Interview With Christian Manoukian, A Man On A Mission

Christian Manoukian

Christian Manoukian came all the way from California (USA) to Beirut (Lebanon) to serve in vacation bible schools and in junior youth camp, as well as to visit the places where his parents used to live. In order to find out more about his mission in Lebanon, we had this interview with Christian.

(Interview conducted by Raffi)

Raffi- Tell us about yourself and your connection to Lebanon.
Christian- My name is Christian Manoukian. I'm 19 years old, and I live in Los Angeles, California. I attend Cal Poly Pomona as a Journalism major. My family is originally from Lebanon. My dad was born there, and lived there until heavy fighting in his neighborhood (Khalil Badawi) forced his family to flee to the U.S. when he was a teen. My family connections helped me in establishing my own connection to Lebanon as well.


Raffi- How did you decide to serve in Lebanon?
Christian- In 2015, I went to Armenia with the Armenian Missionary Association of America (AMAA) on a missions trip, and on that trip, I really had my eyes opened to the impact missions work can have to a particular community. It was a life-changing experience for me.
After I arrived back home, I knew that God was calling me to more missions work. The next location was immediately clear to me: the land of my parents and their parents before them, Lebanon. 
I knew that the current situation in Lebanon, whether it be political problems or increasing sectarian tensions, was wearing down on the people of the country. I told myself that there is no better opportunity than now to travel there and serve God and pour out my love to the people there and really be God's light in an increasingly dark world.


Raffi- Where did you visit and serve in Lebanon?
Christian- My mornings consisted of visiting different Vacation Bible Schools (summer schools, I'm not sure what the correct term is) and doing a variety of things there. I would help lead kids in worship, tell them stories, play with them, take pictures of the event, observe and take notes to later publish in my daily blog. During my stay in Lebanon, I visited Emmanuel and Marash churches, as well as Karagheusian and Trad social centers. 
I also served as a leader at Camp Kchag for badaniats hamakoumar. 


Raffi- What was your impression of Lebanon and the churches here and what changed in your perspective after experiencing Lebanon first hand?
Christian- As a country, I loved Lebanon. It was wildly different than the environment I'm used to living in, and it was very interesting to experience a new culture first-hand. 
As far as the churches go, I loved visiting each individual church and getting to know each individual group. Each church is at once both connected and unique. What I mean by that is although everyone within the Armenian church community knows each other and are very close with each other, each individual church has a unique group of badaniats and chanitz and an individual dynamic that makes them who they are.
I was very impressed with the church unity and I absolutely loved seeing everyone from different churches reuniting and embracing when they would see each other. When I was included in these embraces, it really made me feel as if I was part of a huge family I never even knew I belonged to.


Raffi- What are some of the things that surprised you?
Christian- Referring back to the previous question, I was pleasantly surprised with how unified the church community in Lebanon is. In Los Angeles, there are many Armenian churches, but since we are all so spread out over the city, we don't often see each other or interact with each other. It was very refreshing to constantly see friendly faces while attending various events or even just wandering around Beirut. It is something I will very much miss about Lebanon.
Another thing that caught me off guard was the amount of kids who've grown up in real hardship. I lost count of how many kids I met who've lost a parent (or both) already, or are working at a very young age to provide for their family or save up for the future, or are in abusive relationships or families. It was really startling and at the same time encouraging to see the way each badanee has overcome their individual trials and have become stronger in their faith.


Raffi- Is there something that you want to say?
Christian- I was very moved by my time spent with the people of Lebanon. It has left lifelong memories in my heart and mind, and I in turn left my heart there. This missions trip was just the first; I plan on returning and doing more work in this country. I will be back!

In upcoming posts we will share Christian's photos as well as his reflections about the places he visited.

Badanyats Camp 2016 – Reflections

(This post is originally published at Angie Kirejian's blog: https://angiekirejian.wordpress.com)

Angie

by Angie Kirejian
Before talking about the camp I would like to step behind and tell you how I ended up as an “oknagan leader”. Believe it or not at first I rejected Datev’s request to serve as a leader. I couldn’t accept because I had already registered 2 courses for my summer semester. To be honest I wanted to both finish the courses and serve as a camp leader. From the very first day of the semester my courses were cancelled because the number of students attending the classes were less than 8. I was really frustrated because for my last semester I will have to take 6 courses (out of which 4 are really tough courses). For a complete week I got mad, my stress controlled me, and I just prayed for God to help me as I go through this period. Eventually I realized that instead of stressing over the cancelled courses I could use my free time to serve in a DVBS. I asked around if they needed anybody but unfortunately I was bit late all the DVBS-s had enough leaders. As I was thinking of ways to fill my empty schedule, I remembered Datev’s request of serving as a leader for the Badanyats Camp and so I grabbed my phone immediately and asked him if I could still serve. Gladly, he accepted and introduced me to the group of leaders who had already met several times to prepare for the camp.

Honestly it was really weird for me to see myself as a Badanyats Camp leader. I was a badany 4 years ago but now I had to be an actual leader! I was really worried and nervous since I had never worked with teens. I had worked with Sunday School Children but teenagers?! I started thinking things like: “Am I really ready to lead teenagers?”, “What would teenagers think of me as a new leader?”, “Would I really make a difference?”, “Would I be able to share my faith with them?”, “Would I be able to help them as they snap out from the self-centeredness/escapism/stress?”… At the same time I prayed and asked God to use me, to show me what I can do and use it for a purpose greater than myself.

From the very first day of the camp I knew deep inside that there was a reason for me to attend the camp. 78 teenagers entered KCHAG each with a purpose in mind. Their eyes were filled with curiosity and their warm smiles comforted me. After the worship the leaders were introduced via a snap-video, then I had to lead the Ice-breaking Games alongside Lori. Contrary to what I thought the badanies really enjoyed the games, got introduced to each other, and we all had a good laugh! I tried to socialize and to get to know badanies from different youth groups. I can still remember my first awkward meeting with a group of girls. I just sat beside them and asked for their names, their hobbies, whether or not they had siblings, the countries they had traveled to, and so on…

Early in the morning the leaders met and we discussed about the daily schedule. Everyday badanies had the opportunity to worship and praise God, to learn about Him, to play fun games, to learn about something new (through the workshops), and to socialize. Together we discussed about snapping out from escapism, stress, self-centeredness, and finally to ask God to snap out. The badanies were reminded the following:

  • God created us in His own image. Each and every individual is unique with all his/her flaws and imperfections. It is normal for us as human beings to escape from who we are. Nobody wants the other to see his/her flaws and that’s exactly what social media profiles are promoting (to hide your true self and to create a profile others want to see). Jesus was transparent. He didn’t hide His identity although everybody mocked Him. Instead He removed some people’s masks and revealed their true selves.
  • We need to snap out from our anger and stress. Stress causes disharmony, intensifies our fears, and controls us such that we act contrary to who we really are. God’s strength is revealed through our weaknesses.
  • Narcissism or self-centeredness VS self-worth. It is important to take care of ourselves, our bodies, our minds, etc.… We need to make sure to snap out from the thought that we are the center of the universe. Love yourself but remember to share your love with others as well since after all our God is Love.
  • It is normal for us to fight with God. We usually tend to think that we know what’s best for us and when God does the opposite we get frustrated. Just like any other relationship, to keep it solid we need to communicate with Him even if that means to actually fight with Him. Finally, God is moved by faith and not by need.

The discussions nourished our faith and to put our faith into action we had the chance to serve the Trad DVBS children. The badanies were really excited and they worked hard to prepare fun activities for the children. The event was a success! The children enjoyed a lot and their warm smiles were a proof. In addition to the discussions we had prayer periods where badanies had to use their 5 senses to get closer to God.

Furthermore, the badanies had the chance to play various games such as Army 101, Muddy Games, Murder Mystery, Jeopardy, and Pokémon Go. The games required physical strength, general knowledge, analytical skills, teamwork, and sportsmanship. Throughout the days I had the chance to chat with some badanies and to get to know them more. I shared with some of them about my relationship with God and how my faith gave me strength every step of the way. I loved (continue to love them) them more and more as the days went by. I felt blessed as I saw talented, curious, friendly, and fun badanies all gathered in KCHAG.

The highlight of the camp was the Nvirman Period. As we, the leaders, stood in a circle I remembered the day I took the decision to be a member of God’s family. I couldn’t stop crying as Badanies approached us and hugged us as we sang worship songs. My eyes were filled with tears of happiness as I knew God was celebrating with us. With His wide arms He embraced each and every badany as we prayed for them.

Oh Lord, I pray that you hold their hands and guide them as they go on their journey to know you more. Dear God, please let them feel your love and let them sense your presence in every step of the way. Help them to snap out from whatever is holding them to come closer to you. May your strength appear in their weaknesses and may you bless them and their families. I pray that their decisions would be put into action and they would be filled with your love and hope. In the name of the leaders I pray that you give us the wisdom we need to guide your children and bring them close to you oh Lord. I pray this in Jesus Christ’s Holy name, Amen.

Finally, I thank God for giving me the opportunity to attend the camp, meet the lovely badanies, make friends, and to get even closer with Him.

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An Interview with Badveli Jirayr Ghazarian

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Badveli Jirayr Ghazarian is one of the newly graduated students from Near East School of Theology (NEST), and is now pastoring the flock of the Armenian Evangelical churches in the region of Kessab, whose inhabitants went through traumatic experiences, leaving their beloved fields and lands during one frightful night. It's only recently that the Kessabtsis have returned to Kessab and Armenians have started rebuilding what has been ruthlessly destroyed. In order to know badveli Jirayr better and about his decision to become a pastor in this part of the world, and in order to further understand the spiritual conditions of our brothers and sisters in Kessab, we're sharing with you this interview. (We pray that Aleppo and all of Syria would find peace and to keep the hearts and minds of the Syrians safe).

(Interview conducted by Raffi)

Raffi- Can you first tell us about your decision in becoming a full-time minister of the Gospel?
Badveli Jirayr- The decision of becoming a full-time minister in the Armenian Evangelical Church was not an easy decision rather I have always felt that it is arduous, demanding and herculean. I say this, because I have always watched our pastors at a distance doing tons of things, engaging in many meetings, and having to be literally very present in the surrounding community. 

This decision took a lot of time, prayer and one-on-one meetings with spiritually-oriented people striving for a better community of faith. The end result was a deep decision to serve God. The church is a given to do that and I think it is one of the most amazing platforms to serve God. I presented my desire to the church, and the church with wide arms embraced me, supported me to study more deeply the word of God. In the process there were a lot of struggles, questions, meetings with close friends, but eventually I understood it this way: God is inviting me to something bigger than I think. So, this is the short version of the story.

Raffi- What is your most difficult task as a pastor, living in the war conditions?
Badveli Jirayr- Living in war conditions, one of the most difficult task of a pastor, is to really know the true need(s) of the people. The question I ask myself is : What do they need today or tomorrow ? What is the priority? Sometimes, the answers to these questions are linked to financials. War conditions need a light heart but it is as important to have a categorized budget to reach our people who are really in need. 

But, finances are not the end. 

Your question requires a deeper thought, a deeper spiritually-oriented answer. Sometimes we spend too much time thinking about what we should do for our congregations or people living in our area. Moreover, I think the main task of the church isn't fetching materialistic stuff but, as the story of Acts 3 goes; once Peter and John go to the temple and on the way they meet a lame person who asks them for money. They realize they do not have money to give, but they have something more valuable that the whole world doesn't have. They have the healing word of Christ. So, they decide to share this amazing healing word in the midst of a request presented by the lame.  

The text of Acts 3: 6-10 goes like this : “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” 7 Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. 8 He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. 9 When all the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him."

So, the most difficult task for a pastor living in war conditions is to give the healing Word to the people. A Word the makes the lame walk, the blind see and the puzzled gain momentum of their thought.  And that.... Is not an easy task at all... 

Raffi- Have the Kessabtsis returned to their home?
Badveli Jirayr- The Majority of Kessabtsis have returned to their homes. One of the main reasons for this return is the relationship of the Kessabtsi with the very soil of Kessab. Kessabtsis have a phenomenal attachment with the land they work with. The process of plantation and waiting for the crops to grow is an unexplainable attachment. Once a Kessabtsi is detached from the soil he touches, this means he/she is really dying inside. 

Before the return, many have expressed this in the following way: "If I just get back and have a nap under the tree near my house, it would be more than enough for me to survive".

So, the majority are now here and they are restoring the fields of apples, peaches and other types of vegetation.

Raffi- How is the spiritual condition of the Kessabtsis?
Badveli Jirayr- This is a very hard question to answer. On one hand because God is the only being, that knows people and their world of deeps; yet on the other hand this is somehow linked to the environment and the conditions surrounding Kessabtsis.

The terror experience in March 2014, the sudden drop of the Syrian economic condition and the "illness" of the plantation (from which the main source of income is derived)  after the liberation of Kessab, it felt like people lost hope of a living God who intervenes in History. 

Questions of theodicy arose in a spectacular way. "Why didn't God do something to stop the flow of terrorists?", "Why did God allow such an evil to happen?", "What did we do to God?", "Is God really there?". I remember a badanee asking me: "Why didn't God stop all the machine guns and the artillery of the terrorists?", "Why didn't he break all the guns that were used to attack us?"

It was first very hard for us as a church to tackle all these questions that were targeted to God, but slammed in our face. It took time to explain and remind our people that the God whom Christians pray to, is a crucified, menaced, mocked, and a God who chose the cross. It took time through bible studies, discussions, and one on one talks that God is not responsible for all this evil and that human beings are. We choose to kill, lie, steal, hurt others. The church does not believe in a God from whom evil things spring out. On the contrary, God is good all the time.

So, it is taking time to adapt to a new spiritual understanding of God. Otherwise, Kessabtis thank God for his goodness every day.

Raffi- How is the communication and coordination between the churches of Kessab, mainly the Armenian Apostolic and Armenian Catholic churches?
Badveli Jirayr- The communication and the coordination of the 3 churches of Kessab are actually very good. The priests and I meet very often and we try to be present at almost everything the churches organize. Now, we have decided to meet once a month, talk a little bit and I hope we can arrange prayer meetings together too. 

But, communication is very easy and we may say that many informal meetings happen over a coffee, phone calls, and short talks if we happen to see each other on the streets or in any organized event.

Raffi- Despite the alarming conditions, the church planned and organized a DVBS. Can you tell us how you successfully organized the DVBS?
Badveli Jirayr- Concerning the alarming conditions surrounding the country, it was risky yet extremely important for us to give a taste of joy, friendship, fun and faith to the kids of Kessab. These kids till today (after two years of the March 2014 event), still see in some place the traces of war. By traces of war I mean, the burnt hotel in the center, the spray graffitis of the many terrorist groups in their school surroundings, walls and sometimes in their homes. They see this because every family had a different priority as in where to start their renovation. Some left their homes to be renovated after a year which means the traces remained there.

So, having in mind all this, we had to do something to color the psyche, spirit and mind of every kid. We had to add some love, fun, joy and a biblical curriculum. 

Of course with the help of some friends and the Kordzatir, we were able to charge a symbolic sum so that they also keep their dignity and morals up. During the process, we had many problems, which one of them again was financial, (the price of fuel got 40% up), but we did trust our God in His provision and continued the work He started through us. 

We had 92 kids, coming every day to this school and we had 15 leaders who volunteered to help out after engaging in seminars organized by the church. 

We trusted God and we had a tough yet amazing time. We learned and grew in His service too. We got introduced to new kids and spent time with them on a daily basis. We are no more strangers but we have little friends now. 

I may close this With Isaiah 54:13 " All your children will be taught by the LORD, and great will be their peace." 

Our hope is that these kids felt the peace that Christ offers to the world.

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On the left, Badveli Jirayr and Houry Ghazarian On the right and top, the volunteers of Kessab

On the left, Badveli Jirayr and Houry Ghazarian
On the right and top, the volunteers of Kessab

What is the Armenian Evangelical Church in Syria Doing During the Crisis?

Dear friends,

We have been going through a terrible time here in Aleppo, Syria. Worse than any earlier time since Aleppo was dragged into this war back in July, 2012! But in spite of everything here we come with many greetings to you from Syria and especially from Aleppo. We thank you so much for praying for us and for our city Aleppo and for the whole country of Syria. When it comes to projects assisting afflicted Syrian Armenian families we prioritise the needs and try to cover each family’s basic needs. The aid-packets also reach families in different Syrian cities and towns, but as the situation in Aleppo is the worst we cannot but help locally as much as possible. Below we present you our ministries and their social assistance during the last four years:

1-Food Ministry: We as the Armenian Evangelical Community in Syria distribute food parcels on a monthly basis to 300 Armenian Families in Aleppo.

2-Milk Ministry: We provide milk on a weekly basis to 50 malnourished students in our Schools as well as we provide milk twice a year to 300 Armenian families in Aleppo.

3-Financial Aid to University Students: We distribute monetary gifts to 35 Armenian University Students in Aleppo to cover some of their educational expenses.

4- Bethel Polyclinic Ministry: During the whole year we also provide medical assistance for the sick. As we have told you before we have established “Bethel Polyclinic” to assist people who are in need of medical checkups and medical analyses and provide medication for chronic patients without payment. Bethel Polyclinic” has specialists in: General Surgery, Internal Medicine, Diabetes, Otolaryngology, Pediatrics, Orthopedics, Cardiology, Urology, Gynecology and Radiology. We are planning to extend the ministry of Polyclinic into different other specialties soon. Through “Bethel Polyclinic” We have also distributed medical eye-glasses to 150 individuals.

5- Water Ministry: During the times when no water at all reaches people’s homes we distribute drinkable water, each time 1,000 litres, to the homes of three hundred families. We have also helped 10 families financially to place water tanks on the roof of their buildings during this period of war.

6-Household Essentials Distribution: Periodically we have also provided 300 families with blankets, bed sheets and pillows.

7- Clothes Ministry: Periodically we have provided 300 children with winter clothes and sports shoes.

8- Cooking Gas Ministry: Periodically we have also distributed cooking-gas to 300 families.

9- Provide Living Expenses for Evangelical Families: Since July 2013 we provide financial subsidies to 135 families on a monthly basis, as well as the Social action committee of the Armenian Evangelical Churches in Syria also provides financial subsidies to 200 other families too.

10- Scholarship for Armenian Students: Every year since 2013 we also provide scholarships for 150 Armenian Students at Bethel Secondary School.

11-Financial Assistance for Displaced Families: We have helped 20 displaced families who have lost their homes and afterwards we help with their rent.
 

12-Christmas Camp; Easter Programs: On December 2015, we distributed winter pyjamas to 500 individuals as a Christmas gift.

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13- Emergency Relief: On top of the monthly food rations we have also provided milk, chicken, eggs and cheese and vegetables to 300 families as an emergency relief when the City of Aleppo has been under siege.

14-Kids Program: Special program is being initiated to help children cope with the trauma situation and leading constructive activities to nurture their development through means of creating a healthier environment, which is quite a challenge.

15- Immediate Renovation Program: We have assisted 20 families whose houses have been destroyed from bombings.

16- Hygiene Distribution: Periodically we have distributed hygiene parcels to 300 families during the last three years.


17- Assistance for Electricity Payments: Every month since 2014 we give monetary gifts to three hundreds of families in order to pay for electricity from private generators.


18- Fuel Ministry: Periodically we have given monetary gifts to 300 families in order to buy fuel to heat their homes during the cold winter season.

19- Development Program: As a development program we have encouraged the ladies who we are in touch with to work on handicraft. We buy them wool so that they can prepare winter-hats and scarves and as an appreciation for their hard work we have given each one of them monetary gifts.

20- Visits:
*We pay home-visits to the single elderly people on a monthly basis.

Yes, we do mostly help the Armenian community in Aleppo and elsewhere like in Kessab, Homs and Damascus. We are Evangelicals but that does not mean that our help is only for Evangelicals. About one-third of the help goes to Evangelical families while two-thirds go to families from the Armenian Apostolic Church. Yes, some of the help also reaches needy Armenian Catholic Families as well as Arab Families in our neighbourhood. Through Bethel Polyclinic we do, however, meet needs of people that we have never been in touch with, as we provide so many much-needed services in a city with few doctors and even fewer hospitals and clinics. As we have told you before: "Our Help is a Reaction to negative Actions in our city!" With a Church and a School in our own compound and add to it a music conservatory you will realise that we reach hundreds of families on an almost daily basis.

God’s Blessings and Goodness,
Rev. Haroutune Selimian
President
Armenian Protestant Community in Syria
Tel: +963 21 4642 450 +963 21 4467 528
Fax: +963 21 460 73330
Email: hselimian@gmail.com
Bethel Church Facebook Account: https://www.facebook.com/bethel.church.180 YouTube address: http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=Rev.%20haroutune%20selimian &sm=3

AMAA Internship Program 2016

Talar Haidostian

by Talar Haidostian
I had heard about the AMAA internship in the past few years, and knew how fun and beneficial it had been to the participants. And I personally witnessed the same this year. Christine Maamarbashi and I joined a group of young people who had come from different parts of the USA, and Canada. The two weeks that we had together were full of daily devotionals, sightseeing, fellowship, and ministry. We were also acquainted with the ministries of the AMAA and the ECA through visitations and seminars, which were very impressive and eye-opening.

One of the highlights of my trip was the 2 days that we spent in the Camp Sheen Shoghig in Hankavan. The setting of the camp was refreshing and the children’s smiles were contagious. They appreciated the simple gifts and were grateful for it. It was surprising and impressive to see how well the leaders had organized and prepared the programs for the kids, and how they were able to pass on the message of the love of Christ in a creative way. My favorite part of the camp was the time of worship, and I was happy to have the chance of leading one of the sessions with another member of our group. During our departure a bitter sweet moment was created, and none of us wanted to leave. The kids kept telling us to come again the next year, and some of the kids gave us small gifts; like sunglasses and crafts.

Another highlight of my trip was the time spent at the pastor’s garden in Armavir. This was a chance to celebrate the Armenian culture, and experience the Armenian hospitality through food, dance, and music.

This internship will leave a long term impact on my life as it came at a time when I was transitioning from high school to university, and I was ready to make the best of my summer time. I would like to thank the AMAA and the ECA for hosting us, and to Badveli Avedis Boynerian and the leaders for leading us in a smooth and caring way. This experience was unforgettable in which I made new friends, and grew one more step in my faith.

Worship time at camp Sheen Shoghig in Hankavan

Worship time at camp Sheen Shoghig in Hankavan

At the Musa Ler monument in Yerevan, Armenia

At the Musa Ler monument in Yerevan, Armenia

At the Armenian Genocide Monument

At the Armenian Genocide Monument

Photos courtesy of Nicholas Manoukian

A VIP Seat

The 84th Commencement Service of Near East School of Theology took place on Saturday, June 18. The speaker was Preacher Najla Kassab, Director of Christian Education and of the Women's Desk for National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon.

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by Preacher Najla Kassab

Mark 10:35-45
And James and John, the sons of Zeb'edee, came forward to him, and said to him, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." And he said to them, "What do you want me to do for you?" And they said to him, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory." But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" And they said to him, "We are able." And Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared." And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. And Jesus called them to him and said to them, "You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be
slave of all. For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (RSV)

In the Final exam of the graduating class of Nurses, the students were surprised with a question in the Exam. The question stated, ”What is the full name of the person who cleans your room at the Nursing school". For the first glance the students thought it was a joke and many people thought that the professor is funny, till one of the students called out, “Teacher is the last question graded? Is it part of the Exam?" And the professor replied “Yes sure. Your future will not only rely on the information that you gained at the Nursing school but how you deal with people".

If this is true with the Nursing career what about serving the church. Your success is related to how you deal with people more than information.

Well do not understand me wrong especially after the many hours that you put in reading writing and studying, doing assignments and delving in these deep theological discussions and knowledge. I remember as a student at NEST when we decided as group of students to read the book “ The courage to be” by Paul Tillich . A book that was not assigned by professors but we chose to read it and sat in the coffee shop to discuss it. I remember that I read that book several times . We felt proud we were enhancing our knowledge, terminology and understanding. We were competing on who grasped the book well.

Do not understand me wrong, we come from a background that values knowledge and stresses the value of critical thinking and analyzing. We are proud of the academic level that you encountered at NEST but still your success will be related to how you deal with people. It is about people not information.

On the 5th of June last month a University in Lebanon announced to its Graduating students that if Your parents have a special position in society as a Mayor; Judge….please let us know to Provide you with VIP cards. (I looked to see if pastors were listed but they were not) My daughter who was part of the graduating class shared with me the reactions that the students expressed on social Media, about who is a VIP parent, is it the parent who worked hard to give their children education or is it only those who have gained status. Is this discrimination between students? Shall the protocol in the country be obeyed, or this is against equality that we talk about in Universities since the parents were attending as parents not as representatives of any institution. The whole country was involved, even the media was divided between those who thought that this was a wise decision and those who were against. In our prayer meeting in the Synod offices we were divided on this matter. Who is the real VIP, who deserves a VIP seat?

In the story in Mark 10 James and John came to Jesus with a request to grant one to sit on the right side and the other on the left side of Jesus in his glory. Despite the fact that their request could be seen differently by different people, some could see it as an organizational matter and others as an ambitious step by them, still no matter what the reasons were, no matter whether they asked for this for themselves or if their mother asked for it as in Mathew 20:21, their request relates to their understanding of who will be on the right and left side of Jesus. It seems that they were interested in having a VIP seat. Jesus tried to correct their perceptions. It seems that they were thinking of a VIP seat. Jesus posed a question to them allowing them to rethink what they were asking for:

You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" (verse 38)

If we reflect closely on the events of this story, we find that:

First: The request of the disciples happened on the road to Jerusalem, where Jesus was heading towards the cross. Jesus was hinting to his disciples what will happen to him,

“The Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him to the Gentiles; and they will mock him and spit upon him, and scourge him and kill him and after three days he will rise.” (33-34 )

The request of James and John was at a time of unrest and those who followed Jesus were afraid. That led the disciples to be confused about what Jesus was saying on the road, because things were mixed up to them. They believed that Jesus will be crowned king and therefore did not understand the meaning of glory that Jesus talked about. Had James and John understood what Jesus was saying they wouldn’t have asked for such a position. Who among us wants to sit on the left and right of a person going to the cross? The disciples were distracted on the way of ministry. Imagine, Jesus' mind was on the pain to come and the disciples' minds were on their personal status. I many times question myself whether we are in the same line of thought as Jesus. WE Many times think that we know…..

Second It is interesting to note Jesus' answer to them. He did not rebuke them but as usual, answered their question by another question. " Can you drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the same baptism? And the answer was we can (38-39). Jesus used here two Metaphors from the Jewish life: the metaphor of the cup and the baptism. When the king gave his guests the cup it was considered as a symbol of passing his experience to them. As if Jesus was asking them if they are ready to receive his experience and hold the cup from him. Or even to be immersed and baptized in pain with him and face hatred and death. So Jesus said to them, you do not know what you are asking for. To sit on the right and left of Jesus is to accept to hold the cup and be immersed in pain. And just at the end of the story we recognize that the journey of holding the cup started when the other disciples became angry with James and John for their personal request for VIP seat.

Jesus clarifies that to have VIP seat is to carry on with the experience that Jesus went through and even to serve and not be served. "Whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." v.44, 45

This is the model of VIP seat that Jesus was explaining to his disciples. Jesus shook the disciples' concept of power as gaining status; Power that is “Christ-like” has nothing to do with gaining status, but it is even the opposite. According to Jesus paradigm of power, to have power is to lose status. It is not only that you do not control people but even to serve the people and give your life for them. And when people are given a special position and status it is to be used for serving others.

Martin Luther King Jr. in his famous sermon "Drum Major Instinct" claims that in each and every one of us there is the instinct to lead the procession to be the drummer, who leads the group. Martin Luther stresses that we should not move fast to condemn James and John because in each and every one of us is an instinct of a drummer; a drummer who wants to lead and control. It is easy sometimes to point to others and forget our tendency to check our personal interests and intentions as individuals and communities.i

Martin Luther king calms our confusion about VIP seats to defend the fact that the problem is not in the VIP seat but rather when you are given a status a position how do you use it. Do you perceive yourself as a person who will serve or will be served? Do you yourself as gaining power or status, or rather as a person who uses your status, to give power for the powerless; to strengthen all those who are struggling, and to put in the right biblical words to carry the cup and be immersed in pain.

A few days ago as we had a retreat for the elders and pastors of the Synod, a pastor who serves in Aleppo talked about things that he did not learn at NEST. He said that they did not teach us how to provide cooking fuel to the people, how to know all about digging wells and providing drinking water to the people, how to climb a pick-up and distribute food. Sometimes ministry just opens new doors for using your talents, It is just the love of serving people that changes you; shapes you; and even surprises you.

I remember when I was at NEST I made an issue as a student as to why our work as women at NEST was to clean the tables after lunch when men had to sit on the front desk. Imagine that I was against limiting women to tables and food, and here I am now directing a Conference center that is so much related to feeding people and tables. I say this to explain when you love ministry you are changed, and many times you look at yourself and find you have changed.

Friends today you get your VIP seat. You are a Graduate from a known and Prestigious Seminary and you gain Status, and nothing is wrong with that. It is how you will use your status to serve the people that will decide if you will sit on the right side and the left side of Jesus.

You might get distracted on the way with different paradigms of power and status. Stay focused on Jesus' paradigm. Be a model for the world and do not succumb easily to worldly values . Be a light and trust that God will use you to change the world. The world needs you as serving leaders. Stay balanced between keeping up with your academic knowledge growth and spending time with people. And if you have to choose between the two choose the people.

For the women Graduating today. I say stay patient God has not finished with the church. Focusing on serving people will help you not to be distracted till the kingdom in Heaven be on earth.

Remember your success will be related to serving people.

One more question before you graduate, and it is graded. Do you know the full name of the person who cleaned your room at NEST?

To God be the Glory forever. Congratulations. Mabrouk.

i Martin Luther king JR and the Global freedom struggle “sermon the Drum Major instinct, 1968

An Interview with Sister Elisabeth Kaeser

Sister Elisabeth visiting the Armenian Evangelical Emmanuel Church in November 2011

Sister Elisabeth visiting the Armenian Evangelical Emmanuel Church in November 2011

For many years Sister Elisabeth served the children at the Mission House of Anjar. With the recent release of the movie/documentary 'Map of Salvation', and with her presence during the launch of the movie in Beirut, we took this opportunity to get to better know Sister Elisabeth, one of the last missionaries, who served and lived among the Armenian children and in close connection with the Armenian Evangelical Church in Anjar. 

(Interview conducted by Raffi)

Raffi- Can you tell us about your own background, and how you decided to become a missionary in Anjar?
Sister Elisabeth- Born in Thun/Switzerland, I grew up with one brother and three sisters. Happy childhood (without iPhone or TV !!), but beautiful nature around. Elementary and secondary school in our town. Working years. Then 1 1/2 year in England. The following ten years in Germany. There I met Pastor Meergans and his wife from Hilfsbund Mission. Through the Workcamp 1980,  Anjar had a lasting place in my heart. Still, when asked to work in the Little Boys Building, God had to prepare body, soul and mind. It took three years.

Raffi- How many years did you work as a missionary in Anjar?
Sister Elisabeth- From 1983 - 2007  (First half in Little Boys' House, second in the Mission House)

Raffi- What are your best memories that you still cherish? Can you tell us some of your interesting stories?
Sister Elisabeth- Memories connected with the little boys: e.g. when in 1992 I was in AUB Hospital with Hepatitis and received drawings and little notes from the boys. Also, many people visiting me, and Mrs. Kardjian calling every evening wishing a good night. This is unforgettable! Or how boys cared for boys (see photo). Or how one of the boys was imitating teachers in the building. Then the other boys asked him to imitate sister; he looked at me and...... refused. Another boy came back from Christmas holiday and brought me a little present. When I opened, it contained a lipstick!!! Later I heard that he had asked his mother to buy one for me, for he said to her that sister hasn't got any. In the following time I used "rouge" at least on several Sundays. My turn for a chapel service one morning at church. From our neighbor I had asked  a lamb to illustrate the biblical story. You would seldom have a hushed audience like those children. And the little lamb gave only a sound when I carried it out of the church. 

Raffi- What was the most difficult aspect of the mission work in Lebanon and how were you able to overcome them?
Sister Elisabeth- Every new beginning is difficult. Anjar was more than  a challenge to me. The first school year (1983/84) has been a struggle with the work (children and adults), language, culture, 'home alone' after 9.00 p.m. with a bunch of smart, active boys, who, after the second study time were up to all sorts of mischief, knowing very well my language problem!!!

Raffi- How strong is your connection with Lebanon, Anjar and your children who have become young men today?
Sister Elisabeth- Still considerably strong with quite a number of the now young men. We share by e-mail, apps, or use the phone, which is really amazing after they'd left the boarding some fifteen or twenty years ago. 

Raffi- What is your prayer that you would like to share with us?
Sister Elisabeth- pray for more children in the boarding
  -          more Armenian financial support of Anjar boarding and school
  -          Pastor Hagop Akbasharian, his wife and all who work in Anjar boarding, school and church

Friends since 1990

Friends since 1990

At the end of lands of Anjar (October 1995)

At the end of lands of Anjar (October 1995)

Washroom

Washroom

Cleaning

Cleaning

KG's

KG's

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday

Christmas

Christmas

'Make a Joyful Noise', Nor Yerk's Concerts in Beirut

On 7 and 8 May 2016, the Armenian Evangelical Christian Endeavour Union with the sponsorship of Bashde.org organized Nor Yerk’s concert at Doctors’ Home, entitled ‘Make a Joyful Noise’.

Nor Yerk is founded by Rev. Nerses Balabanian in 1993, and has given concerts in various countries (France, Syria, Lebanon, Armenia, Georgia, USA, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, Australia, Iran, and Greece), singing Christian and Armenian cultural/patriotic songs and sharing the message of the love of Christ with everyone.

This time the Nor Yerk band included Rev. Nerses Balabanian, Rev. Nishan Bakalian, Houry-Dora Apartian, Gilbert Hovsepian, Rev. Hrag Karageozian, Aren Deyirmenjian, Shahan Kilaghbian, Garin Haidostian, Arek Karagoezian, Sevan Balabanian, Nanor Balabanian, Azad Balabanian who came from various countries to Lebanon, in order to share Christ’s love with their music, voices, messages, and to encourage the audience in their faith.

(L to R) Rev. Hrag Karagoezian, Houry-Dora Apartian, Arek Karagoezian, Rev. Nishan Bakalian, Gilbert Hovsepian

(L to R) Rev. Hrag Karagoezian, Houry-Dora Apartian, Arek Karagoezian, Rev. Nishan Bakalian, Gilbert Hovsepian

(L to R) Rev. Megerdich Karagoezian, Mrs. Seta Karagoezian, Mrs. Esther Kilaghbian, Rev. Soghomon Kilaghbian, Rev. Nabil Maamarbashi, Mrs. Silvi Avakian Maamarbashi, Mrs. Maral Haidostian, Mrs. Alina Megerdichian

(L to R) Rev. Megerdich Karagoezian, Mrs. Seta Karagoezian, Mrs. Esther Kilaghbian, Rev. Soghomon Kilaghbian, Rev. Nabil Maamarbashi, Mrs. Silvi Avakian Maamarbashi, Mrs. Maral Haidostian, Mrs. Alina Megerdichian

(L to R) Rev. Hrag Karagoezian, Rev. Nerses Balabanian, Shahan Kilaghbian, Houry-Dora Apartian, Sevan Balabanian, Arek Karagoezian

(L to R) Rev. Hrag Karagoezian, Rev. Nerses Balabanian, Shahan Kilaghbian, Houry-Dora Apartian, Sevan Balabanian, Arek Karagoezian

Rebuking Your Brother to Regain Your Brother?

RaffiChil.jpeg

by RaffiChil
Can you imagine someone rebuking a very prominent person in society over a sin? It is highly probable that your first reaction would be, "Oh my, that's foolish", or perhaps, "Is he out of his mind chasing down a well known public figure?" Perhaps the more objective part of you would say, "He may be right, but does he really need to be so firm about it?"

The person I'm referring to here is none other than John the Baptist. Now, John has a very peculiar personality, he doesn't live the way normal people live and he doesn't even wear ordinary clothes, but rather unconventional ones, suitable for his life in the wilderness. He already has features that can be picked and easily pointed at. But John seems focused on his prophetic ministry, on something more important, more serious. Rather than succumbing to the norm and going along in society without being noticed, he does something unusual, he calls out Herod's sin.

Rebuking-to-Regain

Is he trying to get attention by stating the sin of the king of Judea?

In that period of time, and perhaps also today, people would question the motives of John the Baptist. However, all these questions about motives do not reflect upon the core of the matter, which is the truth that Herod had taken his brother's wife as his own. He was living in sin, and John the Baptist was admonishing the King. "For John has been saying to Herod, 'It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife." Mark 6:18. Herod, as King of Judea, was to be an example to his people and respect the religious commandments and live a life of righteousness before God.

With John the Baptist there were no exceptions or special favours given to the upper echelons of society. Interestingly, we don't read anything about the Pharisees or Sadducees saying anything about the moral life of King Herod.

What shall we do then? Are we all called to be like John the Baptist in confronting our brother or sister who is living in sin? But who am I to point out someone's sin? Shouldn't I first be looking at the plank in my own eyes and hence my own sins (Matthew 7:3)?

On one occasion, Jesus says, "If your brother sins, go and show him his fault when the two of you are alone. If he listens to you, you have regained your brother." Matthew 18:15

On another occasion, Jesus says to the woman, "Then neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin." John 8:11

Even Peter received the rebuke from Paul when he confronted Peter about his hypocrisy; eventually, Peter had to reconcile his daily actions with what he was daily preaching.

We have a loving God, who reproaches us and rebukes us in His awesome tough love, giving us the chance to repent and reconnect with Him.

AMAA Executive Director, Mr. Zaven Khanjian, Visiting Armenian Evangelical Emmanuel Church

On Sunday, 29 May, the AMAA Executive Director, Mr. Zaven Khanjian visited and preached at the Armenian Evangelical Emmanuel Church.

Mr. Zaven Khanjian preaching, deacon Samuel Svajian, Badveli Sevag Trashian

Mr. Zaven Khanjian preaching, deacon Samuel Svajian, Badveli Sevag Trashian

Zaven-Khanjian-2