Here in the Caucasus region, ethnicity and faith are often treated as one. Christians in Armenia and Georgia — which in the fourth century became the first two countries worldwide to adopt Christianity as their state religion — almost uniformly belong to the Armenian Apostolic and Georgian Orthodox Churches, respectively (93 percent in Armenia, 83 percent in Georgia).
But a near-century of Soviet-imposed secularism dramatically weakened the standing of state churches. Now, many ethnic Armenians and Georgians are gravitating toward American evangelical sects with an emphasis on attracting converts and a strong missionary presence in the region, such as LDS and Jehovah’s Witnesses. In Armenia, the number of Jehovah’s Witnesses here hovers around 11,000; LDS claims more than 3,000 members (also known as Mormons). These may be small numbers, but they are significant in this country of 3 million, where practitioners of other faiths tend to be members of minority ethno-religious groups, such as Jews or Muslim Kurds…
It is this sense of involvement that inspired his colleague, Margarit Ayvazyan, to convert. Like Pogosyan, Ayvazyan grew up nonreligious during Soviet rule, adopting atheism as a philosophically inclined teenager. Yet her encounters with LDS missionaries in the early 90’s left her with a sense of spiritual fulfillment she had not found in her parents’ Armenian Apostolic services. In a traditional Armenian service, she says, “You just stand there and the priests pray.” Many Armenians cannot even understand the classical Armenian used in services. In LDS, where congregants are encouraged to share their experiences and participate in Bible-study classes, she has a role to play. Even those church members who do not become missionaries are encouraged to circulate information among family and friends, recruit curious “investigators” to visit services and keep track of lapsed members.
One of the things that I hadn’t considered before is the Jehovah’s Witnesses, with their suspect translation of the Bible, outside of North America. I assume they translate from their English version?