Several readers responded to last week's Newsletter question (What is threatening the lives of youth today?) either by voting or emailing. And here's what got most votes:
A- Opium and drugs
B- New Age teachings and false teachers
C- Decline of morality (1 vote)
D- Not knowing what is right and what is wrong (1 vote)
E- All of the above are equally threatening the lives of youth today (1 vote)
As you can see the three votes are varying. In fact, all of these options could pose a threat to the lives of our youth, no matter where they are living, whether in Armenia, Lebanon, France or USA/Canada.
Here's what Rev. Dikran Shanlian (pastor of the Armenian Evangelical Brethren Church, USA) writes:
I do praise the Lord for your dedication & selfless ministry for children & youth. You have been in my prayers from the first email that I received. Always I share Your news with my congregation.
I believe you have done your homework well regarding the youth. I would say all of the above. Be steadfast, as Apostle wrote- you are always in my mind, in my heart & in my prayers.
God bless you all!"
Rev. Dr. Manuel M. Jinbachian (Canada) reflects his own community’s challenges and writes the following:
Thank you for sharing the "Armenian Evangelical Emmanuel Church Chanitz Blog;" It is with great interest that I read and learn about your activities. May the Lord bless and strengthen you and your Chanitz.When we look around and when we speak with the primates of the churches, we see that 40% of the marriages in Montreal are mixed; either the husband is a foreigner or the wife is so. What do you expect from such marriages? Many of the Armenian children go to government schools for financial reasons. The Armenian schools cost a hundred times more than the state schools, and not all Armenians are able to afford the tuition. Besides, if the child has a mixed parent, they would rather send their kids to the government-run schools, which I understand.
You had asked five questions that are very significant and important. The answer to these questions depend on where one is living. Certain questions are equally important for all regions - such as the use of drugs - but others have more regional character. For example, here in Montreal, the schools are forbidden teaching any religious subjects - that includes even the Armenian schools. But of course, our schools teach the subject under a different name and form.
When kids are not taught any biblical subjects, how will they find out and decide what is right and what is wrong? Most parents, both father and mother work. The children come home before the parents. Can we expect them to follow a certain morality? I doubt that in such cases it is possible. The kids grow without guidelines and care. I do not see a bright future for the Armenians who have immigrated to Montreal. Within a few generations they will become like the rest of the population. Everyone is interested in making money and would not care about being Armenian and keeping their national Christian values. I am sorry for being so pessimistic, I am only looking around me and sharing with you what I find.
Jacob M. Khushigian (Fresno, CA) looks at these challenges/threats and writes:
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I love to read and hear what is going on and it allows me to pray for you with some understanding. I read the following:
What is threatening the lives of youth today? (click on the underlined phrase that you think is MOST threatening)
A- Opium and drugs
B- New Age teachings and false teachers
C- Decline of morality
D- Not knowing what is right and what is wrong
E- All of the above are equally threatening the lives of youth today
In case, there is a choice that's not mentioned, you can write to us by replying to this email.
Our World has a majority of people who for many reasons have chosen to ignore the truth and blessing of God and follow other gods and invite the curses of the true God into their life. We have taken idols, worshiped other gods, and we have misused and corrupted the name of the Lord (Islam). These curses are destroying us individually, culturally and communally.
I have spent the past year studying Deuteronomy in Sunday School and have only reached Chapter 6. It is not because I am a slow reader, but we have been asking the hard questions and attempting to understand God. Your excellent questions above are all signs of the curses that fall on those who disobey the word of God whether they have heard or not heard God’s word. (Jesus said in Luke 11:28 “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and Obey it”).
But the faithful (like your organization) bring Life, Hope and Truth in this dark world and share the good news and truth that the one and only God will restore(GRACE and MERCY) those when they do return back to him and obey his commands in faith
So what is really cursing/threatening the lives of young people or every man? Our Sin!
The Good News is God knew we would rebel and invites all back to him to be renewed daily by His grace, mercy and love. (See Dt. 30 ). Most importantly, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and Obey it”. This is Faith!
In the year 2016, the elected members who are serving in the Christian Endeavor Union (Lebanon) are:
Badveli Sevag Trashian - chairman
Mrs. Anita Andonian - secretary
Mr. Raffi Chilingirian - treasurer
Badveli Hagop Akbasharian - member
Ms. Nanor Kelenjian - member
Rev. Raffi Messerlian - member
Mr. Aren Deyirmenjian - member
With all my heart I praise you and give thanks to you my dear Lord.
My name is Anita Andonian, from the Armenian Evangelical Church of Nor Marash. I love working with children and I have been serving in the Sunday School ministry for almost 27 years now. I love the children’s spontaneity and transparency. I love Children's Camp and every year I feel like I want to be part of this ministry too.
From August 8 till August 14, we had a quality time with the presence of our Lord. The leaders shared the Gospel of Jesus Christ with 79 children aged between 7 to 12. I appreciate the dedication of the 15 girls and boys who gave from their time for 7 days to serve the children at Kchag.
I would like to share two experiences from this year:
- First one: during one of the discussion groups, a 9-year-old boy touched by the Word of God suddenly exclaimed: ‘I want to believe, I want to read the Bible every day. I want to pray every day. If Jesus loved and called Paul who was travelling from Jerusalem to Damascus for bad mission, I’m sure He loves me more…’
- The second wonderful experience was the Dedication service during the night. What a blessing it was! Almost every child stood up and came in front and said that they want to give their lives to Jesus.
‘I want to walk with God’ was the theme of our camp, and the children were very much impressed by the guest speaker… Glory be to the Lord.
This is very encouraging for all of us who work with the children and in Sunday schools. We should work in our churches in various ways, knowing that the children need the Word of God.
Thank you for praying for this camp and for the financial support that we received.
Honestly, Children’s camp is my fuel that will keep me going for the whole 365 days. The camp is a place where the leaders and children exchange knowledge through activities. The leaders’ main role during camp is to show God’s love towards mankind and children, through activities such as devotion time, group discussions, individual one on one discussions, worship including learning new songs alongside the worship songs already familiar to them from Sunday schools.
This year the main theme was about walking with Jesus and we did so through exemplary characters from the Bible such as Abraham (listening to God’s word with faith), Paul (being ready to repent and change), Noah (trusting in God), Daniel (always praying) and Joseph (having a learning heart), each walking with God in a different way.
It is seeing the pure heart of the kids and unconditional faith in Jesus Christ that revives one's faith.
That is what we take home with us from camp; it is not only the memories of games and activities but also experiencing children's pure hearts and faith in the process of bringing Glory to God.
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:14)
Every year it is through the children that we take another glimpse at the Kingdom of heaven; and together children and leaders delight in the walk with our beloved and true friend Jesus Christ.
A week full of blessings! That’s how I can describe the time spent at the children's camp.
This is the 1st part of the continuous story written by Hagop
by Hagop Barouyr Gojigian
A famous German novelist recently got hold of a voice recorder. Now the value of this tool was not in its price but in its content. The novelist had a strong passion in writing a novel about the war in Syria, or about the living conditions of a family living during the war. This device carried the voice of a young Syrian, who had narrated about his life, his pains, his adventures, his happy moments…
The novelist had listened to the recording several times, but he had difficulty in presenting the story, so he decides to spend his Summer vacation listening to the voice recorder again and try to come up with a way to turn this unknown young man’s story into a novel. His vacation time arrives, and he goes to his father’s mountain house that was located just below the mountain. There was no one at the house, since only he used it, due to the difficulty of reaching the house and the locals had left the area for some time now. However, this was the best condition for the novelist to relax and concentrate on his work. He doesn’t want to waste time, he places his bag on the floor, pours rose wine and goes behind his desk. He had nearly learnt by heart the story of the young man, but decides to listen to the voice recorder again and the baritone voice of the young man is heard through the speaker…
"… am I Syrian or Lebanese? I’ve been living in Lebanon for several years, I’ve grown up here, but I’m Syrian. Every six months I have to renew my residency permit at the Lebanese Security office, and every year I have to go out of the Lebanese border. Now, I speak the Lebanese dialect and not the Syrian dialect, that’s why whenever I go to Syria and meet my Arab friends they tell me, “you’ve become Lebanese”, but my Lebanese Arab friends consider me as a Syrian citizen.
There are many who are in this dilemma, one of whom was Vartan. Many are living in the same conditions because there are no legal means to acquire the Lebanese citizenship."
During the Summer, Johannes and Inger came to Lebanon to live here in Beirut within the Armenian community in Bourj-Hammoud, where many Syrian refugees have been living from the time the Syrian crisis started. In order to know more about them, their stay and their impression of Lebanon, we had this interview with them. Read on...
(Interview conducted by Raffi)
Raffi- Could you introduce yourselves and what kind of studies you pursue in Denmark?
Johannes & Inger-
• Johannes 24 years old, studying a ‘Proffesion-BA’ in Christianity, communication and culture
• Inger, 22 years old, studying to teach the subjects Danish and Music.
We got married a year ago, now we live in greater Copenhagen, originally we are both from the more southern part of Denmark. We are a part of ‘Apostelkirken’ (name of our church), a congregation with Danish, English and Farsi speaking members.
Raffi- What are the reasons for your visit to Lebanon?
Johannes & Inger- Four years ago, we went to Lebanon for a week with the youth group of our church, supported by the Danish Armenian Mission. We met with different local youth groups, churches, and Armenians in general while staying at KHCAG. We enjoyed our visit back then and it encouraged us to go to Lebanon a second time, but for a bit longer (a month). Also we kept in touch with the Danish Armenian Mission, which also encouraged us to go. For us, it was a wonderful opportunity to experience and be a part of another culture, country and Christian fellowship. Furthermore, we wanted to strengthen the ties between Denmark and the Armenians in Lebanon, on behalf of the Danish Armenian Mission.
Raffi- Where did you stay and serve in Lebanon?
Johannes & Inger- During our time in Lebanon, we stayed at the CAHL center in Bourj Hammoud. This was a nice location, making it easy to experience the Armenian community and its everyday life, also it was a walking distance to Nor Marash, where we participated in the summer school for one and a half week, playing, singing, and so on with the kids. We participated in the general assembly of The Union of the Armenian Evangelical Churches in the Near East (UAECNE). It gave us some very detailed insights about the challenges of the church, the Armenians and the Middle East in general. At the end of our stay, we visited the teen-camp at KCHAG, a real pleasure to both leaders and teens. In between all this, we attended youth groups, Sunday services, social/cultural activities and a couple of tourist attractions as well.
Raffi- What were your impressions of Lebanon and the churches here and what changed in your perspective after experiencing Lebanon first hand?
Johannes & Inger- It’s always hard to know what to expect, when you go to another country, however, we had our thoughts and ideas. First of all, we wondered how the ‘refugee-crisis/Syrian war’ affected the country as a whole, it’s hard to imagine how to handle refugees in such big numbers. Even tough the challenge is huge; we were very impressed of how well it seems to work out after all. From a foreigners perspective it seems that the different Lebanese community including the Armenians has a way of integrating the refugees into their communities. We experienced this at first hand in plenty, as we spoke to several Armenians originally from Syria now staying in Beirut, as part of the community.
Another thing, it surprised us how much the evangelical Church, its members, pastors, organization, and so on, were similar to the church we know from back home. A few differences of course, but all in all we felt familiar with the form of the services.
Jesus is the same everywhere, but never the less the similarities surprised us.
A third thing we learned is how complex the situation in Syria the neighbor country is. In the West, we used to get at least a somewhat manifold picture of the situation, but the complexity really got to us as we spoke to those who experience this at first hand - really eye-opening.
Finally, one thing we had it right all from the start: The weather! We expected it to be way too hot, and it was. But as second-time visitors we knew what we were going in to, we were prepared.
Raffi- What are the memories and lessons that you would take with you to Denmark?
Johannes & Inger- We will remember first of all the great hospitality and gentleness of the Armenians community. Everywhere we went we were being taken care of. And even more important to the purpose of our stay, people really wanted to share their stories and get to know us. As mentioned above, the stories from especially Syria made an impression on us, but also the will power to make things work under challenging circumstances is a characteristic of the people we meet, which we will remember. All in all the different relationships we made during our stay is of great value to us – and we are thanking God for this opportunity. We wish you all, the best – and looking forward to hopefully see you all again sometime.
This blogpost is written by Christian Manoukian. He has come all the way from USA to Lebanon and visited the Daily Vacation Bible Schools as well as participated in the Badaniatz youth camp as a leader. This post is about his experience while visiting the DVBS of the Armenian Evangelical Emmanuel Church.
(This was originally posted on his blog: http://missionstripblog.blogspot.ae/)
by Christian Manoukian
Christian here again. This time I am not tired, but my stomach is killing me. It's always something with me. I blame the Lebanese.
So, what a weird corny title, am I right? Friendship, seriously? You traveled thousands of miles across the world to make some friends? You could've done that here. I imagine people saying things like that.
But it's not just about surface-level friendship. The friends I am meeting and getting to know are friends I will hold dear for the rest of my life, even if I've only met them today. These are people that are a blessing to me and I'll never forget.
So who are these friends, and where did you meet them? Well I'm glad you asked.
Today was a true blessing for me. I was privileged to attend Armenian Evangelical Emmanuel Church's Day Vacation Bible School (VBS) here in Amanos, a primarily Armenian neighborhood here in the capital Beirut. I got to work with the kids and leaders
The friends I made today all are a part in the wonderful program being put on here to teach the young kids all about Christ and share the good news with them.
If I may, I'd like to highlight those who I met and why I appreciate each one of them.
I was first introduced to Haig, who is 21 years old and comes from Aleppo, Syria. He is one of the leaders here at the VBS, and it is easy to see why he was placed in such a position. He is well-spoken and eloquent, and he is incredibly light-hearted and humorous with whoever he meets, and that included me. Even though my Armenian isn't that amazing and his English isn't that amazing, we struck up quite the humorous conversation and were soon joking around and laughing like we had known each other for years. I watched him lead scripture readings and teaching songs to the kids, and I was very impressed by his patience with the children. He had a desire to see them learn and grow, and that is something that should be within each of us as believers of Christ. He is moving to Australia permanently soon with his family; Lebanon will miss the great man of God he is.
Next, I was introduced to Asadur, who is also 21 and comes from Syria. He is from the town of Kessab, a place that has produced many badvelis and leaders within the Armenian Evangelical church in the past. With that being said, he as well is studying to become a badveli (pastor). He has an undergraduate degree in Psychology and is currently working on his masters in Theology. With that being said, he is a thoughtful, inquisitive, kind-hearted soul with a true hospitable Middle Eastern spirit. He was with Haig when I was introduced to both of them, and they both helped make me feel truly at home when countless other times I've seen people shun the stranger at events like these. He made me feel like family, and for that I am grateful. So friendly was he that we ended up going to coffee later that day with George and another awesome young man named Njdeh. He is a great example to the children he helped lead today and I hope they look up to him and see someone they can aspire to be in the future.
Next I was actually introduced to the head leader of the church's VBS program. Her name is Hrout (Ruth), and since she is a woman and women don't like disclosing their age, especially to some guy who will write about it in their blog, I won't say her age. I was amazed by Hrout's remarkable patience with the kids, especially the YOUNG kids. Young kids are infamously hard to keep still and stay concentrated at VBS programs, as I'm sure many of you reading this know about. But Hrout, to her credit, had them singing beautiful songs and reading out long passages of scripture FROM MEMORY, IN UNISON. When you sit and watch that, it is an amazing sight that brings a smile to your face. You can't help but be awed by someone who has the poise and grace not only to orchestrate and run an entire VBS program with helpers and kids, but also to stay calm and patient AND be able to laugh and joke around at the same time. The Emmanuel Church's VBS program is certainly in the right hands.
Next, I met Mariana. She is 20 or 21 as well and comes from Aleppo, Syria. You can see her next to Haig in the first picture. She was one of the leaders for the group of youngest kids (usually the most difficult group, at least in the US). She had an amazing balance of humor and stern discipline; for example, one minute we were laughing after being introduced to each other in a funny way by George, and then a second later, she was sternly discipling one of the kids for not listening to one of the leaders. It's not easy to be able to switch modes that easily, but any good leader needs to have those qualities and she did. She seemed to put on that stern exterior for the kids but I caught her a couple of times laughing cheerfully and joking around with some of the Syrians, and that made me smile. It's good to be a chameleon like that, able to shift if the situation calls for it.
Next, I met Chris. He is one or two years younger than me, but we are the same height (what is new in my world?). He is from here in Lebanon, and he is one of those kids that no matter what he says, it is HILARIOUS. Time and time again, I found myself rolling around in laughter because of his humor and back-and-forth remarks with George. I also found out his VBS job specialty is taking kids to the bathroom, which is a necessary job that no one wants; bravo to him for doing it with a smile and zero complaints. Chris and his best friend George are a dynamic duo; you would love to be around them. You will hurt yourself from laughing too hard. He is a talented musician as well, and I hope that God continues to use his gifts to witness to others.
Lastly, later in the day, I was introduced to Njdeh. I didn't catch his age, nor do I have a picture of him, but I know one thing: he is studying Math here in Lebanon for his degree. My first thought was 'you're crazy', followed by the thought that if I was majoring in Math, where would the nearest balcony be I could throw myself off of (and believe me, there are many balconies in Beirut and the drivers will NOT stop, so its a guarantee you're dead). But in all seriousness, Njdeh proved to be just like the rest, a remarkably driven and humorous young man who sees himself working as a professor of math or some similar subject in the near future. If I'm not mistaken, he may already actually teach. He has a real passion for the badaniats (youth) as well, and he is one of the leaders of the famous Camp Kchag in the mountains outside of Beirut. He is a joy to talk with, and I enjoyed our time together immensely. Kchag, you are in good hands.
I am grateful to each and everyone I met today, and even if it was only briefly and/or I don't have a picture of them, I am thankful I worked alongside them at VBS and elsewhere today. Each of you have become lifelong friends. You not only helped me assimilate but showed me all the Fruits of the Spirit as well, which happens to be the theme of Emmanuel Church's VBS program this week.
How fitting then, that their leaders all act out in their daily lives the VERY SAME Fruits of the Spirit they are teaching about; that is what we as Christians should all aspire to, to not just read and memorize God's word, but to go and act it out in our daily lives.
Read on, my friends.
Love, Christian (Day 4)
P.S.--- And, and of course, I can't forget the children. What a joy they were to teach, play with, and be around. Truly, they blessed me more than I coud have ever hoped to have blessed them. Thanks, kids. Without further delay, here are some of the kids. Keep them in your prayers; I know I will.
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.
(This post is originally published at Angie Kirejian's blog: https://angiekirejian.wordpress.com)
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.
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.