The Balance Sheet

The Balance Sheet

Fifty years ago there was a sea change in the practice of mission. We only now completed this change in Turkey.

Fifty years ago there was
a sea change in the practice of mission. We only now completed this change in
Turkey.

Fifty years ago or
so, in the middle of the global de-colonization movement after World War 2,
with pieces of the British, French, and other empires becoming independent
countries, our church’s international mission also de-colonized. The way we
said it was, “The institutions that we’re running in other countries should be
owned and operated by the local people themselves.” These were institutions such
as schools and hospitals.

Fifty years ago in
Turkey, our church owned and operated four schools, a hospital, and a
publishing company. So why did it take so long to turn them over to local
people?

In most other
countries there was a local church denomination that received these
church-owned institutions. But in Turkey we couldn’t have church-related
schools because of the secular laws. That’s why fifty years ago; there was no
one to receive these schools — other than the Turkish government. And that’s what
began happening in the late 1960s, when the Talas middle school was closed and
the property given to the government.

The graduates of
our schools in Turkey were appalled. To insure such a thing would never happen
to the remaining institutions, the graduates joined in organizing a secular
foundation, or philanthropy, to take up the ownership. Little did they know how
long the process would last.

It was a nightmare
just to transfer the land deeds, some details of which reached far back into
the dusty corners of time. But our predecessors were patient, taking the advice
of our Turkish colleagues about the best ways forward. It took decades. There
are still some unresolved questions of land ownership. All throughout those
years, the number of missionaries our churches could put into these
institutions kept declining.

By the early 1990s,
the decline had reached the point where an administrative transfer was
imperative. The Foundation was ready to assume management of the schools,
hospital, and publishing company. As a result, these institutions began to
thrive from the better attention they received, especially in terms of
facilities. The Health and Education Foundation has even been able to expand
and open more schools. But there was one remaining step to take–the transfer
of ownership.

We have now
surmounted this last hurdle. It took a decision this past November at the
highest level of the Turkish government, the cabinet itself, to close the deal.
The Turkish Health and Education Foundation now fully own and operate the three
former church high schools in Izmir, Tarsus, and Istanbul, the hospital in
Gaziantep, and the former Redhouse Press.

So what’s the
balance sheet after these fifty years of transition? Who lost what, and who
gained what?

The institutions
we’re talking about are more than 130 years old. They’ve witnessed tremendous
changes in political, social, and religious history. In all that time they’ve
been places where Americans sent by our churches lived and worked with the
various peoples of Turkey. This interaction promoted a mutual understanding
between people of different religious and cultural backgrounds that has been a
blessing in their lives. This has certainly been true in our case. And through
us and others, this humbling experience of adjusting one’s life to other
national, religious, and cultural perspectives is being interpreted to our
church members, as in this letter itself, or in face-to-face encounters when we
tour the U.S. The fact is that as our church has withdrawn from ownership and
management of institutions in Turkey and elsewhere, and as our U.S.
denominations decline in membership and financial capacity, these global
opportunities for our congregations have diminished.

On the other hand
we have now gained relationships with our Turkish partners that are more like
that between independent and mutually respectful parties. On each side we can
now make our own decisions as to when and how and where we might need each
other. The institutions, with their illustrious histories and achievements, are
no longer forcing us into a relationship. The memories of these histories and
achievements are instead the light that shows us what can be done when
disparate people of good will come together in idealistic enterprises. Our hope
is that this light will push us, both Turks and Americans, to further acts of
cooperation in an unknown future. We look earnestly for signs of what that
cooperation will look like.

Ken and Betty Frank

Istanbul, Turkey

Ken
& Betty Frank serve with the American Board in Istanbul, Turkey.  They share the job of General Secretary of
the American Board.  They also serve on
the board of the Istanbul
Interparish Migrant Program (IIMP).