Net Team Start Up
The following year, 2001, the political and social climate in the country seemed to be more open, so a proposal was made by one of our creative folks, Chuck, to set up a new team in Ankara to do more open evangelism. We were asked to head up this initiative.
Our goal was to throw out a net and draw in as many interested people as possible to pass onto to other church plants, so we named the team “The Net.”
We began by setting up an incorporated business in order to have a legal entity to work from. First I had to find a partner and the Lord graciously provided a fine fellow who was easy to work with.
Next, we each had to have $50,000 in a bank in the country. Several people loaned us small amounts to make up the needed total—demonstrating a lot of faith in us!
We went through a “broker,” who did the work of applying for us to set up the business, a process with multiple, complicated steps. This took about six months to accomplish.
Once the company was established, we began the work of opening a bookstore as a basis for outreach. Again this proved to be a complicated process, following steps that were exactly the opposite of what I would have expected.
The first step was logical. After the initial application to the city, we were required to rent a place so we would have an address.
One thing that made it difficult to find an adequate place was that we wanted to hold seminars and meetings in the bookstore on weekends. Many business buildings were not open on Sundays. In addition, we were up front with the owners about these being Christian meetings. That put up red flags for most landlords. They didn’t want any trouble!
We finally settled on a third floor apartment in an old, run-down building on the edge of downtown Ankara, making it easily accessible by bus and subway. Our budget was limited and this was what we could afford.
After renting the place, an inspector from the tax department came and told us we had to have it completely set up as a bookstore before they would approve it. And, he added, after going through all that work and expense, there was no guarantee that they would give us permission to go ahead with it!
Later I found out the reasoning behind this seemingly backwards regulation. People would apply for a certain business permit, then after receiving it, would open up a completely different business, one that would have had more difficult requirements to meet. So, whatever your application declared your business to be, it had to be set up completely before the permit could be issued.
There had been another Christian bookstore in in town, which closed down shortly before we opened; they generously gave us all their shelves and left over books. We set them up in the store and were thereby able to pass the inspection from the tax department with minimal expense. Another God sighting
Then another unforeseen obstacle came up. In order to be granted the final permit to actually open the store, we had to have a signature from the owner of every apartment in the building. Some owners were not in the city and one wasn’t even in the country. A few agreed, but three of them said they would sign only if they were the last ones to do so. All three couldn’t be last!
One of these was a retired woman lawyer who was mentally unstable; she also had the power of attorney to sign for several owners who were not in the city. Without her agreement we were at a stalemate.
We saw this as a problem but God saw it as an opportunity to display His power. Unfortunately, I failed to wait for Him and instead took another, easier route that was offered, like Abraham helping out God by having Ishmael.
When a local friend asked how things were going, I told him about the impasse. “I think I can help you,” he said. “I have a friend who might be able to tell you what to do.” He wrote a name and address on a slip of paper and handed it to me. “Go downtown and talk with her,” he urged.
I decided to accept this offer and went to the city hall to find this woman who might be able to help. This is a very common form of problem solving in the Turkish society: find someone with power who can break the “logjam” in a process and get things going again. It is called torpil, that is, acting like a torpedo.
The woman listened to my story, and asked one question. “Are there any other businesses in your building?” When I listed off the other ones, including a photocopy business, she said, “Okay, get me the number off of that shop’s permit.”
That was not hard to do, as by law such a permit must be hung on the wall of the shop. I went back, got the number and returned to the city hall, giving it to the woman.
She left the room and returned shortly with a file. “Look here,” she said, pointing to the permit, “this business is the same class as a bookstore, so I can make a photocopy of this, put your name on it and then you will have your permit.”
“Is that legal?” I asked. This did not sound right to me.
“Of course, of course. There’s no problem with this, we do it often.”
I still had misgivings, but allowed myself to be swayed by my desire to get the bookstore opened for sales. Considering all of our effort and expense, and the seeming impossibility of getting such a permit by normal means, I accepted her help. However, this decision to “go the local way” was to create a serious threat to us down the road.