Armenia is a small country nestled between its much larger and predominately Muslim neighbors of Iran, Turkey and Azerbaijan. Situated at the crossroads of Eastern Europe and Western Asia, it is a nation with a unique and varied history, including a Christian tradition that dates to the apostolic age.
Sometimes referred to as the land of Noah, due to its proximity to the mountains of Ararat, Armenia’s population is 94 percent Christian (Armenia Apostolic Church). The Armenian Apostolic Church is a non-evangelical church with considerable influence inside Armenia. Only two percent of Armenian Christians are evangelical.
Surrounded by large Muslim countries and largely void of evangelical Christianity, Armenia needs the gospel of Jesus Christ. North Carolina Baptist Men (NCBM) is working hard to get the gospel to this country through its partnership with the Union of Evangelical Christian Baptist Churches of Armenia.
The partnership began in 2003 with an initial focus on construction. Through the coordinating efforts of NCBM, churches and associations from North Carolina began sending construction teams to Armenia to build church buildings for Armenian Baptists. The construction teams supplied the funding and labor that Armenian Baptists lacked to complete such projects.
The church buildings provide a public meeting place where Baptists can gather instead of meeting in private homes. Jim Burchette, NCBM Armenia Partnership Coordinator, said Armenian homes are not considered suitable for worship. “Most Armenians will not worship in a home. Most are too small and it’s against the social norm. They like to have a building where they can go to worship,” he said.
Another initial focus of the partnership was financial assistance for Armenian church planters and students at the Theological Seminary of Armenia. The seminary graduated its first class of 17 students in 2001.
Vacation Bible School is one of the most common ways North Carolina Baptists help in Armenia, a partnership with N.C. Baptist Men that began in 2003.
Financial assistance from North Carolina Baptists has enabled more than 300 students to graduate from the seminary since 2003, including 100 students from a Muslim country.
Asatur Nahapetyan, General Secretary of the Union of Evangelical Christian Baptist Churches of Armenia and Director of the Theological Seminary of Armenia, is grateful for the support from North Carolina Baptists and believes the partnership has sparked revival in Armenia.
“We are so thankful for the partnership with North Carolina Baptist Men. Because of the partnership we have been able to start churches in areas where there was no gospel witness before,” Nahapetyan said. As the gospel of Jesus Christ is taking root, the partnership is expanding its focus.
“The construction teams and sponsorships for students and church planters are still an important part of the partnership,” Burchette said. “But in recent years, as the number of Baptists has grown, we have started sending additional teams to conduct Vacation Bible School, eye glass ministry, and training for church leaders and pastors.”
Vacation Bible School in particular has played an important role in the revival. “We have seen Vacation Bible School reach a lot of children and their parents with the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Burchette said.
Altogether, the construction teams, sponsorships and various ministry teams have helped fuel a significant growth in the number of Baptist churches and the number of Armenians who have accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior.
“Before the partnership we had 60 churches, seven church buildings and 2,000 Baptists,” Nahapetyan said. “Today we have 150 churches, 30 church buildings, an orphanage center and 5,200 Baptists.”
Armenian law forbids children from officially joining the church, thus the overall numbers are actually much higher. “At last count there were 10,000 Armenian children actively involved with Armenian Baptist churches. Many of them have also accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior,” Burchette said.
Although the numbers are encouraging, Burchette and Nahapetyan know the job is not complete. As a former Soviet Republic, Armenia’s economy has never fully recovered from the collapse of communism.
The sluggish economy means nearly all Armenian Baptist churches are dependent on outside help for survival.
“Of the 150 Baptist churches in Armenia, only four are financially independent,” Burchette said. The need is great, but so is the desire to see the gospel flourish in Armenia. “There are no plans to end the partnership,” Burchette said.
“We will continue to help build church buildings, support seminary students and strengthen existing churches in Armenia through continued funding of church planters. We will also do that through discipleship efforts such as Vacation Bible School led by North Carolina volunteers.”
Nahapetyan welcomed the continued support. “We need more teams to come and help us with Vacation Bible School, medical evangelism and house visiting with personal witness,” he said.
“And we need more construction teams to come to Armenia because many of these planted churches do not have places to meet.” Nahapetyan is hopeful for the future and thankful for the support already received.
“We are very blessed by North Carolina Baptists. This revival could not happen without you,” he said. “God needs you on mission.”
For more information about joining the work in Armenia contact Jim Burchette at [email protected].
Learn about this partnership and other ministries online at baptistsonmission.org.