Church Commemorates 10th Anniversary of Passing of Rev. Janbazian

On Sun., Oct. 31, the Armenian Evangelical Church of New York commemorated the 10th anniversary of the passing of a distinguished member of the church, Rev. Dr. Movses B. Janbazian, who was best known for his leadership of the Armenian Missionary Association of America (AMAA) until his untimely death in 2000.

Below is the “In Memoriam” message of Peter Kougasian, Esq., vice-president of the AMAA, who was a close friend of Rev. Janbazian.


A photo of Rev. Janbazian taken by Harry
Koundakjian in September 2000, just
two weeks before his untimely death.
Of all the memorials and testimonials and tributes and eulogies that followed the death of Rev. Movses Janbazian, one simple observation most touches me. Shortly after Rev. Janbazian passed away, we were at an Armenian Missionary Association of America Board meeting, the first at which he was missing, and our friend Joyce Stein noted that when all of us—all of us in that room and everyone in the larger AMAA community around the world, our mission partners in Europe and in Canada and in the Near East and in Armenia—when we heard the news that Movses Janbazian had been taken from us, everyone had the same reaction. Each of us said, “How could it be? I just received a letter from him yesterday… There is an email from him in my inbox… He just called me Tuesday morning… I was at a meeting with him just last week.” It was only in the immediate aftermath of his death that we realized that the intense, personal, daily relationship we had with Movses was not ours alone. He was a constant, daily presence in the lives of countless people, all over the world.

But now, 10 years later, we have a new epiphany. For only now can we see that even after his death he continues to be a daily presence in our lives. At the time of his passing, we read the assurance of Sermon on the Mount—”Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted”—but frankly I wondered how this divine consolation could possibly come to pass. Now we understand. We have been comforted because at no time in these past 10 years have we ceased to hear the voice of Movses Janbazian, have we failed to feel him guiding us; not for a moment have we been blind to the fruit that his work continues to produce.

The AMAA has been blessed with a number of great leaders, including Rev. Janbazian’s immediate predecessor, Rev. Giragos Chapourian. These were giants of the faith, some of whom I have known, some who died long before I was born. But Rev. Janbazian came to us in extraordinary times. Movses directed this great mission organization in the aftermath of the terrible earthquake that wracked Armenia and in the aftermath of independence. This confluence of tragedy and triumph, both on a scale that challenged the imagination, turned the Republic of Armenia into the greatest mission field in the modern history of our people. The need for material relief was enormous; the need for spiritual evangelism was total. And at the same time, here in our own country, Americans were enjoying a period of uninterrupted affluence that was itself historic. Contributions to the AMAA grew rapidly, and the endowment grew exponentially. Movses had a vision. He saw that, without abandoning our traditional mission fields in the Near East, we could embark on a new mission in Armenia of historic proportions.

And so Movses served both as steward and as prophet. As a steward of the AMAA’s funds, frankly, he was a notorious micro-manager. But he micro-managed for a very good reason: He had a gift. He had a mind that quickly assimilated all the details of a vast organization. He knew where every penny went. He knew how many children were in every kindergarten and every grade of every school the AMAA supported anywhere in the world. He was mindful of every donor and every potential donor. But he never got lost in the details. Movses knew that the details were in service of something far greater, something that surpassed all understanding. For Movses’s greatest gift was his spirituality. We have lost his gifts as a steward. We have certainly not loss his gifts as a prophet.

I see that Elbiz and Vatche Bagdikian are with us today. After Movses Janbazian passed away, I recounted a day when we were visiting Armenia, and Movses took us to a mulberry tree. He told us that he had prayed under that mulberry tree; he had prayed with a man who owned the land on which that tree stood, and soon after that prayer, the man decided that he would sell his land to the AMAA so that we might build a headquarters there.

Not long after I recounted that story, Elbiz and Vatche Baghdikian were on a tour of Karabagh. The AMAA’s mission in Karabagh was still very new; many were the needs of that land in the aftermath of war, a war that had created a generation of orphans. The AMAA representative mentioned that a dream was to open a kindergarten for the children of Karabagh. And at that moment, Elbiz says she saw a mulberry tree, and she said, “You’ve got your kindergarten!” Today the Baghdikian Kindergarten provides an essential Christian education to class after class of these youngest and most needy Armenians.

No, so long as his inspiration continues to move us, so long as his memory continues the work, we have not lost Movses.

Those of you who never had the blessing to meet Rev. Janbazian might imagine that he was an intimidating figure, and in some ways he was. He was an intense man, and he was Anjartsi. In fact, it was Movses who taught me how you can recognize an Anjartsi man: “Anjartsi men,” he said, “are all tall and all handsome,” and he was right. He was not boasting, he was simply stating anthropological fact. And certainly Movses was very handsome, he was brilliant and he was passionate, he could be extremely patient but he could also be impatient; and in any event, you knew the moment he walked into a room.

But in another way, Rev. Janbazian was the least intimidating person you can imagine. For all of his intensity, for all of his charisma and panache, once you got to know Movses you could see that at his core, he himself felt humbled by God’s greatness.

Whenever we get together to remember Rev. Janbazian, you can be sure that we’ll sing “Let the Lower Lights Be Burning” (Brightly Beams our Father’s Mercy). This was Movses’s favorite hymn. It was inspired by a tragic shipwreck in the 19th century near Cleveland harbor. In a famous sermon, the great evangelist Dwight Moody recounted that tragedy and noted that the great lighthouse of Cleveland harbor had cast its beam on that night, but because the lower lights along the bank had been invisible, the ship ran ashore, and all aboard the ship had perished. And so, Rev. Moody exhorted his brothers and sisters on that day, “The Master will take care of the great lighthouse. Let us keep the lower lights burning.”

Why was this Movses’s favorite hymn? In part it was because he felt that he could be one of those lower lights, along the shore; that through his work he could join with others to save a brother or sister from running aground.

But I think the hymn moved him for another reason. It moved him because Movses saw himself, too, as one of those struggling sailors; he too, at times, felt lost. He knew he needed the great lighthouse of God’s love and Christ’s gospel to guide him. But he made it clear that he needed us, too. He needed us as his lower lights. And it was because Movses needed us that we joined him.

And for so many of us, all around the world, that made all the difference.

Armenian Weekly