by Antranig Dereyan
(St. Mary Armenian Church, Livingston, NJ) and
(St. Sarkis Armenian Church, Charlotte, NC)
It began just like any other morning session at a St. Nersess summer conference, but after a few minutes, it was clear that this morning's topic would be unlike any other session of the week.
Participants of the St. Nersess Post High School "B" Session had the privilege of hearing Fr. Vazken Movsesian of St. Peter Armenian Church Youth Ministries (Glendale, CA), give a presentation about the Genocide--not the Armenian Genocide, but the Genocide that occurred in Rwanda ten years ago.
Mesmerized by the images appearing in Fr. Vazken's slideshow, the participants listened for more than an hour to details of his recent trip to Rwanda. He spoke of his ministry to the survivors, including harrowing accounts of widows who had been raped and infected with AIDS but whose lives had been spared so that they might become instruments in further genocide; young adults forced to raised their younger siblings on their own; and small children who were currently growing up with no families.
"Listen carefully," Fr. Vazken said. "These stories are same stories we have heard from our own grandparents, the survivors of our Armenian Genocide."
Fr. Vazken described how the Rwandan women threw themselves into the Nile River, a virtual parallel to the Armenian women in 1915, who threw themselves into the Euphrates River to avoid a similar fate.
"This presentation had the most impact on the group," said staff member Sos Bagramyan of California. "The similarity to the Armenian Genocide is eerie. The pictures of Rwanda, their people, and their land, helped in the vision of the story that Fr. Vasken was telling."
Challenged to Reach Out to Others
"So what does this have to do with our religion?," Fr. Vazken asked the group, a note of challenge in his voice. "We, as Armenians, are now being called to use our experience as a people who survived genocide, and to reach out to our brothers and sisters in Rwanda, Darfur, and even war-torn areas such as Lebanon and Iraq." He emphasized that as Christians, we cannot sit by passively as such tragedies still take place. We must have in the forefront of our minds Jesus words, "Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me" [Matthew 25:40].
Joyce Dadekian, of the St. Peter parish in Watervliet, NY, appreciated the challenge, saying, "I liked the presentation because Armenians focus too much on being the victims and not being survivors. Fr. Vasken showed the group that we could use our experiences to provide hope for others facing a similar tragedy."
"We as Armenians know what happened to our people. We do not need anyone telling us the genocide happened; if we know, that is all that matters," said Marie Hagopian of Holy Trinity Armenian Church (Cheltenham, PA).
Conference director Fr. Stepanos Doudoukjian said, "As Armenians, we need to walk in other people's shoes and empathize with their suffering and challenges. By doing so, we can help bring justice to others through our own experiences of injustice, just as Fr. Vazken clearly demonstrated to our Post High School B conference.
The Post High B Conference runs from August 14-20th.
For more information on Fr. Vazken's vibrant ministry, In His Shoes, dedicated to Christian Outreach, visit his website: www.inhisshoes.com.