AARON R. KAYAYAN (1928-2008)
Rev. A.R. Kayayan was born on January 24, 1928, in a suburb of Athens (Greece), the third child of Armenian survivors of the genocide perpetrated between 1915 and 1922 against the Armenian people by the Ottoman Turks. His father’s theological studies at an American Protestant seminary in Turkey were interrupted by these tragic events, during which eleven family members (on father’s and mother’s side) were brutally murdered. Young Aaron grew up in a Christian family, and at the age of five already felt the call to become a missionary as he later shared with his own family. World War II and the occupation of Greece by German armies in turn interrupted his own secondary studies: consequently, he never benefited from a normal school education, despite his great aptitude and intense thirst to read. Immediately after the war, a Communist takeover in the north of Greece, where the Kayayan family had sought refuge to escape famine during the war years, disrupted his life further and shattered his hopes of receiving standard schooling.
It is only around the year 1950 that he was able to receive the equivalent of a high school diploma, having learned English, and then French, on his own. He then succeeded in enrolling in a Bible institute near Lausanne (the French speaking part of Switzerland), where he attended a three-year course followed by a year of studies at a Protestant seminary in Zürich. In Lausanne, he met Carmen Garrofe who was to become his faithful companion and collaborator: she had come from Catalonia (in the north-eastern part of Spain) to study at the same Bible institute. Married in 1956, they pursued their theological studies in France, at the Free Faculty of Reformed theology in Aix-en-Provence, near Marseille: at Aix they were exposed by Dutch lecturers to the works of John Calvin, and under their influence came to the Reformed faith.
After a short ministry among Armenian refugees in a suburb of Marseille, Rev. Kayayan served several congregations in the south of France — first in the Pyrenees, then in the Rhône valley— before coming to Paris in 1966 with his family: during this period two boys, Alain and Eric, were born to the Kayayans, respectively in 1958 and 1960. Alix, their daughter, was born while they lived in Paris. Between 1966 and 1976, Rev. Kayayan was the pastor of the Reformed church of Paris-Belleville. During this time, he became actively involved in a movement for Reformed renewal in France, amidst growing liberal tendencies within French Protestantism. He also multiplied contacts with foreign Reformed people, among them Americans, Dutch, and South Africans, while participating in various international Reformed conferences.
In 1969, he was approached by the North American missionary organization “The Back to God Hour” in order to produce radio broadcasts destined to be aired in Quebec, the French speaking province of Canada. In 1976, the BTGH — overseen by the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA) — asked him to become their full-time French broadcaster. Rev. Kayayan responded positively to this call while remaining in Paris with his family. The French radio-ministry spread over the whole of France and then, progressively, to French-speaking Africa via the Short Wave Radio (this latter development was made possible by the support of the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa). International Christian radio organizations such as TransWorld Radio, FEBA Radio and Radio Elwa became faithful partners of Perspectives Réformées (as the French radio ministry of the BTGH was known). Through various broadcasting stations, many radio programs aired on Short Waves spread the Gospel in Central, West, and East Africa. The steady and intense production of literature destined to equip pastors, elders, evangelists, and all believers, as well as numerous visits on the African continent (especially in the former Zaïre, today the Democratic Republic of the Congo), fulfilled this ministry carried on by Aaron and Carmen Kayayan. In 1982, accompanied by their daughter, they left France for the U.S.A. and joined the team of the BTGH in Chicago. Correspondence with listeners of the radio broadcasts and visits to Africa intensified, as well as the production of TV programs. One of the fruits of this intense and visionary activity was the foundation of the Reformed Confessing Church in Zaïre in 1984, with the support of the Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS). Other Reformed churches in French-speaking Africa were also founded, notably in Benin and Togo.
After his official retirement from the BTGH in 1992 (at the age of 64), Rev. Aaron Kayayan turned toward his own people, the Armenians: he began a ministry of evangelization in his mother tongue: Havadk Yev Guiank (Christians for Armenia). In close association with faithful and competent collaborators in Gyumri (the second largest city in the Republic of Armenia), and with the support of an interdenominational committee based in the U.S.A., many radio broadcasts as well as publications —in particular a quarterly magazine of high quality— were regularly produced. In addition, he made several visits to this country dear to him (his first trip to Armenia was in 1993 at the age of 65, the last one took place in 2005, he was then 77). Until the age of eighty (in the beginning of the year 2008), and despite growing health problems, Aaron Kayayan worked relentlessly for the propagation of the Reformed faith in the land of his ancestors, accomplishing an important task acknowledged by Armenians from Armenia (a telegram of condolences sent by the former president of the Armenian republic bears witness to this), as well as Armenians from the Diaspora, especially in the Caucasus and Russia.
During his lifetime, Reverend Kayayan burned with an intense passion to share the Gospel of the Kingdom with those who did not know it, and was driven by a great sense of urgency to do so as long as he was able.
On May 12, 2008, during the early hours of the day, Reverend Aaron Kayayan was called to the Lord, having suffered from liver failure caused by a hepatitis virus contracted on a missionary journey to the Congo some thirty years before. He is survived by his wife Carmen and three children, as well as a sister and several grand-children.
His body is buried at the Winchester Cemetery in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
Rev.A.R. Kayayan during a radio recording session for Perspectives Réformées
Carmen Kayayan organized the sending of literature to listeners of Perspectives Réformées and answered personally many letters of African women. She was also involved in the production of TV programmes.