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.