THE GIRL BEHIND THE DESK SLAPPED A BRIGHT YELLOW ‘HOT’ LABEL ON MY BAG, HANDED ME MY PASSPORT AND WISHED ME A PLEASANT FLIGHT. I watched curiously for a few moments as the bag disappeared down the conveyer belt and before heading off towards the airport lounge to await my flight to the Caucasus.
‘HOT?’ I wondered. ‘Heavy’ and ‘fragile’ I understood. But what was a ‘HOT’ bag? I concluded it had to do with the very brief stopover I was to have in Vienna, where I had to change planes within 30 minutes. Hopefully this meant my bag would get preferential treatment and be ‘hot’-handled onto the second aircraft.
But when I saw the front-page headlines of the newspaper as I sat down in the lounge with a cup of coffee, I thought that ‘HOT’ could equally apply to my destination. The two lead stories had to do with the two Caucasian countries I was headed for: Georgia and Armenia.
Georgia arrested several Russian military officers last week on charges of spying and President Putin was throwing a tantrum. He yanked his ambassador and dozens of diplomatic personnel out of his small southern neighbour, sealed the borders, and accused Georgia’s president of ‘state terrorism’ and ‘hostage-taking’.
Much is at stake in this isthmus between the Black and Caspian Seas, a region strategic for global energy supplies. Georgia is an important corridor for pipelines bringing gas and oil from the Caspian to the West, avoiding Russia to the north and Iran to the south. Georgian authorities accused the Russian officers of plotting an operation involving energy, noting that last winter the natural gas pipeline was blown up cutting supplies from Russia to Georgia.
(Don’t feel bad if your geography of the area is hazy. Last time I was in Georgia I enjoyed a bowl of ice cream and strawberries with diplomat friend who had accompanied Shevadnadze, former Soviet Union foreign minister and first president of the post-Soviet Georgia, on a visit with Henry Kissinger. “Georgia?” Kissinger had asked, “Where’s that? Get me a map!”)
Meanwhile, another headline read: “Chirac pokes finger in Turkey’s eye on Armenia ‘genocide'”. On his first visit to Armenia, Georgia’s southern neighbour, the French president had visited the Genocide Memorial in the capital, Yerevan. There he had insisted that Turkey acknowledge the genocidal killings of 300,000 Armenians in 1915 before being allowed into the EU. While Hitler had pointed to the world’s lack of concern for this event as evidence that he could get away with Jewish genocide, Chirac had upset Turkish sensitivities by comparing the killings to the Nazi holocaust. A related story reported unrest among Holland’s Turks because the Christian Democratic Party had rejected Turkish candidates who reneged on owning up to the Armenian genocide.
Six hours later, I arrived in the airport terminal where Chirac had been welcomed two days before, totally transformed into a sparkling, modern, marble-covered building just in time for the presidential visit. There, to my great relief, I saw my bag finally emerge, still sporting it’s bright yellow ‘HOT’ label.
Yes, Armenia and Georgia are ‘hot’-news countries, but they are also ‘hot’ for us in YWAM. I first visited the Caucasus in 2001 with Al and Carolyn Akimoff, then the leaders for our work in the region ‘to spy out the land’. Others have invested into these countries and Georgia has experienced a major revolution since, introducing further democratic reforms. But now both countries were ripe for us to begin indigenous Discipleship Training Schools. And that was the reason for my trip.
Our DTS’s don’t make ‘hot’ headlines in newspapers. But they have the potential of mustard seeds, small beginnings that can lead to significant growth. Like blades of grass growing up through concrete, young groups of disciples are sprouting in this land, the world’s first nation to become Christian in AD301. Alpha courses too have begun to multiply, among artists, students and scientists, since I first introduced my friend Petros Malakyan to the Alpha leadership in London. Petros himself has been discipling young leaders in his National Leadership Institute for several years and has been our ‘man of peace’ in relating to the Apostolic Orthodox Church of Armenia.
It’s early days yet, but I see great potential for a new missionary movement from this small land with a rich heritage.
Till next week, when I’ll write to you from “hot’ Georgia!