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.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Update from Pastor Joseph

Back in Yerevan... Here is a little report from Pastor Joseph about his activities on Monday and Tuesday, and our Wednesday road trip, in his own words!

MONDAY...

I met with Arayik over an early breakfast for about an hour and a half. Then I met with a young journalist we had got to know two years ago after she contacted us because she had received and read my book, God's Workshop (in Armenian). The same morning I met with an other young lady who has been working hard distributing our tracts and books, and keeping in touch with us throughout the year regarding requests from pastors and individuals for our material.

In the afternoon, I had a very long meeting with church leaders and a pastor about church and ministry matters in Armenia. After sharing supper with them, I returned to the hotel very late and went to bed.

TUESDAY...

After sharing breakfast with Arayik again, we picked up a gentleman who came with us to a village where we visited a large family. On the way, I was able to witness to him and speak about eternal life and salvation. Even though he is surrounded by believers, he has not understood life after death and having a personal relationship with God. Upon our arrival in the village, I faced the same situation with his brother who had not been able to understand why we should be saved. After explaining to him about the human heart and condition, I encouraged him to pray and ask God to help him see the need for salvation. In the meantime, other family members joined us and heard the gospel.

I returned to Yerevan and rested for about an hour and then was picked up to visit another Christian family in the city. We had lunch together and then a Bible study, during which I was able to clarify some words that seemed unclear in either Armenian or English; I referred to the original Greek to explain the terms in question.

Later in the afternoon, a brother who produces yogurt, cheese, etc. took me to his dairy farm and showed me around. He even introduced me to his bull! I learned how the dairy products are made, too.

WEDNESAY...

Early in the morning, after a quick breakfast, Arayik and I picked up Felix, one of the young men who had been baptized on Sunday, and headed to Vanadzor to join the group from Horom. During the drive there, I had the opportunity for two hours to disciple him and talk to him about his new life as a believer. While we talked, he shared an amazing testimony with me. When he decided to be baptized, his wife was angry and challenged him about going to church when they needed money and food. She thought he was a fool to want to get involved in spiritual things. He decided to come to church and be baptized anyway. He returned home to an angry wife who said, "Look in the fridge. There is nothing to eat." He said that his old self would have reacted badly but he told her that God would provide.

A few minutes later, they saw a small van stop in front of their house and then leave. They went outside and found a big basket full of vegetables, fruits and other food.

The following day, Felix came to Yerevan for a job but it didn't work out and so he was returning now with us to his home. When I heard about his situation, I was ready to help him with a donation. He started weeping because of the way God was providing for him again. I talked to him about our body being the temple of the Lord and pointed out his smoking habit. I explained to him that there are some things he should remember: Smoking would destroy his body and his habit would be a bad testimony of the change in his life. Also, it would affect his family and his finances. After a quiet pause, I heard a noise and turned around. He was crushing his cigarettes and said, "You are absolutely right!" He promised he would not smoke again. He acknowledged he might suffer for a few days but he knew God would help him.

He decided to join us for the road trip and return to Yerevan with us later to continue looking for work.

We met the group from Horom in Vanadzor, another small village. There, we met a woman named Aida who needed a lift to another village. She got into our van because the other buses were full. On the way, I started talking about life and spirituality. She said that, during the communist regime, she had become an atheist and she still had problems believing that there is a God. She said she was happy to have met me and that nothing happened by chance but everything has a purpose. She repeated this a couple of times so I asked her, "If there is no God, who created the purpose for everything?" I told her that every heart has a God-shaped vaccuum or hole and she agreed that she had one, too. Eventually, she said that she would like to have that emptiness filled with God. I gave her a tract and asked her to pray the prayer at the end of it, and I also gave her one of my books. She said she would begin attending church. Please pray for Aida.

After dropping her off, we continued on to Dilijan, the third largest city in Armenia. We were surprised to see how lush and green this area was. It reminded us of Canada or Switzerland. We spent some time there and gathered as a large group (there were about 45 of us) for worship and I shared a message, encouraging the people to reach out into their communities and to support their pastor.

Our next stop was Sevana Lich (Lake Sevan), the largest lake in Armenia and the Caucasus region. The children and youth were able to swim for a while and we had lunch there. Before we left, I had another opportunity to share a few words with the men, while Ann-Margret spoke to the ladies.

At that point, we decided to return to Yerevan instead of continuing with the group who had two more stops before they were to return to Horom.

Stay tuned for more news. We will also be updating our photo album soon.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Adventures in Horom - Part 2

It's taking long to upload photos but I was finally able to update our Facebook photo album to include yesterday's photos. Please check again tomorrow for today's photos. In the meantime...

SO MUCH happened today that I could write pages and pages about it all. I'll try to keep it brief, though. In the morning, Pastor Tigran, his son Timothy and I went to see a lady from the Horom church who, along with her friend Suzanne, bakes fresh lavash (mainly for their families) in their own little production centre -- a room off Suzanne's home where the dough is prepared and then another building that houses a special fire pit for flash-baking the flat bread. It was fascinating to watch these women's hands working quickly and efficiently and to see this delicious bread made in such poor conditions. I was able to take video of the process and look forward to sharing that with you.

After being loaded up with lavash to take home with us, we got ready for a trip to Gyumri, the second-largest city in Armenia, one that was devastated by the 1988 earthquake. Among my photos are two buildings in particular that I want to share later -- one a half-collapsed commercial building with huge chunks of the structure dangling precariously with no barriers around it and another that used to be a five-star eleven-storey hotel. All that is left is the skeleton of the first five or so floors.

In Gyumri, we first visited the parents of Valya, Pastor Tigran's wife, and we had the pleasure of hearing the "duduk" (a small traditional Armenian flute) played by Vahe, the young man who drove us to Gyumri. I will later share a video of that, too!

Afterward, we visited a family of young people who had lost both their parents many years ago, when the eldest girl was just 12 and the youngest was just a few years old. Three siblings took care of each other, with some help from relatives and friends, but the little boy became sick and he continues to grow worse. He is 17 years old but looks no older than 10 because his little body, somewhat deformed, just can't grow. Sadly, the doctors give him only a few more years to live. It was heartbreaking to see the hardships these young people have endured but it was also heartwarming to see the selfless love and care they have for each other. The two elder siblings are both recently married and their spouses also help as a bigger family.

We explored Gyumri a little and then had a bite to eat before heading back to Horom. After a nap (I was so exhausted and overheated that I slept for well over an hour!) we paid a quick visit to Pastor Tigran's mother and his brother's family and then went to see a woman who is battling an illness that has caused a severe injury to her spine and left her alarmingly thin. I was honoured to be able to offer her (as well as the young siblings we'd seen earlier) a gift on behalf of Joseph Hovsepian Ministries.

We ended the day with a simple spaghetti dinner (a big relief after being served fruit throughout the day) and tea made from leaves from the Muradyan's garden (yum!) and I am ready to call it a day. Whew!

I have not been able to speak to Pastor Joseph since we split up yesterday so I'm not sure what his activities were today but we'll try to report on that soon.

THANK YOU all so much for your continued prayers. We are seeing the results everywhere we go here. And the people we've been able to reach out to in Armenia -- especially in Horom -- are very grateful for your support and prayers. Believe me when I say they are in no way taking any of it for granted. They are wonderful, humble people.

That's it for now. Thanks for reading!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Adventures in Horom - Part I

Today was our day to visit Horom and it was unforgettable. As I'd mentioned before, I'll be staying here for three nights but Pastor Joseph is back in Yerevan. He'll do two days of ministry with Arayik and then return to Horom with a group on Wednesday, not only to pick me up but for us to enjoy an outing and fellowship with a few dozen villagers. Of course, I'll be able to give more detailed reports about my time in Horom than what's happening in Yerevan but I'll try to get updates from Dad somehow and fill you in.

In the meantime, a brief report on today's activities...

After the two-hour drive from Yerevan to Horom, we started the day with worship in the newly renovated church. The contrast between the ramshackle building we saw last year and where we worshiped today is truly remarkable. And the church members are nearly giddy with joy over this miracle they have experienced. They prayed for 12 years for someone to come along and help them--no doubt learning about trust and patience in the process--and then, without even the subtlest of hints from the church's pastor or members,  our team decided to take on the project. What an honour to share in these people's joy!

I should mention that today was the first day I sat in church and listened to a cow mooing outside. There was one tied behind the next-door store. I can only assume the store sells fresh milk! :)

After the service, we all drove about 10 minutes to reach the site for the baptismal service. Five had asked for baptism but two had to cancel (one had a sick baby and the other was ready to go into labour). Interestingly enough, two others who had recently made commitments to follow Christ took their place. There were three young men and two women who were baptized. But this was no ordinary baptism...

Someone in town who has a small pool in their backyard agreed to let the church use the yard for the baptismal service. Now, we're not talking about your typical North American pool. This cement pool, dug right into the ground, was probably not more than 10 x 15 feet and only about waist or chest deep. Rather than have those being baptized enter and leave the pool one by one, Pastor Joseph had them all stand in the pool together and then step out as they took turns being baptized.

After the baptisms, as some of us stood around talking, an elderly lady approached Pastor Joseph and challenged him with a question, stating that she was an atheist. By the end of their conversation, she seemed much less cynical and even suggested that she might become a believer yet -- perhaps she was a lost sheep (her words).

On our way back to the church, where we were going to have communion, Pastor Tigran asked if we could stop to visit a family in need of encouragement. When we walked through the metal gates (the homes here are generally walled and gated), my mouth nearly fell open. Instead of a house, there were two metal, rusty trailers. In fact, one wasn't even a trailer. It was basically a container with a door and a couple of windows. In this container lives a lovely single mother and her three preteens. They have almost nothing in their home, which is basically one room and a bit of a nook when you first walk in. And yet this threadbare home was immaculately clean and tidy, the children were scrubbed and groomed (and so charming!) and the mother was unassuming and soft-spoken. We were able to offer her a donation and I'm pretty sure I noticed one of her daughters rubbing tears out of her eyes.

When we exited the trailer/container, I couldn't take it anymore and started to cry. This dear woman, whose husband left her several years ago, used to receive help from her father but he is now ill and can't help. She is alone and in dire straits and yet she simply smiled graciously and didn't complain about her lot. Please pray for this woman and her children.

After the communion service, we regrouped at Pastor Tigran's home for supper and fellowship, after which the Yerevan group returned to the city. I've been taking it easy this evening and visiting with Pastor Tigran's family, slowly opening up and definitely practicing my Armenian! The window in my room opens up to the side garden where there are five new beehives. Now and then I can hear them busily buzzing. Earlier in the evening I heard another cow lowing and a rooster give a half-hearted cock-a-doodle. It's so interesting to hear country noises!

We have a few tentative plans for the next couple of days but I'll know more in the morning. Stay tuned for more news from Armenia! Those of you who are enthusiastically following our posts: THANK YOU! I can't begin to tell you how much it means to us that so many people care. God bless you!

I really wanted to share some photos from today but I'm having trouble uploading them. I will try again tomorrow or else post them after I'm back in Yerevan. Thanks for understanding! I'm just glad I have a wifi thingy so I can get online and post this update. :)

Saturday, August 16, 2014

And So We Begin

Good morning! It's 10:30 a.m. in Yerevan and I'm just checking in to give a little report about yesterday's activities.

In the afternoon, we visited an elderly lady named Sveta, along with her family. We were very blessed by our time there. Sveta told us that she prays daily and constantly for our ministry, which was a great encouragement to us. She also shared a few beautiful and affirming poems she's written about Pastor Joseph. We were later able to pray for her and her loved ones.

Later in the evening, Pastor Joseph led a Bible study in a home. The passages we focused on were Matthew 7:13-14, 21-23 and also Luke 13:22-24. We talked about the challenge of walking the narrow road and living holy lives. Two of the young women present asked very poignant questions on the topic and we had a great discussion.

Here are a couple of photos from our visits. You can see more in our Facebook photo album, which will be updated regularly.

We'll be doing a bit more visiting today but our next big event is our visit to Horom tomorrow morning, where we will finally see the renovated church building and reconnect with the precious people we met last year. We are taking with us a suitcase full of clothing, medication, reading glasses, and tracts as well as a communion set we are donating to the church. We will attend their worship service and then Pastor Joseph will baptize four people from the village.

I will be staying in Horom for a few more days while Pastor Joseph returns to Yerevan to do ministry there. We will regroup in Horom on Wednesday and enjoy some fellowship before leaving.

Pastor Joseph and I thank you for your interest and prayers for this ministry and mission trip. We ask you to please continue praying for us. Thank you!








Friday, August 15, 2014

Day 2 . . . or something like that

Warm greetings from warm (actually, quite hot) Armenia!

We left Montreal on August 12 and today is the 15th, so it's our fourth day on the road but really only our second full day in Yerevan and our first day of ministry. The journey from our home to our accommodations here took over 24 hours and we spent part of the next day looking for a new place to stay (the first was simply not going to work for us) and settling in and trying to get some rest.

Today, we're glad to finally be starting what we came here to do! In less than an hour, Arayik Sardaryan, the missionary our church supports and a dear brother who partners with us and brings us to the areas we might be able to help, will pick us up and take us to visit an elderly lady who had been hospitalized for several days and just went home yesterday. She is a faithful servant of the Lord who courageously hands out -- from the front window of her home -- gospel tracts and two devotional books written by Pastor Joseph Hovsepian. We hope to be an encouragement to her this afternoon but I'm pretty sure she will be the one to bless us!

Afterward we will participate in a small group Bible study in a home. We look forward to sharing warm fellowship with others who love the Lord.

We are not 100% sure yet of what we'll be doing tomorrow (likely some more visits) but on Sunday morning we will make our way to Horom, the village I have shared about before. More about that soon!

Once again, we are very grateful for everyone's loving and faithful support, whether through prayers, encouraging messages, financial donations or other gifts. May God bless you all!

At this point, I don't yet have any photos worth sharing but I will take some this evening and will start posting photos and more detailed reports in the next day or so. Actually, I'll just share one photo, the view from my hotel room window, which shows the arched passage that leads to our hotel and the buildings across the street. We're located in the very busy Republic Square section of downtown Yerevan, near several government buildings, a concert hall, the national gallery, and many little shops and eateries.

More from me later!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

We're Almost Ready!

In less than two days, we'll be packed and ready to head to the airport for our long trip to Armenia. Our flight is scheduled to take off from Montreal at 5 p.m. (Eastern Time) on Tuesday and we're supposed to land in Yerevan at 8 p.m. (Armenia time) on Wednesday. That's 1 p.m. Eastern Time. About 20 hours later! Our journey will include a seven-hour layover in Paris, which is why it's so long. But we know God will be with us all the way.

Since we don't have anything to report yet, I thought I'd share a link to a recent post on my personal blog, where you'll find some interesting facts about Armenia and Armenians. If you can't even locate Armenia on a map, this might be for you!

Click here to see the article.

I'll be back pretty soon to fill you in on our Mission: Armenia 2014 adventures. Stay tuned!


Here's another interesting fact: The colours in the image above represent the Armenian flag!

- Ann-Margret