ACYOA brings together young leaders for talk of Christian witness

Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern)
630 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10016
Contact: Jake Goshert, Coordinator of Information Services
Tel: (212) 686-0710 Ext. 60; Fax: (212) 779-3558
E-mail: [email protected]

March 17, 2004


How can you tell someone about Christianity if you don’t first feel the

That was the question underlying the fifth annual National Young Adult
Leadership Conference, co-sponsored by the Armenian Church Youth
Organization of America (ACYOA) and the Diocese of the Armenian Church of
America (Eastern)

The sessions focused on the two sides of Christian witness: experiencing the
Holy Spirit at first-hand, and then communicating it to others. “This
conference really helped me understand what witnessing is and why we need to
witness,” said Justin Ajamian, 20, a participant from St. Leon Church of
Fair Lawn, NJ.

The conference, held from March 12 to 14 in Stony Point, NY, brought
together 48 young adults from 22 parishes. More than half of the
participants were new to the leadership conference. Four parishes sent
young representatives for the first time: Baton Rouge, LA; Livingston, NJ;
Springfield, MA; and St. Petersburg, FL.

“It was interesting to hear different opinions about religion, our culture,
and different parishes,” said Leana Garibova, 18, from St. Hagop Church of
St. Petersburg, FL. “It was enlighteningan experience every young Armenian
should have.”


The goal of the annual conference is to find and develop future leaders for
the ACYOA and the Armenian Church. Each year the presentations and
discussions focus on one of five features of Christian life: worship,
fellowship, education, service, and witness — which serve as basis for
programming by ACYOA.

“The leadership conference expanded my knowledge and strengthened my faith,”
said Johnny El Chemmas, 19, of St. John Church of Southfield, MI. “I can
take back this understanding of witness to my parish.”

This year, the group focused on the idea of witnessing, finding personal
faith, and then sharing your Christian feeling with others.

The tone of the weekend was set by Fr. Vahan Hovhanessian, pastor of the
Church of the Holy Martyrs in Bayside, NY, who defined witness as the living
and sharing of our Christian faith and experiences with others.

“It was great to see a such a large group of young folks open to exploring
the beliefs, values, and spiritual depths of the church,” said Jason
Demerjian, college ministry facilitator for the Eastern Diocese. “Thats
the first step of sharing your faith with other people–of witnessing your

During the three-day conference, held at the Don Bosco Conference Center in
Stony Point, NY, Demerjian led a workshop in which participants were asked
to examine how they witness through consumerism, lifestyle, attitudes, and

Witnessing one’s faith in the workplace was the focus of a panel discussion
featuring Becky Bagdasarian, Sevan Topjian, and Greg Tashjian. They
explained how they came to know Christ and witnessed in their everyday lives
at school, in the workplace, and with family and friends.

Another panel, led by Arda Nazerian Haratunian, a communications
professional, focused on developing a communication plan. She worked with
small groups for setting goals that would help the ACYOA communicate its
ideas, objectives, and faith.

Witnessing as an organization was also the focus of a session led by Nancy
Basmajian, executive secretary of the ACYOA, and Saro Kalayjian, former
Central Council chairman of ACYOA. Along with ACYOA Central Council members
Daron Bolat and Rita Akaraz, the participants discussed how the organization
should witness its faith.

“It is important that we, as an organization, step forward and witness our
faith,” Basmajian said. “We are a Christian organization and our main
purpose is to bring others closer to God.”


The weekend also touched on the importance of serving the Lord and
community. One panel discussion featured clergy speaking on their journeys
of service to the church. The discussion included Fr. Diran Bohajian,
pastor of St. Leon Church in Fair Lawn, NJ; Fr. Daniel Findikyan, dean of
St. Nersess Seminary; Dn. Sebuh Oscherician, from St. Leon Church; and
Diocesan staff members Jason Demerjian and Nancy Basmajian.

“This experience changed me for the better,” said Niree Kaltakdjian, 18, of
St. Garabed Mission Parish in Baton Rouge, LA.

Through multi-media presentations, participants also explored ways each can
serve individually. Karen Khatchadourian, of the St. Thomas Church in
Tenafly, NJ, spoke on the ACYOA’s Armenia Service Program, where
participants help run a summer camp for needy children in Armenia. Anna
Demerjian, originally from Armenia and now a member of St. Gregory Church in
White Plains, NY, spoke about the Armenian Volunteer Corps, a Peace
Corps-like program pairing volunteers with social service organizations in
Armenia. Lori Hovsepian, from St. Leon Church, spoke about her first-hand
experience in Armenia with Habitat for Humanity.

“It’s exhilarating to witness the variety of ideas, diverse levels of faith,
and genuine love shared here this weekend,” said Areg Bagdasarian from Holy
Trinity Church of Cambridge, MA. “This weekend was great, especially for
anyone wanting to understand their own faith better.”


Along with discussions of witness and fun and games, the weekend also
included many worship opportunities. Martins, Vespers, Lenten Evening
Vigil, and Sunday Midday services were all led by Dn. Diran Jebejian, ACYOA
Central Council chairman.

Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Diocese, presented each
participant with a copy of a book on the sacraments of the Armenian Church.
The Primate spoke to the participants following the Vespers service,
focusing his remarks on one of today’s most noticeable acts of witness: Mel
Gibson’s new movie, “The Passion of the Christ.”

“We find ourselves in a remarkable moment,” he said to the participants.
“We find ourselves in a time when people are talking about the meaning of
Christ’s sacrifice. A truly unexpected turn of events, made even more
remarkable because this interest has been sparked by the release of a

Organizing the conference was Yn. Arpi Kouzouian, youth outreach coordinator
for the Diocese; Nancy Basmajian, ACYOA executive secretary; and Central
Council members Diran Jebejian, Rita Akaraz, Jennifer Morris, Maria
Derderian, Daron Bolat, Tammy Bagdigian, and Chris Tashjian. Since it’s
inception five years ago, the conference has served as a key to ACYOA’s
effort to strengthen its leadership.

“Coming to this oasis of Armenian Christian fellowship has given me so much
to strive for,” said Julie Hoplamazian, 25, a parishioner at the St. Mary
Church of Livingston, NJ, and student at Princeton Theological Seminary.
“Now I am so much more aware of the leadership task that lies ahead, for my
parish and the ACYOA as a whole.”

For more on the ACYOA, go to its website:

— 3/17/04

E-mail photos available on request. Photos also viewable on the Eastern
Diocese’s website,

PHOTO CAPTION (1): Almost 50 young leaders from throughout the Diocese of
the Armenian Church of America (Eastern) gathered from March 12 to 14 for
the annual ACYOA National Young Adult Leadership Conference, where they
explored the idea of witnessing: living and sharing of our Christian faith
and experience with others.

PHOTO CAPTION (2): Speaking to the ACYOA National Young Adult Leadership
Conference on witnessing in the real world are, from left, Greg Tashjian,
Becky Bagdasarian, and Sevan Topjian.

PHOTO CAPTION (3): Archbishop Khajag Barsamian speaks about the presence of
Christ in our everyday lives to the participants of this year’s ACYOA
National Young Adult Leadership Conference.

PHOTO CAPTION (4): The ACYOA National Young Adult Leadership Conference,
held in Stony Point, NY, from March 12 to 14, featured many worship

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