Thomas Cosmades



Apraham Hoja of Aintab


Chapter 9


On to America


We wanted to establish a new life for ourselves and our desired destination was the young country of the United States of America.  At that time people could freely immigrate.  The first restriction came in 1924.  So our lives took a turn.  In 1912, two years before the outbreak of WW I, four of us made up our minds to leave Turkey and migrate to the United States.  We were: Nishan Terzian, Panos Der Kazarian, Bedros Agulian and I.  The ocean voyage offered us a marvelous opportunity to freely witness to other passengers of the grace of God.  The ship was full of sorrowful people who had left their land and all they knew, in the hope of finding a promising future in a new country.  Most of them were totally unaware of the message of Jesus Christ.  While they had their hopes set on attaining physical and material betterment, we could offer them the great value which was immediately within their grasp by faith in Christ. We of course sought out the Armenians, most of whom gladly received our testimony.  We had no New Testaments or other literature at that time, but communicated the saving message of Jesus Christ from the depths of our hearts.  The voyage was rough and many were seasick. At last we spotted land and knew we had reached our new country.  After the ship docked, we were led to Ellis Island where health checks were carried out.  At that time there was no visa requirement and no one was questioned as to his/her motive for migrating to the U.S.A. 


Here in this beautiful land to which the Lord had led us we felt truly liberated; discrimination and persecution were matters of the past.  We gratefully looked back on our evangelistic tours in the various towns and cities in Anatolia.  Now in America we were entirely free to make wide-reaching evangelistic travels, holding meetings in major cities where Armenians had migrated prior to our coming. Our experiences in Anatolia, fresh in our minds, were a wonderful prelude to this new ministry. In those days, there wasn’t much evangelism done among the Armenian folks since the Americans didn’t speak Turkish or Armenian.  The Armenians were following their traditional religion, mostly without the assistance of priests.  We could sense from the outset that God had a special purpose in leading us to the United States.  We stood in amazement at the salvation of so many precious lives, the majority of whom had escaped the cruel regime of oppressive Abdul Hamid.  The hearts of these people were prepared to hear the message of the Lord Jesus Christ. They experienced a delight far exceeding that of having found freedom in the new country which had opened her arms to them. As a result of our evangelistic efforts, small groups of Christians developed into independent churches, later called The Armenian Brethren Churches.  God who had honored our preaching in Turkey was now doing the same in this new land.


Some of our newcomer brothers had been forced to serve in the Turkish army. They were carrying many bitter memories with them.  Now they were soldiers in Christ’s army, witnessing to their own people in their adopted country.  The Armenians we encountered were from every Middle Eastern land, especially from Turkey.  However, Armenians also migrated to Egypt, Greece, Cyprus, France and South America. After WW I, great numbers of Armenians found refuge in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.  Many of those who were scattered to these various places, even though they didn’t speak the local language, acclimated themselves to the country where they had been forced to flee and carried on the witness of Christ among their own people. 


A considerable number of Armenians who fled from the Ottoman Empire hailed from Zeytun in Cilicia.  Zeytun, being an Armenian stronghold, also witnessed a Holy Spirit revival during which scores of men and women were converted.  Following this revival many dispersed to surrounding towns and villages, preaching the message of Christ.  When WW I struck in the latter part of 1914, ominous clouds were already gathering.  One of the plans of the Ottoman government was to do away with the Armenian population.  People from all over the Empire were uprooted from the cities and towns where their ancestors had lived for centuries.  Zeytun was one of the locations targeted.  Following some resistance, it fell.  Homes, churches and schools were destroyed and looted.  Some who escaped from Zeytun found refuge in Marash which was still in the wave of spiritual awakening.  However, with the start of WW I, the great deportation fell upon these people.  Able-bodied men were killed and the rest of the population was set on the road with the destination of Der-el-Zor in the Syrian desert.  Of course, a large number perished along the way.


Some of our remaining men felt that the Lord would have them assist the women, children, and older people, all of whom were weak and starving.  The authorities did not appreciate this act of philanthropy and asked the men, “What are you doing?”  They replied, “We are trying to alleviate the suffering of our poor people.”  The officials were aggravated and retorted, “We drove you out here, and now you are trying to save lives?  We will show you what treatment you deserve!”  They gave orders for the execution of the men who were involved in their act of mercy.  One of the brothers known as ‘Mavy’ said to the soldiers, “In your book it is written that you don’t take a life without first giving him an opportunity to worship God.”  He apparently convinced the soldiers, who let him fulfill his wish.  Brother Mavy opened his New Testament, from where he gave a word of comfort and cheer to those destined for execution.  He read from Revelation 2:10, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer…Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”  Through several other precious promises from God’s Word, he gave these weary people the assurance that they would soon be with their Savior and Lord.  All at once, the men awaiting execution broke forth into singing a hymn in Armenian, of which the English words are:


                                               “On Jordan’s stormy bank I stand

                                                    And cast a wishful eye

                                                 To Canaan’s fair and happy land,

                                                     Where my possessions lie.


                                                  Filled with delight, my raptured soul

                                                      Would here no longer stay;

                                                  Though Jordan’s waves around me roll,

                                                       Fearless I’d launch away.


                                                  We will rest in the fair and happy land,

                                                        Just across on the evergreen shore,

                                                   Sing the song of Moses and the Lamb

                                                         And dwell with Jesus evermore.”


After the singing of this hymn, time came for communion.   But where was the bread?  The stout-hearted leader, Brother Mavy, bent down to the scorching sand and took a handful of it. In the presence of the soldiers, ignorant of Christian practices, he distributed a few grains of sand to each of the condemned men.  In the words of Luke 22:19, he said, “Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”  The brothers then put the grains of sand into their mouths in remembrance of him who said, “I am the living Bread” (John 6:51).  Christ must have looked down upon this strange spectacle of remembering His death with great joy. 


Strengthened and prepared for life’s glorious journey, Brother Mavy stood before the other brothers and with a radiant smile said to the executioners: “We are now ready to be offered.”  Following these words, he addressed his loyal co-workers, “Brothers, this is not an hour of sorrow, but of joy and victory.”  At this valiant behavior, the enemies of the Cross stood motionless and impotent.  Minutes ticked by.  The potential murderers of this small company of believers, unable to speak or act, stood facing them.  Finally they lifted their weapons and began to fire, for fear of their commanding officer.  As the bodies fell onto the ground, God’s word could be recalled, “Dust to dust, ashes to ashes.”  There on the graveless waste of the empty desert these martyrs for the testimony of Christ are awaiting the sound of the resurrection trumpet when the earth shall give up its dead.


At this point, the reader may wonder how this information was obtained since all the Christian brothers were shot.  One of them, a native of Zeytun, was badly wounded and fell with the rest.  Nobody realized that he was alive.  Under the cover of darkness he crept away from the fallen bodies of his companions.  The Lord provided His light in pitch darkness to illumine the road ahead. He also put His hand of healing upon him, giving him extraordinary strength to move on.  After a long journey, the brother could finally reach Aleppo where he located the meeting place of the Christians. They were all stunned at the sight of this exhausted man when he stepped into the room.  The meeting was already in progress, but the group asked him to speak. He told them about the last communion conducted by Brother Mavy among the sand dunes in the desert.  He related that each and every one of the brothers on being shot dipped his finger into his own blood and tasted his own life blood for the cup of communion.  Then this man, saved through God’s miraculous providence and having made this long journey, breathed his last and went into the presence of the Lord to join the other martyrs.  What a joy that meeting must have been!  Some day they will all sit at the marriage supper of the Lamb and God will wipe away all tears from their eyes.