News Articles

10/7/97 Gospel advances in Armenia; Baptists give helping hand

RICARDO, Texas (BP)–The former Soviet republic of Armenia lies thousands of miles and 10 time zones from the Lone Star State. But Baptist volunteers from Texas repeatedly go the distance to advance the gospel there.
“The Lord, beyond a doubt, took us there, and beyond a doubt, beyond any plans we could know, the Lord has directed us and taken us from point to point where he already had prepared people to hear the gospel,” said Don English, pastor of Ricardo (Texas) Baptist Church.
“We’ve come away from every trip amazed again at how God had taken us there.”
English began working in Armenia after meeting an Armenian in Ukraine, where English was under appointment at the time by a Baptist church in Seattle.
Near the cradle of Christianity, many Armenians identify with a state church, which stems from the Eastern Orthodox tradition. In Armenia’s mountains, pockets of Yezedi Kurdish cults worship the sun and believe in reincarnation. This nation, at war with its Muslim neighbor, Azerbaijan, needs the truth and peace of Jesus.
New Baptist congregations — house churches — have taken root as Kurds in the mountains have accepted Christ as Savior, reported John Hilliard, an International Mission Board volunteer and minister of missions at First Baptist Church, Alice, Texas, and pastor of Mission Bautista Esperanza, Tecolote, Texas.
Young Armenian Baptists, attending a well-hidden church in Yerevan, the capital city, tug at fulfilling their new vision to evangelize their nation as they break from lingering fears of communism. Much of their effort involves discipling new Kurdish believers as their outreach continues to multiply, Hilliard said.
Southern Baptist work in Armenia began on a snowy day in Lugansk, Ukraine, in 1994. English noticed a family tromping by his seven-room mission house. He couldn’t ignore the man, his wife and their 3-year-old child and infant, so he invited them inside, out of the cold. The Armenian man and his family had flown into Lugansk but a hotel had denied them a room.
As the man and his family left the mission house, they told English, “Please come to our country.” Julia, an Armenian friend, arranged for English, volunteer Shelly Southerland of Alice, Texas, and two Russian interpreters to fly to Yerevan.
“We didn’t have a clue what to do,” English recounted. “We just went with our eyes and ears open, seeking the Lord, and the Lord began to open doors.”
After a few days, the group met a young Baptist man. The man accompanied English as he preached in the streets, in a church which met in a theater and in house churches in villages.
Since that first trip, English has returned to Armenia every six months as an International Mission Board volunteer. With financial help from First Baptist, Alice, he is joined always by Hilliard and Hilliard’s wife, Martha, and sometimes by Southerland.
In October, the volunteers plan to return for their seventh trip. Karolyn Southerland, Shelly’s mother, will join them.
The volunteers and young Armenian Baptists visit Kurdish villages throughout the mountains, showing a “Jesus” video on a 13-inch television. Hundreds of villagers will pack into a room to watch the two-hour film on the small screen, Hilliard said.
On one trip the volunteers delivered money, the gifts of several Texas Baptist churches, to purchase a four-wheel-drive vehicle to make access to the snowy mountains easier. The churches support Armenian Baptist work in other ways, too.
Texas Baptist Men are diving into the project as well, sending a man of Kurdish descent on the next trip, targeted for Oct. 20. The group will assess the need for food, medicine and new churches, said Bob Dixon, executive director of Texas Baptist Men. Texas Baptist Men plans to help IMB volunteers and Armenian Baptists meet these needs.
Hilliard truly believes God has great plans for Armenian Baptists, who remain geographically surrounded by Muslim nations. “I’ve told the Armenians, ‘How do you think you stayed here, independent of all the Muslims all these years? I think it’s for this very day. Here you are, you can build Christianity here, and you’re a window to all the Muslim countries.
“‘I think God has done it intentionally. There’s no way you could have stayed away from them otherwise.'”
Southern Baptists interested in joining the growing work in Armenia through the International Mission Board can call Hilliard at (512) 664-7318, or the International Mission Board’s Volunteers in Missions office at 1-800-888-VOLS (8657).

    About the Author

  • Julie McGowan