Armenia is a small, nominally Christian country, having adopted Christianity as their national religion in AD 301. The country is land locked by Muslim neighbours: Iran to the south, Turkey to the west, Georgia to the north, and Azerbaijan to the east. Throughout its history Armenia has known many struggles. In 1915 Turkey occupied a large part of Western Armenia including Mount Ararat, and massacred half of the population, then at around 3,000,000 people.
In 1988 Armenia suffered a massive earthquake which devastated three cities including Gyumri, the second largest. Three years later, Azerbaijan went to war with them over the area known as Nagorno Karabach which, in Soviet Union times, was given to Azerbaijan in exchange for oil rights, but historically belonged to Armenia. At that time all trade routes into Armenia were closed, which resulted in great hardship as Armenia is a country with few natural resources. Although there is an uneasy peace now, the cold war still continues between the countries and there are frequent shootings of young Armenian conscripts along the border. The border blockades are also largely still in place making trade and the moving of goods in and out of the country extremely difficult.
I first travelled to Armenia in 1999 to assist brother Toros Pilibosian with summer camps for the children who attended the Sunday Schools which had been started by his father-in-law Levon Yergatian, co-founder of Logos School in Cyprus. In November of that year, Toros and his wife Virginia were commended to the Lords work and moved, with their two children, to start what is now the Gyumri Gospel Hall.
I have returned to Armenia every year since and recently have been able to make longer visits of up to two months at a time. This has enabled me to build up what I believe to be a fairly accurate picture of the progress of the Lords work in the country.
As I mentioned before, Gyumri is the second largest city in Armenia and was badly damaged in the earthquake. Everyone in the city would have lost at least one member of their family, and two thirds of the victims were under eighteen. At that time, brother Levon was exercised to send relief from Cyprus and also started a Christian work in the city. From that, a small group of believers began meeting in a school building in an area called the Austrian Quarter, so named because it was built by the Austrians to house those with family members who had lost limbs in the earthquake. It was here the Lord led Toros and Virginia to set up home. With a great deal of prayer and effort, the Austrian Quarter Gospel Hall was established and the Lord has greatly blessed the work. Over the years the believers have been able to build a very adequate hall with classroom facilities for the Sunday school and the computer classes which serve as an outreach work in the community. Apart from the meeting room on the ground floor, there is a large, first floor room which is used by the Bible class and for outreach amongst the local teenagers. Outreach works of the assembly include a thriving Sunday school with around eighty children attending, and a large Bible class for those who have outgrown Sunday school. The assembly also holds gospel meetings in a soup kitchen in the town where many elderly folks come daily to be fed. Food distribution amongst some of the very poor families is carried out on a regular basis also. Summer camps are still held annually, and this year, for the first time, the assembly was able to get the use of a site in the countryside north of Gyumri and hold the camps "under canvas". Over 150 children came under the preaching of the Word twice daily over the course of three weeks of camp.
There is also a small assembly in Yerevan but it is weak and needs prayer. Allow me to tell you a little of the history of this meeting. About seven years ago, a brother named Hrach started to gather friends and neighbours in his house in Yerevan for Bible study. Hrach and his wife were both saved during a stay in Cyprus and were baptised and received into fellowship there. Their only experience of assemblies therefore was from Limassol, but, unfortunately, during that time they also came under some influence from other Christians outside the assembly. They failed to secure visas to stay in Cyprus and were sent back to Armenia after only two years. The little house group grew and eventually moved to meet in a small room in a derelict building. The small company of believers was very poor and, when an offer to come under the "umbrella" of a large mission organisation came, Hrach gladly accepted it. Sadly, this organisation was not assembly based. After about three years, there was a disagreement between the brethren and the leaders of the mission organisation and they parted company. Since then Hrach, along with two other brethren, Artour and Moses, have been meeting with these few believers and seeking to "gather to the name of the Lord" as the Scriptures would teach. It is important to appreciate that these brothers are all young in the faith and, apart from Hrach, have no experience of assembly gatherings. There are some very dear saints in this little assembly who are faithful in their attendance at all the meetings, but the assembly is very weak. After their split with the mission organisation, they were also saddled with a very large, unfinished building, which they have been advised to sell in order to find more suitable premises for the assembly. They have also recently had some help from brethren both from the UK and Ireland, which is always appreciated.
Recently they have been engaged in an outreach work in one of the villages outside Yerevan where the Lord has graciously blessed with salvation, and some have been baptised. This village work is very encouraging, but I feel it is also important that the assembly concentrate on getting their own meeting established on a firm foundation.
In the Lords will, I will return to Armenia in October and propose having a series of gospel meetings in Gyumri. I will be visiting Yerevan to see what progress they have made and I also hope to visit the area of Nagorno Karabach. Prayer would be appreciated.