GLENDALE, Calif.—An evening of celebration and joy marked the 75th anniversary of the Armenian Evangelical Secondary School of Anjar, Lebanon, and the birthday of German missionary, Schwester (Sister) Hanna, who dedicated her life to help build and sustain this institution.
Over 350 alumni, former teachers and pastors of the school, as well as community supporters gathered at a banquet on June 23, in Glendale, to celebrate this milestone in the life of the school and pay tribute to Schwester Hanna.
The Armenian Evangelical Secondary School with its boarding school has distinguished itself as a life-altering institution for many young Armenian children in the Middle East. In fact, the boarding school became home for over 40 Armenian students who came from Camp Armen Orphanage in Tuzla, Istanbul, through the efforts of Hrant Guzelian. Through its open doors, Armenian students from Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, Kuwait, Bulgaria, Iran, Iraq, India, Sudan, and Armenia received quality instruction, Christ-centered teaching, and nurturing care.
Schwester Hanna Christenn, a young German missionary, joined Schwester Hedvig Aenishanslin, Schwester Hanna Nishke, and Schwester Marie Rock in 1959 in the mission field of the Bekka Valley where they ministered to the displaced Armenians of Musa Ler, after the Armenian Genocide. These missionaries were sent by the Hilfsbund Foundation, which had been ministering among the Armenian people since 1896 starting from historic Armenia, and later in Greece, Bulgaria, Syria, and Lebanon. Schwester Hanna, who speaks fluent Armenian, embraced the Armenians, saying, “I am German by birth, but my soul has become Armenian. You are my people and I am yours in Christ.” Responsible for the well-being of the young children in the boarding school, she soon became known as “Mama Hanna” to them. Taking on the role of mother, she met their emotional, physical and spiritual needs. Her selfless, dedicated service prompted many of her former students to travel across the globe, some as far away as Australia, to pay tribute to her.
In addition to the dedicated service of the missionaries at the school, teachers and principals played a vital role in educating and shaping the lives of young children entrusted to their care. Honored were over 20 teachers who served within the walls of this institution and who impacted the lives of countless students. Heartwarming scenes of former students and teachers reuniting, sharing fond memories of their years at the school, were played out throughout the evening. Several decades have passed but the love felt and the joy seen on the faces of former teachers and students, thrilled to be reunited, created a banquet hall exploding with energy and excitement.
Special recognition was given to the pastors who faithfully served the Armenian Evangelical Church of Anjar. Those present, in chronological order of service, were Rev. Hovhannes Melkonian, Rev. Hovhannes Sarmazian, and Rev. Nerses Balabanian. Also acknowledged were ministered who are no longer with us: Rev. Aram Hadidian, Rev. Mardiros Marganian, Rev. Bernard Guekguezian, Rev. Manasseh Shnorhokian, and Rev. Hagop Janbazian. Unable to attend were the two most recent pastors—Rev. Raffi Messerlian and the current pastor, Rev. Hagop Akbasharian.
On the occasion of the Armenian Evangelical Secondary School Diamond Anniversary, Rev. and Mrs. Hovhannes and Jeanette Melkonian made a generous donation of $50,000 to the school. Early in their ministry, Rev. and Mrs. Melkonian served in this mission field with the four German and Swiss Missionary Sisters, Rev. Melkonian as the pastor of the church and principal of the school, and Mrs. Melkonian as a teacher at the school. Acknowledging the vital contribution of this institution to the Armenian community, Rev. and Mrs. Melkonian lovingly gifted to this institution so that the Lord’s work may continue. “We love the school and church, and we love our former students and colleagues. We have many beautiful memories of our years in Anjar, where we experienced the joy of serving the Lord. We were blessed during our time there, and we want to be a blessing,” the Melkonians stated. An emotional moment for Rev. and Mrs. Melkonian occurred when Levon Filian, who was a former student of Rev. Melkonian, acknowledged them for their gracious gift.
A rich cultural program was planned for the evening. Former students, Arpy Aintablian and Vartan Kazanjian graced the audience with their beautiful singing of “Bari Aragil” and “Edelweiss.” In keeping with the Boarding School tradition, Rev. Nerses Balabanian led the audience in the singing of a hymn. On behalf of the AMAA, congratulatory words were delivered by Dr. Nazareth Darakjian, Armenian Missionary Association of America (AMAA) president. A slideshow was prepared by Sevan Balabanian, documenting the history of the school. Finally, the traditional Anjarsti davoul – zurna accompaniment commenced an evening of kef which lasted until the early morning hours.
The banquet committee, spearheaded and inspired by the leadership and vision of Levon Filian, was comprised of Hagop Avedikian, Nancy Bederian, Pauline Ishkhanian, Raffi Kaldjian, Bagho Kasparian, Vartan Kazanjian, and Doris Melkonian. Their hard work in planning and executing this event was evident as alumni and guests enjoyed a historic, unique evening, reflecting the Armenian and Christian heritage in which the students were nourished. Levon Filian reflected, “The banquet was a testimony of the seeds planted in Christian love bearing fruit in the lives of the next generation.” Indeed, it was an event to be remembered.