making apologies to Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, for saying that they have supported terrorism in the Middle East.
Amid the standoff, VOMC urged fellow believers to bring Jensen’s “difficult situation to our Lord in prayer, trusting that His will be done on earth as it is in ” a reference to Bible verse Matthew 6:10.
The group also urged prayers for “peace”, that authorities will “overturn the fine and deportation order” and that ” this congregation will continue to meet for worship despite this latest obstacle, and that God will provide another suitable location for their services.”