The Joy of this country lies in crooked smiles, passionate eyes and tan, wrought skin.
Our bus is many things: a place of worship, a place to sleep on our drives to rural regions, a cafeteria, even a time machine. As we exit Yerevan once again, we see the buildings go from tall and modern to older and shorter. The roads narrow and more hills come into view. We are fully immersed in the countryside now as we stop at the famous Mesrob Mashdots dedication for a photo opportunity with our initials in the Armenian alphabet. As we pose with our letters–several individuals are smiling next to “ayp”–Ari catches a small fish in a nearby pond with a piece of fishing line, a bobber and a hook that he brought specifically for brief moments like this. We climb back onto our rolling travel wagon until we reach Abaran which houses the most amazing supermarket and bakery. Our cameras click as we watch the workers cut fresh dough into round shapes and dive into a “Toner” oven, placing them to bake. Some of us buy “hats” larger than two of our faces. Like true Armenians, we get excited by the bargain–200 tram or 50 cents in American currency. As we step back on the bus we pass around our warm, fresh bread then doze off before reaching the Evangelical church in Vanatzor. Here we are greeted again by hospitable individuals who provide another spread of food, enough to feed 50 grown men. Here, eating is somewhat of a daunting but delicious task; many of us have realized that any pound gained on this trip is well earned. In every corner of this land, we are connected to individuals we meet in three major ways: mutual loves of Christ, food and futbol. It’s no surprise the boys and a few of our girls join the church youth in a competitive game in the gymnasium, after we eat. After some time, we take another group photo to add to our collection and hop back on the bus.
We’ve now left to visit another Evangelical church in Shiragamud and some families of this small village.
Step off the bus. Breathe deep. Do you smell it? Manure. Walk a little further and Anthony points out chickens running between cottages. Hear water flowing in a small canal to your right only to be interrupted by a cow singing a song. This place lacks the luxuries of city-life but that makes it all the more beautiful.
It wasn’t always like this though. We pass a cemetery and Badveli points out grave markers for young children. We then wake up to December 7, 1988, and the earth shakes. We tip-toe around the dirt, careful not to step in cattle “leftovers” or trip over stones. The flowers and farmed plants are in full bloom. Today the sun shines and there is a cool breeze, but imagine this day in harsh December. Tread along this road in harsh snowy conditions. Watch your step as you navigate through crumbled homes looking for loved ones.
This village is still recovering from the earthquake devastation from 27 years ago. Only three years ago did the government build houses to replace those that fell. We met with families who were living in temporary tin houses until two weeks ago when they could move into these homes. To see the church standing here, though, amongst some of the poorest living conditions is somewhat of a relief. Here the building stands just as God’s love stands firmly. Let the earth shake, God will not be moved.
The smiles are crooked because good dental care doesn’t exist in this region. We come across many with other health conditions. These eyes have witnessed destruction, injustice and loss. The skin is tanned and wrought from working in the small fields in order to provide food to eat. As we travel through this place in our monstrosity bus, people stop their activities and look to see the small commotion. We are outsiders, but our love is mutual. We grieve at the thoughts of December 1988, and still it unfair for these are just thoughts to us but a tangible past to others. Those children were not our children. But this history is our history also, and these people belong to the same Kingdom. We must tell their story for it is our story too.
Dear Lord, make this Joy, our Joy.
“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Romans 8:18
July 18, 2015