In the Homeland of Armenia, Celebrating AMAA’s Century of Faith, Love, and Service
By Elise Kalfayan
The peaceful morning bus drive from Yerevan to Gyumri for the dedication of the new AMAA Community Center and Church on Sunday, September 30 was a time of reflection and joyful anticipation. This would be the last of six major events during the AMAA’s Centennial in the homeland of Armenia, all taking place within a week.
The AMAA leadership honored its founders at all the events, and presented a vision for the next 100 years: evangelism, education, humanitarian relief, and youth programs in the homeland.
Multiple buses and vans carried AMAA board members, supporters, volunteers and staff; Armenian Evangelical pastors from Armenia as well as the Near East, the Americas, and other unions; and AMAA Tour members to Gyumri. We joined a large complement from Gyumri gathering in the courtyard of the colorful, large complex.
Following a short performance by the Center’s dance students, Director Karen Manukyan and Gyumri Armenian Evangelical Church Pastor Aram Babajanyan welcomed guests and dignitaries. Gyumri Mayor Samvel Balasanyan congratulated the AMAA and praised the Center as a spiritual, educational, and cultural center that will enrich the lives of residents. AMAA President Dr. Nazareth Darakjian said, “We hope that this will be a community center where people from all walks of life, from all persuasions and affiliations, young and old, will come to meet each other, build friendships, understand each others’ problems, and extend a helping hand whenever someone needs it.”
Benefactors Drs. Nazareth & Ani Darakjian unveiled the building plaque. Hratch & Helga Sarkis were present and honored with a plaque for Hratch’s dedicated supervision of the building project and as major donors of the project. We were invited inside and room plaques were unveiled to reveal their sponsors. Present on the occasion were room sponsors Ken & Thelma Churukian Kevorkian, Dr. Michael & Wendy Churukian, Rev. Ara Guekguezian (representing also Knar Guekguezian), and Michael & Any Yacoub-Barr.
Day Center crafts instructors were in classrooms to show children’s work in weaving, embroidery, painting, and wood carving. After the tour, the church was filled to capacity for a service of praise and dedication. Armenian Evangelical pastors from around the world participated. The service began with a video of Armenian Evangelical congregations in Armenia, the Near East, and the Americas all singing “How Great Thou Art!” We had been celebrating the AMAA’s past accomplishments, we were joyful about its future work in this beautiful new building, and the video told the story of the present: congregations around the world united in faith, love, and service.
Union of Armenian Evangelical Churches of the Near East President Rev. Mgrdich Karagoezian preached in English on I Kings 9:1-9, in which God tells Solomon after he finishes building the Temple that blessings come with conditions of faithfulness and obedience. Pastor Aram Babajanyan in his message dwelt on the example of Jesus Christ’s compassion for the needy, and called on the community to follow God’s call as a church. Armenian Evangelical World Council Executive Director Rev. Dr. Vahan Tootikian delivered a prayer of dedication for the new center and church. Others speaking included Sam Ganimian, a representative of Gyumri’s sister church in Fresno, CA, Pilgrim Armenian Congregational Church.
Afterwards, community and church leaders, staff and volunteers joined our large AMAA delegation for a celebration luncheon that extended throughout the afternoon. We talked, danced, enjoyed rousing patriotic and traditional songs, and listened to a few short and heartfelt speeches as well.
Sunday Preview from the Pulpit
The previous week, the Evangelical Church of Armenia and Artsakh had conducted a thanksgiving worship service in Yerevan, with AMAA Executive Director / CEO Zaven Khanjian present. On that occasion, he said, “Our founders wanted to rebuild churches on Armenian soil. We came to Armenia and built churches just as our founders imagined. We have an independent Armenia, a dream of the generations who survived the genocide. God has given us a mission to be a light of illumination and faith in this dark region. Together with the mother church we will continue!” His speech in the church set the tone for the six events that followed.
Musical Ensemble of Armavir Church
On September 23, the Armenian Evangelical Armavir Choir gave a concert at the Armenian Evangelical Church of Yerevan. Soloists Mareta Antonyan and Armen Avetisyan sang spiritual, national, and folk songs. Each song was eloquently introduced by two women, one who recited in Armenian and the next in English. The prefaces offered thanks for the AMAA and its founders, expressions of love for the homeland of Armenia, and praise to God. They perfectly expressed the connection of each piece to the day’s theme of thanksgiving.
Said Zaven Khanjian after the concert, “Though Armenia is not rich in oil or other minerals, the invaluable capital of our country has been and remains human potential. There is bright evidence of it here tonight.”
The Angel of Salvation
Tuesday, September 25, Playwright / Director Nune Abrahamyan and the Hayasa Theatrical Group produced “The Angel of Salvation,” based on Rev. Hovhannes Eskijian’s work during the Armenian Genocide rescuing hundreds of children from deportation as they passed through Aleppo. Genocide scholar Hilmar Kaiser’s book At the Crossroads of Der Zor contains the history and was the basis for Abrahamyan’s script. Kaiser was present and told the audience history shows humanitarian missions in the Near East during the Armenian Genocide began with Rev. Hovhannes Eskijian and Armenian Evangelicals.
After the moving drama, AMAA Executive Director / CEO Zaven Khanjian said, “Many Armenians born in Aleppo had parents who were saved by Rev. Eskijian. We remember our other Armenian Christian heroes as well: Aharon Shirajan, Hrant Guzelian and others who saved the lives of thousands of children so they could rebuild and serve our nation.”
Martin Eskijian, grandson of Rev. Eskijian, read the words of Jesus in Mark 8:35, “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whosoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.” He told the audience that John Minassian, who as a young boy was Rev. Eskijian’s underground courier in Aleppo, visited his family later in life. “His visit made the stories I’d heard very real for me.”
Surprised as she was called to the stage, Martin’s wife Effie Tootikian Eskijian graciously spoke of those who helped her family survive and remarked that all Armenians have similar stories. Every seat was full and the audience was completely engaged with the play and the personal remarks that followed.
Later, Martin Eskijian commented, “Nune Abrahamyan did an excellent job of making the book about my grandfather into a play. We were deeply moved by it; the book came to life, and I could picture my grandparents who I never knew. I am deeply grateful to the AMAA and to all the actors and participants that put it together. It was a humbling event, to watch a play honoring the work of my grandparents.”
An exhibition of artworks by Armenian Evangelical artists, held in the Yerevan Artists’ Union of Armenia building (at Charles Aznavour Square), was the third Centennial event. Artist Vrej Kassouny was the exhibit curator, and Astghik Zeynalyan the designer. The opening was well-attended and covered by local media. AMAA Armenia Representative Harout Nercessian noted, “Armenian Evangelicals, wherever they are, focus on art education and upbringing, and contribute to the discovery and development of the new generation’s aesthetic capacities by creating favorable conditions for them.” He sited the Shogh Day Center and the Khoren and Shooshanig Avedisian School as examples.
Cultural Evening: “A Century of Faith, Love, and Service”
The Yerevan Opera Theatre is walking distance from Republic Square, and its entrance was jammed for the AMAA Centennial program on Friday, September 28. AMAA Armenia Press Manager Andranik Mardoyan welcomed the full house, which included invited dignitaries, and read congratulations from many organizations.
The program featured a ballet directed by Harutyun Semerjyan, interpreting the story of creation, the fall, the evil of the Genocide, and the hope of salvation and new life, and an accompanying video by Rafael Khachatryan. The Spendiaryan Opera and Ballet headed by Armen Grigoryan performed the dance sequences. These alternated with video segments showing AMAA’s founding, history, and projects in Armenia and around the world; and a solo of “Crane” by Gomidas, performed by Mareta Antonyan.
The finale featured composer Eduard Zorikyan singing “Let There Be Good in the World” with a choir of Khoren and Shooshanig Avedisian School students. The singing students took out their phones, and starting waving them as flashlights. The audience responded by lighting phones and waving them back. The whole Opera house lit up with warmth, inspiration and reflected love, a bright and fitting response of engagement with the message and mission.
AMAA Centennial Banquet in Yerevan
Held at the Yerevan Marriott, Republic Square, the AMAA Centennial Banquet in Yerevan drew guests including many Armenian government, NGO, and ecumenical dignitaries, as well as celebrants from around the world.
Mistress of Ceremonies Sona Khanjian opened the banquet with a quote from Rev. Dr. Peter Doghramji: “All of us in the AMAA community take a deep breath, pause a little and look back at all those exceptionally gifted leaders and their associates, who wiped the tears from the eyes of a bereaved nation and proclaimed by Word and Deed, the Good News of Jesus Christ; who rebuilt the churches and schools; re-established the human ties among the Armenian communities regardless of religious or political affiliation; who helped in the training of leaders and professionals. Many of us who are here tonight can gratefully call ourselves children of AMAA.”
Among other presentations, Avedisian School graduate and now AUA student Lucine Mnatsakanyan introduced Avedisian School Principal Melanya Geghamyan, who was honored for her service at the highly regarded AMAA school. Popular singer Gaby Galoyan entertained the audience with rousing traditional and patriotic songs.
In his remarks, Executive Director / CEO Zaven Khanjian characterized the dedication and spirit of the AMAA’s work in Armenia: “The AMAA sowed indiscriminately. It sowed in the collective and diversified furrows of the nation. It sowed abundantly and generously even beyond the borders. The AMAA sowed without an expectation in return, with no demand or condition, without pomp or circumstance. It sowed in the spirit of ‘Cast thy bread upon the water, trusting it is not in vain.’”
All these events in Armenia, ending with the dedication of a beautiful new church and community center in Gyumri, celebrated the vision of the AMAA’s founders and succession of leaders. In its second century, the AMAA is clearly dedicated to the homeland of Armenia, which looks to the future with hope. The AMAA’s faith, love, and service has produced excellent fruit that is nourishing the new generation. §
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