By Rev. L. Nishan Bakalian
For most people, the word “miracle” connotes something unexpected or incredible. But for those who believe in Jesus Christ, that word indicates that God is at work in the world, pointing minds and hearts to His mercy.
This year, the 96th Annual Meeting and the related activities of the Armenian Missionary Association of America (AMAA) were held in the picturesque San Francisco Bay Area from October 15-18, 2015, hosted by the Calvary Armenian Congregational Church.
The theme, “100 Years – The Miracle of Survival,” brought to the fore the remembrance of the Armenian Genocide, along with the dedication and sacrifice made by so many who strove to rebuild the life of the Armenian people, reconstituting the churches, schools and communities decimated in 1915. Yet today’s war in Syria and its deleterious effects on the fabric of our people, particularly in Syria and Lebanon, show us that the same determination and the same trust in God is demanded of us in these days.
Appropriately, the AMAA meetings were preceded by the gathering of the Armenian Evangelical World Council (AEWC). The Council heard reports of activities, which included participation in the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide commemorative events in Armenia and the Diaspora. It also heard about the blessings and challenges faced by our communities in various countries.
The 96th Annual Meeting was held on Saturday morning. AMAA President Dr. Nazareth Darakjian presided over the Meeting, which was attended by over 90 members. Delegates of Armenian Evangelical Churches, Unions, Armenian Evangelical World Council, AMAA Committees and affiliated organizations shared their reports, their joys and concerns and praised God for another successful year.
Making his presentation to the AEWC meetings on Thursday, the AMAA Board meeting on Friday, the Annual Meeting on Saturday, and especially as the Keynote Speaker at the Banquet that same evening, Rev. Haroutune Selimian, President of the Armenian Evangelical community in Syria, spoke eloquently about the volatility of the situation there. He listed the challenges that Syrian Armenians are facing on a daily basis, and how God is equipping them to meet those challenges, with the support of the AMAA and other partners.
With over 250 in attendance at the San Francisco Airport Marriott Waterfront, the AMAA Annual Banquet was truly a celebration of thanks and an acknowledgement of God’s miraculous hand over the last century. Banquet Chair Valina Agbabian eloquently welcomed the guests and presented the Master of Ceremonies Dr. Jerry Manoukian. Dr. Manoukian brought warmth and humor to the event, which included a new video presentation on the AMAA’s work throughout the world.
Through the words of the Keynote Speaker Rev. Selimian, the power of God was evident, even in the midst of trials. But the faithfulness of God was also highlighted at the Banquet, with the honoring of all the past Executive Secretaries and Directors of the AMAA: Rev. Mihran T. Kalaidjian (1919-1921), Rev. Andranig A. Bedikian (1921-1928, 1929-1930, 1943-1946), Rev. Manasseh G. Papazian (1928-1929), Rev. Dr. Yervant H. Hadidian (1930-1934), Rev. Nishan Begian (1935-1943), Rev. Puzant H. Kalfayan (1946-1959), Rev. Edward S. Tovmassian (1959-1968), Steven Y. Mardiguian (1968), Rev. Dr. Giragos H. Chopourian (1969-1987), Rev. Dr. Movses B. Janbazian (1987-2000), Andrew Torigian (2001, 2003, 2005-2009), Rev. Jirair M. Sogomian (2001-2003), Rev. Dr. Peter Doghramji (2004), Levon Filian, (2010-2013), and Rev. Mgrdich Melkonian (2014). The record of each one’s service was read by the current AMAA Executive Director/CEO Zaven Khanjian and President Dr. Nazareth Darakjian. Most touching, though, was the presence of the descendants of many of those servants of God, alongside the more recent leaders being honored. As each received his or her symbolic gift, the attendees visibly saw the connection the AMAA has with those saints who have entered the Lord’s promised rest from their labors. It was truly a moment of gratitude to God and a rejuvenation of our connectedness with each other.
During the Banquet, Margo Gulesserian, Arpi Haleblian, Ronnie Henesian and Gloria Medzian were also honored for their over 25 years of service as founding members and Chairs of the Friends AMAA Peninsula Chapter. Executive Director/CEO Zaven Khanjian challenged the members of this group to incarnate the Friends of AMAA Peninsula Chapter and continue their valuable service through the AMAA for the benefit of our children.
This uplifting weekend culminated in the Worship Service in the Sanctuary of the host Church. The President of the Union of Armenian Evangelical Churches in the Near East, Rev. Megrditch Karagoezian, spoke about how the Lord helps us in the “Absolute Imitation of Christ.” The newly-appointed Minister to the Armenian Evangelical Union of North America, Rev. Berdj Djambazian, outlined “Purpose-Driven Unity,” and helped us to see how the body of Christ is diverse, not restricted by uniformity.
The Church choir and instrumentalists enriched the Worship Service with their music, and the Executive Director of the AEWC, the Rev. Dr. Vahan Tootikian, brought the service to its culmination with the installation of the newly-elected AMAA Board members. The host Pastor, the Rev. Nerses Balabanian, also remembered the names of pastors and laypersons active in the support of the AMAA who had passed away during the last fiscal year.
All of this is just one small part of the miracle that is ongoing in God’s world. He will open our eyes to the evidence of His work in the past and present, and give us the resources to continue in the future to be a blessing to many, and a beacon of hope to the Armenian people.