Celebrating Marine

Seven years ago, we were staying at the Congress Hotel in Yerevan. It had been seven days since we “stepped foot” into Armenia, and we were living out of suitcases and looking for a place to live. Our “welcome committee” of Americans, who had come to stay with us the first seven days in Armenia, had left.

And, suddenly…we were all alone.

It was our first Sunday to attend a church service by ourselves – to sit in a packed sanctuary and realize that we could not read one single word, understand a single thing, and we were the only Americans seated amidst hundreds of Armenians.

Immersion had begun.

I will never forget that morning. That is the morning we met Marine Stepanyan. She walked up with her completely white outfit, super high wedge boots and pink sunglasses.

I remember turning to Nick and saying, “I think she’s one of the most beautiful girls I’ve ever seen.” At that time, I could not comprehend that what I was really experiencing was her internal beauty, radiating out.

She translated for us that day. We could have never imagined the great future we would have together.

Marine has become our closest friend and most loyal employee. I cannot imagine the last seven years in Armenia without her tireless work, listening ear, and life-giving wisdom.

The graduation I wrote about above could never have happened without Marine’s involvement. Her organizational skills made the logistical nightmare of overseeing the school and huge translation task possible.

But, due to her work, she was unable to be a student in the program. She had always dreamed of having a Bachelor’s degree. Years ago, she had completed an Associate’s degree in English, and then the tuition money “ran out.” She had to let that part of her dream die.

Fast forward to September 24, 2010.

All of our students had “walked the line” and received their diplomas.

I looked over at Marine from the stage. She looked exhausted; standing over in the corner. She had just organized an entire graduation, dinner reception, and “corralled” 216 students in to an organized line.

Her voice was gone.

Her feet hurt.

Completely depleted.

Suddenly, I called her up on stage. I said a word of thanks – probably something Marine expected.

Then, I pulled out a blue leather cover.

“North Central University” written in gold on top.

The impossible was coming true.

The announcement: “Marine Stepanyan has been awarded an Honorary Bachelor's Degree in Organizational Leadership from America.”

Her hands cover her face, her eyes - complete disbelief and surprise.

Hopefully all of us have had those moments when we experience some act of unexpected grace, and we feel as if someone is smiling down on us from heaven.

He knows us. He knows what we do; what we sacrifice. He remembers.

God had done a miracle on Marine’s behalf and reminded her that He truly does see everything.

He had worked on her behalf to convince an American university President’s cabinet to approve this degree for, in my opinion, the most deserving woman on the planet.

So, we celebrate Marine! We celebrate her tireless investment in our family and Armenia.

We celebrate God’s ever-searching eye that notices the hidden things and evaluates the generosity hidden away in our motives and hearts.

And, most of all, we celebrate His extravagant grace.