AGAPE Board Makes A Pivot
Most every ministry has had to make some pivot—some change of direction—during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our ministry to Armenia and Artsakh, which we call AGAPE, also has to make a pivot. The AGAPE Board recognizes the hardships of local Churches which has in turn meant a slow down in financial contributions to the ministry of AGAPE. In fact, the present balance of the North Carolina Conference Advance account for AGAPE is near Zero—which means that the meager salary of Nara Melkonyan and other ongoing expenses related to AGAPE in Armenia cannot be paid by the NC Annual Conference beyond June. Thanks to our sisters and brothers in the Western North Carolina Conference, the budget needs can be paid on our behalf.
So, after discussion and prayer, the Board for AGAPE is making the following pivot: The Board requests that local Churches consider NOT making Christmas boxes this year and consider making financial gifts to the Project AGAPE ministry. Here is the reasoning behind the decision:
- Project AGAPE in Armenia just received 2 containers of Christmas boxes from the NC Annual Conference. They were shipped some time ago, but they are finally on site. Nara Melkonyan said that those 3500 boxes will be enough to provide gifts for children in January and February 2021.
- The AGAPE Christmas box drive was initially started in hopes that Churches would also be inspired to support the overall ministry of AGAPE which has existed for over 26 years.
- We had also hoped that having Nara Melkonyan speak at a number of our Churches, we could keep the overall ministries of Project AGAPE before our congregations.
- The Project AGAPE ministry on the ground in Berdzor, Artzakh helps to support a children’s home, a hospital, a clinic, and an after-school program that enables children and youth to develop essential life skills. Those ministries need our support.
- Donations from Churches have helped the Board to supply cows to 135 families and chickens and garden tools to even more families. These donations are essential to help us partner with the Armenians and refugee families in Artsakh so that they can be self-sufficient.
- Other ideas such as establishing a dairy or a canning operation are possible to help the Project AGAPE ministry be sustainable are possible. But we have to be able to pay the staff.
- And, most importantly, we want to make sure Nara Melkonyan remains employed with Project AGAPE. Already her salary is well below what someone with her degree and experience should be earning, but she accepts that salary because she sees the need and understands how Project AGAPE can help refugees and other persons in an area of the world where day-to-day living is incredibly difficult.
In short, the Project AGAPE Board is transitioning from strictly a “help model” to a “shared ministry model.” The “help model” has worked well for 26 years in Artsakh because of infrastructure challenges, war, refugee resettlement, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the lack of a defined government that is recognized by the United Nations. But as the situation in Artsakh goes forward, this help model is not sustainable. For that reason, for some time we have been working towards a “shared ministry model” which helps us to name and appreciate the assets of that geographical area and come along side all of the people who live there to work with them, hear about their dreams and expectations, and find ways to turn dreams into realities.
Therefore, the Project AGAPE Board requests that for the year 2020, all groups who were planning to make Christmas boxes this year for AGAPE please consider supporting the NC Conference Advance #S-00004 instead. If groups are at a point at which Christmas boxes can be made by August 1, 2020, MERCI will accept those boxes up to that point. We will combine whatever we have on that date with the boxes that are in the Western North Carolina Conference warehouse and ship them to Armenia (after they have all been checked at MERCI). The future shipment to Armenia will also include blankets and other items that might be donated to MERCI.
We ask for understanding and patience as we make this pivot. We appreciate the efforts in the past of making the Christmas boxes and of checking them for shipment. We will re-evaluate the ministry in time to let you know what we will be doing for 2021.
Members of the Project AGAPE Board.
*If your church or organization would still like to make Christmas Boxes, please see this packing list for 2020.