20 years ago: Praying with Focused Vision

It was 20 years ago today: The untold story of the Armenian Church Youth Ministries Center.

Between the years 2003 and 2016 we ran an experiment in an area of Glendale, California known as “Ground Zero,” a place that Armenian organizations have ignored and forgotten, a place where education, identity and prayer came together.

This is a series about the miracles that we witnessed at this small church on the corner with a worldwide ministry. This is part of the Armodoxy for Today podcast series about the Armenian Church now, patterned after the ancient Apostolic Church, then.

Today’s episode: Focused Vision

In 1996 I was called to be the Parish Priest of the St. Gregory Armenian Church in Pasadena. It was one of the largest parishes in the diocese, in terms of people and potential. In five short years we had developed a thriving youth presence around the church. There were events and outings, sure, but the phenomena was around the youth presence in the church proper. The ancient Divine Liturgy was celebrated with young participants. In 2002, through the efforts of Aram Krikorian and Dr. Nubar Sethian we produced a CD album of Armenian Church hymns called, “Focused Vision.” The album name explained our emphasis as a community. In the album liner notes, I wrote: Focus your vision on God and let Him take care of your growth.

By the end of 2002, the Primate, Archbishop Vatché, invited me to the Western Diocese as the Director of Youth Ministries. The challenge was simple enough: replicate the success we had in Pasadena on a larger scale for the entire Diocese. We prayed about it, contemplated, weighed the options, prayed, and finally accepted the challenge. I started working at the headquarters of the Western Diocese in Burbank California, which was recently acquired and in the process of setting up what we know today as the St. Leon Ghevondyants Cathedral complex. I remember being in a small office, and after a couple of weeks of acclimating to my new circumstances I started second guessing my decision to this new Youth Department. Specifically, I remember sitting in this office, with ideas and proposals for youth ministry on my computer screen, but  thinking of all that I had left and given up to be here. I called my wife Susan on the phone to sound off some thoughts. We had given up a pastorate in one of the largest parishes in our diocese, we had done so with prayer, and now I was sitting in a small office, trying to set up program. Granted, it had only been two weeks since I started, but patience is not a virtue of mine.

Susan and I consoled each other during that call and I was back to work. The phone rang that afternoon. It was Vatché Mangasarian, producer of the Armenian National Network television program. I was a regular guest on his show during my time at the Pasadena church. He would give me an open forum to talk about the issues taking place within the community, especially with troubled Armenian youth. His show was an evening wrap-up type aired in the Glendale market. Vatché said there was a gentleman who wanted to meet me. His name, a name that I would shortly come to know very well. It was Onnik Mehrabian, the owner/president of a new dealership selling Korean Kia automobiles. I was given an address and went out to meet Mr. Mehrabian.

The address, on Central Ave. in Glendale, took me to a large parking area for used cars. Asking for Mr. Mehrabian I was led to his private office in the back of the lot. This gentleman introduced himself to me and said he had seen me discussing youth issues on Mangasarian’s TV show. He said he wanted to give me a church! It was interesting, because as unusual as his offer was, I was not phased one way or another. In my head, I was still thinking about the earlier thoughts of the day, of praying for our Youth Ministry and giving up my pastorate. In fact, I said to him something like, this was a nice gesture and it would be something I’m sure the archbishop would be happy to discuss with him. I didn’t even put myself in the equation. What would I want with a church? I was in a church and now I’m trying to put together a youth ministry.

I got into Mr. Mehrabian’s Chevy pick-up and he drove me to the church on the corner of Kenilworth and Stocker Streets in Glendale. His key opened the back door. We went up the stairs to some old offices and noticed a large hall and kitchen in desperate need of repairs along the way. We walked through to the main church area. All this time I still had not fully understood the magnitude of this offer. Someone who was unknown to me only a half an hour ago, wanted to give me a church building. What would I do with a church? I had one of the biggest and largest, what would I want with this dilapidated building. The sanctuary was in need of more repair than the downstairs hall. It was a large room, with well-worn out wooden pews, tattered carpeting, a stage area overwhelmed with an adult pool where baptisms would take place. At first, I thought I would share this find with the archbishop, but now, seeing the condition of the building I even questioned whether he would be interested.

Onnik Mehrabian took me through the entire building. We had entered through the back door and so we ended up at the front doors of the building. From the inside, he opened the front doors so I could see the front yard. As he swung the doors open, to my complete and total surprise I saw school buildings! I was standing directly in front of a cluster of schools – Keppel Elementary, Toll Middle and Hoover High School. I was speechless. Tears started rolling down from my eyes. My newly found friend looked at me with a very kind and satisfied smile. I couldn’t contain myself. We had prayed for a youth ministry center, where else did I think God would lead me? What did I expect? That God would take me to work out of an old-age home? Of course not! He brought me and delivered me right in front of the largest concentration of Armenian youth outside of Armenia!

I shook Mr. Mehrabian’s hand and we were set. This building would now be designated as the Armenian Church Youth Ministries Center. Within 40 days he would renovate and rebuilt this building to our specs. We prayed for a Youth Ministry and God gave us a center from where to operate. Sometimes (actually most of the time) our doubt creates our biggest obstacles. When we pray, we need to do so and then give God enough room to answer us. It’s exactly as we said twenty years ago, Focus your vision on God and let Him take care of your growth. 

Join me tomorrow, as we continue the journey which began 20 years ago today.

If you missed earlier episodes, you can catch up by listening to them on your favorite podcatcher or at Epostle.net under the “Armodoxy for Today” tab. Remember to leave a comment and/or write us at feedback@epostle.net.

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