WILL SHINE LIKE THE STARS FOREVER
By this time many in Istanbul had found new life in Christ. House meetings were held daily in various parts of the city where the steadily growing number of new converts were sharing exciting testimonies. Among these were Armenians who had moved from Anatolia to Istanbul. They kept impressing upon Vahram the spiritual needs of the Armenian remnant back in Anatolia who were left without scriptures or churches. They urged him to visit their towns and villages. Before promising anything, he spent time in earnest prayer. He was determined not to make any move by the suggestions of others neither by his own will. He wanted to be sure of the guidance of the Holy Spirit. For a long time he prayed, "Oh Lord, if you are guiding me to Anatolia, please open the way before me."
One day God revealed to him His will in these words, "I am God, the God of your father; do not be afraid to go down to Egypt... I will go down with you to Egypt" (Genesis 46:3, 4). In receiving this command, Vahram thanked his Lord, accepting this promise as a God-supplied passport. It was now the mid-forties. He went down to the Galata wharf accompanied by two brothers who were assisting him to carry his bags laden with books. He bought a ticket for the ship bound for Samsun, an important port on the Black Sea. Many people were sending off their relatives and friends. Right there he was able to sell quite a number of books. After a hearty send-off by the brothers he boarded the ship. In his cabin he knelt down and prayed. For many years he had been in the midst of believers. The nearness of brothers and sisters had always provided warm support.
Now however he was the only Christian in this vast crowd on the ship. He was a servant of Christ set apart for the advance of God's work. Satan whispered in his ear, "Don't ever attempt to sell books in the ship; you could get yourself into serious trouble." Vahram responded within, "Is not my living Lord with me? Are not the many believers left behind interceding for me that the trip will be safe and fruitful?" By bringing these questions to his mind the Holy Spirit was reminding him that he was on the ship with a commission to sell books. So he started to pray that God's program would be carried on effectively.
He mentioned to a passenger that he wanted to sell books on board. The man responded, "Splendid! All these people on the boat have plenty of time to read. What are you waiting for? Get up and start selling!" Through an unknown passenger, the Holy Spirit was prodding him into action. Again he prayed and took up his work. The response was amazing. By the time they reached Samsun, he had sold nearly a hundred pieces of Scripture, including some Bibles and New Testaments. Wanting to start low-key, he first offered Proverbs or the Psalms, as was his custom in reaching out to Muslims. Vahram later wrote, "I approached a student and offered him Proverbs and the Psalms. He immediately responded, 'No, I want the life story of Jesus,' so I sold him a New Testament." This unexpected boost cheered him greatly.
The chief cook seemed to be extremely distressed. "What's the matter, my friend?" asked Vahram. "Tell me about what’s troubling you." The man explained that his son had recently been sentenced for a crime and was now in jail. "I comforted him," said Vahram, "explaining the all-surpassing love of Jesus Christ and his offer of salvation. Then I presented him with a book as my gift. He was genuinely thankful, smiling as he received it. He was truly comforted. He couldn't thank me enough. Wanting to help me in some way, he explained in detail the discount fares of the Maritime Lines." Establishing such genuine friendships was a special gift of Vahram's.
Eventually the ship docked in Samsun. Vahram's heart was full of praise. He started visiting a few Christian families, most of them Armenians. He got acquainted with a successful businessman in his shop who told him that he had many Muslim friends. This man immediately purchased thirty-three Scripture portions to offer as gifts to them. Then the businessman proceeded to pose a few irrelevant questions that he himself was often encountered with:
1. Could it be that this book has been abrogated?
2. How should we speak to folks involved in magic and fortune-telling?
3. What could the Apostle Paul's 'thorn in the flesh' have been?
Vahram answered each question appropriately from Scripture: Isaiah 34:16; 8:19, 10; II Corinthians 12:7-10. A Muslim man who happened to be listening in expressed his satisfaction from the answers and bought a New Testament. Soon after, Vahram became acquainted with a born-again Armenian woman named Takuhi. She took him on visits from house to house. New joy came into many homes as men and women heard the Word of the Lord with delight. A few were saved, trusting in the love and grace of the Savior.
Later he visited a drinking joint. The owner was an Armenian. Both he and the customers purchased Scriptures. Vahram explained that the Savior had power to save sinners. One of the customers said, "I dragged myself here very unwillingly. I've not been able to find help anywhere. Let's see if Jesus can help me." He immediately bought four Scripture portions. Vahram's time in Samsun was filled with new experiences which offered him opportunity to bear witness for Jesus.
After completing his mission in Samsun, he boarded the train for Amasya. True to custom, Vahram bowed his head and prayed. In the next compartment was a family with children. He struck up a friendship with them and offered to help them. Touched with the love shown by this stranger the man asked where Vahram was from, what he did and where he was going. He bought a Bible. In fact, Vahram sold many books on the train.
The train finally pulled into the dilapidated station of Amasya. There was an Armenian church here, and on this particular day the travelling priest was present for a special visit. He was so pleased that Vahram was selling Bibles. He commended him saying, "You're doing the best work possible!” After a while the priest officiated in a church liturgy, but the people couldn't understand it. Vahram asked the priest, "May I explain in Turkish the verse to which you referred in the liturgy?" The priest was only too happy to comply. The particular text was, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (John 12:24).
Taking these words of Christ Vahram expounded a lively message about the death of Jesus. "Every sinner ought to be benefited by His death and come to God as a fruit of Him who died." Before he even finished his words, one of those present asked, "Can I obtain the book where these truths are recorded?" Nobody wanted to go home. They said, "The priest comes here only once a year, but we need these truths every day." Vahram promised to pray about the possibility of making another visit, reassuring them that he would make every effort to come again. A young woman and her daughter had never seen a New Testament. Like a traveller parched with thirst who has discovered water in an oasis, they desperately clung to the book. A woman dressed in black was in deep mourning at the loss of her son. Through Vahram, the Holy Spirit lifted the woman's soul. These women entrusted their lives to Christ as their Savior. Someone who years before had obtained a Bible only to have it snatched away by a spiritually hungry friend was overjoyed to find a Bible once again. An eleven-year-old girl wanted badly to pray out loud, but could not manage it. After Vahram talked to her, she was saved and then freely lifted up words of praise to the Savior. Vahram joined the Sunday liturgy and assisted the priest in the ritual. This made a deep impression on all who attended.
Vahram went to visit a Muslim hoja. He read to him the passage of the miraculous birth of John the Baptist. "For three years I have been looking for a New Testament, but couldn't find one, and now you have brought one right to my home," said the hoja. He bought a copy and gave his address. At this juncture another hoja arrived and reprimanded Vahram, exclaiming, "This book has been abrogated!" Later on he raised the question, "How can a person know God?" Vahram answered persuasively with a Scripture verse: "God the righteous judge is slow to show his anger, but he is a God who is always enraged by those who refuse to repent" (Psalm 7:11 – Jerusalem Bible).
Now the hoja came with another question, this time about spiritists and mediums. Vahram answered by quoting from Deuteronomy 18:9-14. The hoja was interested in the subject of the Paraclete (John 16:7-13). When Vahram had intelligently answered his question, the hoja apologised for getting angry and bought a Bible. He even suggested arranging a meeting between Vahram and other hojas, but Vahram discreetly declined.
An Armenian wedding had been arranged in Amasya. Many Muslims were among the guests. The wedding family wanted Vahram to attend and also bring a message. He read the account of the wedding in Cana (John 2:1-11) and the great joy Jesus brought to the wedding banquet. They had never heard a speech like this in Turkish at a wedding. They proposed that he come to their city two or three times a year.
After visiting Merzifon where the famous American Anatolia College once offered a broad education, he headed to neighboring Gumushajikoy. On the way, the bus broke down. The driver announced that the repairs would take some hours. He advised the passengers to walk the rest of the way, a journey of about one and a half hours on foot. The passengers shouldered their bags and began walking. But Vahram had a large carton of books as well as his bag. He was going to visit many families in Gumushajikoy and he needed the books for them. The Lord granted him special strength to carry both his bag and the carton of books. He trudged on for nearly two hours, the load getting heavier as he went along. But his thoughts carried him back to the gospel messengers of earlier times in this land who had walked much longer distances to carry the Good News to needy people. He praised his Lord, saying, "They walked with heavy loads not for a mere two hours, but for many days. And if you, dear Christ, bore the weight of the cross to the hill of Golgotha for me, what is a two-hour walk for your sake?" Sustained by these touching thoughts, he pressed on, and the burden seemed as nothing.
Reaching the town at last, he gave thanks to the Lord. Starting with one person, the circle of contacts soon increased, some developing into friendships. Coincidentally, here too a wedding was about to begin. Without hesitation the family invited Vahram and within a few hours he found himself among the wedding guests. What setting could be more suitable for evangelism than a wedding! The experience of Amasya was being repeated here.
When he went out to make house visits the next day, he met many people who were longing to hear God's Word, to receive Christ, or to possess the books he had carried those two hours along the road. One young man ordered ten Bibles from Istanbul, giving the money in advance. Such was the happy outcome of the visit to Gumushajikoy.
Frequent bus breakdowns were nothing unusual in those days. His bus broke down at Turhal, on the way to Tokat. It seemed as if it would never be repaired. Vahram had no plans to stop at Turhal, but here was an unexpected door of opportunity before him. He prayed that the Lord would provide contacts with Armenians who would receive him. His enquiries were leading nowhere, but he Lord directed him to persevere in his search. At last he met an Armenian who was a man of means. He invited Vahram to his home. As they were talking, the man's twelve-year old son begged, "Please, father, don't let this man leave!" So the man very cordially invited him to spend the night. "I'll stay on one condition," said Vahram, "if you arrange a meeting in your house this evening and invite everyone who would like to come." This request was gladly accepted. It was already getting dark and a porter was sent to fetch Vahram's luggage from the bus terminal. Five families gathered that evening, excitement on every face. For a long time these Armenians had not heard God's Word. They owned no Scriptures. Vahram's host was grieving over the loss of his twenty-two-year-old brother, so with love and sympathy, Vahram pointed him to comforting words from the Scriptures. What a heart-warming meeting followed that evening! People couldn't believe what was happening. They found joy in God's presence. Several repented and believed in Jesus as their Savior. Vahram sold books to all who were interested. The next day he went on to Tokat with deep thanksgiving.
Vahram arrived in Tokat in joyful expectancy. This was the place where the great missionary, Henry Martyn (1781-1812), was buried. A woman who had trusted Christ in Istanbul was now living here. She arranged an evening meeting in her home and a number of people attended. Some responded to the call of Christ for salvation. Almost everybody bought books. Young people knelt and praised God and declared their love for Jesus Christ. There was an atmosphere of spiritual uplift in the house. One family there had written several times to Istanbul asking for a Bible, but had received no response. Now everyone was full of joy for possessing their own copy of the Bible. They earnestly pled with Vahram to visit them again.
From Tokat he went on to Sivas. By God's provision, there was someone in every place who volunteered to take him around. In Sivas his guide was an eighty-year-old woman. She knew every nook and cranny of the city as well as she knew every corner of her own house. They went from section to section and from house to house. Many people were blessed. The words of Jesus Christ were fulfilled: "And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it, and stay with him until you depart. As you enter the house, salute it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you" (Matthew 10:11-13).
He enlightened many people whose knowledge about Jesus Christ was practically nil. The Armenian children were totally ignorant of the fascinating life of Jesus Christ. As he and his eighty-year-old guide were entering a neighborhood, a little boy threw stones at them. Vahram approached him and asked his name. The boy said, ‘Hovannes.’ Hearing his name Vahram realized he was an Armenian child. Vahram began telling him stories from the Bible which told of Christ's love. The child was so excited that he ran around the neighborhood and collected ten friends to hear these stories with him. These children between six and twelve years of age hung on every word of these precious stories. They had never heard of Christ's love and that He had died for them on the cross.
The mother of one of the children noticed what was happening and called Vahram and the old sister to her house. When the same stories geared to the adult level were related to the woman, she started to weep. Vahram asked her, "Why don't you tell these beautiful Bible stories to the children yourself?" Lamenting bitterly, she replied, "How can such ignorant people as we teach anybody anything?" Right there, the woman repented and believed wholeheartedly in Christ as her Savior. In each place he visited, the Holy Spirit supported the Word for the necessary impact upon hearts. Some of the children prayed that they might be washed and cleansed in the blood of Christ. The woman took a copy of the Psalms and at Vahram's suggestion began to teach the children the Twenty-third Psalm. A lot of books were sold in that section of town. A Christian girl took her Bible to school and her Turkish teacher liked it so much that she began to read from it to the class. Whenever she couldn't understand a passage, she sent the child to her parents and asked them to explain it, thinking that because they were Armenians they would know.
There were many house meetings in Sivas. Evening after evening people gathered in God's heart-lifting presence. Many broke down in repentance and entered into a living relationship with Christ. Until then, they had been Christian in name only. Sample books were left in book-shops on consignment and orders taken for books to be shipped from Istanbul. Only one bookseller refused his offer, and Vahram prayed for him as he left the shop. After a rewarding time in Sivas, he left the place. Many families and shopkeepers were talking about the Christ presented by this man. The love of Jesus had passed to others through him.
The last place he visited before returning to Istanbul was Ankara. He found the local Christians here indifferent and ignorant, engrossed in their daily business pursuits. Their condition oppressed him. Eventually he came across one or two believers. They prayed together and the oppression left him. Meeting some foreign believers, he immediately sensed a spiritual kinship, even though he did not know their language. Their meeting places were made available to him and, staying fourteen days in Ankara, he was able to organise several meetings. Many people repented of their sins and found God’s grace in these gatherings. A note of thanksgiving at this point: The books ordered from Istanbul had already arrived! Vahram's original stock of books was finished before he arrived in Ankara. The new books sold fast. Countless doors were open to him. Families eagerly invited him to their homes and there were people being converted with tears.
Folks with various needs and especially the sick approached him offering money, with the request that he pray for them. They also wanted him to read from the Scriptures as a priest would do. But Vahram was not the kind to offer his service for money. He absolutely refused any payment. People were puzzled and asked, "What is this man driving at, running here and there, praying and cheering people up?" This questioning of the natural mind was to go unanswered.
An Armenian businessman wanting to extend a gesture of hospitality invited Vahram to a night-club. With his usual smile, Vahram said, "It's not my custom to go to such places." But the man continued to insist while Vahram was praying, "My Jesus, my Jesus, my Jesus!" Flabbergasted, the generous businessman asked, "What does Jesus have to do with going out to a club?" "I'm pleading with my Jesus to come and save you," replied Vahram. The man's mood changed. Vahram continued, "Instead of inviting me to a night-club, why don't you take me to your home?" Without the slightest objection, the man said, "Good idea, let's go!" His wife's joy was evident when she saw her husband not only coming home early but also bringing a kind gentleman with him. Normally, her husband wouldn't have come straight home from work. He would spend time at a pub and appear drunk, hours later at the door. In fact, that day he had lost a lot of money at the horse races, and in order to forget his sorrows he had intended to go to the night-club. But God intervened and changed the purposeless plan through Vahram. He explained the Good News to the man and his family; they all repented and were converted. The Lord fulfilled His plan of grace in the whole family. This man was snatched from the barroom and placed into the haven of the loving Lord.
A Jewess attended the final meeting in Ankara. Hearing the testimonies, prayers, hymns, and preaching for the first time in her life, she was deeply affected and bought the last New Testament available. A joyful late-night meeting culminated the enriching evangelistic venture in this city. Tired, but deeply gratified, Vahram planned to depart for Istanbul by bus the next morning.
However, he had not bought a ticket beforehand. In those days there was no central bus terminal. Buses started from various points in the city. He needed to go early in the morning to purchase his ticket. But he was late. There was only one bus a day, and every seat was taken! Again he prayed to his all-providing heavenly Father. At that very moment someone turned up wanting to sell his ticket because he could not travel that day. The man was standing right in front of Vahram, who immediately gave thanks to God and bought the ticket from the grateful seller. What a pity that he didn’t have a single book left to sell to the man! So he set out on the twelve-hour journey to Istanbul, sitting in the very front seat. His delay in coming to the bus was because of taking time to read his Bible and pray, which practice he scrupulously followed. And his Father rewarded his faithfulness by preparing the best seat in the bus for him.
 Paraclete - an insulting tradition among Muslims claims that the Paraclete of whom Jesus spoke was Mohammed. This they manage by deliberately altering the vowels of the word to make it read "Periclete".
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