Our Armenia Bloggers departed Yerevan not quite a week ago: jet lag is fading, we're returning to normal life … but we're all changed by our experience.
Take a look at some photo/video highlights from our trip and see what inspired us, what moved us, and how together we're already making a difference for the wonderful people of this beautiful country.
After flying into Yerevan, we spent our first day there before driving north to Gyumri for the week. Near Yerevan, we visited Etchmiadzin Cathedral (left below). Constructed from 301-303 AD, it is considered the oldest cathedral in the world! As you can see, it is in the process of being restored today, and still serves as the mother church of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
That afternoon, we also visited the Armenian Genocide Memorial, located on a hilltop outside of Yerevan with a view across the whole city. We lay pairs of tulips around the eternal flame, paying respect to the Armenians who died almost a hundred years ago. April 24th of this year marks the centennial.
On our first day up north, we drove out from Gyumri to Amasia where we met Aida and her family, shown below.
"Even though World Vision is just beginning to establish a presence in their region, Aida's family and the others in her village will eventually benefit from all that sponsorship offers: parental training, agricultural training, nutrition programs, child protection, Sunday school, and economic development opportunities for the parents. The good news is that ... Aida's family has already been identified as extremely vulnerable and will be given help in the meantime." (Read "A Mother-Woman")
Even in this new World Vision community, where our programs are still getting started and where winter and poverty are still bitterly felt, there was hope last week. Of Aida's seven children, two already had World Vision sponsors … by the end of our trip, we had found loving sponsors for the other five!
On Saturday, we had the opportunity to meet the children we sponsor! This is 2-year-old Hovhannes. (You can sponsor a boy like him in Armenia here)
I love that this photo is a little blurry: it's that way because Hovhannes has so much energy and confidence! He spent our lunchtime mostly walking around the cafe, playing with the other children, with no shyness, just having fun. This little boy is going places! His mother, who trained as a nurse but can't find work now, wants him to be a doctor. His father, who spends 7-8 months each year working construction in Moscow, wants him to be a singer and piano player.
My hope for Hovhannes and all of the children in his community is that they may grow up in a new generation that no longer misses the socialism that once provided jobs and infrastructure; that no longer dread the long, cold winters and worry about how to heat their homes; and that will have the opportunities to become a doctor, a musician, or whatever other dream he has, and that the winter poverty we experienced last week won't get in the way.
We learned an Armenian blessing: "May you go like water" – meaning both that life may flow smoothly, but also that you will be able to break through any barriers in your way. This is my hope for Hovhannes!
During my visit with his family, my translator was a young woman named Zaruhi. We'd met her the day before: "We just met a young professional woman who introduced herself saying, 'I'm a success story!' She is a product of World Vision's well-established program in the Gyumri region" (Anna). Zaruhi's journey with World Vision began as a sponsored child, led her to attend our Christian summer camps and then work for the camps as a facilitator, and now she is on staff with World Vision Armenia!
On Sunday, we attended an Armenian mass at the Cathdral of the Holy Mother of God in Gyumri.
Throughout our visits with families in Gyimri and Amasia, we were giving them hats and sweaters that had been hand-knit by people in the United States for them, which we had brought with us. The photo on the left shows one of Aida's children putting on his sweater. On the right is 13-year-old Suren, who we met on Monday and who is an active participant in World Vision's youth programs in Gyumri. The day after, when we visited his Sunday School choir, he ran up to me and showed me that he was wearing the hat, so I snapped this photo!
On our last day in Gyumri, we visited Tehmineh's family, shown below with her youngest of two boys, Arman. They had lived in a temporary shack, with no water or bathroom. But a youth group comprised of teenagers that have grown up in World Vision's sponsorship program – "the World Vision generation" – raised money to buy an apartment for Tehmineh's family!
"I felt that the world was presented to me," she said about receiving the apartment. Now they can stay warm and clean, and her boys will be able to attend school.
On our last day in Armenia, we returned to Yerevan where we took a short trip outside the city to Geghard Monastery, which was built in 1288. There, a group of women sang Armenian hymns and folk songs acapella in one of the stone chambers, where echoes last for 18 seconds! Take a look:
And though the skies remained hazy throughout our short time in Yerevan, we did catch a glimpse of "the mountains of Ararat" (Genesis 8:4) where Noah's ark came to rest after the flood.
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We met so many more amazing people in Armenia, these are just a selection of the incredible stories we heard of how World Vision has or is about to transform their lives. Check out what the members of our blogging team are writing about our trip:
Addie Zierman: "You Don't Have To Care About Everything"
Amy Bellgardt: "Zhanna Exists"
Anna Whiston-Donaldson: "Meh News, Very Good News, Great News!"
Benjamin L. Corey: "Dear Rick and Becky: I Hope You Get To Read This One Day"
Jarrid Wilson: "The Problem With a Breadless Gospel"
Juli Wilson: "True Joy Comes From God"
Matthew Paul Turner: "Yesterday, I Met Some of the Most Vulnerable People in the World"
Give a child in Armenia a second chance! Sponsor today.