Visiting Armenia with my friend Martyn Dunsford was a huge privilege. I was there once before about ten years ago, speaking to a substantial pastors’ conference on the Grace of God. Sadly I have never seen the theme of grace being so withstood. The question and answer time that followed demonstrated a real hostility to God’s grace and a preference for legalism and pastoral leadership based on guilt. It was a sad conference, not without lighter moments.
The lasting result of that visit was that some of the pastors, notably one Karen Khachatryan, were, unknown to me, wonderfully encountering God’s grace in a personal way. Karen regards it as a life-changing experience which transformed his ministry from that day on. He now leads a church of some 450 in Yerevan. It was my joy therefore to respond to his invitation to return to Armenia, the first nation in the world to call itself ‘Christian’ prior to Constantine, and speak to gathered leaders from the churches that he now serves plus others who wanted to attend. Through the help of an excellent interpreter, both Martyn and I enjoyed preaching with real freedom and the response of the people was extraordinarily encouraging.
From the very first session I felt stirred to offer to pray for the sick and was delighted to find dozens being powerfully healed. After about an hour of praying, we promised the queue of those still waiting that we would pray for them the next day. This duly took place leading to more wonderful healings.
Testimonies are exciting, faith-building and God-glorifying! For instance, one particular woman with crippling arthritis whose pain made it impossible for her simply to sit with legs crossed, told how God had healed her. Her doctor, who happened to be present, testified to the reality of this wonderful deliverance. Another man, who said he could never carry his young child because of the pain in his neck and shoulders, was gloriously healed. A girl testified to being able to stand upright for the first time, and another heard the Lord tell her that she was healed from diabetes and began to eat any food that was offered from that time on. She continued to celebrate her healing throughout the remainder of the conference. God was wonderfully with us.
On the following Sunday I had the joy of preaching in Karen’s church, which meets in a packed theatre-style building. Following the worship, once again several stood to testify to their healings which had taken place at the conference. The room in which we met was part of a complex which included a sports pavilion. A karate expert heard our worship, came to the back of the hall and listened. He said that as he entered he felt ‘a powerful presence’. He then listened to the healing testimonies followed by my preaching, came forward at the end and was healed! He is yet to be saved, but is being pursued.
Following another extended time of prayer we rushed to a church some 30km away where about 130 people were packed into a small hall. Their worship had just concluded and I was immediately ushered to the front to preach. The pastor had already been to our pastors’ conference and introduced me with real warmth. I was delighted to preach the Word to a very receptive crowd and, rather tired, closed at the end of my word with prayer whereupon everybody remained standing. The pastor approached me and said that everybody wanted to be prayed for, which led to a further hour and a half of praying for the sick. Many went immediately from me to the microphone where they testified to God’s healing touch upon them. It was a remarkable time!
I was deeply grateful to God for the opportunity to visit the pastor’s home afterwards where we ate, with three generations of his family, food that had been cooked in a hole in the ground! It tasted absolutely magnificent! I counted myself hugely privileged to be welcomed into their home and be plunged into such a different culture.