WILL SHINE LIKE THE STARS FOREVER
STRENGTHENING TIES AND STRIKING NEW TRACTS
At the invitation of Mr. Bedros Tozluyan of Fresno, California, who had come to Turkey in hopes of visiting the isolated Armenians of Anatolia, Vahram Tatikyan always eager for a new evangelistic adventure agreed to accompany him. To give Vahram an official status, the Bible Society took him temporarily on its payroll. The Society defrayed part of his expenses through a designated gift from the Armenian Missionary Association of Paramus, New Jersey. Other friends met the remainder of the cost of the journey, which lasted from June 24 to July 18, 1953, twenty-four days in all.
"As I set out from home," said Brother Vahram, "the words of Psalm 147, 'The Lord takes pleasure in...those that hope in his mercy,' were like a promise and benediction for the trip."
His first Bible was sold at six in the morning to the night clerk at Brother Tozluyan's hotel. The clerk suggested that if Bibles in a number of languages could be left with him he could undoubtedly make some sales, as the clientele of the hotel was of many different nationalities. Bibles in five or six languages were supplied. After taking his seat in the Ankara bus, the thought suddenly came to Vahram that he had not offered any Scriptures to the ticket-sellers in the office of the terminal. So he rushed back and in the few moments before the bus took off, he sold them several Scripture portions. When the bus rolled out on its twelve-hour journey, Vahram found himself seated next to a Turkish civil servant who appeared to be of fairly high culture. Vahram opened his bag and showed the gentleman a Bible, asking if he were acquainted with this book. "Is not your shop on the main boulevard of Beyoglu (Pera)?" the man asked. When Vahram answered affirmatively, the official continued, "Really, this is astonishing! How often I have passed your shop and wanted this book, but for some reason I never went in to buy a copy. Now you bring right it into my hands, and just at the right moment, as I am on my way for a holiday in the mountains. For next two weeks I can sit in the cool shade of a tree reading this good book."
The day was tiring and the roads bumpy and dusty. Bus journeys over Turkish roads were exhausting experiences. "They turn you inside out," as Vahram put it.
The two friends spent six days among the sixty Armenian families of Ankara who were living there at that time. They would go from house to house, and wherever they stopped, the Christian neighbors would be called in for prayer, hymns and reading, followed by the sale of Scriptures. Vahram was glad to find many of the books he had distributed six years before still in use. On Sunday morning a congregation of about fifty filled two large rooms to overflowing. A Turkish woman, the wife of a policeman, came to the window and watched them curiously. They invited her in and gave her a seat. She stayed through to the very end and then expressed her pleasure and bought several portions of Scripture.
Finding his supply of Scriptures dwindling rapidly, Vahram put in a long-distance call to Istanbul for replacements. When he emerged from the booth, the postal clerk, who had been listening in, asked what books he was selling and bought one of each.
Vahram visited the home of a Turk, Enver, who had studied in Germany and was a baptised believer. His wife Shukriye didn’t quite know where she stood. They had supper together after which Enver started confessing to Vahram that he wasn’t walking with the Lord. On many occasions during this evangelistic venture they came across lethargic Christians who greatly needed the Master’s refreshing touch. To help such weak, lonely Christians was very rewarding, and Vahram said, “The trip was worth it, just to minister to these downtrodden brothers and sisters.
On the last day of June they took the bus to Sungurlu, Vahram's birthplace, which was a particularly rough ride of four hours. They asked the porter to take them to the hotel and then to the shop of the Armenian whose name they had been given. The porter refused point-blank. "I'll take you to the shop, and if they can't shelter you, you will come to my house. In this town we don't let our friends go to hotels." Vahram gave him a Scripture portion, which he was very happy to receive. In Sungurlu there were twelve Armenian families. They spent two days here. On both evenings house gatherings were held. Those attending had many questions regarding Christian worship and about the differences between Islam and Christianity. These people were completely cut off from the rest of the world. They were ignorant of the religion of their fathers; one could say that without realizing it they had been Islamized. As a result they were totally incapable of explaining half intelligently what the Christian faith was all about. In these meetings some responded to Christ's invitation and put their trust in Him.
Vahram then visited the house where he had been born. It was now in the possession of a Turk, who cordially entertained them and invited them to come whenever they wished. He flatteringly said that the house was theirs as much as his. Seeing that the man was religiously inclined, Vahram told him how he had come to the assurance of having his sins forgiven. The Turk showed some interest and gave a hearing to his testimony. He bought a Bible, making Vahram very happy.
Their next destination was Kayseri, where there were about a hundred Armenian homes. At a stop en route, Vahram got off the train for a few minutes, and there on the platform sold a number of Scriptures to an employee of the railway. The man showed great interest. Before the train started moving, this same man rushed to Vahram’s compartment and said, “Quickly, give me a whole set of your books! The station chief wants them.” Vahram complied and being highly encouraged he gave praises to the Holy Spirit for such an amazing occurrence. When they arrived in Kayseri, the two men went straight to the Armenian priest’s residence. Father Haygazun received them with great pleasure and offered them one of the church’s guest rooms for their stay. This meant that every evening Armenian folks would gather in the church courtyard for long meetings. The priest also attended and indicated his joy and approval of all that went on. He encouraged his people to attend the meetings every night. So from evening to evening the numbers increased. Some put their trust in Christ and were converted.
From Kayseri they headed on up to Talas. There among the hills they went to visit a sister in her vineyard. Vahram remarked that a four-pronged task was before them. This Armenian sister was starving spiritually because of lack of fellowship. They strengthened and encouraged her. Her husband, an unbeliever, was favourably disposed to hear the Word of God. Vahram started explaining to him what the love of God is. In hearing this, the man’s attitude visibly mellowed. Vahram also told of their young daughter who had recently lost her husband. She was in need of consolation and salvation. It didn’t take long for her to look beyond her sorrow and believe in the saving grace of Christ. She immediately showed the signs of being born again. There were also the neighbors’ needs to consider. It was their habit to gather together in the courtyard of this home and ask the woman to explain spiritual truths to them. Vahram enlightened them on the issue of salvation and told them that this valuable information was found in the Bible, which he had available with him for them to purchase. They all appreciated this offer and bought these valuable books which had come right to their doorstep. In this way Vahram fulfilled the needs he had seen when he arrived. He said that in every town and every corner God had a window of opportunity before him.
From Talas they returned to Kayseri, directly to the bus terminal where they caught the first available bus to the next town on their itinerary, Everek. Following another arduous and dusty journey, they arrived at this town which at one time had been almost totally Armenian. There was still a church and a priest with a small parish. The priest put them in a house where they were going to stay during their visit. News of their arrival spread like wildfire, and neighbors and friends started pouring into the house. So right from the outset the spiritual ministry began unfolding. Every Armenian in town came to see them and to attend the meetings. They were fascinated with this totally unanticipated opportunity to meet with two men of their own people and to hear the Good News, about which they knew nothing. Immediately they opened their hearts, telling of all their needs and rejoicing in having met them. They were all asking for prayer – for husband, wife, parents, children, health matters and neighbors. The response for salvation was spontaneous. People were joyfully expressing their faith in Christ which until then they could not exercise due to lack of insight into God’s truth. New life and joy was brought to many a home. People purchased books and expressed their desire to walk with Jesus Christ. They pled with the visitors to return. Vahram remarked that the visit in Everek was arranged by God to provide a stream in the desert for these forsaken people.
They returned to the bus terminal, as always teaming with people travelling somewhere, young boys selling sesame-seed bread rings, others hawking the newspapers they were carrying around and little children pleading with passers-by to shine their shoes. Among all these people were Vahram and his friend Tozluyan with the Good News in their hearts and hands. Buying their tickets, they boarded a bus to Sivas for another evangelistic outreach. This city known in Grecian times as ‘Sevasti,’ was populated with many Christians at one time. The number of Armenians was now vastly reduced. Vahram had visited the town five years before. There was one sad memory in his mind from that visit when he had approached a bookstore owner asking him if he could leave some books on consignment for sale. When the man heard that these were Christian scriptures, he sent him off rather rudely. But Vahram never gave up his faith in the Lord of the harvest. He remembered how he had left the shop praying. Once again, after prayer, he went to the same shop. “Merhaba, (hello) my friend. I wish you good sales today. Would you like to offer your customers this holy book for sale, along with the others?” There was none of the former impoliteness. Vahram was amazed by seeing how the same person had mellowed. The five years must have played a role in his change of attitude. The man immediately responded to Vahram, “Leave five Bibles and one Incil (New Testament).” He then put a Bible on display in the show window. Vahram couldn’t thank the Lord enough for the change he brought about in this man’s heart.
Vahram took Tozluyan to families he had visited before. Immediately house gatherings started and once again, people poured in. They insisted that the two visitors stay longer. But how could they? There was a full and busy schedule arranged for them. People were richly blessed by hearing the Word of God again and started discussing among themselves matters concerning God and Christ, which they seemed to have neglected during their hard struggle for survival. Having no church or priest the atmosphere pervading was that of oppressive Islam.
Another move – their next destination was Tokat. Vahram had an address from his previous visit. They dropped in at the shop. The owner welcomed them with great pleasure and called his little boy apprentice to take the two men to the house of an Armenian family. As they were walking along, Vahram immediately started telling this little Armenian boy about Jesus Christ. He had never heard of Jesus’ love for him and was so entranced with this wonderful message that he began to tremble and he could hardly walk. He even lost his way to the house he supposed to take them to. Vahram said, “Just to see this little boy be so affected with the message of the Savior was worth visiting Tokat.
As he did in other cities, he sold Scriptures to people he met and also stopped in bookshops to offer books for sale. Suddenly word reached the police headquarters that a stranger was in town selling books. Two policemen followed him and found him in an Armenian jewelry shop. They asked him to show the books he was selling. One of them immediately glanced at the title page and when he saw that the book was published in Turkey he said, “Very good, very good. Go on and sell them.” Then he remarked that he would stop at the jewelry shop at his convenience to read this book. Obviously, as a policeman, he was afraid to purchase a Bible.
Vahram still had one Bible left. He ran across a tailor shop and offered to sell it to the owner. He was a literate person, but he outright rejected the Bible. After a hard day’s work Vahram was asleep in the hotel. Suddenly the clerk knocked at the door and as Vahram was rubbing his eyes, he said, “Someone wants to see you.” Vahram went down to the lobby, and who should be there but the tailor who had turned him away! He said, “I was very troubled in my heart because I refused you. Here was a holy book which came right to me and I didn’t purchase it. If you haven’t sold it in the meantime, I want to buy it now. Here’s the money.” Vahram, forgetting his abrupt awakening, once again praised the Lord, brought the Bible down and sold it with gladness of heart. The two men cordially parted.
While in Tokat Vahram and Bedros paid a moving visit to see the tombstone of the missionary giant, Henry Martyn (1781-1812). This illustrious Cambridge graduate declined to marry his fiancé Lydia because her condition for marriage was that he give up the notion of going to India. He chose the Lord’s calling to missionary service. He was extraordinarily gifted and used by the Lord to translate the Scriptures into Hindustani, Arabic and Persian. While in Persia he contracted tuberculosis, and the doctors there advised him to return to England immediately. He joined a Tartar caravan on horseback and began the long trek which would take him all the way to Constantinople. But by the tine the caravan arrived in Tokat he could no longer go on. His companions took him to the old Armenian priest, in whose arms he breathed his last. He was buried in the Armenian cemetery. On his tombstone, which was erected later by his friends, John 3:16 was written in several languages. Later the stone was carried to the municipality yard where it still stands. On seeing this stone, Vahram’s dedication to carry out the Lord's Great Commission was renewed.
With this visit their time in Tokat was concluded. Bedros Tozluyan’s joy at being partner in this fascinating outreach knew no bounds. Naturally without Vahram, he could have never made such a trip. Once again they headed to the bus terminal, this time to travel north to Samsun on the Black Sea.
After several hours, they arrived in Samsun. Immediately they went to check in at a hotel. They both were very thirsty following the long bus journey. The hotel manager refused to give them a glass of water, saying, “Can’t you see I’m very busy here – and you are asking for water?” Realizing their religion he displayed an adverse attitude toward them. Vahram responded with a smile, as he always did. And of course, he offered a silent prayer to the Lord. Amazingly, the man began to be friendly. Their stay in the hotel for a few days enabled them to establish a friendship with the manager. Vahram re-visited the Armenians whom he had gotten to know previously. As was his custom, he started selling books; he didn’t run into any opposition here. On the last evening of their stay the hotel manager asked Vahram to come into his small office. He led the way with Vahram following. Instead of going to his office, the manager took him into a garden restaurant. He brought him to a table where some people were eating, drinking and discussing religious matters. He abruptly addressed the party, saying, “Gentlemen, let me introduce you to a true Muslim.” Everyone at the table was flabbergasted. How would Vahram react to this undesired introduction? His Lord immediately gave him the answer, “I’m very happy to meet you all. ‘Muslim’ means a person who has submitted himself. In that sense, I am a true Muslim. Let me tell you what my Lord Jesus Christ did in my life.” At this point, the dining men were totally attentive. Then Vahram started giving his testimony, of how he had tried to be a good person by performing all sorts of religious duties in his own religion. But they didn’t work. He continued seeking. At last the Lord Jesus Christ came to his help, saved him from his sins, gave him assurance of eternal life and made him a seller of Bibles. As Vahram was telling this to men whose lives were far from being submitted, they felt restless. Not one of them opposed; in fact one of them remarked, “Very true words!” After a long discussion Vahram bade them farewell and returned to the hotel. The manager asked Vahram, “Do you know who these people are?” And then he answered his own question: “They are the chief legal and administrative officials for the Vilayet (province).”
It seemed as if it were only yesterday when Vahram and Bedros had left Istanbul, and here they were finishing up their mission with abundant blessing from God. They were going to part company in Samsun. They had a time of prayer, then Bedros boarded the Istanbul-bound ship. Vahram had decided to travel back by bus. He found out that the journey would take two days. Someone said to him, “Why don’t you fly?” Until then, Vahram had never flown. The suggestion seemed very attractive because he was extremely tired. He found out that the cost of the air ticket was just a little more than the bus ticket so he decided to fly. However, he still had unsold books with him, but they were not in Turkish. All the Turkish Scriptures were gone. These were books in other languages which did not find buyers. He moaned within himself. “I wish I had brought only Turkish books; they would have all been sold.” The problem was that he was charged extra for the weight of the books. He boarded the plane with no money in his pocket. He didn’t even have a few coins to give to the porter or money for bus fare from the airport to the city. But his Lord was not going to let him down. Though he had no Scriptures to offer, he started talking about the Bible to his fellow passengers. He told them he was a seller of Bibles, and it was too bad that they had all been sold. One passenger became so excited that he said, ‘Can you mail me a Bible? How much is it?’ And right then and there, he counted out the cash. The Lord miraculously provided for Vahram’s expenses for the porter and the bus fare to reach home without embarrassment. Upon arriving home, his top priority was to mail the Bible to the man. At the first opportunity he would start house meetings again. He would labor with the spirit of the Old Testament prophets who said:
“And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’
Then I said, ‘Here am I! Send me.” (Isaiah 6:8)
“Behold, on the mountains the feet of him who brings good tidings,
who proclaims peace! (Nahum 1:15a)
“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good tidings,
who publishes peace, who brings good tidings of good,
who publishes salvation, who says to Zion,
‘Your God reigns.’ (Isaiah 52:7)
 By Lyman MacCallum, from the "Bible Society Record", April 1954
 Bedros Tozluyan had emigrated from Turkey to Fresno, California at a very young age. He bought land there, planted vineyards and became a wealthy man.
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