We’ve had a longer stop in Armenia than in our last few stops—long enough to get irritated by a few things (really only a very few—smoky restaurants topping the list), and long enough to come to treasure many more things, and many people as well. Here are a few of the treasures we’ll miss as we leave:
Erebuni: The site of the original settlement that became Yerevan, discovered in the 20th century when it was dug up by Soviet construction crews. Cuneiform inscriptions dated the founding of the settlement to 782 BC. We were amazed (even perhaps a little shocked) to get a chance to walk around this archaeological site so freely. The museum is well guarded, with people in every room while you view the unearthed treasures and inscriptions. But the fort with 28-centuries old stonework was deserted when we clambered over the walls and looked out over the city.
Ever-Flowing Water Fountains: To our drought-stricken California eyes, the water fountains of Yerevan seem almost scandalous. You don’t turn them on; they are just bubbling up constantly, usually with cold, fresh water. Armenia is blessed with abundant water and with deep springs throughout the land. Traditionally, these fountains are given by families to a neighborhood in honor of a beloved relative.
Dancing Fountains: Another fun water treat in Republic Square, at the center of the city, is the near-nightly display of colored lights, classical music, and dancing water fountains. (Click on the headline for a better photo than we took...)
These Two: The IFES student ministry here is blessed with a gifted, committed team of staffworkers and volunteers. Armine ("ar-me-nay") and Knarik ("k-nar-ik") are the two we got to know the best, in part because their English is excellent and they often served as our translators, as well as our hosts. They are wholeheartedly giving their energy to reaching students here in every imaginable way, from Sports Clubs to English Clubs to Armenian Club (for international students), to leadership training and discipleship for those already following Jesus. We’ll miss them!
And These Two: Pete and Schell were more of a surprise. Almost everywhere we go, we focus on IFES, but remain open to meeting remarkable people from who teach and inspire us. We hope we can encourage them in some way as well. Though we did attend one Armenian-language church service, we chose to attend Yerevan International Church all three Sundays. Pete and Schell invited us to dinner after the first service, and we were impressed with their story of faithfully responding to the call of God to come and build a Young Life Camp in a beautiful valley outside Yerevan. We went out to the camp with them and got to see the ‘before’ picture. It is a former Young Pioneers camp—this is where youth during the Soviet Era were indoctrinated into communist principles, including atheism. What an amazing story of redemption it will be when youth from all over the former Soviet Union, not just Armenia, can come and learn about God in this gorgeous setting. If you would like to spend a week helping bring that dream to reality next summer, please let us know—we may just do that ourselves in late June!
Mikael: When we think of hosting, we usually think of someone cooking a meal. I’ve come to think of Mikael as the most amazing host who never cooked us dinner. We first met him at 3:30am when he came to pick us up at the airport, made us comfortable in his bed, and then set himself up on the living room couch, where he has insisted on sleeping for the past three weeks. As an economics professor, he doesn’t have a lot of time for cooking, but in every other possible way he has welcomed us into his home and his city. From supplying us with an in-country working phone, to calling us between his lectures to see if we were feeling better on a day we left the house a bit sick, to eagerly hearing about our days at the end of his long ones, Mikael has truly gone out of his way to welcome us. We are happy that in Kathrin he has found someone to marry who is both beautiful and a match for his brain power!
Yerevan International Church: Where else but this church does one get invited to a wedding by a couple one has met for all of two minutes? Where else have many of the Indians who’ve come here for medical school found a home, and a place where they can invite fellow Indians to an Alpha course? The Indians don’t dress this beautifully every Sunday; they are decked out here for the wedding. Rich preached at the church on our third Sunday, and we found ourselves wistful we couldn’t stay longer and jump in to join all the good things happening at this church.
We leave Armenia with hearts full of affection for the people, with awe at its long and fascinating history, and with a longing for God to bring renewal to a nation that has been inoculated by a nominally-held Christianity and by and large rejected paths to more vibrant faith.
Rich and Lisa Lamb