Somewhere there is a land. It’s cradled in the pit of the Middle East, smothered by Turkey and pressing into Iran, while Russia weights heavily somewhere above. A land not known by many. But yet, somehow I ended up there. Armenia. Hayastan.
Being a missionary is a kind of a weird thing for a 21 year old girl to decide to do. My time spent in Armenia was one of the most poignant events of my life. Each day was a bead that I placed on a string, creating a necklace of memories I cannot seem to find words to describe. I saw a lot of suffering and I suffered myself. Every single day for a year and a half I spent hours in people’s homes; everyone was always inviting us in, offering what little food they had. I spoke of Christ, I carried buckets of water up flights of stairs, I danced in taxi’s (the drivers always thought this was hilarious,) I ate gobs cabbage, I celebrated the new year, I slipped on the ice, I carried a handkerchief in my pocket to wipe the summer sweat, I learned to make dolma, I climbed a hillside with a shepherd, I helped beat wool from some mattresses. From the dusty roads lining the shadows of Ararat to the broken rocks of Gyumri, I found that heaven is a tangled mess of pain and beautiful darkness.
I still remember the day when I was in a small kitchen, two Armenian women sitting at a table next to me, speaking in Armenian, preparing a meal. I felt in an instant just how far away from “home” I was. But yet, I understood every word from their mouths- I too helped make the food. I sat there with them eating lunch. Somehow, I was home.
As much as I did there, there was one thing I did not do- I did not really get to photograph it. For the eight years that I have been home I kept saying that I needed to go back with my camera. I needed to tell the stories I felt, the ones with no words.
When I think of their stories, I think about their hands- and all that they do and symbolize. I think of their light; their candles. The symbolism of their dark churches being pierced by the flames of candles. I think about the idea of being forgotten, but not lost. The story of their hearts, that they have always been found by the sacrifice of their ancestors. At first glance you may think you are staring at a ghost town- crumbling cement, grass peering through cracks. At first glance you might see sadness in the peoples’ eyes, the enlarged passport photos of their deceased loved ones clinging to their rug covered walls. And in it you find yourself breaking. But then you start to notice how every morning faces get painted with sunlight as they hurry outside to sweep the front steps for their shoes, holes in the bottom but always shined, to walk out the door; to walk into a fierce pride and devotion to what makes them Armenian. Perhaps the world forgot but they never will.
I left a trail of my heart and I needed to see where that path would lead. Armenia is where I became broken, completely and in a way I had never known, and in a way I came back to pick up some of the pieces.
But more importantly it’s the place where I was reborn. The place my heart decided for what it will beat for for the rest of my life. And as it is with any birth, it was hard. The pain, the blood, the moments you think you can’t possibly go on, all to push forward a new life, to give that first breath. So I suppose you could say that Armenia is, in a way, a birth place for me. And finally, I have come back.