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untitled2Day 9: Our last day in Armenia! We all woke up at the Hotel Ani, sleeping in and having a late breakfast. At around 9:30 we met in the lobby for our last day of sightseeing in Armenia. We went on a tour to Khor Virab, the monastery where St. Gregory was imprisoned in a pit for 13 years. We got to travel into the pit and witness the small space where he was kept captive. Next we went to the holy city of Etchmiadzin, where we went into the museum there and saw all of the artifacts and garments that they had. During this time, we also got a special tour of the pagan grounds underneath the Etchmiadzin cathedral. After our tour, we ate a delicious lunch of monteh and kebabs then returned to Hotel Ani to relax for a few hours. When everyone was rested, we got dressed up once more and went out to a dinner before going to see a concert at the opera house. We sat and had some appetizers, but we were running out of time to get to the performance so we had to cut dinner out until after the show. We then walked across the street to the opera house and saw a 2-hour strings performance there which was conducted by a cousin of someone on our mission trip. The show was lovely and full of passion and after the brilliant performance, we all headed back up for our delayed dinner and some wild and crazy dancing. During this time, we bid our translators goodbye and shortly after headed back to the Ani to pack and get some sleep before the upcoming travelling.
This year’s trip was absolutely amazing. For such a large group, everyone meshed well together and we all became a family; bonded in our faith and in our desire to extend our faith to help others. This trip is a truly enriching experience for anyone because not only do you make friends and meet fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, but you also get the amazing opportunity to share Christ’s love with people who are yearning for help and need to feel His love. I have to say a huge thank you to Dr. and Mrs. Philips for orchestrating this entire operation. It takes months of hard work and many phone calls and they have managed to do it over and over for the past six years, and it is truly amazing and I am blessed that they have allowed me to continue coming back on the trip for the past three years. This trip is always such a privilege and I’m so glad that God has given me this opportunity. I suggest that if anyone has any desire to join next year’s mission team that they contact Dr. or Mrs. Philips because this trip is truly an amazing experience and an incredible journey to take part in. Thank you!

untitled1Day 8: Another day of fun and traveling. We started the day with a half-day of clinic work, which flew by very fast. We saw over 100 patients and reached our goal of seeing 1000 patient(1005 to be exact)! After we saw the last of the patients, we packed up the clinic and loaded our supplies onto a truck to be taken back to Yerevan for next year. After a delicious celebratory lunch and some goodbyes to a few of our beloved translators, we boarded our bus and headed off back to Yerevan. On the way we stopped at Lake Sevan to do a bit of shopping and to walk up to the monastery and check out the gorgeous view of the lake from above. Once we were done admiring the gorgeous setting and doing a bit of swimming (if one was so bold) we got back on the bus and continued on to Yerevan. Upon arriving at Yerevan, we all rested for a bit and then we all dressed up in our finest for our celebratory dinner/party! After about an hour, we all met up downstairs in the lobby and prepared to head out to our dinner. The hotel had a gorgeous restaurant located by a river at the bottom of a gorge. It has several animal cages and a large koi pond which provides a lovely natural setting. We all ate a delicious multi-course meal and then spent some time dancing to the music that they were playing. We all partied and had a blast, then returned to the hotel to crash and burn before our final day in Armenia!

Day 7: Our first full day of clinic in Stepanavan. Our clinic days hereuntitled are like any other, but slightly different due to the layout of the land that we have to work on. Our facilities include a church which is one large room full of pews, an outdoor bathroom, and the AMAA service center across a courtyard from the church. Inside the chapel are the vital signs, urine, triage, and pharmacy stations. In the service center just outside are where the doctors are located. The clinic here can become quite a mess if not managed properly because the crowds are unruly, pushing and shoving to get in (but i suppose we all have a little bit of that Armenian impatience in us). Also, since there are two different buildings and the restrooms are outside,  the flow of traffic can get a bit hectic. Some patients get lost and wander on untitled2their way over to the doctors’ offices and others stop and mingle with other patients who are flowing into the clinic with their urine from the bathrooms. In short, if crowd control is not properly managed, the clinic here can get a bit crazy. Thankfully, we were all able to get the flow down to a dime and we sent hundreds of patients through the clinic in a clean and timely manner. After the clinic, we had our dinner, but instead of going straight back to the hotel, we walked down to the gorge. The gorge is a large canyon that we went on a bridge to cross over and admire. It is a beautiful sight and it is amazing to stop and reflect on the Lord’s work and the majesty of Armenia after a long day of working. After we saw the gorge, we all went back to the hotel. Most people sat in their rooms and relaxed, but a few of us had a different idea. About six of us walked to a nearby store where we bought lavash, nutella, wafers, and M&M’s. At first this seems like a ridiculous mix of good to buy, but it served us a purpose (which some still may think quite absurd). With these materials, we set out the make the traditional (or “we-did-it-once-so-now-its-a-tradition” tradition) Lavash-Nutella cake for one of our group member’s birthday. We brought the materials to the hotel kitchen and began to prepare the cake. We layered lavash and covered them with nutella, then between the layers we stuck rows of small wafer cookies. Finally, we covered the whole thing in Nutella! When the masterpiece was complete, we set it in the refrigerator at the hotel and all settled down for some rest and relaxation before the last day of clinic.

Proceeds from this event will benefit the AMAA’s Orphan & Child Care program. For further information visit the Orphan & Child Care site at AMAA.org

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The Evangelical Church of Armenia in Stepanavan, where we set up our clinic.

Day 6: We woke up in the morning and had our delicious breakfast. We all packed up our bags and brought our luggage downstairs to prepare to leave for Stepanavan. We all put our luggage in the back of a truck and boarded our buses and traveled to the local church (Evangelical Church of Armenia inStepanavan). There, we picked up all the boxed supplies from the clinic, loaded them in the truck, and were on our way to Stepanavan. We traveled for about an hour through the mountains by Vanadzor. Half way through the trip, we entered a long tunnel which emptied us out into a completely different environment: a mountainous forest. Upon arriving at Stepanavan, the first thing that we did was immediately unload the clinic supplies. We quickly set up the clinic and then sat down for a brief but delicious lunch. It was quite an extravagant lunch compared to what we had previously eaten. When lunch finished, there was no time for sitting and relaxing, it was time to get to work. A rowdy crowd had already gathered outside the clinic pushing and shoving to register and enter. We worked half a day and saw about 170 patients during that time. When the final patient was seen and received their medications, we sat down to dinner and afterwards attended the church service there. At the end of the day, we boarded the buses and headed off for our first visit to our new hotel. It was a large complex, with rooms in the hotel and also outdoor apartments. There was one problem though which we all encountered: there was no water! Naturally, this sparked a few complaints, and coupled with the lack of our “guaranteed WiFi.” A few became a bit unruly. We tried to speak to the hotel personnel to fix the issue but they all kept bustling around and running away! Finally, we were able to corral the manager who, in a heated debate, ended up blaming us for turning off our water. It all made sense, of course the first thing one does when they enter a hotel is immediately turn off the entire hotel’s supply of water because who needs water!? Well after a humorous (from our side) conversation, we finally got the water working. At this point, we were all ready to retire for bed. We had a full day ahead of us tomorrow and we all needed to get a good night’s sleep.

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Worship and Prayer time in the morning before starting our daily work!

Day 5: The second day at the clinic in Vanadzor! We woke up in the hotel as before and had the same scrumptious breakfast. Afterwards, we boarded our buses, headed out to the church again, and went through our group worship and morning church service. Then as usual, the clinic boomed up and we went to work. We went through both sessions much more smoothly on the second day, as everyone got to know the flow of the clinic and their positions much better. We worked hard and in turn were very productive. On the first day we saw over 280 patients and on our second day we saw a bit less than 300! When we were done with our second day, we began to pack up the equipment and prepare to move our clinic to Stepanavan tomorrow. We had our dinner but with a slight twist. This time, the pastor and the entire church crew came in and thanked us and sang a lovely song to us to express their gratitude. The pastor also gifted Dr. and Mrs. Phillips a beautiful painting and bible to reward them for their unending devotion to helping the people of Vanadzor for the past six years. When dinner had culminated, we locked up the supplies and boarded the bus to return to the hotel. We all needed a good night sleep because the next day, we were leaving bright and early for Stepanavan and right when we arrived, we were going to set up the clinic and start seeing the patients!

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Some of the members of the Medical Team going to the clinic in Vanadzor for the first day of work!

Day 4: The first day of our medical clinic in Vanadzor! We all had a nice night sleep in the hotel and woke up bright and early to a simple, delicious breakfast of fresh bread, hard-boiled eggs, and cheese. At 8:00 a.m. we all came down and boarded our buses in our scrubs and headed out to the local church (Evangelical Church of Armenia of Vanadzor) where our clinic was set up. Upon arriving, we had our 20 minute daily group worship where we sing a few praises to the Lord and reflect upon our mission and why God had brought us here. Our mission was to touch the people of this town not only physically, but most importantly, spiritually. With that established, we headed into the church for the morning church service where we sang more Armenian hymns, the pastor gave a short sermon, and one of the group members shared a testimony. This was a daily routine in both of the towns we visit. After the sermon, we all went out to our assigned stations and prepared to begin our first day of work! When we were all prepared, the patients began to flow through the doors and were squirming like eager children to get inside the clinic and see the doctors. The patients sat down (or we tried to get them to sit!) and waited for their turn to be directed to the start of the clinic by one of the crowd-control personnel. When it was their turn, they began the clinic at the vital signs station, where we took their blood pressure, pulse, temperature, and blood oxygen concentration. After this, they head to the urine station, where they are asked to “evacuate” into a cup which they then bring back to the station. Their urine is then dipped and tested for glucose, protein, or if the doctors ask for it, a variety of other tests on a much larger dip stick panel. Once these two steps are completed, the patients proceed to the triage station, where the nurses and pre-med students hear and list the chief complaints of the patient and take tests like Hemoglobin A1C if needed. With this information, the patients are sent up to a doctor or practitioner whose specialty best fits their illness or complaint. For example: Dr. Philips sees mostly women who need aid in the field of gynecology, and my father sees mostly patients with complaints about their ears, nose, or throat. Once in the doctor’s room, they explain their illness to the doctor or if they do not know what their illness is, the doctors diagnose it. After this a prescription of medicine is given to the patients or if medicine is not available for their illness, they receive advise on what they should do to take care of themselves. With their prescriptions the patients go and retrieve prescription eyeglasses if they desired a pair, and then wait in line at the pharmacy for their prescription to be filled out and to be instructed how and when to take their prescription and then they exit the church. This is the general flow of the clinic and we do this in two parts each day: a morning half and an afternoon half. The morning and afternoon sessions are separated by a lunch prepared by the church kitchen staff and a short church service like the one in the morning. Once we complete both sessions, our group sits down for a dinner at the church (again, prepared by the kitchen staff) and indulge as we rest from a hard days work. When this is over, we leave for the hotel for the night to get some rest and get right back on it again!

Day 3: We all woke up once more at Hotel Ani to the same delicious American style buffet for breakfast. This time, however, it was more of an eat-and-go, as we had to be at the lobby promptly at 10:00 a.m. with our luggage packed to get on the road to Vanadzor.

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On our way to Vanadzor!

Before arriving at Vanadzor, however, we had two enriching and enjoyable experiences. First off after leaving Ani, we attended a local church (Evangelical Church of Armenia on Bahgramyan St.) service, which once used to be the US Embassy building. Here we sang songs and listened to the various Armenian sermons given and mingled with the Armenian churchgoers. After church, we experienced a real Armenian treat: lahmajoun! We all sat down at a local lahmajoun restaurant and indulged in the rich and zesty flavor of lahmajoun baked fresh in the homeland. It was an enjoyable and filling meal for all, followed by a bit of ice cream if one desired. After our lunch we visited a shelter for orphaned girls aging from 14-18 who have no parents or were left on the streets. Here we toured the facility and learned about the programs that they have to help these girls find a career and support themselves. We met the girls who lived there, learned a bit about them and what they want to do with their lives, and sang songs (both in English and Armenian) with them. It was very fun and interactive for both the group and the girls and left us all with smiles on our faces. The smiles were short-lived however, because now it was off on the road to Vanadzor, a three hour drive through the Armenian countryside in a bus. The scenery was spectacular. We witnessed the transformation of the environment around us as we moved from the urban city, to the country side, to wide open fields, and then into the Lori Valley. Here we witnessed the massive fault lines and geographical formations caused by the massive earthquake that struck the area and the nearby villages. It was a wonderful view of the Armenian countryside and after a beautiful drive, we arrived at Vanadzor. Here we immediately unpacked our bags at the hotel and rushed to the local church to get the clinic all set up for tomorrow. Everyone worked to learn the lay of the land, the flow of the clinic, and set up their stations for work tomorrow. Strong group cooperation and hard work made the task relatively swift, and afterwards we enjoyed a delicious traditional Armenian meal cooked for us by the church staff. When the setup was all done, we returned to our hotel to relax and prepare for the first day of clinic work that rapidly approaches us tomorrow!

Day 2: We all woke up in the Hotel Ani and proceeded to have a delicious American style buffet breakfast. At 10:45 a.m. we met in the lobby and took off for an exciting day of site-seeing around Armenia.

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The girls at the Orphanage/Child Care Center we visited.

The weather was gorgeous and Mt. Ararat’s snowy peak was visible from every site we visited. Our first stop was to the AUA (American University of Armenia) for a private tour of their facilities. The faculty welcomed us and showed us around the school, taking us to various classrooms, telling us about the school’s curriculum and majors, and presenting us testimonies from AUA graduates. It was a very beautiful facility and it was an amazing experience to witness the face of Western education in Armenia working to make a change in the country. Our next stop was a traditional one that we visit each year: the Genocide Monument and Museum. Here we stopped at the memorial and paid our respects to our relatives who were persecuted and died for their beliefs and faith. We received flowers which we all placed around the flame in the center of the monument, a beautiful and emotional sight to behold. After this, we took a tour of the smaller museum, since the larger one was undergoing renovation. We learned facts and saw evidence, books, and propaganda of the Genocide, expanding our knowledge of the most catastrophic event in Armenia’s history.

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Dzidzernagapert – our circle of flowers around the flame at the Armenian Genocide Memorial.

Promptly after, we traveled out of Yerevan and up into the mountainous regions to visit the ancient monastery of Gerhard and the Pagan temple, Garni. We first travelled all the way up to Gerhard, an old monastery built into the side of the mountain. The monastery has two parts: a central cathedral made of exactly 1000 large stones, and a second section that is built of one single piece of stone, the mountain itself. In the main cathedral, we saw the gorgeous architecture of the stone building, large atrium, and a decadent alter featuring Mary and Jesus. In the second part, carved within the mountain, we traversed through caves with walls inscribed with crosses and with running water from which people drank. We followed these caves to a large interior room which we named the “best acoustic room in Armenia” in which, fittingly so, we sang several songs including Hyre Mer. After we had visited all the monastery had to offer and sang our few songs, we headed to dinner at a restaurant lying right at the edge of a huge gorge. The view from the restaurant was breathtaking. We ate outside in an open-air space overlooking the large gorge, and across from us on the left was the Pagan temple Garni, which was our next stop after some delicious dolmas, taboule, and salad.

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Garni Temple

At Garni, we visited the only Pagan temple still left in Armenia. This is because when Armenia adopted Christianity in 301 A.D, all Pagan temples were destroyed except for Garni, which became a summer residence for the Armenian king. Outside the temple were the ruins of the kings palace there and other ruins of an ancient Roman-style bath house. It was a marvelous site to see and it was amazing to think that we were witnessing architecture that was dated to approximately 2000 years old! And that was our day of touring.

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Geghard Monastery

After our ride down the mountainwe arrived back at Ani and took a group stroll down the streets of Yerevan to Republic Square for some socializing and ice cream.

We ended our day with nice company from the locals of Yerevan and with a much desired night sleep after a long day of touring.

 

 

 

ZvartnotzsDay 1: Our first night in Armenia! After 14 long hours on two planes: one from LAX, Los Angeles to Charles de Gaulle, Paris and another from Paris to Zvartnots, Yerevan, the group arrived in Armenia at approximately 9:30 p.m. We all received our visas, went through customs, and finally grouped up with the AMAA’s Representative in Armenia, Harout Nercessian. He welcomed us and we boarded our bus and were off to the Hotel Ani, where we all plopped down for a nice night of much needed rest after travelling.

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