Reflections on Celebrating the AMAA’s Centennial in Armenia

The AMAA’s work during its first century of faith, love, and service leads the Diaspora in the second century toward the homeland of Armenia

By Elise Kalfayan

September-October 2018, YEREVAN and GYUMRI, ARMENIA; LOS ANGELES, CA: Celebrating its centennial, the Armenian Missionary Association of America concluded a global series of events — six of them in Armenia during the last week of September — with a church/community center dedication in Gyumri, then a sold-out banquet in Los Angeles.

The AMAA leadership honored its founders at all its events, and presented a vision for the next 100 years: evangelism, education, humanitarian relief, and youth programs in the homeland. We saw the needs during a two-week Armenia tour organized by the AMAA.

Coming from around the world on Sunday, September 30, 2018, for the dedication of the AMAA Community Center and Armenian Evangelical Church in Gyumri were more than 60 AMAA supporters. Many had joined our tour group in Armenia as this day approached.

The AMAA Centennial celebrations (and our tour) overlapped with the centennial of the First Republic of Armenia (1918), the 30-year anniversary of the earthquake in Gyumri (1988), the 27th anniversary of the new Republic of Armenia on September 21, and just missed October’s 2800th anniversary of the establishment of Erebouni / Yerevan as one of the oldest cities in the world!

The new AMAA building in Gyumri Dedication of Gyumri Centerstood out as a colorful, large and well-built complex. It houses a day center which is one of several the AMAA has modeled on its successful Shogh Day Center in Yerevan. Dignitaries, church members and local residents were present for the dedication. 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.”

image1After a church service of praise and dedication, community leaders, staff and volunteers joined the large AMAA delegation for a luncheon celebration that included heartfelt speeches, dancing, and rousing patriotic and traditional songs. The Evangelical Church of Armenia and Artsakh had commemorated the AMAA’s Centennial one week earlier during a 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!”

Exhibition of Art WorksThe Gyumri celebration was just one of six special events we experienced during our tour. The others were: a concert at the Armenian Evangelical Church of Yerevan; an original play about Rev. Hovhannes Eskijian’s work saving hundreds of Armenian children during the Genocide; an Armenian Evangelical artists’ original art exhibit in Yerevan; a multimedia cultural evening at the Yerevan Opera House; and a banquet, held at the Yerevan Marriott in Republic Square, which drew more than 260 people from around the world.

The concert featured soloists Mareta Antonyan and Armen Avetisyan, violin, duduk and zurna instrumentation, and dramatic recitations in both Armenian and English. At its conclusion, AMAA Executive Director noted that this program set a very high bar for the week of celebrations, and that Armenia can rightly celebrate its greatest natural resource, the talent and creativity of its people.

Playwright / Director Nune Abrahamyan and the Hayasa Theatrical Group Angerl of Salvation Playproduced “The Angel of Salvation” based on genocide scholar Hilmar Kaiser’s book At the Crossroads of Der Zor. Kaiser was present and told the audience, “This play, and your presence, show that the Turks failed!” Martin Eskijian, grandson of Rev. Eskijian and a member of our tour, remarked that he was humbled by his grandfather’s story: “I am deeply grateful to the AMAA and to all the actors and participants that put it together.”

The lovely art exhibit, held at the Yerevan Artists’ Union of Armenia, 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. We saw both on our tour and spoke with their professional staff who lovingly work with disadvantaged children, educating, mentoring, and feeding them, and offering creative as well as academic opportunities.

The cultural evening concluded with composer Eduard Zorikyan singing “Let There Be Good in the World” with a choir of Khoren and Shooshanig Avedisian School students on stage waving their phone 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.

Centennial Banquet in YerevanBanquet Mistress of Ceremonies Sona Khanjian quoted Rev. Dr. Peter Doghramji in her opening remarks, “All of us in the AMAA community take a deep breath, pause 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; who re-established the human ties among the Armenian communities regardless of religious or political affiliation; and who helped in the training of leaders and professionals. Many of us can gratefully call ourselves children of the AMAA.”

TzitzernagapertOur September tour also took us to see Armenia’s ancient past, beautiful countryside, markers of the creation of the Armenian alphabet, and the Tsitsernakaberd Armenian Genocide memorial complex. We experienced the present, and we can share in the dreams of Armenia’s future. Our tour group, with members coming from more than five Armenian Evangelical churches in the U.S., saw first-hand the AMAA’s work to be thankful for and to support while we were there. Armenia at this time is looking to the future with great hope, and the AMAA’s legacy of faith, love, and service has produced excellent fruit that is nourishing the new generation.

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