N.C. Baptist Men - Armenia partnership blooming
March 20 2003 by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor

N.C. Baptist Men - Armenia partnership blooming | Friday, March 21, 2003

Friday, March 21, 2003

N.C. Baptist Men - Armenia partnership blooming

By Tony W. Cartledge BR Editor

The small nation of Armenia, bordered by Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan and Georgia, claims to be the oldest officially Christian country on earth - declared by its king to be a Christian nation in 301 A.D., 11 years before Emperor Constantine issued a similar decree over the Roman Empire.

Why, then, is N.C. Baptist Men (NCBM) involved in a mission partnership with the Evangelical Baptist Christian Union of Armenia (EBCUA)?

It is because the state church has lost track of its roots, according to Asatur Nahapetyan, who is general secretary of the EBCUA.

Speaking of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Nahapetyan said church teachings do not call for repentance and faith. Church leaders rely on the Apocrypha and sayings of "the Holy Fathers" rather than the Bible, he said.

Tradition holds that Thaddeus and Bartholomew, two of Jesus' disciples, brought the gospel to Armenia in the 1st century. The church did not flourish, however, until the late 3rd century, when Gregory the Illuminator, after years of imprisonment, led King Tiridates to Christ. The king appointed Gregory as Armenia's official evangelist with the title "Catholicos."

Tiridates declared Armenia to be a Christian nation, but some early pagan traditions, such as animal sacrifices, came into the church and are still practiced, Nahapetyan said.

Baptist work in Armenia is young, but blooming. In 1991 there were only two Baptist churches in Armenia and just three in 1993. But with the fall of the Soviet Union, a new climate of religious freedom and the emergence of youthful, energetic leaders such as Nahapetyan are changing the religious landscape. Now there are more than 100 Baptist churches in the mountainous, poverty-ridden country.

Nahapetyan is like many other young men who were deeply involved in drugs, gangs and petty crimes before the breakup of the Soviet Union and the dawning of religious freedom. Hungering for something more, he turned to Christ. Despite his youth, the 27-year-old showed such zeal that he was elected as the first general secretary of the EBCUA in 1998.

Nahapetyan sought a seminary to train church planters, and in 1999, the International Mission Board (IMB) provided $25,000 toward the construction of a classroom building in Ashtarak, near the capital of Yerevan.

But that was the last financial support granted by the IMB, which now has other priorities, Nahapetyan said. An IMB couple is currently assigned to Armenia, but they do not work through the EBCUA. "They wanted to plan our strategy and tell us what to do," said Nahapetyan, "and I said, 'No.'"

The partnership between Armenian Baptists and N.C. Baptist Men was sparked when Lynn Buzzard of Campbell University invited John Rogers, pastor of First Baptist Church of Asheboro, to visit the country and teach a class at the seminary in May 2001.

Rogers was impressed with Nahapetyan, whom he described as "young and enthusiastic, a man of vision, desiring to see his people - to see his nation - come to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ."

Rogers invited Nahapetyan to visit North Carolina in the fall of 2001, and introduced him to Richard Brunson, director of NCBM. Brunson was also intrigued by the needs and opportunities in Armenia. He and NCBM international partnership director Robert Stroup visited Armenia in January 2002, talking with Nahapetyan and other church leaders. With their encouragement, the NCBM board approved a three-year partnership with the EBCUA.

The partnership has three primary elements designed to meet specific mission needs requested by the Baptists of Armenia.

The most pressing need was living space for students attending the seminary. Mission teams working through NCBM financed and began construction of a three-story dormitory in 2002. The building, recently dedicated, provides housing for the 53 students now enrolled in the seminary.

A second need is for church planters. Because of the extremely depressed economy in Armenia, church planters can get by on about $150 per month. Partnership leaders are seeking individuals or churches to support Armenian seminary students or other ministers willing to work as church planters. Sponsors are asked to make a two-year commitment at $150 per month. Eleven sponsors have signed up so far. The goal is to have 20 or more.

The third aspect of the Armenia partnership involves church construction, but rarely from scratch. Unlike Baptist leaders in nearby Ukraine, who requested large and elaborate buildings that were difficult to finance and complete, Armenian Baptists have asked for help in purchasing and remodeling homes or small businesses for rapid conversion into small church facilities.

Of the more than 100 churches in Armenia, only 11 have buildings, according to Nahapetyan. N.C. Baptists converted three existing buildings to church facilities in 2002, and many more are needed. Because the housing market is very depressed, existing buildings can often be purchased for $4,000-6,000, and renovated for an additional $4,000. Partnership leaders are encouraging N.C. Baptist churches to adopt a specific project and provide both funds and a mission team to assist in providing meeting space for the young Armenian congregations. While some team members are working on the building, others can lead Backyard Bible Clubs or do other outreach activities in the community.

N.C. Baptist Men provide coordination of all travel needs and arrangements for mission teams, with the total cost for travel and in-country expenses at about $1,600 per person, Brunson said.

For more information about the Armenia partnership, contact NCBM at (919) 467-5100, (800) 395-5102, Ext. 335 or maberna@bscnc.org

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3/20/2003 11:00:00 PM by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor | with 0 comments
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