“Will you come again?” This is the question that I and my team were asked constantly as we visited villages in our country’s beautiful but difficult eastern border areas* from April to June. As we drove many hours along narrow, winding roads, I kept pondering this question, feeling the responsibility to not leave these isolated people alone but to help them fill their days with God’s Word.
Our visits were part of the ‘Moving Gospel’ project, which gathers communities in remote villages to read and discuss the Parables of Jesus and other stories from the Gospels. And as we sat with men, women and children – sometimes outdoors under a tree, sometimes in dilapidated school buildings – it struck me that this is similar to how Jesus’ listeners would have experienced his words!
Many are refugees
Although they live in the midst of breathtaking beauty, among mountains, fruit trees, lakes and fields scattered with poppies, the villagers’ lives are hard. Many are refugees who fled their homes in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh and still feel the pain of their loss. They also feel doomed to becoming refugees again because many are having to leave the area to find work elsewhere.
Others feel isolated and marginalised, struggling to make a living and to understand their purpose in life. The brokenness and despair of these communities is reflected in some of the villages, which are full of half-ruined buildings and broken windows. Very few of them own Scriptures or know much about Christianity, and there aren’t many active churches in the area.
Unsurprisingly, as we began to read the Scriptures together, the villagers had many questions: “Why do we suffer?” “Who is God?” “Why did he create us?” To answer these questions we naturally referred to the Bible – Job, John, Genesis, the Parable of the Sower, the Good Samaritan… The human mind alone is unable to answer these searching questions.
Everywhere we went we gave out Scriptures and encouraged people to set up regular Bible reading groups, using a Bible reading plan that we provided. We went back to the villages regularly to help them and were enthusiastically welcomed each time.
Surprised us with his biblical knowledge
In one village, made up entirely of refugee families, 12-year-old Garnik told us that he reads the Bible often and surprised us with his biblical knowledge. He told us that the Parable of the Sower was his favourite and explained, with great insight, what it meant. We gave him a Scripture called ‘Wisdom of the Prophets’, and he said he would read it with his younger brothers.
In the Tavoush region, Father Aram Mirzoyan has wholeheartedly embraced the ‘Moving Gospel’ project and told us that he will continue it even when we move onto other regions. His car is his office, and he travels everywhere to share God’s Word. He takes delight in the natural beauty of the area but loves his people even more.
I’ll never forget the sight of Father Aram sharing the Gospel with a large crowd under a huge spreading tree in a schoolyard. People of all ages arrived out of breath, anxious to not miss out on a single word of Scripture. It felt like the Sermon on the Mount!
Feel cared for and secure
It has been wonderful to hear what a difference these Bible readings and discussions are making to people living in this tense region. A school director said that he and the whole community felt enriched by what they were learning in the Bible, and that the regular visits had made them feel cared for and more secure despite the tensions of living in the border area.
Siranoush, a young girl who recently won a national poetry prize, told us that “lots of things I didn’t understand were revealed to me, including that you should love your enemies and be merciful, as God is merciful.”
I feel so blessed to have had this opportunity to read and share God’s Word with these beautiful people living in such difficult circumstances. I can’t stop thinking about them and pray constantly for them, in the faith that God will greatly bless them.
“Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8)
*Armenia and it’s eastern neighbour, Azerbaijan, have been locked in a bitter territorial dispute for two decades.