‘Really?’ Events Week – Armenia, September 2016

Michael writes:

This was my second visit to Armenia, but my first events week in the country.  It was also the first visit with the new team of MOET Associates.  It has been a very different week in its format, and has included some exceptional opportunities that resulted in significant fruit.

To many people, Armenia is best known for the terrible genocide it suffered just over 100 years ago, and the ongoing conflict with Azerbaijan over the disputed Karabakh region.  The result of these events is that Armenia is a landlocked country that has lost much of its original land, including Mount Ararat, which towers impressively over the capital city of Yerevan but is actually found within present day Turkey.  It also means that two of its borders are closed (with Turkey and Azerbaijan).  Add to this the fact that it is recovering from years of Soviet rule, and it is no surprise that the country struggles financially, with many Armenians moving abroad for work, adding to the already huge Armenian diaspora worldwide.

Despite its troubled history and financial struggles there is another side to Armenia, reflected through its rich cultural heritage. Armenia was the first nation in the world to officially adopt Christianity.  It is still proudly a Christian country with its own national church, and although the Armenian Apostolic church has similarities in style to the Orthodox church, it has been completely independent of it for 1,600 years.  But for many Armenians, especially students, Christianity can mean little more than a national identity, and many have never really heard or understood the gospel.

The IFES work in Armenia is small, with just a handful of students in each group, but they are very active. Especially exciting is its ministry to international students, many of whom have come from India to study medicine.  Although this was my first events week in the country, MOET have had links with the IFES movement for a number of years: two of our MOET team helped pioneer the first events week there fours years ago, and the IFES movement is now led by one of our MOET alumni!

The theme of the mission week was ‘Really?’ (‘Irok?’ in Armenian) and was designed to challenge some people’s preconceived ideas about Christianity, with titles such as ‘Science has buried God – Really?’ or ‘There is no freedom in Christianity – Really?’. Our main aim through these events was to sign up interested people for a weekend camp in the mountains, which we hoped would provide more opportunities to share the gospel and get to know the students.

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At first we were rather discouraged, as the numbers coming to the events during the week were smaller than in previous years.  However, those who came seemed to really engage with the talks, and almost everyone who came to the events signed up for the camp – this included students who we had only just met through flyering, and a large number from other faith backgrounds.  By the end of the week we had 130 signed up for the camp (more than double last year’s numbers), and the vast majority of them were not yet believers!

With such a large number coming from so many different cultural and religious backgrounds (Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and Atheist) we knew the weekend would be a massive spiritual battle, and we were not wrong!  It was one of the most intense experiences I have had, and we experienced a number of significant challenges that were typical of Satan’s tactics.

At first the talks were tough-going, with a lot of distraction, but as the weekend went on the room grew quiet and people’s levels of interest increased.  It was such a joy to so clearly explain the gospel four times from the angles of identity, satisfaction, love and hope, and for each of the team to lead seminars too.  I can’t remember ever having so many people from so many different backgrounds on an evangelistic camp!  God also used the dramas to connect with people – after the drama on the Saturday night many students were in tears.  One student commented, ‘I saw my need for the love of Jesus in a way that I haven’t before’.

A lot of the hard work was done by the team through group discussions, and also informal conversations, some of which went on into the early hours of the morning! Robust debate and serious questions would often dominate discussion, but with each talk there was a sense that hearts were being moved by the love of Christ.  After the final talk on Sunday morning I gave people the opportunity to respond in prayer; wonderfully many did, with a huge number requesting booklets about commitment.  In the conversations that followed, a number of people clearly indicated that they had weighed things up, and really wanted to follow Jesus.

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Praise God for the opportunity we have had, and for the fruit from the week. Do pray for the local IFES team as they follow up each individual over the coming weeks – this is a huge task, and in some ways the work has only just begun.  Do pray that those who have started following Jesus will be used to bring others to him.  And pray for the Christian students who have been inspired and equipped by what they have heard and seen, that they would fearlessly continue to hold out the word of life as they shine out for Christ in their situation.

 

 

 

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