Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Last Day!

In 24 hours, God willing, we will be sitting on a plane bound for Paris, on the first leg of our long trip home. We've had an incredible mission trip these past three weeks and our hearts and minds are packed tight with memories, prayer requests, praise reports, concerns and joys. Even though we know that God has used us--and the support that so many of you equipped us with--we also recognize that we leave behind countless needs that we would not be able to meet even we stayed for a year. We're humbled to have been able to play a small role in encouraging some families and churches during our stay, and we were encouraged and blessed by these encounters, too.
Yesterday (Tuesday) was our slowing-down day. In the morning, we met one last time with one of the faithful workers here and urged her to continue her outreach ministry despite the challenges or setbacks she may face. It's always inspiring when individuals remain committed to serving the Lord even under difficult circumstances.
We then took a couple of hours to behave like tourists; after some shawarma (something we rarely eat at home, even though there are plenty of Middle Eastern restaurants in Montreal), we walked around the Kentron District (basically the commercial centre of Yerevan, where our hotel is located) and took photos of architecture, passers-by and each other. It was nice to look around with a different perspective and have the chance to observe small details.
In the evening we made one last visit to a family we've connected with over the past couple of years and enjoyed supper and fellowship together. It's always interesting to discuss various issues about life, faith, culture, etc. with people who have grown up and live in a different environment than our own (there were also two visitors from Russia present). We can learn a lot from each other!
The rest of our last day will be spent packing (we've already printed our boarding passes!) and tying up any loose ends before going to bed fairly early. We need to be up by 5 a.m. as we fly out at 8:40. We'll have a 7-hour layover in Paris, which will make our journey drag a bit, but we should be home Thursday evening (Montreal time). Your prayers for our trip are greatly appreciated!
Thanks for following our blog these past three weeks! God bless you. :)

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Last Visits for Mission: Armenia 2014

In some ways it feels like we've been in Armenia for just three days instead of three weeks; at the same time, we've had what seems like three months' worth of experiences! We have a couple of meetings planned for today and then we'll be wrapping up our mission trip for this year and getting ready (and rested, hopefully) for our journey home.
Yesterday (Monday), we visited two homes in Abovyan, a town about 16km northeast of Yerevan. The first family we met was that of a local pastor, Armen, who currently holds meetings in his home. His congregation is actually larger than what fits in his home so they are trying to see whether they can find a larger meeting place for their services and Bible studies. During our visit, a dear lady we met last year, Marianoush, came over because she knew we were there and she wanted to see us again. Last year she had shared a prayer request with us about her youngest daughter, two at the time, who needed surgery. She had the little one with her yesterday and we saw the scars on her leg and foot where she'd been operated to try to straighten her limbs. Unfortunately, she will require another procedure. Please pray for this little girl (we can't remember her name right now). It was lovely to see how she played with the pastor's niece, also three years old, during our visit.
Afterward, we visited the home of Artur, a painter who amazes us with his latest masterpieces each year we visit. We were delighted to also see his mother and his two teenagers: 16-year-old Aida, also an artist, and 18-year-old Narek, a multi-medal-winning boxer who won bronze at the 2014 Youth Olympics. There was much to celebrate in this home, including the recent hatching of five tiny canaries!
Later in the day, we had two last visits with local friends and relatives, trying to grab a few more precious moments with these loved ones before we leave. We're grateful for the fellowship we've enjoyed and will miss our friends here. Thankfully, nowadays we have things like Facebook and Skype to stay in touch!
We'll likely only post one more update before we leave Yerevan, but we'll try to write more after our return to Montreal. God bless you!







Monday, September 1, 2014

Third and Last Sunday in Armenia

Yesterday (Sunday), Pastor Joseph spoke at a church in Charentsavan, a village about 45 minutes outside of Yerevan. Although we plan to make several more visits, that was his last "official" duty. Today and tomorrow, we'll be squeezing in last-minute visitations before wrapping everything up and preparing for our trip home on Thursday morning.
In Charentsavan, Pastor Joseph spoke to the congregation--made up mainly of women--on Ephesians 5:13-26, focussing on the fruit of the Spirit that is produced in our lives when we are committed to following and obeying Christ. The response was very positive and several members chatted with the pastor after the service. We were also invited to join some of the church leaders in the office for a light lunch before we returned to Yerevan.
From there, we dropped by the Vernissage (basically a large flea market where you can buy souvenirs, antiques and art from locals) for a bit of shopping and then returned to the hotel.
In less than an hour, we'll be heading out for three or four home visits. We have been inspired by these opportunities to reach out to people where they are and have been talking about ways we can do similar ministry back in Montreal.
Again, thank you for your continued prayers. We have been encouraged by the loving support from our friends and family back home and around the world!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Another Unusual Baptismal Service

Greetings, friends! It's Sunday morning in Yerevan and, before we go to church in Charentsavan, where Pastor Joseph has his last official speaking engagement, we just want to share with you about yesterday's baptismal service.
We had expected eight people to be baptized but, due to pressure from outside sources, four of them backed out. Still, we were happy to make the trip to Sayat Nova to baptize three women--one of them just 15 years old--and a man. In the absence of a traditional baptismal venue, we opted for the small pool in the courtyard of the home of one the women. We had visited her last year so knew what to expect, but it was still a challenge to coordinate how to proceed.
After Pastor Joseph shared some Scripture verses, encouraged those being baptized to share their personal testimonies, and prayed for them, the group quickly changed and then climbed into the pool. Because of the shallowness of the water, Pastor Joseph could not dip them backwards as he normally does so each one crouched down and then dipped forward. There were many smiles as each one did their best to get wet!
After the baptisms, we celebrated the occasion together over fruit and coffee. We also enjoyed seeing two toddlers--the four-year-old handicapped girl we mentioned a few days ago as well as the two-year-old granddaughter of our hostess--happily playing with the resident kittens. We were saddened to later hear that the two-year-old was abandoned by her parents when she was barely 40 days old and left to the care of her loving grandmother.
As we prepared to return to the hotel, we were invited to someone's home for supper and enjoyed some more fellowship before we called it a day and rested up for today's activities.
It's amazing how quickly the last two-and-a-half weeks have gone by! We have just a few days left before we head home. We will miss our brothers and sisters here but look forward to reuniting with our family and church family back home.
Thank you for your continued prayers!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Visits and More Visits...

Friday was another full day for us. With Arayik and Samuel, we drove to a suburb of Yerevan called Davitashen and visited three families who live near each other. These were all Christian families but each one shared unique challenges that we were able to pray with them about.
At one of the homes, we met several siblings and their families who are caring for their aging father, Rasmik. This gentleman greeted us with a booming voice, firm handshake and warm smile despite the fact that a physical handicap has him relying on crutches and a delapitated wheelchair.
We were humbled to be able to offer some support to these families and to pray for them all in turn.
In the evening, we participated in the regular Friday night home Bible study at Anahit and Haik's home and Pastor Joseph led a discussion based on the first several verses of Ephesians 2. Afterward, a young former pastor who had joined us spontaneously started singing a hymn and others joined in. We were pleasantly surprised when Nelli moved to the piano and began accompanying the group. She later played and sang another hymn. It was great fellowship!
One of the unexpected "missions" that Pastor Joseph has encountered during this trip is the need to exhort and encourage local pastors and church leaders. Some of the same church issues we face in North America are present in Armenia and several people have to turned to Pastor Joseph's many years of experience for guidance and insight.
This morning we are preparing for a baptismal service in the town of Sayat Nova. By the time most of you read this, the service will be over, but we ask you to pray for those being baptized, that they will grow strong in their faith and plug into a fellowship of believers who will encourage and support them.
Please be sure to check out our Facebook photo album to see our latest pictures!

Friday, August 29, 2014

A Mixed Bag of Experiences

Thank you all so much for following our blog and mission trip activities with interest, and for the encouraging comments you've been leaving for us on Facebook. Knowing that people care about what's happening here in Armenia keeps us going.

Thursday was an interesting day for us. We encountered the most heart-rending situation of our trip thus far, and then had the opportunity to see a completely different part of Armenia that was almost "fun". . .a real contrast.

In the morning we joined Arayik and Nelli to visit Seta, an elderly lady who has been on her death-bed for the past 10 months, and her daughter-in-law Arpig. It was very difficult to visit Seta's room and witness her physical condition. Her body has been reduced to skin and bones--and that skin is covered in wounds, some of them open. Her own children have abandoned her and her daughter-in-law selflessly cares for her day and night, while also raising two young adult children. Pastor Joseph spoke to Seta about eternal life and making peace with God and, with barely audible words, she did profess faith in Jesus and prayed for forgiveness of her sins, surrending her life to Christ. Our prayer is that she will not suffer much longer. We also prayed with Arpig and tried to encourage her in her faith, which she says is the only thing that keeps her going in these trying circumstances.

A couple of hours later, we met with Emma, a journalist we met on a previous mission trip after she contacted us to say that she had been given Pastor Joseph's book, God's Workshop, and wanted to talk to him. Emma took us to one of her favourite places: an exotic park and restaurant called Jambo. Here we saw many interesting animals (such as monkeys, parrots, lemurs, arctic foxes, horses, rabbits, etc.) It was refreshing to walk through beautiful greenery and be reminded of God's creativity. Afterward we stopped at a restaurant called Old Jrvezh, which looked a bit like it could be a ranch in Texas! We enjoyed catching up with her and Pastor Joseph encouraged her to continue growing in her relationship with Christ.

Later in the evening, we met with relatives on a quiet pedestrian-only street and chatted over ice cream and coffee, a nice wind-down to our day.
We've even had some interesting encounters in our hotel. This morning Pastor Joseph gave the Greek version of our tract, What Are You Searching for?, to an employee who grew up in Greece. She and her sister both work here and we've enjoyed chatting with them during our stay. Also, the last couple of mornings, the same gentleman has been sitting near us during breakfast. This morning we learned that he is a Columbian who works for Red Cross and is based in Moscow. We exchanged some of our experiences and gave him our business card.
Please continue to pray for us as we begin to slowly wrap things up for this trip. We have five full days left, besides next Wednesday, which will be our day for packing and making preparations for the long journey home. It's amazing to think that a week from now we'll be back home, God willing!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Seven Days to Go

It's hard to believe that there is only a week left to our mission trip! The last two weeks have been busy and full and very inspiring. We've encountered heart-breaking situations and been blessed by heart-warming testimonies.

Tuesday was a bit of a day off for us -- we needed to recharge our batteries -- but we did visit relatives in the evening.

Wednesday was very busy again as we did three visitations. In the morning we visited a ministry partner's family and Pastor Joseph had the opportunity to chat with and encourage the 21-year-old daughter. Afterward, we visited a family in Getap, three generations of women we've met on previous mission trips. The grandmother, mother and two young daughters experienced a terrible trauma about four years ago and have been on the difficult road of recovery since then. The little girl is physically handicapped due to developmental issues around the time of her birth but she is happy and energetic and very bright. Her 15-year-old sister recently surrendered her life to Christ and will be baptized this Saturday.

The most singificant part of our visit was the opportunity to encourage her grandmother, who is still grieving over the condition of her youngest grandchild. Pastor Joseph urged her to surrender her burden to the Lord so that she could experience joy and peace and be a better support to her family. Before we left, she said that she did want to give her life to Christ and Pastor Joseph prayed with her.

In the evening, we visited a local pastor's family and had great fellowship as we discussed matters of life and faith. We enjoyed meeting his daughter, son-in-law and three little granddaughters.

Thursday will be another day of visitations. We're still coordinating meetings and visits but we know that we have a home Bible study on Friday night and then a baptismal service on Saturday, which will bring together several people from different towns and villages. Stay tuned for more updates!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Monday's Missions

Monday was one of our busiest days so far on our mission trip. In the morning, we visited yet another widow, Astrig, and were pleased to see that she was much improved since our visit last year. While we were glad to learn that she had been able to have surgery in both eyes to regain her vision, it was upsetting to hear that she had been tricked into paying more than she could ever afford for what had been promised to be free treatment.

In any case, she was very much encouraged by our visit and we were blessed to be able to offer her some support.

From Astrig's home we drove across town to visit a family consisting of a young single mother (with a newborn son and a preteen daughter) and her father. The family is struggling financially and the father has many doubts about God and religion, but the young woman's faith and strength was impressive. We sat in their backyard--where they grow peaches, apples, plums, hazelnuts, walnuts, and more--and had great conversations while we sampled their homegrown goodies. Before we left, the young woman asked Pastor Joseph to pray for her baby, Michael. She had hoped to be baptized during our visit this year but couldn't because of her many responsibilities. We hope she will be able to be baptized in the near future.

After a brief rest in the afternoon, we headed to the home of a family that partners with us in sharing the gospel in Armenia. Several other families joined us for supper and fellowship. Throughout the evening, there were many interesting discussions about the interpretation of certain biblical passages (Pastor Joseph was able to offer explanations by referring to the original Greek texts) as well as conversations about the Christian life in general. Ann-Margret also had the opportunity to interview the National Leader of Campus Crusade in Armenia for a Christianity Today article she's working on about Armenia.

The day ended late for us but it was fulfilling! The next couple of days will be less busy but we plan to do a few more visits. With just nine days to go before we return home, we have to start carefully scheduling our remaining activities (such as one more baptism). Your continued prayers are appreciated! Please pray that the heat (Yerevan is forecast to hit 99F/37C for the next three days) and fatigue don't hinder our work here. Thank you!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Sunday, August 23

On Sunday morning, we went to a home in a suburb of Yerevan where they hold a weekly Bible study. The large livingroom was full and we learned that sometimes even more people attend. After a time of worship, Pastor Joseph was asked to lead the group in a Bible study. He spoke about the Christian's walk and then invited those present to participate by asking any questions they may have.

We had another church service to go to a couple of hours later, where Pastor Joseph was to speak, but first we stopped at the home of a woman who was baptized during our mission trip last year. We couldn't stay long but we were able to meet another lady who wants to be baptized this year and we discussed some arrangements. We're looking forward to finalizing the details of the baptism, which are a little complicated because people from several different villages and towns need to be brought together to one location.

We then made our way to Zeytun for the second church service and Pastor Joseph addressed the question, "Who Is a Christian?" It was nice to see some familiar faces from our visit to this church last year. After the service, we stayed for about an hour and enjoyed fellowship and fresh fruit while the church leaders discussed topics such as church growth.

At both meetings, there were many questions raised; for example, about infant baptism, life after death, and other topics people are struggling with. Clearly, no matter where we go -- in North America or in Armenia -- people are searching for answers.

Please continue to pray for us and for the people we meet each day. We truly appreciate your interest in and support of this work. God bless you!

We'll update our Facebook photo album this morning, too. If any of you are not able to view these photos for some reason, please let us know. You can find our contact information on our website.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Catching Up

After a couple of quiet days, it's finally time to update our mission trip blog. Our photo album is pretty much up to date (though we still want to post videos at some point) and you can have a look at it here: Mission: Armenia 2014.

On Thursday, we decided to slow things down a little and didn't do much more than get together with a couple of our local friends (two separate meetings) with whom we partner in sharing the gospel in Armenia. It was great to catch up with them and get a better feel for where things are at with the church at large here.

Friday ended up being a day off for Pastor Joseph and me, mainly because I had to call in sick with a head/chest cold and knew I'd be pretty useless. We did run a couple of errands and respond to emails but, otherwise, did our best to rest up and prepare ourselves for the busy weekend coming up.

This morning I woke up feeling somewhat better and my health improved as the day went on, despite the intense heat today (the high was 36C!) We spent part of the day visiting three elderly ladies in different parts of the city and we pray that we were able to offer them some encouragement. Our new friend Samuel (whom we met last year when we were here) really touched our hearts when he gave his phone number to one of the widows (they had never met before) and said that she should feel free to call him whenever she needed something done around the house or had an emergency; he didn't live far and would be glad to help her out. What a great example of selflessness and of obedience to the Scriptural teaching of taking care of widows and orphans.

After a brief rest upon returning to the hotel, Pastor Joseph and I split up again. I've spent the afternoon with Lilit Mantashyan (our Joseph Hovsepian Ministries team member and translator) and her mother Anna, and I'll be sleeping over tonight because tomorrow we'll go together to a Bible study where Pastor Joseph will meet us and be the guest speaker. Afterward, we will be going to another church service where Pastor Joseph will speak.

We only have tentative plans after that but we hope to do several more visitations and we are in the process of organizing one more baptismal service.