The Kurds are the fourth-largest people-group in the Middle East, yet they have no land of their own. But God hasn’t forgotten these persecuted descendants of the ancient Magi of Bible times.
It is a story of the Christmas manger and of age-old mystics, a story voiced across the world in nursery rhymes and high-church hymns, a story performed in Sunday school plays and on the professional stage. It is the story of the Magi–those wise men of the Bible who appeared as if from nowhere, following the star of Bethlehem and seeking the infant Son of God. When they found Him, they worshiped Him in a stable and presented costly gifts to Him, then quickly departed as they arrived–cloaked in mystery.
For 2,000 years, history has kept their secret well. To this day, the biblical Magi remain anonymous–numbered and named by tradition only. Who were these wise men? Simply stargazers who practiced astrology–a belief outlawed by God in the strongest terms? Why did Matthew include them in the first Gospel of the New Testament without naming them and their country of origin?
One of their modern descendants believes he has the answers. And unlike his Magi ancestors, his identity is far less mysterious. In fact, he can be reached by cell phone and speaks English fluently. His name is Kemal, and his story adds pieces to the puzzle about the biblical Magi–while uncovering one of the most intriguing moves of God’s Spirit in the original Bible lands of the Middle East.
Kemal says the story of the Magi was included in the Scripture to give hope to their descendants–the Kurds of the Middle East–whose identity, unlike that of the Magi, has not been kept secret by the march of time. They are known as “history’s losers.”
Kemal lives in Turkey, but he is not a Turk. Kemal is a Kurd, too, and a follower of the Messiah–to use the term for Jesus he himself prefers.
“I don’t like being called a Christian,” Kemal says. “Most Westerners call themselves Christians, whether or not they fear God. Who am I to be compared with if you call me a Christian–Madonna?”
In his 40s, Kemal is unmarried and a vivacious, dynamic, expressive man. He is a lover of folk dance but a despiser of makeup. “God created us the most beautiful creatures. If you put makeup on, you tell Him you don’t like what He made,” he’ll tell you.
If you need a dollar and he has but one left, he will give it to you. He has lived the last 15 years in physical pain and has a hard time sleeping soundly. His maladies are the lasting effects of four years of torture in a Turkish prison where he was an inmate in the 1980s–a particularly dreaded facility in the city of Diyarbakir that Amnesty International branded at the time as the worst in the world.
Most important, Kemal is God’s apostle to the Kurdish people. He is the key that is opening the hearts of many thousands of Kurds to the gospel. Kemal became a believer in 1987, and at the time he was the first and only known follower of Jesus in Kurdistan in modern days.
But he is not the last.