After a long hiatus, the Armenian Church Youth Organization of America (ACYOA) Mission Trip was revived over the weekend of February 7-9, 2020, offering a faith-based service trip to young adults across the Eastern Diocese. Partnering with Habitat for Humanity of North Central Georgia, the young adults took part in a homebuilding project, while also serving the Armenian Church Mission Parish of Atlanta, GA.
Seventeen young adults ranging from college students to working professionals participated in the trip. They traveled from 10 different states (Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Washington DC, and Wisconsin) representing 12 parishes of the Eastern Diocese. The group was organized by Jennifer Morris of the Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministries, with her colleague, Kathryn Ashabahian, assisting.
“God called on us to take part in this mission trip,” said Lerna Lacinian (of St. John Church in Southfield, MI). “He brought us together as a family and as Armenians to serve.”
This was the feeling of all the participants. Each morning the group gathered for a meditation led by the trip’s chaplain, Fr. Yeprem Kelegian. “They were always ready to go deep in the meditations,” he noted. “Compassion and love was evident in all of their interactions with the parishioners of Atlanta. I am filled with joy because if these are the type of people who will be stepping up in the Armenian Church, then we can rest easy. It will be okay.”
Building a Home, Building Faith
Participants spent two days working with Habitat for Humanity in freezing and snowy weather, preparing materials to build a home for a single mother and her son in a rural community north of Atlanta. The group was impressed by the humility of the Habitat staff and volunteers who guided them through their work experience and enabled them to be successful in challenging tasks that involved saws, nail guns, and heavy lumber.
Rebekah Nama, who coordinates volunteers for Habitat shared her impressions of the ACYOA group. “Everyone had only positive things to say about them. They were a joy to be around throughout both build days! If they’re ever are in Georgia again, please join us.”
On Friday evening, the group split up to visit two homes of parishioners in the Armenian community. They shared life experiences, prayed together, and broke bread together.
Lucine Boloyan (St. James Church, Watertown, MA) reflected on the weekend: “I have one word to describe the weekend: home. From feeling at home with our ACYOA group, to building a home for a family through Habitat for Humanity, to being welcomed into the home that is the Armenian Church of Atlanta, I experienced the joy and stillness that comes from being at home in Christ.”
On Saturday evening, the group gathered at “Hye Doon” for vespers, dinner, and fellowship. The participants provided and served dinner to the parishioners and enjoyed time together, with songs and laughter filling the room. One of the participants, Taline Masoian—born in Massachusetts, raised in California—now resides in Georgia as a pediatric nurse, and she has found a new home and parish in Atlanta.
“It is powerful that a group of young Armenians from all around the country, many whom were strangers to each other, could meet in one location and become family within three days,” she said. “Our group was blessed to be invited into the homes of Armenians within the Atlanta area as well their beautiful church, just as if we were their family.”
Influencing the Lives of Armenian Youth
The weekend culminated Sunday morning, with Atlanta’s recently-appointed full-time pastor, Fr. Norayr Kazazian, celebrating the Divine Liturgy. “The ACYOA has great influence on the lives of the Armenian youth of the United States,” observed Fr. Kazazian. “This organization not only brings young adults to serve within Armenian circles, but it also allows them to serve humanity in general, as kind and good Armenian Christians.”
“The group visiting our mission parish motivated the youth of Atlanta to get reorganized as an ACYOA chapter,” he added. “They also gave a sense of hope to the older generation of parishioners, who had the satisfaction of seeing the fruits of their hard work in the next generation of devoted Armenian youth.”
The group felt spiritually moved Sunday morning as they came together to worship. For Melissa Mardoian (Sts. Joachim and Anne Church, Palos Heights, IL), experiencing the liturgy coalesced all the things she had been feeling throughout the mission trip. “I felt the Holy Spirit in the sanctuary, and it moved me to the point of tears,” she said. “The family we formed on this trip is unforgettable. I feel so blessed.”
“The badarak hymns that I’ve heard in our large St. John Church provoked the same feelings in me as in the mission parish,” said Celene Phillip (St. John Church, Southfield, MI). “I realized that the Armenian Church is the people and energy that fills the sanctuary, not the adornments in the sanctuary or the number of parishioners in the pews.”
Participants went home on Sunday with a sense of gratitude for their Armenian identities. Gregory Marifian (Holy Shoghagat Church, Belleville, IL) explained: “The Atlanta mission parish members gave us a lesson in how to open our doors to newcomers. They welcomed us into their homes, their kitchens, their church, and their hearts without hesitation. Because of our common Armenian ancestry that binds us together, it was no surprise that we enjoyed three days of fellowship and communion with our new family.”
The Mission Trip was underwritten by the ACYOA Central Council, using proceeds from the 2019 “Bishop’s 5K Run.” Participants were provided lodging, ground transportation, and two meals a day, as well as participant fees for Habitat for Humanity. In addition, participants were encouraged to help fundraise to cover costs of the ACYOA Mission Trip and to support the Armenian Church of Atlanta.
Follow the ACYOA on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to stay up-to-date on upcoming events or check out their website at www.acyoa.org. Contact Jennifer Morris at email@example.com or at (248) 648-0702 for information.
Click here to view photos of this year’s ACYOA Mission Trip.