An Interview with Hagop Akbasharian and Betty Kechejian About Their Participation in the Exchange Program with Christian Action in Orient (ACO) France

For the 2nd time now, four youth participated in the exchange program between UAECNE (Union of the Armenian Evangelical Churches in the Near East) Lebanon and ACO (Christian Action in Orient) France. Mr. Hagop Akbasharian (student of the UAECNE), Mr. Jiro Ghazarian (student of the UAECNE), Ms. Aline Khederian (chanitz member of the Armenian Evangelical Church of Nor-Marash), Ms. Betty Kechejian (chanitz member of the Armenian Evangelical Church of Ashrefieh) participated. On this occasion and in order to further understand about the program and their experience, we approached the four participants and thankfully we received responses from both Hagop and Betty.  

(Interview by Raffi)

Raffi - Can you tells us about this exchange program, who the organizers are and where it is taking place?
Hagop - This exchange program is part of the partnership between the Union of the Armenian Evangelical Churches in the Near East (UAECNE) and Christian Action in Orient (ACO) which takes place once every few years (usually four years). It is an exchange program between youth from Lebanon who attend member churches of UAECNE and youth from France who are members in ACO.

Raffi - What is the purpose of this exchange program?
Hagop - Usually, French participants come to Lebanon, specifically kchag, for ten days to be acquainted with the Lebanese-Armenian culture, experience the way Christian believers live their faith in the Middle East in general and in the churches of UAECNE in particular, do some social/practical work and enjoy the touristic areas of Lebanon, its food and good mood. The following year, the Lebanese participants of the first part of the exchange would go to France, mainly Alsace, Strasbourg for the same reasons mentioned above.

Raffi - What kind of subjects did you discuss in last year's exchange program?
Hagop - During last year’s exchange program we discussed about “Laicity” in France and the situation of the Church in Lebanon, especially the presence of the Armenian Evangelical Church in the Lebanese reality; moreover, we had discussions about sexuality, premarital and extramarital sex, culture and its influence within church dogmas and practices. The growing number of Muslims in France was also a topic that was present in various conversations.
Betty - We discussed many things, from spiritual topics to social ones. We discussed whether church attendance is important for a good spiritual life, also about relationships and what's acceptable in each society. About marriage and their view about it - all of these discussions were informal ones between a few people, not a formal group discussion. 

Raffi - What are the differences that you perceived between the convictions and mentality in Lebanon and France?
Hagop - Individuals within the same country think and act in different ways; thus, it’s very normal and expected that an exchange program between different countries will experience differences in perspectives, convictions and belief systems. The differences that I observed were mainly that of culture and the role of the Church in society; however, in my opinion, these differences were not huge ones because similar differences are observed within different groups in our Lebanese community too; hence, these differences don’t hinder human relationships, but challenge human beings to think outside their boxes and personal bubbles. Whenever convictions are challenged, human interactions go from superficiality into a deeper level of mutual understanding. It is at that stage of relating to the other where a real exchange of thought and faith in God happens; consequently, faith enters the process of seeking understanding. If these kinds of exchanges between youth have even the slightest influence in triggering this process of understanding, then it can be called a successful exchange.
Betty - There are many obvious differences between French and Lebanese mentalities. The most obvious one is about relationships and what's "acceptable" in relationships. for them faith and sexuality don't have to be against each other. For us abstinence is very important.
Other than that, they are more laid back in nature, and don't stress as much as we do, which has to do with political issues and lifestyle differences. Oh and they're more open to talk about things. Topics which we consider taboo to discuss are ok for them to talk about.