Congregation’s call to mission fosters new church plants in Armenia

Gina Grate Pottenger
Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Hamlet Mkrtchyan had been leading the Nazarene group that he planted in Maralik, Armenia, for 10 years, when he realized he had become too comfortable. Hamlet

“If the church where I’m pastoring is an alive church, it must have some fruits,” he thought to himself. “This church needs to be a mother church and have some missions in other places because we are part of the Great Commission. I was hearing [from God], ‘There is the Great Commission, but you are not doing anything for that.’”

He already knew something about planting a church. A shoemaker by trade, Hamlet was drawn to pastoral ministry not long after he first gave his life to Christ as an adult. For about a year, he had been attending the Church of the Nazarene in Gyumri when, in 2005, the congregation began to pray about planting a new work in the city of Maralik.

Hamlet visited the city, where he saw many prostitutes plying their trade. Their children often played unsupervised on the streets.

“I wanted to do something for those kids,” he said. “I didn’t want these girls to grow up and be like their mothers. And God just put in my heart that I need to go in this community. I entered this city and I just loved it.”

Hamlet visited Maralik often. He talked to people he met about God’s love for them. When people saw how much Hamlet loved them, they were attracted to the message of God’s love for them.

God enabled Hamlet to start a small group, which grew over time into a thriving congregation. Today, about 35-40 adults meet regularly for Sunday worship, and more than 60 altogether belong to the group. The congregation also works with about 80 children weekly. The youth group has more than a dozen regular attenders.

Over the years, some of the children grew up and moved away. Hamlet continues to disciple them through Skype calls.

In 2016, when Hamlet sensed God asking his congregation to plant new small groups, he proceeded forward with determination, but also caution. He believes that anything worthwhile should not be rushed, because hurrying leads to mistakes. Instead, he would take a small step, then pray and watch to see if God blessed it or opened a door. He sought wisdom and input from other leaders and his congregation.

Not everyone in the congregation agreed at first with the vision to plant other churches. Some said the places they considered for starting a small group were very hard and the people were difficult. Yet, Hamlet trusted the leading of God, and persuaded his congregation to embrace the vision.

The decision about where to plant the first new small group came after he noticed that a regular attender’s sister only showed up at church intermittently. When he asked her why she didn’t come every Sunday, she said it was too difficult because the roads in her part of the city were very rough.

Hamlet told her they should pray for the government to improve the roads. The woman admitted this seemed like a strange thing to pray about.

“So, in front of the church, I just said, ‘I’m proclaiming for the roads to be done, and if one day your roads will be good enough, this will be our sign that God wants to have a church in your community.’”

Pastor Hamlet eventually forgot about his bold and confident public prayer – until about 18 months later when some of the church members approached him to say, “Do you remember you prayed for the roads? Did you know they [fixed] the roads? Now we have nice roads. Do you think it’s time to do the next step?”

Hamlet laughs as he remembers how unprepared he was to hear this news. The first time he visited the woman’s community and saw the beautiful new roads, his mouth hung open. He understood that God had taken his prayer seriously, and now it was the congregation’s turn to follow-through on his promise.

The church sent members to begin the small group, starting with the woman who lived in that community. Within a year, the group was strong and growing.

They also planted a small group in the city of Dzitenkov.

“All the church is involved in these missions, because every time I take different people with me,” he said. “I spread the vision to all the church, and the whole church has this vision to go to these places.”

Recently, Hamlet attended a small group discipleship training, where he learned new ideas and ways of thinking about small groups and discipleship.

“Now, I am thinking and dreaming that each member in my church should have his or her own small group,” he said. “Not to preach, but just to communicate once a week. Invite someone to your home and have a relationship, discussions, coffee, listen to them.”

He’s already challenged his congregation to try this. Those who have taken the challenge excitedly report to him each Sunday the stories of their interactions with people during the week. Now, the congregation is dreaming and praying that each member’s one disciple will be come two, then three and four.

“We will multiply in this way,” he said.

He raised his daughter, Lamara, in the congregation. Today, she is married. She and her husband, Armen, are leading a new Nazarene work in Gyumri, where her father’s spiritual journey began.

Photo by Amberly White