Haigazian University hosted a panel discussion the evening of August 24, 2011 commemorating the 200th anniversary of the founding of the American Board Mission. Some panelists stressed that this was a “commemoration and not a celebration,” given the mixed legacy of the missionary project. The American Board’s history was examined by six panelists in all its humanness, courage and dedication, cultural insensitivity and inflexibility, martyrdom, and the establishment of educational institutions that have withstood the test of time.
Dr. Peter Makari, Executive for the Middle East and Europe division of the Global Ministries of the United Church of Christ and the Disciples of Christ denominations in the United States gave the opening remarks. Global Ministries is the descendent institution of the original American Board Mission established in 1812 in Boston, Massachusetts, USA. Rev. Dr. John Deckenback shared his research on the American Board’s missionary activities to the indigenous peoples of North America, noting that the early 19th century effort spread the Christian gospel and extended health care to the native peoples while also advancing the cause of white settlement and hegemony in the American Pacific Northwest.
Panelists Kenneth and Betty Frank shared their decades-long experience of teaching in secondary schools in Turkey originally established by the American Board during the Ottoman period. These schools survived and thrived despite the militant process of secularization begun with the establishment of the Turkish republic by Kamal Ataturk.
Many people in the region were receptive to the message brought by the American Board and other Western missionaries in the early 19th century. Rev. Mgrdich Karagoezian, President of the Union of Armenian Evangelical Churches in the Near East, explained that his denomination is,in many ways, evidence of this receptivity. He also noted changes that had taken place in the denomination over the decades.
Haigazian University President Rev. Dr. Paul Haidostian closed the panel celebrating the fact that aspects of American Board history are also part of Armenian Evangelical history, noting that there were many areas demanding further research and study. Lively discussion with the audience followed, including a discussion of the pros and cons of the secularization of once-protestant identified universities.
The panelists were accompanied in their travel by other Global Ministriesstaff and district ministers of the UCC and Disciples of Christ denominations.