We had a great time ministering to pastors and wives in Armenia! We have hosted 31 conferences since our beginning and this one ranks in the top five.
Bob Burrows, a pastor, Bible teacher, and businessman, from Reno, Nevada, along with his wife Chris, a prayer warrior, true woman of God, accompanied Connie and I to Armenia. We were hidden away in the mountains, about an hour’s drive outside of Yerevan, not far from Mt. Ararat. The ski resort had 48 rooms and it was filled with couples on a first come-first served basis. We had 96 in attendance. They were a most interesting group.
One of my favorite people was a pastor who was heavily burdened with guilt over having served in the military as a sniper and now bore the weight of having killed a number of bad guys who had been killing innocent women and children. He wanted to meet with us and find some healing that he hadn’t found through time with fellow pastors. We took him through passages like Roman 13:4 where Paul warns the evil doers with the words: “He (government authority) is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he (government authority) does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.” We assured him that he was God’s minister avenging the evil. As we worked through some of his concerns you could literally see his expression go from one of heaviness to joy and relief. We laid hands on him and prayed with him.
The next morning, for the first teaching session (and for the duration of the conference), he sat on the front row and took notes with a huge smile on his face. On the last night, as we were having a “romantic” dinner with our wives, someone came up behind me and wrapped his big arms round me and gave me a bear hug. I turned to see who it was and there stood the Armenian sniper with a big grin on his face! The change in his countenance was remarkable!
Another pastor wrote, “We thank God for you, for teaching us how to lay a good foundation in marriage. There was a miracle in my life; I gave up smoking. I used to smoke 2 packs a day, but since coming here I haven’t smoked even once. Besides, we were truly in God’s protection.” (Arman and Maira) None of us had even referred to smoking. This was the work of the Holy Spirit. We are always amazed and delighted to see how God uses His word to speak to so many varied needs. There were four different denominations that came together in unity, a first for that country in many ways. Many believe that this is the beginning of the reality of Jesus’ prayer in John 17 that his disciples may be one.
This was also the 100th anniversary of their genocide in which a million and a half Armenians were slaughtered. Bob took note of that in one of his teaching times which was very much appreciated by Ruth Kupeian, on staff with Women Aglow. She wrote: “I especially appreciated how they showed such deep respect for the history of our nation and how Bob asked forgiveness for not knowing about the Armenian Genocide and forgiveness for the fact that the government of the USA until today has promised but has not yet recognized the events of 1915 as genocide.” I wonder how many of you are aware of that horrible time in Armenian’s history.
Ruth had some further insightful words on the conference: “Again, like two years ago, I have to thank you for the wonderful conference which was made possible by your wonderful team (all the people that gave and served behind the scenes) and Bob and Chris and Connie and Steve. It is a wonderful work you do, and a very special call to serve the Body of Christ by serving the pastors, church leaders and their wives. I know that all who participated were blessed and touched by your testimonies, messages and sharing from your hearts, and your willingness to be open and vulnerable as an example to a cultural group which is so concerned about the opinion of others, saving face, and appearances. You teach by example, and this is the most powerful means of ministry and very much needed in Armenia, as we have a great lack of examples to follow. This is all the more true for pastors and leaders. As you could see from some of the reactions, pastors and leaders are not always very open to show appreciation and affection toward their wives. But these conferences are effective in bringing about change, or at least allowing them to see other possibilities than what they have seen. I think it is especially important that you all work as a team, and that Connie and Chris also took part in teaching. This is also leading by example. I appreciated how you are openly affectionate when you speak about your wives.”
One more brief paragraph comes from pastor Samvel and Satik Avdalyan from the Church in Zoravan, Kotayq region: “We’d like to thank those who organized this conference, the financial supporters and especially the speakers for feeding us with the Word of God and giving us more and more spiritual food every day. Each of the messages revived in us new feelings and a new love for God. May you be blessed for being a blessing to us and encouraging us to strive for higher heights.”
We heard testimonials of troubled marriages experiencing some healing, and also testimonials from those who were about to quit their ministries and give up, but were encouraged to stay the course. Some were dealing with sin in their lives. We stress purity and holiness and appropriate conduct toward the opposite sex, which is often Satan’s greatest weapon to bring a pastor down. Others were dealing with addictions. Bob and Chris wrote: “We were blessed to be able to watch our God minister to the couples in attendance. They were very open to the teaching times and interacted with us both during and after the sessions. Many had questions and wanted the team to pray with them over various concerns in their lives, marriages and ministries. There was a wonderful sense of unity among the attendees who came from several different denominations. We were greatly blessed to be part of the experience.”
God truly did a great work. Many of the couples were young and eager to learn. This was the first time for many of them to have any time with their spouses alone. They could not stop expressing their appreciation. Our ministry is to encourage and equip them. We provide the accommodations, food, and sometimes help with the transportation, so that we can spiritually nourish them for 5 days. We are blessed to have supporters like you who are not only giving financially, but also praying faithfully. On behalf of nearly one hundred spiritual leaders in Armenia who will never be quite the same, we say “thank you,” and remember that “my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” Philip. 4:19
Please be in prayer for our next scheduled conference the end of July. This will be our fifth conference in Malawi, Africa where one Bishop, with no formal training, and his son Enock have planted over 700 churches in Malawi and Mozambique. There will be 700-1000 pastors and wives in attendance. To God be the glory, great things He has done, is doing and will do, through you.
Pastor Steve, Connie and the SSI Board: Dr. Bobby and Carole Limmer, Lannie and Melba Green, Dr. Keith Eyre, Stuart and Lee Anne Hendry, Tom and Barbara Chandler