So that Armenia may hear: One Mission, Several Hearts of Compassion & 1800 Miracles

We knew this would be an emotional trip when Archbishop Hovnan Derderian called and asked if we’d accompany the Kavoukjians to Armenia on the Starkey Hearing Foundation Mission. This was not a trip to see sights from old, rather it was to participate in a mission simply dubbed, “So that Armenia may hear.” And so, Yeretsgin Susan I took off for the homeland in expectation of a miracle. Soon we would find 1,800 miracles in the works.
This wasn’t my first exposure to the Starkey Hearing Foundation. Last July, at the invitation of Mr. & Mrs. Armen & Haikouhi Kavoukjians I attended the Starkey Annual Gala fundraiser where the likes of Steve Tyler (Aerosmith), Daymond John (Shark Tank), John Fogerty (CCR) and many others celebrities from the entertainment and sports worlds lent their talents and names “So the World May Hear.” That night over $7Million dollars was raised to bring the possibility of hearing into different countries. It was also a special evening because for the first time, Armenia was being introduced to the Gala attendees. Within minutes thousands of dollars were raised for the Armenia mission to bring hearing to those who could least afford it – to those who possibly would never have an opportunity to avail themselves to this technology. And so, the ground work was in place. We were headed to Armenia.


The Starkey Hearing Foundation was founded by Bill Austin who believes that hearing is a vehicle to reflect caring and to improve the lives of individuals, their families, and communities. For more than 50 years, Austin has been providing the gift of hearing to people in need, with a simple premise: “Alone we can’t do much. Together we can change the world.” With the help of thousands of volunteers and supporters, Bill and his wife Tani Austin have been giving the gift of hearing to those in need, empowering them to achieve their potential.
Starkey came to Armenia through the efforts of Armen & Haikouhi Kavoukjians, local medical suppliers (Comfort Care Medical Products) who approached the Austins with the proposal to take the Starkey team to the land of Ararat. The Kavoukjian’s dream was being realized with our footsteps on Armenian soil. Phase 1 of the Armenian mission took place earlier this year when the Starkey team visited Yerevan to take measurements for the hearing-aid fittings. And now we were here for Phase 2, with the Austins, the Kavoukjians, the Starkey Team and scores of volunteers. In the course of three days, 1,800 individuals would be turning on their devices for a chance to hear.
Yerevan’s Hamalir – the Karen Demirchyan Sports and Music Complex – was the site of this phase of the mission. The challenge was to move hundreds of people through, to provide them with hearing exam, education, placement of the hearing aids and then provide on-going instructions for care of the devises. Busses from Gyumri, Vanadzor and other cities brought hundreds from the outlying areas, while locals from Yerevan came directly to the Complex.
From one end of the Hamalir, the patients registered. They were greeted by friendly volunteers who directed them according to their needs. After exams and the education process, the miracles began to happen. One by one the patients approached the audiologists and technicians. One by one their ears were opened to the world of sound. The audiologists had come from different countries. With no knowledge of the Armenian language, they were assisted by volunteers who translated the basic questions of “Can you hear this?” or “Do you hear that?” And suddenly… there was transformation! Suddenly there was sound! It didn’t take long before smiles replaced the faces of hopelessness. For many this offered a new lease on life. Soon there was communication: “Can you hear this?” became “Lusum es?” and “Lav ah?”

For many the loss of hearing had been a gradual process which came about over the years. But for some hearing was but faint whispers throughout their entire life. Such was the case for one young boy who came in from the villages. His hearing loss was so severe that he had never heard properly. At age 11 he had not attended school because of the lack of programs for the hearing impaired.  The moment his hearing aid was installed and turned on he lit up with excitement. He could hear! The tears of joy rolled down his face as they rolled down all of our faces: We were witnesses to this miracle. AND… if this was a unique miracle, it would certainly have been reason enough to come to Armenia, but tragically, this boy’s story was not a singular event. One after another, we witnessed the miracle of sound on young and old. Children were hearing their parent’s voice as parents were hearing the laughter of their children for the first time. There was an abundance of tears of joy and hugs of appreciation all around us.
The Scriptural scene recounted in the Gospel of Mark chapter 7 comes to my mind. A deaf man was brought to Jesus, but along with his restricted hearing the man’s tongue “was tied.” When Jesus healed his hearing, Scripture tells us that “and his tongue was released…” Gaining his hearing was just the beginning of a major change in his life! So much more would now be available to him. Likewise, here in Yerevan, the hearing aids opened the ears of the patients for sure, but even more, now their lives were opened to possibilities for communication, interaction, education, a better life and ultimately to become agents for change in their communities.
This was a spiritual journey for sure. His Eminence Archbishop Hovnan Derderian and the Western Diocese were sponsors of the Mission and I’m thankful for the opportunity he gave Yn. Susan and myself to be a part of this miracle-making.  The Agape Circle of the Western Diocese, chaired by Mrs. Alice Chakrian was a financial supporter of this project. For our part, we took the prayers and financial assistance of our Glendale Bible Study group and the In His Shoes mission.
Following the Mission, the Starkey Team were welcomed at the See of Holy Etchmiadzin, where Archbishop Natan Hovhanissian welcomed and commended the group for their work. He passed along the blessings of His Holiness Karekin II, the Catholicos of All Armenians, who was away from the Holy See in Germany.
Over 1,800 people received hearing aids during the three days of operation. Yerevan TV publicized the event locally and by day 3 many locals had come without registering. What may have been a difficult situation was quickly remedied when Bill and Tani Austin assured us that everyone would be fitted and would receive hearing aids, if not that day then at the next time Starkey came to Armenia in early 2018. Furthermore, each person that received a hearing aid was also offered instructions on care and maintenance of the device, along with ample supplies of batteries.
Armenian government officials toured the operations, meeting with Starkey organizers and physicians. Dr. Ara Babloyan, the current President of the National Assembly of Armenia, was among those who visited and was truly impressed by the scope and extent of operations, noting the smooth and efficient manner in which distribution was taking place. On the final day of the Mission, the Armenian Parliament recognized the work of Starkey Foundation, honoring Bill Austin with commendations and the entire Kavoukjian family for this most important humanitarian effort and work.
The Mission continues and will continue in the months to come as the phases are explored. It took the prayers and untiring efforts of hundreds of people to make this happen. Essential to the success of the project was the invaluable work of Lianna Sahakian, the International Project Coordinator of the Arabkir Children’s Fund. 
The Kavoukjians hosted the Starkey appreciation dinner at Megerian Carpets in Yerevan. Here the Starkey team was treated to some exceptional Armenian food, music, dance and culture. When the Starkey awards were given, they awarded one to the Western Diocese and to the Mother Church of Holy Etchmiadzin. I was honored to pick up these awards on behalf of the Church but after all that we had witnessed over last several days it was obvious that these awards were not necessary. Miracles are a part of Christian life. We witnessed true miracles as people heard, laughed, cried and understood the power of love. We had received our award in the miracles we witnessed. And so, may the awards inspire others to reach out with their resources to help those in need. May we all be encouraged to be a part of the miracle-making that is all around us and that is so necessary in our world today.
To learn more about the Starkey Foundation visit
To donate to this Mission contact


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