5 minutes with Armen Gakavian
Tell us a little about you
I live in colourful and diverse Surry Hills in Sydney’s inner city with my wife, Karina Kreminski.
I was born and raised in Sydney by wonderful, caring parents who taught me how to love God, love others and pray. In 1986 I made a conscious decision to follow Jesus. My decision was inspired by high school classmates whose vibrant faith challenged me to dig deeper into the bible and find out more about God's character and what it means to be a Christian. I had come to a point of desperation, keenly aware of my shortcomings and my need for the Holy Spirit to help me become the person God wanted me to be.
I’ve been walking with God for 33 years and have never looked back. I went through a long period of self-condemnation and questioning whether I’m truly living as a Christian - I can be very hard on myself and I’ve had to grow in my understanding of God’s love and grace. But more and more I’ve experienced a growing sense of freedom, peace and joy, and, at 50, I feel like I’m entering the second part of my life with a more grounded sense of who God is, who I am and what I’m called to do.
From the start of my faith journey, I was aware that it was a whole-life commitment and had a strong desire to share my faith with others. I was involved in student ministry in Sydney with The Navigators and in Armenia with IFES. My background is Armenian and I speak the language fluently, so it was wonderful to experience life in the ‘homeland’ for a few years. Over the past decade, back here in Sydney, I’ve mentored men facing chronic disadvantage who live public housing.
Karina and I got married last December (the best decision of my life!) and we have a rich network of friends of diverse backgrounds here in Surry Hills, with lots of opportunities for conversation about life and faith. We both love being in our community and seeing it flourish. We’re looking at forming a faith community next year and have set up a venture, Neighbourhood Matters, to equip others for neighbourhood work.
What's your favourite bible passage & why?
I have a few, but my ‘life verse’ is Galatians 6:9-10: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” For me, this verse is an encouragement to keep doing good even when we don’t see the results we expect - when things don’t change, or when people don’t seem grateful. In the spirit of the Parable of the Sower, we sow where we can, not knowing what will happen. We sow by faith, motivated by love, knowing that God first loved us. God sowed the seed of the gospel into our lives and was patient as we responded. And God continues to sow into our lives, continues to show us kindness and to shower us with good things, and sometimes we respond with gratitude and allow this love to transform us, while other times we don’t - but that doesn’t stop God from being love.
I have a couple of other favourites. John 13:34-35 tells us that the way the world knows that we are Christ’s disciples is our love for one another. The other one is John 17:18 - “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” We are as Christ in this world - the hands and feet of Christ. We have God’s Spirit and Christ’s example to follow as we embody God’s love in our neighbourhoods and beyond.
How do you keep your eyes fixed on Jesus?
I asked Karina how she thinks I keep my eyes fixed on Jesus. She said that I am adaptable, that I have a posture of listening to the Spirit, always questioning what God is up to and responding to that.
I think she’s right. I keep my eyes fixed on Jesus by not being stuck in my view of who God is. God’s attributes are unchanging – God is love, holy, just, merciful and faithful. So if God doesn’t do something I expect him to it’s because I need to rethink how I view God and how God works. I’ve seen a lot of people walk away from God because they had a particular view of what God’s like or expectation of what God should do for them. Maybe the positive start I had in life through my parents and their faith grounded me in a way that made me adaptable.
What would you like the next generation of Christian women and men to know?
God is at work in this world! It may not always look like it, but God is making all things new. My prayer is that the next generation of women and men would find hope in what God is doing, even in the midst of sickness, loss, disadvantage, war, political and economic instability, climate change, corruption and the failings of the church - child sexual abuse, divisions over the role of women and sexuality and so on. despite all of this, God is transforming us, the people of God, and drawing the people around us to himself. God hasn’t abandoned creation but will renew it, too.
In our changing culture the church may seem more and more irrelevant. But on the ground I see the Spirit moving in fresh ways, through new expressions of God’s gathered people that are making a difference in their communities and beyond. All of us - women and men, of all cultures and preferences and ways of life - have something to bring to God’s work of renewal of this world.
What's one thing that you love about your local church?
We’re part of Newtown Mission, a Uniting Church in Sydney’s inner city. Before that I was involved with the Salvation Army in a public housing estate in suburban Ryde. What I love about both churches is their commitment to the local community and especially their heart for those at the margins of society. On Sundays at Newtown Mission, we have professionals and uni students alongside men and women who struggle with mental health. Interruptions and people walking in and out are a part of how we do church! Throughout the week there is a cafe and welfare service. The church also hosts creative projects - art exhibitions, book launches, local community events. It really feels like the church is part of the ‘ecology of the neighbourhood’.
What did you learn about God at a time in your life you found hard?
In my late teens and early twenties I had my finger in every pie - studies, student ministry, volunteering, setting up a research centre and more… When I lived in Armenia I kept a full schedule and thrived on being busy. But in 1991 I developed a chronic condition. At first it just meant I was limited in what I could eat, but over time it became progressively worse and I became increasingly limited in what I could do. It's been very humbling as I’ve come to accept my limitations. I’ve had moments of resentment, despair and a sense of loss when I think about all that I could have achieved if I’d been healthier. At the same time I’ve learnt contentment, I’ve learnt how to make the most of what capacity I do have and I’ve learnt how to prioritise. Being unwell also has helped me empathise with others with chronic conditions.
And what have I learnt about God? That God is good, whatever the circumstances. And that - clichéd as it may sound - God calls me to first of all ‘be’ a man after God’s own heart, and to operate out of a posture of rest. My identity was very much caught up in being a high achiever. But ultimately my identity is that I’m a child of God, loved by him.
What are you passionate about?
I’m passionate about God’s people living as God’s people, with integrity and faith and hope and love. In Acts 2 and 4 the church had the ‘favour' of the people because of how they lived and how they loved one another in practical ways - by sharing their lives, hearts and goods.
I’m also passionate about God’s people being missional. Karina and I have started up Neighbourhood Matters (www.neighbourhoodmatters.com.au) to ‘form reflective practitioners in the ecology of the urban neighbourhood’. That sounds like a mouthful but it means that we want God’s people to be able to discern what God is doing in the places they live, work, study and play, and to join in that.
I’m passionate about inclusion, diversity, justice, opportunity for all, seeing people flourish. This motivates me to advocate for local and global issues of injustice. It motivates me to come alongside men from disadvantaged backgrounds. And it motivates me to give generously to those needier than me and encourage others to do the same. And in my role as editor for Ethos’ print and online publications I’ve been intentional about providing a platform for diverse voices - women, people of different cultural backgrounds and of course Aboriginal peoples. I’ve had limited success so far but I won’t give up!
What do you enjoy doing when you rest?
My wife and I both love reading, going for walks, praying, hanging out in our neighbourhood and just chilling at home, reading the Saturday paper. We’re both avid Sabbath keepers - as much as possible, we keep our Saturdays clear of commitments and we stay away from social media and email. Jesus said to his disciples, "Come away with me. Let us go alone to a quiet place and rest for a while" (Mark 6:31). We find that we need this weekly change of pace to hit the ‘reset’ button and replenish our emotional, physical, mental and spiritual resources.