“Turkey Guilty of Genocide!”

As an Armenian I must have heard that cry “1.5 million” times and yet it has never lost its piercing anguish.  I had to join alongside the Kurds with other Armenians, Greeks, and Syrians yesterday at the White House as President Trump met with Turkish President Talaat Pasha Erdogan.

 

Why cry out?  Doesn’t President Trump know he’s meeting with a despot?  Will gathering together bring about any real change?  Compelled to go, these sad questions loomed in my heart.  Those are irrelevant questions for a believer.  The follower of Christ need only resolve:  what is God doing?  how is He leading my heart, my life?  is this emotion within or truly a burdening from the heart of God?

When we are born again and indwelled with the Holy Spirit, the resources of our lives – even brokenness, anguish, and grief – are not wasted but serve the Kingdom of God.  It is by design, not ‘coincidence’ that my surviving relatives of the Armenian Genocide testified of Kurds saving lives. It is not coincidence that my grandparents survived Turkish death march into Syria and settled there,  living in Der Zor then moving to Aleppo.

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A stone memorial in Der Zor, built by my grandfather Antranig Stepanian with a relative and caring Arab man

(My grandfather was a truck driver and, during one of his trips he discovered a massive site of death in Der Zor where thousands of Armenians perished, left unburied. He and others collected as many bones as they could, transporting then on his truck, to be buried at a location upon which a large Armenian Church and memorial were built)

Just this week an Armenian priest and his elderly father were killed by ISIS – they were on their way to Der Zor to repair the memorial honoring those who perished.

Whether the world knows or cares to know, Turkish military is trampling the Kurds, Armenians, Arab and Yazidis in a conquest of ethnic cleansing toward the ultimate goal to revive the Ottoman Empire.  Erdogan’s mission to revive Ottoman Empire  is not a kept secret.  That Erdogan claimed in his meeting with Trump that he would protect Christians and rebuild churches defies reality.  The reality is, Christianity in Turkey suffers a bloody downward spiral – from 20-25 percent in 1914 to presently 0.2 percent – near extinction!   Erdogan is cited often for his role, such as Turkey Turns on its Christians  and  Persecution of Christians close to genocide.   Pastor Andrew Brunson’s testimony still resounds.

Since Turkey incarcerates more journalists than any country in the world, who there will report governmental oppression, even crimes against humanity?

On the Greyhound bus back to NYC I lamented, “What’s the point and purpose delving into this legacy of suffering?  Why go to Washington or anywhere else when rulers of this dark world don’t relent?”

I had shared of myself with Soma from Kurdistan…

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“We are cousins” she said as she lovingly hugged me.

Yes I believe in the call to “Speak up” and “Rescue” those in grievous suffering and even facing death, Proverbs 24:11 and 31:8.  But our personal call to live out the Scriptures comes from the Holy Spirit within.  He opens our eyes, stirs our hearts with a brokenness and love that burdens us to act.   

Yes dear Soma, as Armenians and Kurds we are ‘cousins’ but my heart so much more hopes that we would be ‘sisters’ – in Christ.   My heart is stirred Lord, for the Kurds.  Thank you for bringing me alongside themLet me join in Your work amongst the Kurds, not that they may finally establish a country of their own but that they may establish a place in Your Kingdom forever.   Amen.  

 

Inside Israel

We recently returned from a robust trip to Israel.  While our itinerary was jam packed, certainly every site we saw is a well tracked path.  So, I will not post pics of Masada, Jerusalem, the Western Wall, the Sea of Galilee, the Dead Sea or even the Armenian Quarter  (ok, maybe one)…

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Yousef*, our Arab Christian tour guide, expounded a depth of spiritual and historical knowledge as a native with 20 years experience leading Americans through Israel and Palestine.  He introduced himself as a “true believer in Jesus Christ” and often taught scriptural truths as related to various historical sites. It was obvious that he had a love for all the people we encountered – Jews, Muslims, Bedouins, and Druze – rich or poor.

It is not only what Yousef shared of Israel that still stirs my heart but what he revealed about us.

Yousef challenged the group at every Christian/religious site, “Can anyone describe what happened here?” “How was this place significant to Jesus Christ?” “Who was Herod the Great?…”  Either most of the group was shy or had little Biblical foundation.  While traveling at great cost and distance to see religious sites, most of the group was either unwilling or unable to converse in Biblical truths.

Yousef shared his experience during the tumultuous ‘Second Intifada’, 2000-2005, a time of violent uprising between Palestinians and Israelis.  He left Israel during that time, traveling to USA to possibly relocate to relative’s homes.  Job opportunities were sparse for him but what he recalls to us is this:  “I visited their church and was sure they would be focused with concern and prayer for the crisis in Israel.  When I came to the meeting however, they were all talking about which pizza had the best cheese.”  I felt a collective inner shame for the sated Body of Christ, isolated and disinterested in the suffering of distant brethren.

Our tour ended with an exhortation and plea,  “When you go home, open your Bibles, read them!  Let all that you’ve seen bring the words to life.”  Referring back to his time in the United States Yousef opened his heart, “I left the States in 2005 – I missed the dirty, noisy streets of Jerusalem!  I love this country and had to return….but now I regret it.  There’s an undeniable stirring, an certain unrest and hostility.  I tell you for sure, it is not ‘if’ war breaks out here, but ‘when’.”

As elsewhere in the Middle East, particularly Syria, the Christian population is suffering and shrinking.  Once 20% in Palestine, now Christians are 1%, fewer than 10,000.  Many may be ‘nominal’ Christians but even still my heart was burdened.  With the nonstop traffic of tour buses from all over, I wonder how many of these sojourning Christians will seek and receive a burden for these brethren?  Multitudes flock to religious icons and shrines, but how many will align with the burden of Christ’s heart for His people?

If we will “open our Bibles and read them” we too will see, it is not ‘if’ but ‘when’.  If we take our salvation with certainty, we must take the prophecies of scripture with like conviction in our hearts.  A celebrated authority will arise, the charismatic Antichrist.  Betrayal, violence, and chaos are destined for Israel.  Yes, God Himself with be their victory and triumph, but what is our role as Christ’s Body in the world?

I loved every bit of Israel and my visits to Palestine.  I want though, more than any itinerary and tour, to realize what the Holy Spirit is showing me – Lord, align and press in my heart your truths and views of this great land.

Go to Israel while you can.  See everything, there’s so much!  But let the Holy Spirit be your inner tour guide and open your spiritual eyes with heaven’s view!

(*not his real name)

 

When God Allows Defeat…and Confusion

Will this be the last of these articles, I Prayed For My Neighbors, Look What HappenedI Prayed For My Neighbors….Part II  and When God Allows Defeat ?

After a lengthy time of praying for our neighbors, my husband and I stepped into a neighborhood battle as Columbia University fought to close down blocks of our street for their campus expansion.  United with neighbors, whom we had never before met, we fought to keep our street open and, in December 2017, we won!

However, with unlimited wealth and political power, somehow CU’s plan resurfaced for another Community Board vote.  This time, the public was disallowed to speak.  Moreover, ‘temporary changes’ were made to this subcommittee….On June 4th this subcommittee approved CU’s plan.  On June 26th, it would be voted on by the whole Community Board.   Scan0082

My husband and I once again worked diligently with our neighbors to organize and reach out to the neighborhood and Community Board members.  We were able to share our faith and, honestly, I truly hoped that a victory would be opportunity to openly praise God!  At one point, we learned that a high appointed city official is a brother in the Lord.  He assisted and encouraged us greatly.   When this became known within our group, the leader said, “Although you and I don’t share the same faith, I have to agree, this is a divine appointment!”

We were ready to exalt the Lord upon our victory on June 26th!

On that date, I gave a presentation to the Board and before community members, as did several others, highlighting again the indisputable issues against closing our street.   However, in the end, our city Councilman rose up and championed the plan of CU.  I did not know that this councilman appoints half of these Board members and determines their ongoing service!  CU lobbyists also circulated to ensure votes.

No matter!  If God intervenes, victory is ours!

But we lost.  Our elected official betrayed his constituents…as a ‘lame duck’ he is undoubted beholden to CU for some position.  Not all, but enough Community Board members turned their face away and approved CU’s plan.

Defeat….and confusion.

Entering this battle was not an impulsive act, we prayed and continued to pray throughout the process.  While we are not called to ‘fight the world’, we are called to love our neighbor.  Truthfully, we never knew these neighbors, only working alongside them did we come to have love for them.

Defeated?  “Defeated” was prematurely written over Joseph’s prison cell, Daniel’s lion’s den, over all of Paul’s life threatening attacks…..“Defeated” could have been posted over Christ’s tomb!  But GOD holds the victory for His people for His glory – how He chooses to establish that victory is His divine providence.

Confused?  God does allow confusion and upheaval….disappointments and loss.  None of us are exempt, even beloved spiritual hero John the Baptist asked Jesus from his cell,  “Are you the One who was to come…?”  Confusion brought me to my knees,  crying out to the Lord, for His supernatural peace and clarity.

I deeply lamented after that vote – but not for my street!  To literally witness bold betrayal of officials and grassroots representatives dismissing their oaths to serve – caused me to weep.  Many of them gathered around CU executives with smiles….as the residents put away their signs and hung their heads.  So shameful! When did their conscience drop dead?

Our group leader came up to me and my husband, “One good thing came out of this – I came to know you!”

Some are already rising up to pursue opposition to the Board’s vote.  There are ways, but my husband and I agree – we will not continue without God’s leading.  If there is no eternal value within this work, “Lord, count me out”.

All I know is this:  We prayed for our neighbors – even though we hardly knew them!  God engaged us in a battle, we came to know them and develop a true concern and love.

God allows “defeat” – but that’s never His last word!  He allows “confusion” – to draw us nearer to His heart, to receive His peace, His clarity. 

May the Lord encourage us all in these last days, to walk in His shadow and keep the faith – no matter how defeated and confusing our circumstance seems.

“When you go to war against your enemies and see horses and chariots and an army greater than yours, do not be afraid of them….For the Lord your God is the One who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.”  Deuteronomy 20:1-4 excerpt

 

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Progress at La Perla! (Pt 3)

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This is where it all started!

Many will recall the ‘recovery work’ of the Lord after devastating Hurricane Maria Hurricanes Strip but Jesus Covers  and the Lord’s faithfulness to His servant Pastor Ivan,  When God Moves Into el Barrio (Pt 1)  and then  The Pastor of La Perla (el Barrio Pt 2).

Forsaken and ravaged by drugs, rampant immorality and witchcraft, God launched a new thing in La Perla – the darkness a perfect backdrop to His shining light and new life.  God is preparing La Perla to bless His Kingdom – what an honor to witness and partake of this work!  

As previously posted, the Lord called Pastor Ivan from a comfortable church in NYC for church planting in this dangerous area of Puerto Rico.  While there was some gathering of believers, Hurricane Maria all but destroyed the seedlings of church.  But Pastor Ivan’s vision and calling did not waiver.  In spite of months of depravation, he stood and stayed the course, believing that God would finish what He started.

According Pastor Ivan, it started with a ‘shack’ and the faithful foresight of what God can do with a surrendered shack.

Introducing….

le perla progress               le perla progress pastor

                                                CENTRO DE ARTE BEZALEEL!

Bezalel Art Center – BAC – named after the man chosen by God in the Book of Exodus, to lead the work of building His tabernacle and all its furnishings.  In Exodus 31, God “filled him (Bezalel) with the Spirit of God, giving him great wisdom, ability, and expertise in all kinds of crafts”.    Not only for Bible study and fellowship, BAC will be a place for gaining personal growth and valuable work skills.

“My desire is for people to come and learn and work at the Center and experience the anointing power and love of God.  May they experience the creativeness of God.  God is the Creator and has placed in His people His Spirit of creativity.”  Pastor Ivan

la perla seashore progress II

La Perla by the Sea…once a place for degradation, now where God’s beauty and love take root and grow. 

Wow.  I’m impressed by the hand of God.  So excited to think of the next postings!

 

 

The Pastor of La Perla (el Barrio Pt 2)

pastor Ivan TSC

Pastor Ivan, before La Perla, with a call upon his heart…

 

If the Lord is seeking a soldier that will stand his post, a shepherd who will stand with the sheep – however few remain,  and a beacon that will bear light through the storm… He found a Pastor in La Perla.

Six years ago, God called Pastor Ivan out from a vibrant NYC ministry into a neighborhood in Puerto Rico described for years as “decrepit” and “dangerous”.  Please see:  When God Moves Into el Barrio (Pt 1)   Over the course of 40 years many ministries and churches have staked a claim in La Perla, perhaps hoping to be the shining vessel through whom God will bring deliverance.  But they did not last.   God is not looking for our enthusiasm, He’s seeking steadfastness….

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the  work of the Lord, since you know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.  ( I Corin 15:58)

Although working alone in La Perla, the presence of God never left.  A remnant of believers arose and Pastor Ivan opened Iglesia La Perla.

But when the eye of the storm swept through Puerto Rico, many in La Perla fled.  The small flock of believers dwindled,  leaving behind those who would live without water, electricity or food supply for two months. 

“Not having electricity and water for 2 months was not easy.  And going out each day seeing where to get something to eat was not easy.”  Pastor Ivan

How many American pastors are praying for running water?  A light?  Even a sure meal…for two months? 

Pastor Ivan likened Hurricane Maria to “a bomb” hitting the island, “apocalyptic”.   I pressed him to share his feelings and challenges during that time…

“You try to understand your place as a Christian in the newly devastated world…I had the opportunity to go back to New York, many friends and family members were telling me to go back and it was tempting but I didn’t.  Even though my mind and flesh wanted to leave I knew I needed to stay and be there for others…. Like Jesus said, leave everything behind and follow Me…Learning to live a day at a time was challenging, but isn’t that what Jesus taught us?  To let go of everything and rely on Him.”   Pastor Ivan

The Lord strengthened Pastor Ivan and, at the right time, brought a mission team to encourage, provide and share in God’s plan.  Renovations for Iglesia  La Perla and plans for a youth workshop and Bible study building are already underway!

pastor ivan outside truck

Pastor Ivan – a shepherd with a calling and vision…and a truck with lumber!

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Le Perla by the sea…God rebuilding upon what Maria blew away…

There is an active work of God moving throughout this world and our call is to join in.

Please join in the Lord’s work here through focused prayer.

  • Pray for Pastor Ivan, that the Lord encourage him and minister to him through His word
  • Pray for the Youth Workshop, that the Lord’s design and plans prevail and bear fruit
  •  Pray for the souls of La Perla and for others to find deliverance and salvation, entering into the freedom and promises of God.  May Iglesia La Perla grow and be a shining star to exalt the glory of God.

What God is doing here He can do in your life, in your home, in your community – no matter how devastated.  Pray for God to raise up leadership, stand together on God’s word and be steadfast.  Let’s see what the Lord will do!

When God Moves Into el Barrio (Pt 1)

La Perla ( “The Pearl”) is a historical shanty town established in the late 19th century outside the city walls of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.  As the site of a slaughterhouse and cemetery and a catchment for former slaves and homeless servants, La Perla was, by law, established outside of residential communities and business areas.

La Perla’s claims to fame….

Areas to Avoid in San Juan

1. La Perla
Tourists are advised to avoid the area known as “La Perla,” one of San Juan’s most dangerous places. “The Pearl” district in Old San Juan is a slum area where a lot of drug trafficking takes place. Despite recent law enforcement crackdowns, it remains one of the most dangerous places in Puerto Rico. It isn’t difficult to spot, as it is decrepit and quite run-down.  (AOL.com 10/4/2010)

 

In the 1970’s, Hector Lavoe and Willie Colon launched La Perla into world view with Calle Luna, Calle Sol.   Described by some as ‘gangster salsa’,  the song was intertwined with the tragic and tormented life of beloved Hector Lavoe and lives on as part of Puerto Rican culture.   Lavoe knew the streets of La Perla well….(English translation)

“Put your hand in your pocket,  take out your knife and your keys and be careful, Listen to me, in this neighborhood, many gangsters have been killed

Listen Mister, if you want your life, avoid this neighborhood or you’ll lose it

In a neighborhood of gangsters, you don’t live in peace.  Be careful with your words or you’ll be worth nothing.

Your pockets have been ripped out.  Since you went to La Perla, they left you broke and beat up…”

Notoriety, danger, fame  – “No Go Zones” – are powerful allurements for many seeking excitement and/or drugs.  The vastly popular music video, ‘Despacito’ made La Perla a ‘must go’ spot for island culture, excitement and sensuality.   With nearly 4 billion views, this music video gave La Perla international spotlight in early 2017, until Maria came and ravished all worldly hopes of fame and prosperity.

la perla after maria

Hurricanes Strip but Jesus Covers  testifies of God’s presence through the rubble in Puerto Rico.  As part of that mission team, my husband met with Pastor Ivan in La Perla.  Much of the pastor’s work seemed to wash away with the hurricane, as did the folks who were able to leave the area and the island.

But Pastor Ivan has a vision for La Perla that goes far beyond the notoriety of folk songs and sensational videos.  The thoughts and plans of man established a slaughter house and place for social rejects.  Man then turned these dangerous dark streets into a sensual allurement.

But when God arrives in the storm, what He builds has eternal value.  He turns ‘slaughter houses’ into places of new life, ‘social rejects’ into beloved saints, and brings light and song to ‘dangerous streets’.

By faith we see…

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A godly center rise up with a workshop for youths and Bible study for all.

 

The work begins…

 

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As the Body of Christ teams together under His calling…

 

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Pastors have come and gone from La Perla over the years.  One told my husband, “Satan has thick chains around that place.”  That man is now part of the building team!  We believe that the power of God will break those chains and make “La Perla” a “Shining Star”!

The Kingdom of God is like treasure hidden in a field…the Kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls…”

Pray for the people to find this great ‘treasure’, this ‘pearl of great price’.  Please pray for Pastor Ivan.   May the Kingdom of God advance with power to break chains of drugs, witchcraft and despair, and exalt the name of Jesus!

Excited about posting Part II, III….and IV!

I Prayed For My Neighbors….Part II

Over 300 flyers and bilingual street signs went out into the neighborhood for yesterday’s Dec. 4th meeting.  C.U. was on the agenda to once again press the City Board to approve their plans to take part of our street, build a ‘plaza’ – ultimately expanding their campus.  As the ‘largest private land owner in NYC’, we knew of Columbia’s neighborhood take overs – I encouraged one neighbor, “With God, all things are possible”.  But what would God do?

Over the weekend I studied the book of Nehemiah.  I often study the Bible with the commentaries by Zac Poonen, a gifted teacher.  I highlighted some notes to meditate upon…

  • “Fear is the opposite of faith, and when we act in fear we are acting in unbelief.”  Nehemiah may have feared before the King (“I was very much afraid”) but he never compromised, he pressed on.
  • “If we really believe that God Almighty is supporting us in what we do, it is ridiculous and foolish to fear anyone.”
  • “Nehemiah was a great organizer and a man who could motivate people.  The people worked with him happily because he worked alongside them.”
  • “Nehemiah was a fearless man who was not seeking for a reputation as a kind, gentle person…If you are concerned about your reputation, you might as well forget about building the church.”

I do consider humility and meekness foundational in Christian character.  But I also see the boldness of God’s leaders who confront opposition with zeal when set forth by God.  Although the presenting battle in my neighborhood is not spiritual per se, I believe that the Lord is doing something with me and my husband, perhaps preparing us for spiritual battles in these last days. For example, after speaking at a podium in a large gathering, I really sensed new confidence within.  I  find myself more comfortable engaging with people in public places such as bus stops and stores, extending simple kindness with hopes of sharing God’s love.

When the meeting started, almost no one was there.  Thankfully though, by the 3rd agenda item Bob and I turned and saw the room full – once again, standing room only.  Many new people came, obviously from work.  There were seniors, young adults, many Hispanics and even students!  “We’re from the Columbia School of Social Work…We are with you! We stand in solidarity with your neighborhood against the expansionism or our university!”  Really!

Months ago, C.U. initially deceived the City Board, presenting a building plan with an elaborate but devious survey to quickly convince the Board:  “93% of all people polled are in favor of our plan!”  They neglected to report that only C.U. students were polled, the residents were totally unaware.  Now, aware and informed, our stand came forth with clarity and strength…and with fire!

The room heated up as one by one all the neighbors cried out against C.U.’s plan, and they had done their homework!  The C.U. reps began to shrink.  When they presented, all points seemed to fall to the ground, their strategies exposed and deflated.

After nearly two hours, it was time to vote….or once again table the issue!!

The Board was divided but the majority confirmed, a vote must take place.  The whole room was silent, we stood up, waiting for their votes………….with 2 abstentions,  THE CITY BOARD VOTED AGAINST COLUMBIA’S PLAN!!  WE KEEP OUR STREET!!

(Of course, the giant may resurface and come back next year…)

Somehow I was the point person in this endeavor, my husband to a lesser extent as Bob works long hours.  Several people acknowledged us and expressed gratitude for our continuous outreaches and signs to notify them.  Maybe the Lord is giving us favor.  After our victory we met more neighbors from our street, some whom had lived there for 30 years, contact info was exchanged and we conversed.

While I had wondered about God’s plan in this, Bob frequently quoted Proverbs 31:8 to me, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves…”  A true calling, but I also believe that with God, there’s often more than just the ‘issue at hand’.  We prayed for our neighbors’ salvation and entered a different arena…but I believe God is not finished!

Together we saved our street, but neither a ‘Bible study’ nor ‘prayer meeting emerged.  After 30 years the Lord introduced us to many folks and perhaps with future purpose.  ‘Coincidental’ meetings, times of sharing or, who knows, when calamity strikes one day, could we be ‘point persons’ for prayer?

Only God knows!

Thank you friends and brethren for your prayers!!

 

P.S.    C.U. should change either their school motto or their deceitful exploits…It is never good to hide hypocrisy behind God’s word.  (They had their flag with this seal standing at the meeting!)

CU seal

C.U.’s school motto”In Lumine tuo Videbimus Lumen” translates: “In they light we shall see light”, Psalm 36:9, the banner around the woman holds the words, “Auri Al”, God is my Light”, from Psalm 27:1, “The Lord is my light and my salvation”