Armenia - Lusine Melikyan (now 20) was seventeen - just graduating from secondary school - when she read an announcement that World Vision was inviting volunteers to be leaders at the Christian Summer camp. It was here that Lusine changed her approach and feelings for the church. For the first time ever she had an opportunity to be part of devotions and Bible interpretations.
She decided at camp to volunteer to help the church in promoting Christian values.
Lusine Melikyan (now 20) was seventeen - just graduating from secondary school - when she read an announcement that World Vision was inviting volunteers to be leaders at the Christian Summer camp.
“World Vision is highly regarded in Berd town where I live. I had no hesitation that it would be a great experience for me to join the camp. I doubted though that I would be selected among many volunteers,” recalls Lusine.
“We are very curious while selecting leaders for camps and have certain criteria according which we engage new people. World Vision takes responsibility for children and only very devoted people can be appropriate; we were pleased to see that Lusine met all the requirements,” clarifies Karen Tsovyan, a point person for Christian Commitments at Tavush Area Development Programme.
Christian Summer camp was the starting point for Lusine to change her approach and feelings for the church. For the first time ever she had an opportunity to be part of devotions and Bible interpretations, the understandable and clear language used to create interest among children in the classes attracted the mind of the teenager as well.
“I already had applied to the History Department of the Ijevan Branch of State University. The first Christian class I attended made me realize that I was almost unaware of the Christian history of Armenia, my knowledge about the Bible was also very limited,” remembers Lusine, confident now in her knowledge. “The knowledge I was gaining was taking me to more important end – to faith,” she continues.
Through faith Lusine gained harmony, something she lacked in her early childhood.
As with many of her peers born in Berd town, Lusine grew up facing hardship and loneliness. Berd is some 210 km far from the capital Yerevan and borders Nagorno-Karabakh. When the armed conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno Karabakh* started, the population of Berd and surrounding villages were affected by the conflict drastically, as many men went to the army as volunteers.
The region surrounded by low and very picturesque mountains full of incredibly rich flora traditionally specialized in growing fruit, tobacco and other plants. Winemaking, beekeeping and granary were also well-developed industries here. However, after the Soviet collapse which followed the conflict with Azerbaijan almost all fruit and vegetable processing factories stopped operating and farmers lost their incentive to further invest in the land, resulting in unemployment and an economic downturn.
“My childhood coincided with the very hard [time] for the country. I slightly remember the shootings but instead have clear memories when everyone was talking about the deaths and war,” recalls Lusine. “Women had hard time to feed their children, food was so scarce,” she continues.
Lusine had a difficult childhood, partly because of the political and economic aftermath of the war
Lusine had a difficult childhood, partly because of the political and economic aftermath of the war, but also because her father Hrachya (28 the day he died) was assaulted by thieves and killed. Lusine was only three years old.
“My father was a good sportsman, and many describe him as a very well-built man. Being confident in his strength he decided to protect himself and didn’t reach home anymore,” tells Lusine with sorrow.
Karine, Lusine’s mother, a young nurse, struggled to look after her two young daughters, with help from her parents, Hrachya’s family, their neighbours and friends.
Karine did her best to fend for her daughters. “We were participating in those rare activities that were happening in the town. I was attending handicraft club and my sister Ophelia was involved in the piano classes,” tells Lusine. “Later piano classes helped Ophelia become a student of the State Colleague of Dance. Now she lives in Yerevan for her studies… My aunt kindly invited her to share the apartment with her. It is due to my mother’s courage that Ophelia’s dream came true,” explains she.
Her aunts and uncles tried to give the girls exciting summer holidays. “After the marriage one of my aunts moved to Echmiadzin city, which is the religious centre of all Armenians. The Mother Cathedral is located there and many other miraculous churches; it was a quite distinctive environment for us. My aunt was regularly taking us to the church to participate in the liturgy and to light a candle,” evokes Lusine.
The Armenian Apostolic Church is one of the original Oriental Orthodox churches established back in 301. About 95% of the Armenian population is Orthodox Christian.
Though Armenia is decorated with hundreds of amazing churches and temples which are masterpieces of architecture and are exclusive works of arts, there are no churches in Berd.
“I knew I am Christian but was never questioning myself what being Christian means, the rare visits to the church in St Echmiadzin were not enough to feel the spiritual emptiness,” confesses Lusine shyly.
When Lusine was young she was enrolled into the sponsorship program at the newly founded Evangelical Church. The church provided financial support to her family, which helped. But she was never moved enough to join into any initiatives organized by the Church. “I was receiving some financial support which was a relief for my mother. She was usually spending this money on the stationary which is pretty expensive in Armenia. I knew I could join some initiatives organized by the Church. It was not compulsory and for some reason I was not open to that,” shares Lusine frankly.
Only years after when Lusine joined World Vision’s Christian Summer Camp did she change her perceptions and priorities in life. “I didn’t yet know that there is no life without the God and faith,” says Lusine.
“I was very much encouraged to learn together with children”
She became a leader in a camp that World Vision organizes for children from vulnerable families. Who if not Lusine could sympathize with children who were deprived of basic needs or have difficulties at home.
At camp, Lusine met representatives of the Evangelical and Armenian Apostolic Churches, who were leading the Bible classes for children.
“I was very much encouraged to learn together with children,” says Lusine. She couldn’t imagine that very soon she would be teaching others about different parables from the Bible and would be spreading the word of Jesus among children and youth.
“Among children who were attending the camp there were few who had psychological complexities and were not accepting any adult as their leader or elder friend. I witnessed how the Christian classes and Bible reading were changing them completely, making them both tolerant and self-confident,” explains Lusine. “I missed my opportunity to be present at the initiatives offered by the Evangelical Church when I was little and really regret for that.”
Lusine’s life was full of importance, meaning and joy after she returned from the camp. “I feel more loved and cared now. Children and their parents keep calling me to find out how I am, other camp leaders also keep contact, I gained so many true friends,” says Lusine, unable to hide her happiness.
She decided at camp to volunteer to help the church in promoting Christian values. First thing she did was join the youth group.
“Brothers and sisters were teaching me how to pass my knowledge to young people for several months before I became more or less ready to do my first service,” tells Lusine.
Now Lusine is a student at the university, doing well in her classes. But this does not stop her from volunteering at the church and teaching kindergarten and school age children what she learned from others.
Her job is to spread the Lord’s word through spiritual songs, parables, games and performances on Christian topics. She tells that children love the Witnessing the most: “They openly tell whom they have offended, whom they forgive. Children give their reason of being insulted and try to analyze their deeds.”
“Children love the activities we do, those who attend the Church are more balanced, organized and have higher level of concentration,” observes Lusine.
Lusine dreams of going back to Berd after she graduates from the university and working as a teacher of history. She also plans to continue her studies and get a master’s degree through distance learning. Her personal life is also important to her; she hopes to have two children.
"I will continue helping the Church as much as is in my power"
“Sometimes I castle in the sky and have many wishes and dreams. But one thing is clear: I will continue helping the Church as much as is in my power,” concludes Lusine.
* The Nagorno-Karabakh war was an armed conflict for independence of the country that took place from February 1988 to May 1994, in the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh in southwestern Azerbaijan, between the majority ethnic Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh backed by the Republic of Armenia, and the Republic of Azerbaijan. As the war progressed, Armenia and Azerbaijan, both former Soviet Republics, entangled themselves in a protracted, undeclared war in the mountainous heights of Karabakh. The enclave's parliament had voted in favour of uniting itself with Armenia. During the referendum the vast majority of the voters voted in favour of independence.