February 20, 2019

Adventist Church in Turkey Regains Ownership of Historic Property

ChanMin Chung, Middle East and North Africa Union, and Adventist Review

Visitors often remember the Taksim Seventh-day Adventist Church in Istanbul, Turkey as a place with panoramic views over the Bosporus and the metropolitan area.

For Adventists in Turkey, the Taksim Adventist church property, situated near the bustling center of Taksim Square, has been a symbolic place because it represents the history of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the country.

A Historic House of Prayer

Karnik Doukmetzian of the Office of General Counsel of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists said that the property, including a four-story complex, was purchased by the Adventist denomination in 1927, and that the church building was constructed in 1958 and recognized by the city of Istanbul as a house of prayer.

However, church members almost lost this valuable place.

The property was registered under a foreign church worker’s name because Turkey did not recognize the denomination at the time. The church employee returned to his home country due to a condition that eventually took his life before he was able to transfer the title of the property from his name to his successor’s.

After the worker’s death, a dispute over the property arose between his family and the denomination, with the family claiming that the property belonged to their father rather than the church. Over the next 50 years, the church tried unsuccessfully to transfer the property and to negotiate with the family to relinquish the title, even though the church had been in continuous possession and use of the property since 1927.

The Property Sold

By 2015, the remaining family members of the church employee had decided that rather than transfer the property to the church as had been agreed to, they would sell the property to a local buyer.

Recently, church regional office leaders were celebrating the success of establishing the denomination’s legal status in Turkey, but on the same day, a visitor came and told them that he was the owner of the disputed property and had bought the property from the inheritors some months before.

“It was the most troubled day in my ministry,” said Hyosu Jung, president of the West Asia Field regional office of the Adventist Church in Turkey. “I couldn’t even think about what we needed to do next.”

Middle East and North Africa Union president Rick McEdward said he felt the same way as Jung.

“We thought we might even lose the building and the property and lose one of our only lighthouses in the entire Middle East, which caused us great concern,” McEdward said.

Doukmetzian, the General Counsel of the General Conference, acted quickly to solve the issue by commencing litigation against the parties concerned, while at the same time the recent buyer put the property on the market to avoid a legal dispute with the Adventist Church.

Real estate agents started coming to look at the property and taking pictures, and they also asked officials at a nearby Catholic church about the Adventist church property and building. West Asia Field treasurer Denny Rumambis expressed his appreciation for the neighboring church’s kindness as the officials always said to real estate agents that the property and building belonged to the Adventist church and not to anyone else. “We owe our thanks to our neighbor, who discouraged realtors,” Rumambi said.

The situation led leaders and church members in the Middle East and North Africa to pray for a resolution, Jung said, and he finally found his peace in God. “As I saw many sincere prayers, I gave up all my anxiety and trusted God because He is the One who owns the entire universe,” he said.

A Solution Found

While members and leaders were praying for the property and still going forward with the church’s work, Doukmetzian, with the consent and financial assistance of the General Conference, was able to arrange a transaction to secure the property for the Adventist Church. He informed the church leadership of the good news that the Seventh-day Adventist Church once again had become the lawful registered owner of the property as of October 9, 2018.

Doukmetzian and his colleagues knew the significance of their work to regain the property. “On the maps of the city of Istanbul, the property is listed as a house of prayer,” Doukmetzian said. “To have the freedom to worship in this place is important for members and the gospel work.”

McEdward expressed his gratitude for the many people who wholeheartedly worked and prayed for this property. “Around the world, people started praying, and the General Conference gave its support and provided consultation with legal issues,” McEdward said. “Little by little, with prayer, with hard work, with people partnering together, with consultation, with doing things that were needed, it became clear that there was a way forward in reestablishing our presence on the Taksim property.”

A Joyous Celebration

After a little renovation, the Taksim Seventh-day Adventist Church celebrated its reopening with church members, workers, and guests on February 16, 2019, and two new believers were baptized that day.

Magdiel E. Perez, assistant to the president of the General Conference and chairman of the General Conference Oversight Committee of the Middle East and North Africa Union, was present and delivered the inaugural sermon, encouraging the attendees. “I always heard that we had a few Adventist members in Turkey, but today this church was full of 300 people together,” Perez said. “You are God’s people working for the Lord, so God will continue to bless you.”

McEdward said he prays that this reopened church will be the center of God’s work in the community and the country. “This property offers us a place to gather, to pray, to train our members, and to increase the knowledge of our people from around Turkey so that they can show God’s love to their neighbors and their fellow countrymen,” he said.