Armenian Bible Church            

Հայ Աստուածաշունչի Եկեղեցի

Mailing Address:  P.O. Box 40322  Pasadena, CA 91114 USA

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By Thomas Cosmades


Chapter 15 


             For a newly-married young pastor’s wife whose husband was suddenly thrown into prison with no charges against him and being subjected to pernicious interrogations daily, the prospect could have been entirely bleak. But the Lord of all comfort did not allow Aneta to be plunged into hopeless despair. By His grace she determined to stand firm and assist others needier than herself.

            She had received much compassion from many friends since the calamity struck. But she could not go on living off of others’ sympathy. She felt that this would have made her like a plant dependent on water and care by others.  Even though they were concerned for her well-being, her desire was to withstand the battering wind, like a deep-rooted tree, relying on her heavenly Father alone. Aneta wanted to teach the Word, build up the faithful and offer sympathy to those in deep pain. God would take care of her and her husband!   This resolve brought determination and confidence to her spirit.  She was overwhelmed with joy, a miracle at this time of great anguish.

            Having become convinced that this was the course for her to take, she concluded that the flesh had to be dealt with. She felt like Jeremiah, “Ah, Sovereign LORD! Behold I do not know how to speak, for I am only a child” (1:7). To this she heard the small voice a second time, giving her the theme for the message: “Buy truth, and do not sell it; get wisdom, discipline and understanding” (Proverbs 23:23).

            This fresh verification of God’s direction brought Aneta inexplicable peace. The quandary of the flesh was overcome. God was granting her strength in weakness. Until then the total responsibility of the ministry had been on Haralambos. She had not even spoken to a women’s group. At prayer meetings she had remained inconspicuous. While aware of her numerous limitations, nothing could disturb the inner peace and serenity she was now experiencing.  After only two hours of sleep she woke up at five on Sunday morning to pray and prepare the message. At that time women preachers were unheard of in Anatolia. In addition to the pervading plane of Islamic tradition, Christians, too, had their own conservative norms and practices. The voice Aneta heard was clear that she shouldn’t ascend to the pulpit; yet she was called to speak to a large mixed congregation. Ambivalent emotions as to people’s reactions gripped her. How would they accept her presence and the message? 

            On Sunday morning Aneta was the first person in church. Eventually, a stalwart woman showed up at seven.  Consternation was evident on her face. She hesitated to speak. After a long pause she asked, “Tell me, who is going to preach today?” Aneta’s indirect reply was, “Come and let us pray.” So they prayed earnestly together.  When they were finished, one of the Bible school students appeared, asking the same question.  Aneta told him to kneel down and pray.  It was a heart-lifting prayer session.  The Holy Spirit paved the way for the whole service and the message.  Soon the sexton arrived. With hesitation he asked, “Shall I ring the church bell?” It was customary to ring the bell half an hour preceding the service and again at the start. “Yes,” Aneta replied, “there will be a service. Ring the bell as usual.”

            As soon as the first bell pealed there was general excitement. Could it be that Pastor Bostanjoglou was set free? People rushed to church, even many who ordinarily did not attend. Everyone was hoping that suddenly Haralambos would appear at his pulpit from where he had proclaimed the Gospel regularly and vigorously. The people’s over- emotionalism was hard to suppress.

            Aneta asked them not to create any disturbance, rather to sit and pray. Then she told the woman who had come to church so early, “I am going to preach this morning. You go to the rear and check how my voice carries.”  She complied. The second bell rang. In five minutes the pastor had to appear at his pulpit. The expectation was intense. Aneta’s heart was pounding. Here she was, a young woman of twenty-two whose husband was in prison, with no preaching experience, about to stand and expound the Word. She was beautifully composed. People remarked later that they had sensed a perfect peace and calmness as she spoke. The pastor normally entered from the front door, strode down the aisle and ascended the platform. Aneta didn’t follow this procedure, but simply slipped in from the rear entrance and took her place at the foot of the pulpit. The time had arrived.

            When she opened her eyes and lifted her head after breathing a brief silent prayer, she saw a capacity congregation. There were college students, professional people and others from all walks of life. Sheer curiosity brought many in that morning. They wondered what was going to happen.  In the past, Haralambos’ roaring messages had stirred a measure of controversy. As soon as she took her place below the pulpit the suspense was broken, causing no lesser surprise than had the pastor himself suddenly appeared at his pulpit!

            Florence, the church organist, daughter of Dr. Frederick Shepard, was in her place. There was an air of serenity and divine sustenance in the sanctuary. Of course, sorrow was evident. Yet, the Comforter was present to uphold and sustain all the troubled hearts.

            Afterward, Aneta could not recall how or what she preached. It was not she who spoke. The One who had commissioned her to stand there communicated that morning. With uninterrupted concentration the whole assembly took in the message. The sacredness of that hour would always remain in her memory. At the conclusion one man was heard to remark, “In this couple, there are both a lion and a lioness!”

            After the service, young people dashed to the prison to take advantage of visiting hours and relate the happenings of the morning to Haralambos.  They furnished him with every detail of the service. The following day a touching letter reached Aneta through his mother: “I was overwhelmed with the news brought by the boys. My heart is full of praise to God for giving me such a helpmeet as you. Even if I die I don’t worry because there’s someone to fill my place. Don’t be afraid. You’re a woman; they can’t do anything to you. Take courage. Keep the church open to the glory of God. Christ is coming! Much love, Haralambos.”  This and subsequent letters from prison were a constant refreshment to Aneta’s sorrowing heart on the rough road of her ordeal.

            Services continued by God’s grace and the inner stamina He provided. Sadly, this was the only aspect of the ministry that could be carried on. For obvious reasons the small Bible school, the elementary school and publication enterprises were all terminated. This grieved Haralambos and the congregation, but there was no way to carry on.

            The adversaries were active. Criticisms started circulating: “What a brassy woman! You don’t care for your husband’s plight; instead you take his place.”  However, most people were appreciative. “Good for her,” they said. “She did not withdraw into a shell of self-pity, but showed willingness to fill her husband’s vacant post.” A few of the baser characters passed by the house threatening as they went, “Don’t you dare preach again. We’ll inform the authorities, and they’ll deport you.”  Aneta replied that the church would stay open until the government decided to shut it down officially.   Each Sunday Haralambos sent a pastoral letter for Aneta to read to the congregation.  Regular meetings continued for six more weeks until the government closed all churches.

           In an age when crisis management was unheard of and no seminars were held on the subject, Aneta, through the enabling of the Holy Spirit, became an effective crisis manager long before the time.