Raleigh Biblical Recorder, NC
July 2, 2004

Into Armenia: N.C. Baptist partnership bearing fruit
By Tony W. Cartledge
BR Editor

YEREVAN, Armenia - Sweet apricots that spring from Armenia's volcanic
soil are considered the "queen of Armenian fruits." A hard freeze in
early spring decimated the crop and made Armenian apricots a rare
commodity this year, but spiritual fruit is flourishing across the
country.

Three years into a partnership with the Evangelical Christian Baptist
Union of Armenia (ECBUA), North Carolina Baptist Men can point to a
number of significant achievements, including major improvements at the
Theological Seminary of Armenia in Ashtarak and the planting of several
new churches.
The physical and financial contributions of volunteers working through
N.C. Baptist Men have played a major role in recent progress, according
to Asatur Nahapetyan, who serves as general secretary for the ECBUA and
as rector of the seminary. Nahapetyan is hopeful that the partnership
will remain strong, and that many more teams will come and assure
Armenians that "we are not alone."



Pastor Slavik Vartanyan uses a chess club as an outreach tool through
the church in Agarak.
Armenia is a crossroads country, pinched between the southeastern
fringe of Europe and the northern edge of Southwest Asia, with a
culture distinctly flavored by the Middle East.
The Republic of Armenia wraps around the eastern end of Turkey, with
which it has poor relations and a closed border. Armenia claims the
massive mountains of Ararat, now in northern Turkey, and continues to
harbor ill will from ancient conflicts and a Turkish genocide of
Armenian peoples that led to a million and a half deaths during World
War I.

When Armenia was forcibly attached to the Soviet Union shortly
thereafter, Stalin apportioned parts of the country to Azerbaijan. As a
result, lands claimed by Azerbaijan now lay both east and west of
Armenia. The mountainous region of Nagorno-Karabagh remains contested,
though it has been under Armenian control since a fierce war following
the breakup of the Soviet Union in the early 1990's.
The republic of Georgia lies to the north of Armenia, and Iran to the
south. Armenia has good relations and open borders with both countries.


Despite its setting among predominantly Muslim nations, Armenia is a
largely Christian state, taking pride in being the first nation to
openly declare Christianity as its official religion. Tradition holds
that an early evangelist named Grigor (or Gregory) the Enlightener was
imprisoned in a pit for many years by the Armenian king Tiridates the
Great. After miraculously surviving the pit, Grigor converted
Tiridates, who declared Armenia a Christian state in 301.
The official church, to which most Armenians nominally give allegiance,
is the Armenian Apostolic Church - so named because of an ancient
tradition that Thaddeus and Bartholomew, two of Jesus' apostles,
evangelized the area in the first century. Church rituals are similar
in some respects to the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches, but
it exists as an independent entity, presided over by a pope-like figure
called the "Katholikos."

Armenian evangelicals believe the Apostolic church has wandered from
the path of authentic Christianity, maintaining practices such as
animal sacrifices. Church teachings do not call for repentance and
faith, said Nahapetyan, who attended the country's oldest Apostolic
church as a boy. And, he said, church leaders rely on the Apocrypha and
sayings of the "Holy Fathers" at the expense of the Bible.
Baptists in Armenia number about 6,000, according to Nahapetyan, not
counting children and regular attenders. And, the Baptist movement is
growing. While another Protestant seminary in the area could not
recruit enough students to justify an incoming class, the Baptist
seminary has a waiting list for potential students.

A class of about 20 students graduated June 26, and most of them are
already working as church planters.
When leaders of other church organizations ask Nahapetyan what is the
secret of Baptist success in Armenia, he replies "The Holy Spirit and
the Great Commission."

Planting churches in cities like Yerevan is easy, Nahapetyan says.
Armenian Baptists hope to start ten new churches in Yerevan by 2010,
though most previous efforts have focused on establishing churches in
outlying cities.
The hardest part of planting churches in Armenia is finding financing
for the church planter and for a place to meet. The nation's economy
suffered devastating losses following a massive earthquake in 1988, the
breakup of the Soviet infrastructure, economic blockades, energy
shortages, and bad weather in the early 1990's. Armenia is now on the
rebound, but remains a very poor country with an unemployment rate of
about 20 percent and an average annual income of less than $3,000.

As a result, churches may take ten years or more to become
self-supporting, Nahapetyan says. In most parts of the country, church
planters can survive on less than $200 per month, hosting the new
church in their own apartment or in rented facilities.
N.C. Baptist Men is asking churches to enter three-year partnerships
with new church planters with contributions that vary from $150 per
month in the first year to $90 per month in the third. Twenty churches
currently support such partnerships, but more are needed.

Buildings are relatively inexpensive by American standards. In the
cities of Sissian, Hrazdan, and Armavir, individual N.C. Baptist Men
have purchased unfinished buildings for use by new Armenian churches.
Work teams are needed to help finish the buildings and make them
functional. A large residence was purchased in the strategic city of
Agarat, near the Iranian border, needing only minor modifications to
remodel it for church use.
In some cases, a building can be purchased and readied to serve the
needs of a small church for about $10,000.

N.C. Baptist medical/dental teams have ministered in poor areas of the
country, and more teams are needed. Work teams are also needed to do
evangelism or lead Vacation Bible Schools, according to Jim Burchette,
who is president of N.C. Baptist Men and coordinator of the overseas
partnership efforts. Such programs routinely attract more than 200
children.
Through travel arrangements brokered by N.C. Baptist Men, the cost for
individuals to participate in a mission trip to Armenia is about
$1,600. Most airline itineraries call for overnight flights, offering
the bonus of a day to explore European cities like London or Vienna
while en route.

Armenia is a land of warm and open people, many of whom have never
heard a clear gospel message of salvation through faith and a personal
relationship with Jesus Christ. Volunteering for mission service offers
more than a chance to sample a new culture and the flavor of exotic
foods - the distinctive taste of doing missions in Armenia can be both
enriching and addictive.