Friday, August 14, 2015

Featured Friday: Courtney's Armenian Mission Trip

I am SO excited for yall to read about one of my best friends, Courtney, and her recent mission trip to Armenia. Courtney is one of those friends that you can count on no matter what and who can always make the best of a frumpy situation. As Courtney was across the country, her mom would send me updates about her luggage fiasco and travel updates! When she told me Courtney's luggage didn't arrived in Armenia when she did, I instantly felt so bad for her but I also knew that if anyone could handle the situation with class and grace, it would be Courtney! I hope yall enjoy reading about her trip and how it brought her a peace of mind within her own life. As always, be sure to show her LOTS of love :)

Hello everyone!

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m the “other” Courtney. Courtney Wolf and I became fast friends last year at Campbell by working closely together in our sorority, Sigma Alpha Omega, and our friendship quickly grew into weekly Scandal dates, grabbing Starbucks between classes when Court should have been at work, and the understanding that we were both down for a venting session whenever the other needed it! I have just returned from two weeks in Armenia, and I am thrilled that Courtney has asked me to share some thoughts on my experience overseas with you all this week!

Not super familiar with Armenia? Don’t feel bad, I had to Google it too! Besides being the original home of the Kardashians, Armenia is one of the oldest Christian nations in the world. It is an area rich in history and culture, but because of its location (bordered by Turkey, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Iran!), it is also an area that has had to withstand more than its fair share of conflict. We did our actual mission work in an area called Nagorno-Karabakh, about five hours east of the capital city Yerevan. For reasons that would take an entire blog post to explain, the region is technically “no man’s land” because the land, which is part of Armenia, was given to Azerbaijan by the Soviet Union during World War II without the Armenian’s permission, and now no one can decide who the land really belongs to.

We began our trip on Monday, July 27th and flew all night to Vienna, Austria. After a fifteen hour layover in Vienna we took our final leg of the journey to Yerevan, Armenia, arriving just after 4 o’clock in the morning on Wednesday, July 29th. Needless to say we were tired since we had been up for the better part of two and a half days, and unfortunately the Yerevan airport is where my struggles began. While my team and I thankfully arrived safely and all in one piece, my luggage unfortunately did not arrive with us.

After a quick rest we set out to explore the capital city for the day. Fortunately, I had packed an extra pair of underwear, a spare t-shirt, and a toothbrush in my carry-on bag, so I had enough supplies to get through the day! We visited the Armenian genocide museum, the art park city market, and the Cascades, a beautiful art museum which was like a long staircase up the side of a mountain with pieces of art at intervals along the way. The next day we finally set out for Nagorno-Karabakh, after a quick stop at the airport where we learned my bags still had not arrived.

Mount Ararat is seen faintly behind me, the mountain where Noah's ark came to rest
The top of the Cascades
The drive to Berdzor, the town where the Agape center that we stayed at is located, was long. The roads were sometimes unpaved, always bumpy, and they wound through mountains and valleys along very narrow paths. I’m not usually affected by motion sickness, but even my tummy turned a few times as we made our way in our un-air conditioned vans! The difference between Nagorno-Karabakh and the city of Yerevan was immediately apparent. Where we saw multi-storied apartment buildings and supermarkets in the city, everywhere we looked in Berdzor there were houses that had been bombed out, and were missing roofs or had gaping holes in their walls.

We spent our first day in Berdzor visiting the Agape hospital and clinic. We were able to deliver some medical supplies that our team had collected before we left to both places, and each time the head doctors were overwhelmed with joy at our simple offering of Band-Aids and syringes. The hospital is where I spent my mornings later on in the trip. I was placed in the pediatrician’s office, where I helped measure babies and consoled them after receiving their shots; I was also able to spend some time with the newborn babies who had just been born that week!

Outside of the Agape hospital with the radiologist
Some of my most treasured memories from the trip were the times we spent at the Agape Children’s Home. There are twenty-four children living there from about 4 to 17 years old and they were absolutely delighted to have visitors. We brought them toys and shirts from home, and they were overjoyed to do simple things such as play keep the balloon from touching the ground and coloring. The girls who lived at the home were fascinated with talking to me in their broken English about what it’s like to go to college and how to put on makeup! One day, another team member and I went up to the children’s home with some beads and elastic cording that I had brought with me to make bracelets with the children. We spent hours making bracelets with both the children and the adults at the home! I was humbled when the little boy who I had considered the bully of the group quietly gave me a bracelet he had made just for me with all of the heart-shaped beads he could find.

Prior to leaving for our trip, our team raised enough money to give cows to five different families through Project Agape. For one thousand dollars, Agape can buy a cow and provide veterinary services to the cow, provided that the family uses the cow to help themselves and others by selling milk and cheese from the cow and one day giving the cow’s calf to another family who needs it. We had the privilege of delivering one of the cows that we bought! The family that received the cow was a newly married couple and the husband had actually grown up in the Agape children’s home as his father was mentally and physically disabled and unable to care for him. They were so excited to have the cow to care for and invited us into their home for homemade blackberry juice and to have bread and honey from the man’s beehive.

Our team also spent several days helping to renovate a house of a needy family in Berdzor, not far from the Agape hospital. Sarmon and Rena and their two precious children were such gracious hosts to our work team. Our American group was charged with building a wall to divide the one bedroom in the house into two so that the parents and the children would have separate bedrooms, while the Armenian work team worked on installing new windows and doors. Rena made us watermelon snacks and coffee every morning and one afternoon went to town to bring back ice cream for us. Sarmon was a great worker and he helped with a little bit of everything on the remodeling project, but he is also a firefighter and was called away to help with the forest fire that was burning south of where we were staying.

Me with the (incomplete) wall we built!
So now that you stuck with me through a quick overview of all that we did I’m thinking that you might be wondering if my bags ever arrived or if I had to continue alternating the same two pairs of underwear the entire trip. My bags FINALLY arrived on Saturday afternoon, five and a half days after we left Raleigh. I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to see a piece of luggage in my entire life! Finally I had my own clothes to wear and my own shampoo to use as well as a second suitcase completely filled with more medical supplies for the hospital that had been donated by members of my church and purchased wholesale from the doctor’s office I work at through monetary donations I received. Luckily some of my sweet team members were able to offer me supplies! One of the ladies on the trip had a nice fresh razor for me to use, another lady donated t-shirts and closed toe shoes for me to wear in the hospital, and one of the pastors on the trip found new clothes that had been donated by his church members specifically for the older teenagers at the children’s home that happened to fit me perfectly tucked away in his suitcase!

YAYYYY! Suitcases finally arrived!
Delivering medical supplies to the hospital!
Growing up the granddaughter of a United Methodist pastor, there has never been moment that I was not sure of my faith, and so consequently I have always shied away from the concept of “sharing my testimony” with others. I am always quick to reassure others that we each have a story to tell when it comes to sharing our faith, but I secretly think that my story is pretty boring. But as I shared with my team members one night when it was my turn to lead our devotion time, I think I found the story I’m meant to tell while I was in Armenia. The Lord provided for me at every step along the way when it came to my trip. When I realized that I was not going to have as much money as I thought to purchase medical supplies because my office would be unable to make donations, an anonymous donation came in for my trip for two hundred dollars. As I was walking out the door to leave for the airport my dad asked if I had put a toothbrush in my carry on, I insisted that I didn’t need it but humored him anyway and put one in my bag, providing me with a toothbrush while my luggage was lost. And who would have thought that some sweet little old ladies at Evansdale UMC would go to Walmart and buy clothes exactly my size to send over? I may not have had all of the items that I so thoughtfully packed for myself in my suitcase, but all of my needs were taken care of. The Lord provided for me in the smallest of ways and it was not long before I adjusted to not having my things. As I became more and more calm about my lack of luggage I also inexplicably realized that a peace had settled over me about my future as well. I spent most of the earlier part of the summer applying to PA school and I’m now in the process of waiting to hear whether I will be offered a spot in a program. This season of waiting has been filled with anxiety and nerves as I worry over whether or not I will get in and what I will do if I don’t. I realized that if the Lord could provide clothes for me when literally all of my possessions were missing, He could certainly find a purpose for my life, whether it was in PA school or on some other path He has laid out that I’m not even aware of.

This is a shop were women could rent out wedding dresses for their special day.
The Armenian people taught us what it means to be a neighbor and how to be truly thankful for what we are given. These people have so little compared to all of the things that we are accustomed to having in America. They do not have air conditioning, their water and electricity does not work all day long, they only receive it in shifts, and they have few material items, but the spirit of the people is contagious. The people wanted nothing more than to give us what they were able from what little they had. Each of the families we visited fixed snacks and coffee and candy for us as signs of gratitude simply for coming to their house. The people look out for one another and take true joy in one another’s accomplishments.

The stories and sweet smiles of the people that I met while I was away will stay with me long after the jet lag finally wears off, I hope I captured a bit of their spirit through the pictures here!


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