Southern Baptists from Missouri among latest relief workers to serve people of Armenia

Mount Ararat rises over Armenia’s capital city, Yerevan.
Wikipedia photo

Southern Baptists from Missouri among latest relief workers to serve people of Armenia

By Ben Hawkins
The Pathway

Little more than 100 years ago, an 18-year-old girl staggered into an American relief camp set up along Russia’s border with Armenia.

Immediately, a nurse came to her side. “Are you in pain?” she asked.

“No,” the girl replied, “but I have learned the meaning of the cross.”

Slowly, the girl pulled her sleeve down, revealing on her shoulder the figure of a cross burned deeply into her flesh. For seven days, Turkish assailants in her village had asked her whether she would follow Mohammed or Christ. “Christ, always Christ,” she replied daily. In response, one segment of the cross was branded on her shoulder each day. On the last day, her captors told her she would die the following day if she didn’t reject Christ.

Fortunately, she escaped that night. But this girl wasn’t alone in her suffering and many Armenians never escaped.

On April 24, 1915, the Ottoman Turks ruling in the region had launched a genocidal program against the Armenian people group. As a result, as many as 600,000 Armenians may have died on that day alone — a day that marked one of the “most terrible barbarities in history,” the late Southern Baptist journalists James and Marti Hefley wrote in their 1994 book, “By Their Blood: Christian Martyrs of the 20th Century.”

A Eurasian nation the size of Maryland with the geography of western Colorado, Armenia is recognized as one of the first countries in the world to accept the Christian religion. Often, as in the genocide of 1915, they became targets of persecution. For this reason, the Armenian people even today show great pride in their country’s Christian heritage.

Even though they value this national heritage, many Armenians have no personal relationship with Christ, and many have a limited knowledge of God’s word. But recent conflict in the region between Armenia and its culturally Muslim neighbor, Azerbaijan, has opened doors for gospel outreach among the Armenian people.

“The people of Armenia have had indescribable belief in God, through all of the stuff they have experienced — the genocide in 1915, the Soviet times and earthquakes. Their faith is not shaken,” said Zhanet Kaprelian, an ethnic Armenian living in Arizona with her husband, Kirk. “But they have no biblical knowledge. And that is very sad for me.”

Though Zhanet was born in Iran and Kirk in Iraq, both are proud of their Armenian roots — and they’re not alone. Although Armenia has a population of less than 3 million, an estimated 11 million ethnic Armenians live across the globe.

One family with Missouri Baptist roots is taking advantage of the opportunity to share God’s love amid the hurt that the people of Armenia feel.

David Smith grew up in a Missouri Baptist church in St. Louis and felt God’s call to missions during a Missouri Baptist Convention Super Summer event in the late 1980s. During college, he met his wife — then a nursing student in Oklahoma — while they were both training for a summer project in Africa.

Today, the Smiths serve as Southern Baptist relief workers, having spent two decades working with the people of Armenia. In the aftermath of the recent conflict with Azerbaijan over the contested territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, they have worked with local churches to help refugees from the region of Artsakh.

David hopes these efforts to help the Armenian people amid hardship will strengthen relationships and open new avenues for the gospel.

In fact, he is already beginning to see a spiritual harvest from the efforts of Armenian churches.

“A national church we helped start held a retreat for the displaced people from the war they have been working with,” David said. “There were about 125 unchurched people who attended the retreat.

“By the end of the week all of the adults prayed to receive Christ …”

The Armenian people “are a very kind and wonderful people group to work with, to partner with,” David said. “God has moved in a lot of ways (through the years).”

EDITOR’S NOTE — Names changed for security reasons. This article was originally published by The Pathway. To read more articles like this on Missouri Baptists, visit This article also appears in TAB News, a digital regional Baptist publication. For more information or to subscribe to the TAB News app, visit