In addition, language was a bigger barrier than we had anticipated. I did pretty well with the Russian (Cyrillic) alphabet, but the Armenian one, with its 39 letters, has me beat. Guessing at the letters does little good: notice how the two letters that look like a t here are variations on an e sound, the u is an s, and the s-looking letter…what else? A t sound.
I was starting to ‘walk the red line,’ as we say in InterVarsity cross-cultural training. This phrase comes from our visual teaching tool on how we respond to cross-cultural experiences—if we take the green path, we will appreciate, inquire, extend ourselves, and persevere. The red line is a path of judging and isolating. Here is the diagram we use to show various responses to what we call “The Inevitables” of cross-cultural living:
So, though the start was rocky, Armenia has steadily grown on me, and God is powerfully at work in this land. A few highlights:
Hearing Kenell Turyan, a distinguished astrophysicist and deeply committed Christian who was briefly in town, lecture on the evidence for a good Creator in our finely tuned universe. Armenia has a fairly large number of Indian medical students, and the IFES group (and the International Church in a strong partnership) has reached out really well to them. They brought many friends, and the room was packed. At dinner afterwards he regaled us with jokes and inspired us with stories of faithfulness during hard times under Soviet oppression of faith. It was truly a privilege to meet him.
- Views of Mt. Ararat, the mountain where traditionally Noah’s ark came to rest. The mountain has been within Armenia over many centuries of its history; sadly it is not now. A leader of the nation which currently holds it asked, “Why do you have Mt. Ararat on your flag? You don’t own it?” The Armenian replied, “Why do you have the moon and the stars on your flag? You don’t own them!” Great response.
- Joining the Indian student leaders’ team meeting to lead a Bible study on relational evangelism and then listening in on their strategy session about how to engage their fellow Indian students even more effectively. They are smart, witty, and passionate, and their staff-worker is doing a fantastic job.
- Meeting with the staff team to talk about the challenges and delights of leading as women (the staff team is currently all female, though they have some promising male student leaders) and then strategizing with them about how to shape fellowships that attract guys.
- Meeting with the pastor of the International Church of Yerevan and hearing amazing stories of God’s work in and through him as he and his wife have built a healing community here. Rich will preach at this church Sunday, October 19.
We have several more sessions ahead with the Armenian and Indian students. This Saturday is the School of Servant Leadership, for new leaders. We will also lead sessions at the weekly leader’s meeting for each group next week, and will continue to meet with the gifted and deeply committed staff team to encourage them in a time of transition and some needed rebuilding. But our schedule is decidedly lighter than in some places, which has given us time to prep for some future events, and also to see museums that help us understand the proud history of this nation, as well as its painful history of genocide, an event which the US has not acknowledged nearly as well as it should, due to our political alliance with the nation that perpetrated it. Learn more here:
The sheer length of the nation’s history is an archaeologist’s dream: we saw the world’s oldest shoe yesterday! Looks a little like my tennis shoes after a recent hike in Latvia….and I’m guessing its owner had some tougher journeys than last Saturday’s misadventures described above. I’ll leave it at that.