“I grew up hearing stories of Armenia while enjoying my Aunt’s cooking of choreg, paklava and dolma. My Father and his sisters often spoke of the hardship and challenges they endured and the desire to someday return.” Adam Zakarian explained. “When we heard about the camp Young Life purchased outside of Yerevan, we decided to go and see what God is doing in Armenia!”
Adam’s journey actually began back in 1913 when his grandfather Moses Zakarian emigrated from Armenia with the hope of earning enough money to bring his family to the United States. After a century, new world finally revisited the old world when Adam, along with his son, Noah, and his wife Kathy and I journeyed to Armenia to serve kids at a Young Life Camp. We extended our trip to help with building projects at the newly purchased Young Life property and were able to see the beginning stages of what is now Camp Pioneer, which opened in July of 2017.
At our layover in New York, we were joined by a Young Life leader, Miraidy Rodriguez, from Puerto Rico, where we all flew on to Armenia and the beginning of what would be an amazing time. We were enthusiastically met in Yerevan by leader, Aram Gevorgyan, who took us to a gathering of leaders and volunteers, led by Regional Director Arman Asatryan and his wife, Lilit. They were grateful to be with us as we all planned together for the upcoming camp.
A central focus of the expedition was to serve kids and experience a Young Life camp at the site they had been renting each summer, located at a camp called Bujakan. Lilit described what they hoped to achieve at camp: “We want them to have fun, to enjoy themselves, to get dirty and relax. We make it very easy to laugh and have joy – growth comes from the Holy Spirit! The kids can be normal a camp, even if they have problems or troubles, they know we will be there for them and they can trust us. We have personal relationships with kids from all walks of life. In most homes, they are told ‘don’t get dirty, don’t get wet.’ Here we break the barriers — want them to just be themselves, to be kids! And we give them permission to be free.”
In addition to this permission to be free, they give plenty of permission to talk, to lounge, to have time for fostering new friendships and strengthening old friendships. “We want them to hear about how Jesus loves them – no matter what. And we encourage faithfulness to relationships,” said Lilit. Friendship remains the key to Young Life camps. “Friends bring friends,” explained leader, Arusik. “If not bring a friend, what’s the reason? Every Young Life camper is encouraged to bring a friend. If this is your second camp, you can bring two friends. Third camp, three friends.”
In recalling the enthusiastic worship experiences of the camp, Kathy admired the emphasis on “the team building, the relationships, the friendships, getting to know each other, the last Bible message at worship was so special – even with the language barrier.”
Once the camp was over, our group went to the new camp property. Because of the exorbitant rental price and dilapidated condition of facilities like Bujakan, the leaders and volunteers were thrilled as the dream of a new camp property was soon to become a reality! After years of prayer and planning Young Life had purchased a former Stalin era Young Pioneer indoctrination camp that had been designed to initiate adolescents into becoming dedicated members of the Young Communist League (more on the camp history here ).
Young Life was committed to renovating the facility, which would allow them to host camps throughout the year, as well as hold training conferences and accommodate kids with special needs. Our team cleared brush, painted and witnessed the beginning stages of this now beautiful Young Life camp!
Our group’s experience in Armenia was incredible, serving Young Life and being a part of the excitement of the newly purchased camp, the memories we brought back home as we toured the country and learned more of its history from our hosts. Miraidy plans to return this summer and felt her time was especially blessed as she forged deep friendships with her Armenian friends and “learned more about being a leader then I could have imagined”.
Said Noah Zakarian when asked about his trip experience: “The highlight for me was experiencing Young Life Armenia and how similar it is to what we have in Danville. Seeing the ministry changed me … being with them … I felt they had a special grace and presence. They seem spiritually rooted and more serious there.”
Written by: Robert John Andrews