For several years, Nazarenes in Yerevan, the capital city of Armenia, worshiped and conducted community outreach in a three-bedroom apartment of a residential building.
The highly missional community maximized the space as best they could. They split their growing kids’ club and vacation Bible school into shifts so they could fit all the children. They ran a knitting project for Syrian-Armenian women who had fled the war in Syria and found refuge in Yerevan. They also held a youth group for teenagers. About 35 adults crowded into the living room for Sunday worship or training events. The group even organized their ongoing outreach ministry to a nearby town from the apartment.
“It was a ‘multi-purpose’ apartment,” says Pastor Rita Lao with a grin.
But the small space limited their potential for growth.
The Nazarenes prayed and fasted for a time, asking God to provide them with a bigger space that would also give them credibility in the community. Their prayers centered on the promises in Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future,” and in Isaiah 54:2, “Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes.”
In early 2016, Trino Jara, leader of the Yerevan group, visited one of the Nazarene churches in Berlin and gave a short presentation about how God is working through Nazarenes in Armenia. He mentioned the space limitations facing the group in Armenia.
It was a problem this church in Berlin understood all too well. A number of years ago, after the merger with another Nazarene church in Berlin, they had sold their old building to buy something more centrally located to the area where they are meeting now. But this became more difficult than they had anticipated.
The Berlin church had searched and searched, but never found a building and property that fit their needs and their budget. Because they didn’t want to leave the community, they continued renting a facility. The funds remained in their bank account.
The pastor of the Berlin church empathized with the Nazarenes in Yerevan and felt moved to act.
“I felt somehow that the Lord wanted us to do something about that,” he said.
At the following board meeting, the church board discussed the idea of helping their brothers and sisters in Yerevan buy their own building.
“We were pretty quickly ready to go for it,” said the SDMI president. “Then we had a meeting at church. We wanted the whole church to be behind it.”
The board presented their proposal to the congregation, expecting some reluctance or at least numerous questions and lengthy discussion.
“But there hardly were any really serious questions about if we should do that. The church immediately said, ‘Oh yes, we want to do that.’”
And they were also unified in stating that what they shared did not belong to them in the first place; it was God’s. Thus, the pastor and congregation have requested to remain publicly anonymous.
“I think it’s good stewardship,” said one of the board members. “God had given the money, so we provided. It’s God who made it possible for us to give generously.”
After the pastor informed Jara about the church’s intentions, Jara gathered the Yerevan Nazarenes together, saying only that he wanted to share good news with them. With everyone crowded into the three-bedroom apartment, he introduced the Berlin pastor to the group through a Skype video call. Together they told them about the Berlin church’s belief that God wanted them to share some of what they been unable to use on themselves for the new building in Yerevan
“Some people were crying,” recalls Lao. “We had a couple of new people there who were surprised. They didn’t comprehend how a church in Berlin, who never knew us, would give what they had for us to have a space. It was a beautiful testimony as a church and to the people who were new to us.”
The Yerevan group prayed until the right space became available – a three-story building that had been part of a former kindergarten, just seven minutes’ walk from the apartment complex where they’d been ministering for years. Their new building has rooms spacious enough for larger kids’ club and VBS gatherings, as well as a basement room for combined worship. There is a large kitchen, and also the possibility to add one more floor on top.
When the purchase took place, they introduced themselves to their new neighbors, who were all favorable to the Nazarenes’ presence and purpose. More children began coming to the kids’ activities. Regular attenders of all ages began inviting friends and family.
The Yerevan Nazarenes have now been meeting in the building for about a year, and dedicated it to the Lord during Armenia’s annual Nazarene District Assembly in March 2018, when representatives from the four Nazarene groups meeting in Armenia were able to gather in the space. For previous annual assemblies, the groups were forced to rent space when having the assembly in Yerevan.
Eight members from the Berlin church attended the assembly as representatives from their church.
“When we went there it was almost like family,” said the NMI president of the Berlin church. “It is almost like we have a church building now – far away, but close on our hearts.
“Eurasia Region believes that healthy Nazarene churches develop in an interdependent way. We really need each other,” said Arthur Snijders, Eurasia Region director. “This example of German Nazarenes and Armenian Nazarenes connecting and helping the other is a beautiful expression of what it means to be the body of Christ together. Generosity, faith, love for one another, mission, are all part of this real life story.
Written by Gina Grate Pottenger – Previously published in the May 2018 edition of Where Worlds Meet.