WILL SHINE LIKE THE STARS FOREVER
MEDITERRANEAN VOYAGE — MIDDLE EASTERN VISITS
Vahram’s maxim for life and service can be described in the words of the Apostle Paul: “¼known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything” (II Corinthians 6:9, 10). During his years of preaching and evangelizing he conveyed the joy and blessing of heaven to saints and sinners. This he did through fervent prayer, trusting God to train him to face all hard circumstances with faith and fortitude. He always sought to be guided by the Holy Spirit for all decisions and in all situations. Once again he was praying for new evangelistic horizons.
Invitations for visits had been coming in from neighboring countries: - Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Greece and Cyprus. News of his labors and of the spiritual awakenings had spread far and wide and people wanted to meet him and get in on the blessing. The Armenian Brotherhood which had churches in several countries carried regular news items about Vahram's activities in the widely-read periodical, 'MARANATHA', printed in Aleppo, Syria. Armenian folks in this wide region were longing to be exposed to his ministry. Vahram prayed earnestly about the possibility of reaching out to these countries. He finally felt assured that the time had come for him to embark on a tour to proclaim the Word to wider areas. So the hopes of many were about to be realized.
In 1947, about thirty believers gathered together with Vahram at the Galata wharf to commit their beloved brother to God's care and protection for his Mediterranean outreach. Earnest prayers were offered and joyful hymns were sung at the waterside. Bystanders were moved by this unusual display of affection. Many Muslim pilgrims on their way to Mecca were to travel on the same ship. Send-offs in those days were something special. Groups would congregate here and there chatting; they would then embrace and kiss the person leaving. The passenger would make his way to the upper deck from where he would carry a loud conversation amidst the din with those below. Handkerchiefs would be waved, tears shed and farewells called out. Vahram hummed along with the brothers and sisters who sang the well-known hymn from below:
"God be with you till we meet again,
By His counsels guide, uphold you,
With His sheep securely fold you
'Neath His wings protecting hide you...
God be with you till we meet again."
They were looking forward to seeing each other again in six months. However, if not on earth, they would certainly meet in the presence of Christ. All kinds of people were on the ship. The first joyful event for Vahram was leading a sorrowful lady to Jesus Christ. Among those headed for Mecca were three men with only deck tickets in their hands. He soon struck up a conversation with them. 0ne was a hoja. Vahram had reserved a cabin. One of the three became sea-sick; Vahram felt sorry for him and offered him his berth in the cabin. Impressed with this loving act, the hoja bought a New Testament. All three found out that true cleansing from sin could not be obtained by meritorious works or religious rituals, but only by the grace of God. One of them expressed the desire to attend a house meeting on his return to Istanbul – a hope that never materialized.
That year pilgrimage to Mecca had special significance. Called 'hajj-ul-ekber,' the great pilgrimage, it occurs only once every thirty-six years. This is based on the lunar calendar which moves the special days of religious duties such as pilgrimage to Mecca, fasting, etc., forward ten days each year. The benefits from pilgrimage that year were considered to be of greater than usual value. The number of pilgrims headed to Mecca on the ship was about three hundred. All of them performed the ritual 'namaz' toward Mecca after laying down their prayer rug or some piece of cloth on the deck. Vahram knelt down with them and earnestly prayed to his God and Redeemer. They found out that he was a Christian because he stayed on his knees while praying, not going through the up and down repetitious movements of their religious ritual. And once he had stood up he didn't return to the kneeling position again. Some of them called on him to embrace Islam. "It will be sufficient for this man just to recite the 'salavat',” they said. "Already he's a saint in his own way!"
His praying in the presence of all these hajj candidates opened the door for a unique opportunity to bear witness for his risen Lord. He explained to them that justification before a holy God can only be realised by believing and trusting in His infinite grace. He went on to relate how Jesus Christ had justified him. While telling them, "When I saw Him hanging on the cross I repented and received His offer," he was smiling with joy. "At that moment God the Father cleansed my sinful heart, wiped out my past, gave me new birth and assured me of heaven. For nineteen years now God has granted me peace with Himself, deliverance from all lying and swearing, from unholy desires and every kind of corruption. This is my peace. Now God is graciously using me everywhere to declare His grace.” One of the many travellers to Mecca remarked, "This man's devotion to Jesus is not like devotion to religion. In my opinion, no one will be able to move him from his persuasion." Following this encounter with these eager men on their pilgrimage, Vahram continued his witness all over the ship with the same boldness, playing his violin and singing, and nobody tried to stop him. An elderly lady threw a comment into the air for all to hear: "My child, you'll get to heaven before all these folks!"
On the ship there was a newspaper photographer who went around constantly taking pictures. He took Vahram's photograph mingling with a group of pilgrims. "Please publish this with an arrow pointing to me," said Vahram, “and write underneath: 'This is one who has found grace in Jesus Christ'." The photographer promised to do so. As an interested crowd began to gather, Vahram opened his Bible and read the following verses:
"And there is salvation in no one else,
for there is no other name under heaven given among men
by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12)
"For there is one God,
and there is one mediator between God and men,
the man Christ Jesus" (I Timothy 2:5).
When the ship docked at Izmir, Vahram took advantage of the few hours’ stay to visit the International Fair, where he sold a good number of books. In those days the Maritime liners sailing the Mediterranean called in at every port. From Izmir they sailed on to Piraeus, where Vahram had a contact address. People told him, "It's too far; you can't make it during the ship's short stay," but he persisted. Just then a woman approached him, "You're from Istanbul; you must know Mrs. Hagopian!" "I know her very well," answered Vahram. Amazed, the woman exclaimed, "I'm her sister!”
Vahram's eyes lit up and he thanked the Lord. As soon as they covered the short distance to the city the woman ran hither and thither telling everyone that she had discovered Vahram among the passengers and that there would be a house meeting during the ship's stay in port. Soon the house was packed with people. Among those who came was a priest who expressed his joy in a prayer, "Oh Lord, all praise be to you for bringing this servant of yours into our midst!"
Vahram got back to the ship on time and began witnessing to the new passengers who had come aboard. The next day they reached Alexandria, Egypt, where they were going to stay for several hours. He disembarked and went to find local believers. Amazingly two different meetings were arranged in this short time. People were overjoyed to have Vahram appear before them so unexpectedly. Some were reminded of a passage in the Scriptures: "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares" (Hebrews 13:2).
After Alexandria they made a brief trip in Port Said. There also, he made a joyful acquaintance with fellow believers he hadn't known previously. Here, too, a meeting was arranged. Then came his departure which brought tears to many eyes. Finally, after an overnight voyage, the ship dropped anchor in Larnaca, Cyprus. Larnaca was the home of the American Boys’ Academy, originally founded by the Reformed Presbyterians in the U.S.A. After he met with Christians in Larnaca, they took him to the Academy where there were a number of Armenian teachers and a mixed student body, including Turks. The President, Dr. W. W. Weir, was delighted at his coming. He dismissed all classes and had Vahram speak to the approximately four hundred students. There was no time to spare; Vahram had to hurry back to the ship.
His schedule of visiting different lands and making stops in several ports had gone like clockwork. Everywhere he met fellow-believers, spoke in meetings and brought joy to many hearts. The servant of Christ finds love and hospitality everywhere. Reflecting on God's goodness, Vahram readied himself through prayer for the next stage of his trip.
 The required prayer to be observed five times daily – in Arabic, ‘biyat’
 A prayer in which Allah is asked to bless Muhammed and his descendants.
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