Grandpa Harry was an orphan during the Armenian Genocide.
By the age of four, he had witnessed more death and tragedy than any person ever should.
The youngest of six boys and four girls, he and his sister were the only two of his immediate family members who had not perished in the genocide. They spent countless nights sleeping on strangers’ doorsteps with empty stomachs and nothing more than a thin layer of clothing to keep them from freezing.
The brutal details of his childhood are haunting. Before he was even able to count, he had witnessed first-hand the very definition of human depravity. My guess is that he didn’t even understand most of what was going on around him at the time. He was faced with thoughts and emotions that were particularly unnatural for some one his age to be bearing. He had every reason under the sun to be bitter and to go about the rest of his life with a heart full of hatred.
But his story did not end with genocide.
After the genocide, he and his sister were placed in a Syrian orphanage in Aleppo. When he completed elementary school, he knew he wanted to continue his education; he enrolled in a junior high school program offered at Aleppo College, and he worked to pay his way through junior high, high school and college. While attending Aleppo College, he also came to know the Lord and slowly grew into his calling as a pastor.
His pastoral calling brought him to the United States, where he spent seven years pastoring in Chicago, Illinois and twenty-seven years pastoring in Fresno, California. He had an abiding joy that was evident to all who knew him— a joy that could not be explained by anything other than the deep grace of Christ.
This is the story of a four-year-old orphan in Syria who chose Christ, and in doing so, provided a powerful witness. We as the Armenian people of today are faced with the same choice.
We have been deeply offended and hurt by political leaders’ refusal to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide. We share stories about relatives who were directly impacted by its atrocities, and we’re dumbfounded as to how they could be classified under any other term. I believe that it is important for us to continue pushing for acknowledgement of the genocide, but not without remembering that forgiveness is the cornerstone of the faith that our people died for in the first place.
My grandmother recently wrote a book, which included the transcript Grandpa Harry’s 90th birthday party speech. I won’t include all of it here, but there was one part in particular that stood out to me.
As he reflected, he shared, “The Lord has been good, very good to the four-year-old boy left orphaned in the streets of Homs, Syria, with many other boys and girls. They were homeless, hungry with bare feet, begging for food. Many of them perished from starvation and disease. By the grace of God, I survived.”
Today is April 24th, 2015. As Armenians, we refer to this day as Armenian Martyrs’ Day. It is the 100-year anniversary of the genocide that my grandfather and so many others suffered through. In the past century, the Armenian people have proven that this genocide was not successful. It did not destroy our nation and it certainly did not destroy the faith we stand for or the God we serve. I cannot attribute the resilience and strength of the Armenian people to anything other than the power of God who guides us.
The love of Christ radically transformed a man who had every reason to lead a life of bitterness and sorrow. This love offered healing and gave my grandfather hope and and purpose - that purpose being to glorify Him in all he did. This is our God.