An eternal flame burns at the convergence of twelve concrete slabs in Yerevan, Armenia—part of a monument in remembrance of the Armenian Genocide. The other portion of the monument, towering next to the the flame, is a 144-foot / 44-meter pillar, a symbol of national rebirth.
Built at the half-century anniversary of the genocide, the monument, whose name Tsitsernakaberd means “Citadel of Swallows,” is a two-fold symbol of hope for the Armenian people: first, the eternal flame represents the inextinguishable spirit of Armenians. The mention of swallows invokes a bird which always returns to the location of her nest—even if her nest has been destroyed.
On April 24, 1915, the centuries-long persecution of Armenian Christians reached its height as the Ottoman Empire rounded up and began killing Armenian Christian intellectuals in Constantinople. Those Armenians not murdered by killing squads were forced into death marches across the Syrian desert. By 1922, the attempted genocide ended, and the number of Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire had dwindled from 2 million to 338,000.
Today, the centennial of the Armenian Genocide resonates with Eurasia Community by virtue of Armenia’s location within our 44-country definition of Eurasia. Yet more important is the fact that it is the ancestral homeland and current country of calling for some of our workers, the Petrosyans.*
Seyran,* Tasha,* and their four children have been ministering within Armenia’s borders since 2012. Unlike so many expatriate laborers in a foreign country, they bear a unique connection to the people—one that was forged in blood:
Seyran’s father’s family survived the Armenian genocide, enduring a forced march from western and northern Turkey to the death zones in Syria, eventually ending up in an Armenian refugee camp in northern Iraq.
Decades after his family’s relocation to the United Kingdom and then the United States, Seyran felt the Lord calling him back to the land of his ancestors.
He reflects, “God has confirmed for my family and me that our entire lives before we came to Armenia were a vital season of preparation and training for this critical time. He has engraved on our hearts the central truth of our faith: that everything we do as Christians, within the Church or without, must be done with the purpose of sharing the love of God with the unreached and the unsaved. In making His will known to us, God has identified the nation of Armenia as the place where He wants our family to serve in furtherance of this purpose. Our spirits have been stirred and revived by the national Church in Armenia, and our hearts have been pierced by the opportunities and challenges presented by this ancient land.”
Upon moving to Armenia, the Petrosyans learned that Armenians are feeling the stirrings of change for their nation. In 2004, God gave a prophetic vision to the wife of one of Armenia’s leading pastors:
“When I was praying for Armenia,” she says, “I had a vision. Armenia, represented by a lion, was standing on a high and brilliantly lit mountain, surrounded by darkness. Next to the lion was a cage with doors open. I understood that the lion had just come out of the cage, and that the Lord was preparing the lion for an important task.
“The Lord said: ‘Armenia is my lion, and I have let him out of his cage to train him and to send him to hunt. See how sharp his claws are—and how ready they are to tear into his prey. See how sharp his eyes are—and how he can see his prey from afar. His heart is full of courage, and he fears nothing. When I send him to hunt, no obstacle will stand in his way. Distance is nothing for him. I myself have trained him, and he is already preparing to leap into the midst of the darkness.’”
Armenia, where Noah’s ark landed and human life was renewed upon the earth (Genesis 8:4, 9:19), became the world’s first Christian nation in 301 A.D. Since then, because it dared to be a Christian nation in a non-Christian part of the world, this small country, at the crossroads of Asia and Europe, has endured an unbroken history of persecution by surrounding nations and empires. In 1915, in the first genocide of the 20th century, more than 1.5 million Armenians were killed for their Christian faith by the Muslim Ottoman Empire. Throughout the centuries of oppression, Armenians stood firm in their commitment to Christ.
With their blood-soaked history and Muslim neighbors, one would naturally expect Armenia’s church to keep a low profile. Instead, the church sees that God has preserved Armenia as a lighthouse for Christianity in a sea of Islam. The church recognizes its unique role on the front line of the battle for souls—as a springboard from which the gospel can be launched into the surrounding darkness and spread throughout the Middle East.
An army of Armenians is stepping forward to be trained to carry the gospel into the surrounding nations, and the Petrosyans are working with the Armenian church, which is passionate about its role in the Great Commission, to train generations of Christian leaders.
This past October, the Petrosyans launched the Armenian Bible College program, the first accredited baccalaureate-degree program in Bible and theology in the history of the country. So far, 65 students are enrolled, receiving training first to strengthen the Church within Armenia and then to train laborers to go into the neighboring countries caught in the grip of Islam.
The Petrosyans reflect, “We thank God for protecting Armenia in a cage all these years until He was ready for it to fulfill its purpose—as a lion unleashed into the surrounding darkness.”
From its blood-bathed beginnings to its future as a lion banishing the darkness, Armenia stands at the brink of history: its people intend to disperse once more—only this time, by choice—to initiate a spiritual homecoming throughout the surrounding nations.
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Note: This entry contains excerpts from the Petrosyan family newsletter as well as significant portions of the article “Small Church, Big Mission” appearing in Our Big Dream magazine and has been re-published with permission of the authors.
*Names changed to protect their identity.
Our Big Dream magazine, pp. 16-17
“World War I- Refugee camps – memory.loc.gov”. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
“Near East relief the mother and children in syria” by en:American Committee for Relief in the Near East – from usa gov site.