Every year on April 24, Rubik and Susan* join their Armenian brothers and sisters to fulfill a solemn duty. The group is hundreds of thousands strong but moves silently, each man, woman, and child carrying a single flower. The day is rainy and the climb uphill, but it doesn't matter.
The wall of flowers is already five, six feet high, surrounding an eternal flame at the center of the memorial. Tears, prayers, and whispered questions from children are the few sounds heard. The number of people lost in the Genocide in 1915 is numbing--more than 1.5 million--but each hand wrapped around a flower has a personal tie--to a grandparent, a friend--who endured the atrocity. Though missionaries from the States, Rubik and Susan are no exception.
The Armenian Genocide promised unimaginable suffering, though it looked different for each group. Strong men, intellectuals, and politicians were killed first. Old men, women, and children were forced to march, some over a thousand miles through the interior of the ancient Armenian homeland of what is now Turkey, to the unforgiving death zone at the Syrian/Turkish border. One such woman endured the trip with nothing to call her own but a four-year-old son. With death looking less like a threat and more like certain reality, she made the hardest decision any mother would ever have to make. She left him to the desert.
Hours, days. How much time passed? But Bedouin Arabs passing on camelback later heard a child crying and pulled him out of the hot sand. The right thing to do would be to raise him as a good Muslim. He was given to an elderly and childless couple in the tribe in order to be reared in the ways of Allah. As he grew from a child into a man, he lived and traveled with the nomadic tribe, thinking all the time that he was one of them.
It wasn't until he turned twenty-one that the boy learned of his true heritage. Perhaps if he had learned the Bible instead of the Quran he would have seen parallels between himself and Moses. He decided to leave the only family he had ever known to go to the nearest Armenian refugee camp, telling his story to the man selling the bus ticket that would take him there. The man excused himself and grabbed his wife. "There is a man outside who looks like your sister and whose story makes me think he might be her long-lost son," he said. "Could it be?"
"How should I know?" The woman shook her head, unwilling to believe. "What are the chances? Tell him to return tomorrow, when my sister will be here." The next day, the man's sister-in-law also could not believe the crazy story from long ago. Again: "How could I know so many years later? But to be sure--my son had a birthmark just behind his ear." The man came out to the stranger once more. And there, just where it was supposed to be, was the birthmark. Mother and son were, unbelievably, reunited. He soon accepted Christianity and made his way to the refugee camp in Iraq, where he started a family.
As Rubik tells his story, the pauses in his voice make it clear it isn't an easy one to tell. And no wonder. The boy with the birthmark was his grandfather.
"I'm always hesitant to share this," he says, "because I wonder what people will think of my great-grandmother leaving a child behind. But that was the Genocide. We don't understand what trials these people had to endure." He smiles, shakes his head. "Sometimes God lets us go through something extraordinarily hard. It doesn't make sense. But it was because they separated that they both survived."
Rubik and Susan believe that Armenia is a place preserved and prepared by God for godly service. It is the oldest Christian nation in the world, called to share the salvation and hope Christ offers in the darkest of times. "The Armenian Church is a lighthouse for Christ in a sea of Islam," Rubik and Susan both repeatedly say, and it's easy to see why. Though there are still many people who have yet to accept the gospel in Armenia, it houses a committed and vibrant Church that has accepted the mandate to be a light for surrounding nations. Yet the country is not the only thing set apart. Rubik sees the preservation of his family line as proof that God has a task for them to finish.
Missions wasn't immediately on the radar, though. While Susan always hoped to move to the field, she confesses that Rubik didn't, at first, share the same mindset. "When we were first married and living on the east coast," he told me, '"I hope you like it here, because we're never moving.'" And they had no reason to. Rubik was a successful lawyer, and they were enjoying a comfortable life with their growing family.
After Rubik went on a short-term trip to Armenia, the trajectory quickly changed. "Not a day went by that I didn't wish I was there," he said. But he kept this desire from Susan for over a year, wanting to be sure that they were both called to make such a life-changing decision. When he finally came clean about his heart for Armenia, Susan was ecstatic. "Why didn't you tell me? Me too!" Soon after, they left all they knew behind to help the Armenian Church start a Bible University program in their new home country.
Every year, at the Armenian Genocide Memorial, this family and thousands of others take time to remember the tragedies faced over one hundred years ago. But this country, perhaps more than any other, has learned what it means to have hope--to see a purpose for the pain, and to be a lighthouse for the world.
*Names have been changed