Friday, August 16 – Visit to Horom
On our first full day of mission work, Dad and I visited the village of Horom with Arayik and Nelli. Horom is about an hour and a half from Nor Nork, the Yerevan suburb our hotel is in, and I wish I could have taken a hundred photos of the landscape we enjoyed during our long drive. This part of Armenia is vast, arid and rocky, with steep mountains visible in the distance—very different from the lush and green hilly landscape I’m used to in Quebec.
Why Horom? We were invited to go there by Tigran Muradyan, the pastor of the church there—more accurately, the church planter of the area. We first connected with him through Facebook about six months ago and, when he heard we were coming to Armenia, he was very eager to meet Pastor Joseph and have him speak to the congregation. Brother Tigran became a Christian after a missionary team from South Carolina came to the region in 1993 for three months to provide relief and medical aid after the earthquake. After his conversion, Brother Tigran wanted to serve the Lord so he started by offering Bible lessons to the community’s children. About 50 or 60 responded to the invitation! This allowed him to connect with the adults in the area and eventually a small church was formed, which grew quickly. He later told us that he has baptized more than 1,000 people over the years.
This is a farming community, so those who attended the service had to use their lunch break to meet for the time of worship and teaching. The accompanying photos describe the area and the condition of the church building much better than my words can.
There were 21 of us (all women except for the three pastors present and Tigran’s son and nephew). When Pastor Joseph began to address the group, he remarked that he sensed the Lord’s presence in the tiny room we were crowded into…more than can sometimes be felt in larger or more affluent churches. You could tell, just by looking into the eyes of these women of various ages, how deeply they love the Lord and want to grow spiritually.
We were later joined by about a dozen children, who were taught a Bible lesson and then shared verses they had memorized.
One of the photos shows brown clumps piled against the building. These are dung “bricks” used for fuel in the winter. The temperature in Horom dips to -35 or even -40C, making it nearly impossible for people to leave their homes in the winter. Most families are locked into their homes for six months, gathering into the one room they can afford to heat and living off the food they’ve stored up in the previous six months. Seeing the fruit and vegetable gardens behind the Muradyan’s home and then their cellar with neatly lined-up preserves made me think of Little House on the Prairie. The people in this community do back-breaking work for six months so that they can survive the six months they are homebound.
At one point in the afternoon, a few of us visited the preschool just down the street from the church. We met some of the children just before their snack time and then spent some time with the school’s director in her office. After she shared with us about the school’s program, the cost per child and other details, we decided that this was a cause we wanted to help. One of our church members had made a generous donation of $200 and asked us to use it to support children. We offered this gift to the preschool and it was received with great joy. We know it will be put to good use to help educate and feed these children.
Brother Tigran later told us that, as much as the community is struggling financially and is in need of physical resources, the greatest need is spiritual. They are hungry for spiritual nourishment and asked us to send them any materials they might be able to use to teach the children and lead women’s groups. Please pray for us as we begin to explore ways we can do this, which may include having some of our own material translated into Armenian.
August 19 and 20 report
The last couple of days in Armenia have been quiet in the sense that we haven’t visited villages or participated in church meetings, however, we have spent time with several individuals and families, some of it for fellowship but there’s been a lot of personal counselling and encouragement, too. We’ve had opportunities to introduce ourselves to strangers, such as an employee of a nearby grocery store, and have even been interacting quite a bit with our hotel’s staff.
We’re learning a lot about the spiritual needs in Armenia as we hear about what’s happening in churches, in families and in the nation in general.
In the next few days we’ll be doing more visitation and are also preparing for the baptismal service in Spitak on Friday. At this point, we anticipate there may be as many as 20 participants. Please pray as arrangements are made for transportation and other details. Those waiting to be baptized are very excited…as are we.
August 21 report
It’s hard to believe we’ve already been in Armenia a full week! We have 12 days to go and quite a few things left on our roster of activities and meetings.
Yesterday (Wednesday, August 21), we went to Echmiadzin, the fourth-largest city in Armenia and the spiritual centre of the nation. It’s a site rich with history. Our tour guide was Aharon (Arayik Sardaryan’s son) and we were joined by one of our cousins (who spent two days on a bus to travel from Athens to Yerevan). It was interesting to visit the Cathedral and walk around the compound and to observe all the religious symbols that many Armenians are very fond of.
At one point, Pastor Joseph and Aharon spoke with two young priests for at least five minutes on spiritual matters. When one of the priests said that they practice daily repentance with the hopes of gaining salvation, Pastor Joseph quoted John 3:16 and reminded them that we can have the assurance of our salvation.
Later, over lunch at a Georgian restaurant, we continued to discuss matters of faith.
Although on a couple of days, we haven’t done what would appear to be “mission” work, our conversations with people we’ve met with in our hotel, in grocery stores and in other’s homes have definitely been of an evangelistic nature. Pastor Joseph has been doing a lot of counselling as well as mentoring of local leaders, not only of churches but also para-church organizations.
Your continued prayers are very valuable to us, not for our own sakes but for the ministry being done here and the souls being reached. Thank you!
August 22 report
It’s Thursday evening in Yerevan and Pastor Joseph and I are reflecting on a full day of visitations and the wonderful ways we saw God at work. We visited six homes, covering a considerable distance from one area to the next. Each home had its own interesting stories and situations. Each family and individual we met had unique needs and challenges as well as inspiring testimonies.
Depending on where we were, we gave tracts and/or copies of God’s Workshop, we prayed with the people we met, Pastor Joseph shared the gospel or encouraged believers in their walk, and much more.
We also made final arrangements for tomorrow’s baptism – picking up the baptismal gowns, New Testament that will be given to the participants and other supplies. We anticipate that about 40 people, from various churches and regions, will be present at the service in Spitak.
We look forward to sharing about this experience in our next report. We’ve decided to make this an early night to ensure we have lots of energy for tomorrow. Thank you again for your faithful prayers, love and support. We are enjoying all your comments and responses on Facebook!
August 23 – Baptismal Service in Spitak
Yesterday was the pinnacle of our mission trip to Armenia: the baptismal service in Spitak, a full day event (we were gone from the hotel for about 13 hours). The drive from Yerevan to Spitak is about 1.5 hours, but the journey took us much longer because after Arayik Sardaryan picked us up from the hotel, we had to pick up people from different towns along the way. Even after we arrived in Spitak, where several other joined us, we had to travel for another half an hour to reach the riverside spot where the service and celebrations would take place. I wish I could describe the drive there, which was through land so vast and, at the same time, mountainous that you cannot help but feel like a small speck. At one point, we drove on a cliff so steep (with no guardrails at the most dangerous point!) that I had to hold my breath. Imagine that Arayik and Nelli make this drive every week, even in the winter when the roads are even more precarious.
Anyway, back to the baptismal service! Thank God, it was a gorgeous day. Spitak had been rainy the previous few days so we knew this was a gift from the Lord. Sixteen people were baptized (one of whom was pregnant), but another five had planned to participate. They were unable to for various reasons so we pray that they will have another opportunity in the near future. (Pastor Joseph noted that each of the three times he’s baptized people here, there has been a pregnant woman in the group. We thought you might find that interesting!)
We started the service with Pastor Joseph exhorting those being baptized, reminding them of the significance of the step they were about to take and encouraging them to share testimonies about their conversions. Arayik also shared with them from God’s Word. Then the women and men took turns changing into their baptismal gowns in an old stone structure farther up the field we were in.
Pastor Joseph and Arayik baptized eight people each, in tandem. This was not a simple procedure of having someone step into a baptismal pool like the one we have at our church. We had to find a tiny patch of soil on the bushy banks of the river, where people could barely line up single-file. Young and old had to carefully step over branches and rocks (while the rest of us held their hands) to enter the rushing river where Pastor Joseph and Arayik waited for them. Some of the young and older women were terrified of going into the river but they bravely did so. After a few words of exhortation and prayer, Pastor Joseph and Arayik immersed the candidates into the water and then led them out. After the first few people were baptized, that little patch of soil become muddy and slippery, making it even more difficult for those who followed. And yet, there were only sounds of praise and rejoicing. It was so moving!
Once everyone was changed and dry, we had communion and those who were baptized were presented with a certificate, a New Testament and a small gold cross pin. These gifts were very well received!
Then it was time for the “khorovatz” picnic before the long journey home again. This is not the potato salad, sandwiches and carrot stick kind of picnic we westerners are used to. This is huge pieces of pork and chicken cooked over an open fire, along with lavash (flat bread) and various vegetables and fruit (most of it from people’s gardens). The food was generously shared (you get used to having a full plate put into your hands) and the fellowship was warm.
I was humbled (not for the first time) by the warmth, hospitality and lack of self-interest of the people here. Despite my lack of proficiency in the local dialect, women of all ages befriended me with hugs and kisses and eager questions about myself and where I come from. More than that, I was impressed by the unabashed expressions of joy and praise by those being baptized as well as those observing. The Lord was definitely present!
Hundreds of photos were taken and three of us were able to videotape most of the day’s events, so we’ll be sharing some of that with you. (The videos will likely be after our return to Canada.) Please watch for links to the photos.
Again, we appreciate all your prayers and support. Please pray for the 16 precious souls who were baptized as they continue in their walk with the Lord. Please pray, too, for the pastors and missionaries working here under difficult circumstances (poverty, persecution, broken families, etc.)
Today (Saturday), we will visit a couple of archaeological sites and then, in the evening, meet with a sister in Christ. Pastor Joseph is also preparing to preach tomorrow in a Baptist church in Nshavan, which is at least half an hour from Yerevan.
August 24 and 25 report
Saturday, August 24, was more of an educational day rather than one of outreach or counselling, although we did briefly visit one family and witness to a woman whose foodstand we stopped at. After picking up some souvenirs from the Yerevan Vernissage Market (considered one of the world’s best open air markets) we took a trip to Garni and the Geghard Monastery. It is almost impossible describe what we saw so I hope my photos will give you an idea. These archaeological sites contain history that goes back thousands of years.
Garni, first occupied in the 3rd century B.C., is famous for its Hellenistic temple, which is still used as a place of religious observances for the local people.
The Geghard Monastery is an incredible structure originally carved out of the mountain but which now also features the addition of a stone-built church. We descended into one of the ancient cavernous rooms and, at one point, Arayik began to sing Der Voghormia (Lord Have Mercy), a chant familiar to most Armenians around the world. The acoustics of this deep, dark cavern created a mournful echo that others stopped to listen to.
On the way home, we visited a village family and then, at the hotel, we had a Christian sister come to see us for a little while.
On Sunday, August 25, we drove to Nshavan with a van full of people. Pastor Joseph spoke at the Baptist church there and then a large group of us had lunch and fellowship at the pastor’s home. Among us were an Australian, an American-Armenian, another Canadian-Armenian, a Russian-Armenian and a Russian. Needless to say, the conversations were quite interesting!
One of the men who was with us is someone we visited a few days ago…someone who, the day before we met him, was feeling uneasy about his spiritual life and prayed for a sign. He felt that our visit was the answer to that prayer and he recommitted his life to Christ that day. Today we found him to be full of joy and very expressive about his faith in the Lord and his eagerness to serve Christ.
After lunch, six of us drove to Khor Virap, another fantastic historical site from which one can enjoy a great view of Mount Ararat. Its peak was in the clouds but we were able to see the mountain’s outline quite clearly. We were close to the Turkey-Armenia border and could see a large Turkish city in the distance. This site features the Armenian Apostolic Church monastery.
When we returned to the hotel, Pastor Joseph had a phone conversation with one of the local brothers with whom we had visited a village last week. This brother returned to that village today to do visitation and met a man that Pastor Joseph had had the opportunity to speak with and give his book to during our visit there. This man said that he wanted to hear more about what Pastor Joseph had shared with him and, after some discussion, he said he was ready to receive Christ as his Saviour and prayed for salvation. A young woman that we had also met there indicated that she, too, was interested in what she had heard and wanted to know Christ. She also requested a copy of Pastor Joseph’s book. All of this was very exciting news to hear at the end of our day.
As you can see, we’ve had a full 11 days since our arrival and we still have many visitations on our roster for the next week or so that we’re here. Pastor Joseph will also be preaching again next Sunday, at the Armenian Brotherhood Church of Yerevan.
In closing, Pastor Joseph says: “We’ve seen a lot of spiritual hunger but also many blessings through our ministry. We have been able to help in need, despite our limited resources. Please continue praying for us.”
August 26 and 27 report
Before I write my update about our last two days, I just want to thank all of you who have been reading these reports. We’ve received comments and notes from people we never expected would be interested in this mission trip. It’s encouraging!
The temperature in Yerevan has been over 30 degrees Celsius the last couple of days. Although the climate is dryer here, it’s still hot! But we’re not complaining because we know our time here is short.
On Monday morning, we had fellowship at the home of a Christian brother who is also related to us. Besides Arayik Sardaryan, who is our regular companion (and driver) for most of our activities, two other men were with us who host an Internet radio program (armgospelradio.com). They urged Pastor Joseph to be a guest on their program the next day and he finally relented, trusting that the Holy Spirit was leading. After this visit, we went to the home of Sveta (Arayik’s mother-in-law). We had a precious time of sharing with this vital member of our outreach team – she is the one we mentioned last week who sits at her front window and hands out copies of God’s Workshop to passersby.
In the evening, just before we were to go visit another family, we heard from an Australian-Armenian brother that we had hoped to meet earlier during our trip and he asked if he could come to our hotel for a quick hello – he was to fly home the next morning so this would be our last opportunity. When he arrived our lift for the next visit was already here but our driver graciously waited in the car for about 45 minutes. It was a joy and privilege to meet Hratsh Kiujian, the director of Armenian Christian Mission. It would take a page to describe the various types of outreach this ministry does but suffice it to say that it really resonated with our own vision and passion for reaching souls for Christ.
This morning (Tuesday), we got up bright and early to go to the radio station. Four brothers, including Pastor Joseph, shared with listeners from all over the world, particularly on the topic of prayer, for 52 minutes. Toward the end of the program, the host read some messages he received through Skype chat – a few had questions to ask while others gave positive feedback and even asked how they could receive a copy of God’s Workshop. We offered to supply the radio station with 100 copies for them to make available to listeners who requested one.
Afterward, four of us had fellowship while sharing a meal and then we made a quick stop at the Maderataran Museum, which houses many ancient original manuscripts of Scriptures in Armenian but also in some other languages. We were fascinated by all the hand-lettering and calligraphy in these historical volumes.
We then had a somewhat unusual visit. We met a young woman who came into Yerevan from her village just to see us and we had our visit in the van (or just outside it when it got too hot). She is a believer but is facing great difficulties in her life so we tried to encourage her. Before leaving, she took a small bag full of tracts to distribute in her village.
Our next visit was to a family that Pastor Joseph has met with every time he has come to Armenia. While Pastor Joseph and Arayik encouraged our host to get closer to the Lord, I had the opportunity to get acquainted with his teenager daughter, though we had a slight language barrier. Smiles go a long way!
After barely an hour of rest back at the hotel, we headed back downtown where Pastor Joseph had been invited to speak to a group of young people. We met in a small office housed in a college. There was a short time of worship and fellowship and then Pastor was invited to speak to those gathered. He addressed some of the challenges that believers of all ages face, but especially young people or new believers. He fielded several interesting questions and, at the end, one of the young women expressed that she was excited to meet the author of God’s Workshop and she confessed that she has highlighted just about every line in the book. We gave each person present a copy of the book (in Armenian) as well as our tracts.
Then we had to hurry to see a lady who had, just this afternoon, asked for baptism. She is elderly and wanted to be sure she was baptized before she died. Unfortunately, the water in that neighbourhood was cut off and would be for the next day. While Pastor Joseph and a couple of other leaders discussed what to do, we learned that two neighbours – a mother and daughter – wanted to be baptized, too. They came to the house so that Pastor Joseph could speak to them about the requirements and significance of baptism. As I write this report, we are planning to have a baptismal service tomorrow (Wednesday) afternoon for at least two of them.
We have six days left in Armenia so only a few more reports to share before we’re home. Thank you for continuing to pray for this work and for the people here. God bless you!
August 28 and 29 report
On Wednesday and Thursday of our last full week here, Pastor Joseph finally took some well-deserved time off, though we still fit in some ministry on both days.
We spent an hour or two on Wednesday morning working with Lilit Mantashyan, our official translator, to finalize details about the new book that Joseph Hovsepian Ministries is publishing in Armenia. Similar to God’s Workshop, it is a collection of short sermons and radio messages with the purpose of encouraging and challenging both non-believers and Christians here.
In the evening we had dinner and fellowship with two other pastors and their wives. It was uplifting to be able to share about our respective ministries and the blessings and challenges of serving the Lord.
On both days, Pastor Joseph also had opportunities to do some counselling and mentoring of local Christian workers.
With just two days’ notice, Pastor Joseph spoke at a church in the town of Charentsavan on Thursday night. The congregation was not large but, if you closed your eyes during the worship time, you would think there were twice as many present. Pastor Joseph exhorted those gathered to go through the narrow door, reminding us that following Christ means picking up your cross daily, denying yourself and walking in His footsteps.
On Friday night, we will attend a home Bible study and Pastor Joseph is also preparing to speak at the Armenian Brotherhood Church of Yerevan on Sunday. We anticipate several more visits or times of fellowship before we return on Tuesday morning.
As we wind down our last few days here, we pray that the rest of our stay will be a fruitful and effective ministry. Thank you again for your prayers, which the Lord has been answering generously!
August 30 and 31 report
Greetings from the hot city of Yerevan, where the temperature as I write this report is 35C at 6:30 p.m. Here’s a report on the last two days…
On Friday we shared lunch and fellowship at the home of Arayik and Nelli, the missionary family that Temple supports. We were joined by another Canadian-Armenian young man (originally from Russia) who has offered to translate “What Are You Searching for?” into Russian. We’re really excited about this opportunity to put the gospel message into more hands.
Later in the afternoon, we picked up another Christian man (the one we previously mentioned who has rededicated his life to the Lord) on our way to a home Bible study. Pastor Joseph shared from Ephesians 2:1-6 and after a short discussion we got onto the topic of being unequally yoked. With five young adults in their 20s present, this topic was very relevant and the young people were receptive and clearly convicted by the firm and biblical teaching. We really sensed the Lord at work at this gathering, especially when two of the young people later spoke privately with Pastor Joseph, indicating that they had taken his words to heart.
On Saturday morning, we received a visitor at the hotel and had the opportunity to encourage her in her faith and in her walk with the Lord. Without exaggeration, every single person we have met in Armenia is facing challenges – some of which most of us could not even imagine, let along cope with. Some are dealing with sickness, others poverty, others abusive situations and some have even shared about spiritual oppression.
In the afternoon, we visited two homes where the problems seem insurmountable. We spent some time with them, offering counselling, encouragement and prayer.
As we’ve mentioned before, Pastor Joseph is preparing to speak at the Armenian Brotherhood Church of Yerevan tomorrow morning. In the afternoon, we’ll be visiting another family and, later, receive visitors at the hotel. As far as we know, this will wrap up our visitations in Armenia – unless God has other plans for us!
On Monday, of course, we’ll be taking care of last-minute details and preparing for our trip home (early Tuesday morning). We appreciate your prayers on these last days and we’re grateful that some of you – particularly people we have either never met or are not directly connected with our church or ministry – have been faithfully following our journey and upholding us in prayer. It means a lot to us and is making a big difference in this work.
September 1 report
On our last active day in Armenia (we reserved Monday, September 2, for final good-byes, packing and tying up loose ends), we walked from our hotel to the Armenian Brotherhood Church of Yerevan (about 10 minutes, all downhill). There we visited with Pastor Hovhannes Halladjian for a little while before the service started.
About 200 people were in attendance. Some of these included Syrian-Armenian refugees. There was a good mix of young and old and everyone stopped to speak with Pastor Joseph on their way out. Pastor’s sermon was about Zacchaeus (based on Luke 19:1-10). He pointed out that, though Zacchaeus would have been considered an ineligible person for salvation (by most people’s standards), he understood it better than the Scribes and Pharisees did. Pastor Joseph contrasted Zacchaeus’ willingness to run and find Jesus (even to the point of climbing up a tree and humiliating himself) to the general indifference most people have about salvation and spiritual matters.
After the service, we were invited to the home of a Christian family where we enjoyed not only delicious food but also warm fellowship. As usually occurs in Christian homes here, the conversation turned to topics of faith, the Bible and our relationship with the Lord. Pastor Joseph had a very interesting discussion with an 18-year-old and was able to give him guidance in an area he was struggling to understand. Later in the evening we received visitors at the hotel, a family who wanted to give their last good-byes. We have been touched by the efforts people have made to show their appreciation for our visit and the support we have been able to offer them.
As I write this, it is almost evening on Monday and we will be wrapping up our visitations in the next couple of hours as we receive a few more visitors who want to say good-bye. Then we will head to bed and get up early in the morning to begin our journey home. God willing, if all goes well, we will land in Montreal mid-afternoon on Tuesday. Needless to say, we will need at least a day to rest and to shake off any jet lag. We look forward to catching up with everyone when we go to church on Sunday. We’ll post our last photos – as well as a couple of video clips – after our return.
To those of you who have followed our journey from the beginning and have sent us comments, thank you! It encouraged us and gave us joy to know that you were with us in spirit.