Mike Youssefian. Born in Beirut, Lebanon in 1931. Studied in the Secondary School of Life, then in the American University of Beirut, where he received his degree in Architectural Engineering. He became a born again christian at age 18. He served in the Armenian Brotherhood Churches as a board member and later as the Executive Secretary of the Union. He served as a teacher in the Secondary School of Life and the Armenian Evangelical College in Beirut.He was the editor of Tchahert, Aveli Gyank and Yerchanik Hooys bi-monthly magazines. He has authored two books, Gdag 1 and Donagan. He is the founder of the Sahag Mesrob Armenian Christian School in Pasadena, California, where he served as the chairman of the board for several years. He is married to Arpi Bayrakdarian. He has four children and seven grandchildren. He loves art and literature. He has traveled to Armenia several times for Christian and humanitarian work.
MY LIFE IN BRIEF by Mike Youssefian
On the occasion of my 78th Birthday
I was born in Beirut, Lebanon, on Oct. 14, 1931, Wednesday. (Actually Thursday, 8, January, 1931 was my first day alive. Although I was just one cell creature that day, my DNA was formed and my future destiny of sex, height, physical appearance, intelligence, characteristic and vulnerability to certain diseases had been determined).
My father was Hovsep and my mother Aznive (born Sarkissian), both born in Ourfa, Turkey . Because of the Genocide, Sarkissians migrated to Syria and the Youssefians to Lebanon.
I was the first child of the family. I have two brothers, Hovig and Sam and a sister, Mary.
I was named after my grandfather, Mikaiel, on my father’s side. He had died at a young age (wrong medication), leaving my grandmother Mariam a widow to take care of her only son. (Her older son had died at the age of two from wrong medication).
I had grandparents on my mother’s side, the Sarkissians, Krikor and Yeghsa, uncles: Garabed and Berj and an aunt: Anahid. I have 15 cousins, with not much contact with them.
My grandmother, Mariam was the dominating figure in our family. She had been a supervisor in a German orphanage in Turkey, and she had the influence of the German discipline. She was a Godly woman. They called her Bible woman, because she visited needy people and gave Biblical advice to distressed women. I was her favorite grandchild because I carried her husband’s name..
My parents were devout and confessing Christians. They attended church regularly and tried to train their children in the ways of the Lord.
In the first few years of my life,we lived in a house in Beirut not very far from the sea, and I remember George Manoukian would take me to the beach to swim. At an early age, I had diphtheria, a contagious disease, which had to be quarantined for the safety of the public. The Public Health people had come to take me to quarantine. But on their way, they asked directions from a barber who knew us. The barber knowingly gave the wrong directions, then informed my parents to hide me, and I was saved, otherwise I could have died in the hospital. God had a plan for my future and He spared my life.
I was sent to the School of Life ,“Guenatz”,of the Armenian Brotherhood Bible Church in Beirut. I graduated from kindergarten at age 7, left Beirut for Arap Pounar, a village in Syria, where my father was asked to work with his cousin, Taniel Youssefian. Later on he worked for the OCP, a government organization, as warehouse manager.
Our life in Arap Pounar did not have the luxuries of the city, and was rather hard for my parents. There was no running water, no electricity, and no gas. My mother learned dressmaking and was famous in the village as the best and most tasteful dressmaker. In addition to caring for all of us and keeping the home, she had to work to make ends meet. There were seven members in the family, including my grandmother, and my father’s income was not enough to take care of all our family needs.
I have good memories of Arap Pounar. There was the small lake where some people drowned because of whirly water. There was the clear water shallow river, where women used to wash their laundry. There was the natural pool, where we, the kids used to swim next to the friendly snakes. There was the hill, where we climbed to meet the ghosts. There were the trips to the Kurdish villages with my father, where we milked the goats and learned how they extracted butter from sour milk. There were the Kurds who came to shop in the village and leave their donkeys at our house to ride. There were mud and hay to build bricks with. There were the Vartevar feasts, when we soaked each other with water. The winter was cold, water froze in the streets and we had to be careful not to fall and break our legs. There was lots of fun in Arap Pounar.
We used to travel to Aleppo once in a while with bus, and the bus had to be loaded on a raft to cross the Euphrates River. We stayed in Taniel Youssefian house and I could not resist the colorful glass toy marbles in the house. I had to confess to the daughter of the house 50 years later for the two toy marbles I stole from their house. As for my second and last stealing experience, I once stole a pomegranate from one of the village shops. When my father found out about it, he took me to the shop to return the fruit and apologize to the shop keeper. He punished me by not allowing me to eat that fruit for one year. It was a life lesson I could never forget.
I attended the Armenian Khrimian School, until I graduated from the Elementary fifth grade, after which I had to move to Beirut to continue my education. The five years in the Elementary school taught me to love the Armenian language, literature and the Armenian culture as a whole.
We attended the Apostolic Church every Sunday and I remember listening to the beautiful Armenian Sharagans.Not having an Evangelical church in the village, my parents used to have worship meetings at our house, as we were recognized as “hokevors” in the village. People respected my parents and my father served in the AGBU of the village as the secretary of the Board.
BACK TO BEIRUT AND SCHOOL DAYS
After I graduated from the 5th grade, I was sent to Beirut with my sister Mary and my grandma, Mariam. With the savings of my mother we could purchase a property in Beirut and we attended the School of Life. I registered as a sixth grade student and graduated for the second time from the elementary school.
I loved the school and was loved by the teachers here, especially the Principal, Digin Aghavni Topalian. All the teachers of the school, except those coming from the government, were born again believers. They worked with a meager salary but were devoted to the teaching profession.
We had worship service at the school every morning and most of the time they asked the students to give their hearts to the Lord. It was in one of those services several years later, that I was born again and decided to follow Christ. I was seventeen years old.
The School of Life ended at the sixth grade, so my parents planned to send me to the Melkonian Institute in Cyprus.
Because there was a need of raising the School of Life to high school level and because our sixth grade had promising students, they raised the level of the school to the seventh grade They asked me to continue my studies in the School of Life and my parents agreed.. They raised the level of the school one grade each year, until the ninth grade. Then, in order to have a high school of eleven grades, they had me and my classmate Yeghia Babikian skip the tenth grade to the eleventh.
During my high school days I spent the summers working in a wheat mill, weighing wheat and flour sacs, and with a shoe merchant, dusting the shop and the shoes. I learned the hard way of making money. The shoe merchant slapped me once because I held the shoes the wrong way. It was when I was working in the mill that I learned how to ride a bicycle. (Later on in life, I started to learn how to fly planes, but never completed the course because of the Civil war in Lebanon).
ON TO UNIVERSITY
I graduated from the School of Life High School in 1948, passed the American University of Beirut (AUB) entrance exams, and was ready to continue my education in the University. My parents did not have the funds for my tuition. Meanwhile, I was admitted to study theology in the God’s Bible College in the States with a work scholarship. That’s when our high school principal, Rev. Abraham Jizmejian, found an Ourfatzi sponsor to take care of my AUB tuition for a year. I had to teach part time in the School of Life to help pay for it. So because of this sponsorship, I was able to pursue my interest in arts and mathematics and study to become an architect in Beirut.
Before I entered the School of Architecture, I had to work for two years as a full time teacher in the School of Life to earn some money and be able to continue my education. I was teaching Armenian Literature, Algebra, Geometry and Physics to the high school level, and was involved in many extracurricular activities.
With divine intervention I was accepted as a student in the School of Architecture of AUB. I could pay the first year tuition with my savings, but did not know how I would continue the next years.
One day, I saw two of my classmates going to apply for a scholarship. They hesitantly told me where they were going and I went with them to apply for a Point Four Scholarship. It so happened that they were not accepted, while I received a full scholarship, with pocket money, books and lab expanses. I could afford boarding near the university with other students and eat in the university cafeteria.
God helped me to have that scholarship continued until I graduated as an Architectural Engineer from AUB.
FIRST YEARS IN ARCHITECTURE, THEN TEACHING AGAIN
Prof. Raymond Ghosn was the dean of the School of Architecture. Just before graduation, he asked me to work for him in the architectural office he was planning to establish.
It was during this time that I bought my first car, a Taunus, green in color, (later on I bought other cars: Oldsmobile, Mercedes, MG, all used cars, until I could afford buying a new Peugeot 403. Then I bought a Citroën, which I exchanged it for a second one after two years and I used that one until we left Lebanon for the States).
I worked in Prof Ghosn’s office for one year as the senior architect, until I was approached by my friend Yeghia Babikian. He had been hired to be the principal of School of Life, now called The Secondary School of Life. The school had moved to a new campus, purchased by Rev. Samuel Doctorian , who was eager to raise the standard of the school by hiring quality teachers.
I felt the calling of the Lord to leave my architectural practice and help the School of Life, which had been my Alma matter, and the birthplace of my soul.
The teaching staff was exceptional, all experts in their fields of teaching. We had 400 students, K to 11th Grade. I was teaching Algebra, Geometry and Physics. I was enjoying my time in the school.
In the mean time I was serving the Lord in the Brotherhood Church , first as Sunday School teacher, under the direction of Bro. Samuel Pashguian, (a very special person in the life of the church), and later on as a Boys’Badanyatz leader, together with Janig Haleblian. With our efforts and leadership, the Badanyatz grew up to have more than 80 boys. Most of these boys are active members in churches and communities and to date they remember the good old days of trips, summer camps, hiking, cycling and spiritual nourishment during their life in Badanyatz.
I started to publish the “Aveli Gyank “periodical, where I could express my spiritual feelings in poetry and prose. The magazine had a contemporary layout and many drawings of my own. We distributed it to the Brotherhood family.
Three years after teaching in the Secondary School of Life, I decided to return to my architectural practice in the same office that I had left. Prof. Ghosn was glad to have me back in his office. I also filled a vacancy to teach Mathematics to the upper grades of the Armenian Evangelical College.
My work in the office was mainly designing private residences, offices, apartment buildings and with the request of my boss, to design the Veharan, the seat of the Armenian Catholicos in Antelias.
With several friends from AUB, I volunteered to help flood victims in Tripoli (1954) and earthquake victims in South Lebanon (1956).
It was then when I decided to find my life partner, and God led me to one of my students in the School of Life, Arpi. Arpi was the beautiful oldest daughter of the Bayrakdarian family and who had started to study in the Beirut College for Women in Beirut. I contacted her several times and felt our mutual attraction towards each other. She was a confessing Christian, intelligent, talented, pretty and had a Christian upbringing. Both of us felt God’s hand and His love in our future plans
Arpi ‘s father was Hagopjan and her mother was Lois. She has two sisters, Marita and Lily and one brother, Garo. She also had her grandmother on the mother’s side, Aghavni Hatzouni, two uncles and one aunt. Grandparents on her father’s side, Garabed and Siranoush, four uncles and two aunts. There were lots of cousins.
Our wedding was on August 25, 1961, in the Anglo American Church, in the presence of hundreds of Brotherhood Church people, guests, relatives and friends. The officiating pastor was Rev. Vahram Salibian. We did not have any banquet for the guests, instead, my mother baked a cake at our house and we served coffee to our two families who came to our house to congratulate us after the wedding. I went to church with my brother Hovig in my MG sportscar and Melidos drove us home with father Bayrakdarian’s white Mercedes car.
After cake and coffee,we changed our clothes and drove to our honeymoon in my MG sports car. The hotel we reserved for the honeymoon was in Zummar, a beautiful village overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. We were both inexperienced in our marital relationship. We had to check books to see how we should proceed in our married life. Arpi was 17 years old and I was 29.
God blessed us by giving us twins the following year, Alec and Aline. A year later, we had a son, Aram. (Arpi was 19 years old when she had to take care of three babies, Alec, Aline and Aram. What a heroine!!). Seven years later, we had our last child, daughter Armeen.
EARLY CHURCH LIFE
At around this time, the church we were attending had some problems and had to split. It so happened that the one group had Arpi’s father as the leader and the other group had me as one of the leaders. This created a strain in our extended family relationship. We would visit each other, but we could hardly communicate with each other. They were sad days for our families. Thank God that changed later on.
In the mean time I was instrumental in founding the new church, one block away from the old church. The people called the new church “Nor Yeghpayrutyun”. In a short time we were able to purchase a property for the church and the church grew in numbers beyond our expectations.
The majority of the attendants of the new church were younger people, which led us to invite a young preacher, Samuel Berberian to pastor the church. The pastor was charismatic. He brought warmth to the church and many of us still remember those blessed days of worship, Bible studies, activities and new songs.
We started to publish a monthly Christian magazine, Tchahert, with the editors Samuel Pambakian, Ropovt Chorbajian and myself. It was very much appreciated by the readers, as it had quality articles, poetry, and news from the religious world. It continued to be published until 1983 and it stopped because of lack of editors.
AN EVER-CHANGING LIFE
Meanwhile, I continued my professional practice in Prof. Ghosn’s office, I also designed and built privately schools and buildings belonging to the Evangelical Community: Guertmenian, Trad, Nor Marash, Amanos, Eshrefieh, Petania, Hayashen, New Brotherhood Church, Mrouj Evangelical church, Armenian Evangelical College and the Secondary School of Life.
My service to the Lord consisted of preaching, writing, organizing summer retreats, correspondence with several people, publishing books of famous writers: Prof. K. Khayikian, Rev. Samuel Bakalian and Poet Jacques Hagopian .
My other interests were travelling, twice to Europe, several times to Palestine,(before and after my marriage) , many times to Damascus, Aleppo, Karabagh, Moscow, Peterasburg ,and once to Armenia , with Ropovt Chorbajian, with my Peugeot. God has also given me opportunities to travel with Arpi to Cancun (several times), Bahamas, Florida (Super Bowl), Arizona (Super Bowl), Tahiti, Hawaii (several times), Italy, Chili, Argentina, Alaska, Canada, England, France, Armenia and Lebanon.
DETOUR IN SWITZERLAND
Samuel Pambakian, Abraham Haleblian and Ropovt Chorbajian had made friendly trips to visit a Suisse Armenian millionaire, Ara Tchividjian, in Lausanne. He had expressed a desire to establish a Center in Switzerland, where young Armenians from all over the world could come to study to be prepared for Christian service back in their communities. Tchividjian was ready to absorb all the costs of the Center.
The three brothers discussed the matter with me and I went with them to meet the donor in Florida (Tchividjian lived in Switzerland, Canada and the States) and arrange our cooperation to make the plan take shape. I was very much excited with the project and made arrangements to move to Switzerland and organize the Center. Arpi joined me hesitantly with our youngest children, Aram and Armeen, the other kids were in school. We had to move and live eventually in Switzerland, with the staff and employees of the Center.
I had to resign from my Architectural practice in Ghosn’s office and move to Switzerland. The Evangelical and Brotherhood community in Beirut had mixed feelings about my move.
We stayed in a rented chalet in the winter resort of Villar, provided to us by our hosts, the Tchividjians. After two months of very trying times in Switzerland under the indecisive attitude of Tchivitjian, we had to return back to Beirut, somewhat disheartened. It was fortunate that we had not liquidated our home and furniture. We thank God that we did not lose our sanity during those two months.
BACK TO BEIRUT, AGAIN
Returning to Beirut, I decided to establish a private Architectural and Construction office in partnership with my brother Sam, who was also an architect. We rented an office in Dora (East Beirut), and in a short time we were busy doing design and construction.
Several investors approached me to form a company and build and sell apartments, as many were doing those days. 12 individuals, including me, invested 25000 Lebanese pounds each and purchased a vacant land in Antelias , a suburb of Beirut) and built a 10 story building, with 19 luxury units. The return was 100%. I built a second apartment building in Nahr el Mot, (North East of Beirut), also 18 units and sold the units with profit. After we purchased the third vacant land to start a third building, the Civil War in Lebanon began and all future developments had to come to a complete stop.
During my real estate development work with the investors, Sam and I built the Sahaguian School in partnership with Garo Khachadourian, and a huge factory in Khaldeh in partnership with Vartkess Balian and Yenovk Balikian. I also built two buildings as owner -builder, in partnership with Vartkess Balian and Kevork Toroyan. Vartkes and Kevork and I stayed close friends. We were very sad to lose Vartkess due to Cancer, in 2008.
Meanwhile, Arpi and I were serving the Lord in the church, she as the Badanuhyatz leader, and I as the church Board member. We were loved and respected by all.
Every summer, we used to go to the mountains (usually Wata-Mrouj and Khenchara) and to the beach (usually Mameltein and Tabarja) when we were in Beirut.
God healed Arpi, after her thyroidectomy in 1975. She had a second surgery in Los Angeles in 1986.
CIVIL WAR IN LEBANON
The civil war had a devastating effect on the people of Lebanon as a whole an on our family. Many people got killed, houses destroyed and many people left Lebanon for safer countries.
Our house was hit twice with rockets. Once, I was sitting in the balcony with a painting canvas in front of me, enjoying the beautiful scenery of the Mediterranean Sea. My daughter called me from inside the house and I responded to her call. It was then that the rocket hit the balcony, broke the chair, tore the canvas and could have killed me if I was still there. Many times I would drive home from my office, and looking down from the balcony, I could see the bombs hitting the road I was travelling on half an hour before.
We left our furnished house behind, including Arpi’s beautiful grand piano,( a wedding gift from her parents), all to be sold later on with a meager sum of money. I left my office behind to be ransacked by the fighters. I left my new Citroen to a friend to sell. Our goods, mainly books and Persian rugs were sent to us in boxes by a friend. I left all my investments and my professional reputation behind to start all over from scratch in the new country.
I saw people killed not far from my car, and bodies drawn in the streets tied to the back of trucks. Many nights we could not sleep because of the gun fire noise and fear. God protected us all and brought us out of that hell.
EMIGRATION & STARTING OVER
When the Civil War erupted in Lebanon, we experienced difficult and dangerous times, undergoing sad experiences. We left everything behind and moved to Los Angeles in 1976. We stayed with my sister, Mary for some time, until we rented a house in the N.W. area of Pasadena and tried to put our lives in order.
One year after we moved to the States, I went to Lebanon to sell our properties and settle unfinished business. While I was in Lebanon, Arpi was working and taking care of the children and Alec’s foot surgery. I stayed in Beirut for three and half months.
My applications for a job in the States did not give results, and people who had promised to use my expertise, did not keep their promise.
Once again, I found investors and partners and started buying buildings, remodeling and selling them. This continued until 1982 when the real estate market failed.
I then applied to teach in the School of Architecture at AUB in Beirut and I was accepted, but our family situation did not permit me to go alone. That’s when God provided me with a lucrative job in Los Angeles and I cancelled the teaching plans.
I cannot forget the financial assistance we received from my friend Kevork Toroyan in the most crucial period of our life.
I started working in Downtown L.A. with Los Angeles United Investment Co in 1984. I started there as a Project Engineer, later on to be the General Manager of the Company. I was respected and appreciated for my hard work, knowledge and my honesty. I worked at LAUIC for 18 years until I retired in 2002.
In 1980, I founded the Sahag Mesrob Armenian Christian School, and I served the Lord as the chairman of the School Board and in the Church Board almost 20 years..
Hard work in the States and other pressures led me to undergo a triple-bypass open heart surgery in 1986. I had a second open heart surgery in 1999, and recently a heart attack while visiting Lebanon, resulting in 3 stents and a pace maker in my body.
While I was the chairman of the Brotherhood Mission Board in Pasadena, I travelled in 2003 to India and Sri Lanka with my daughter Armeen and spent three memorable weeks with the Indian Christians. I also traveled with Arpi to South America in 1985 to visit mission work in the villages of Brazil.
The Union of Brotherhood Churches assigned me as the Acting Secretary of the Union in 2000, and with that position I travelled to almost all the Brotherhood churches in North America, Europe, the Middle East and South America. I also made several trips to Armenia, to supervise and organize our mission in Armenia.
We enjoyed sightseeing trips with Janig and Arpi Haleblians to Europe four times. Week long trips to Catalina Island with the family twice and recently an Alaskan cruise with several couples from our church.
I enjoyed painting and once I started to learn playing Spanish guitar, but was unable to master.
Since 1986, I am on the editorial board of the bimonthly magazine Yerchanik Hooys, with Samuel Pambakian and Garo Kazanjian. My articles in the magazine are read and appreciated. I also compiled my literary works in a book, Gedag 1 (1996), and my sermons in a book, Donagan (1998).
As a volunteer, I helped develop and remodel the Armenian Brotherhood Church building in Pasadena, the Lark Musical Society building in Glendale and the AGBU High School in Pasadena.
I have received commendations from ABBC (several), Sahag Mesrob School (several), AGBU, Lark Musical Society, Mashdotz College, County of Los Angeles (Michael Antonovich), Mayor of Pasadena (Bill Bogard), City of Pasadena (Human Relation), Los Angeles United Investment Co.
I have tried to live a life pleasing and acceptable to God. I have helped and counseled many, many people and lived an exemplary life.
CATCHING UP TO THE PRESENT, AND FUTURE
All my children have their families now. Alec married Vanda Ilanjian (in 1989) and they have Michael and Alexa. Aline married Setrag Asdarjian (in 1992), and they have Nathan and Lauren, Aram married Tamar Garabedian (in 2004), and they have Bella and Luca, and Armeen married Elliot Chenault (in 2006), and they have Ruby. All of them have their private homes and they are working hard to live and take care of their children. I am proud of my children; they are intelligent, skilled, multitalented and hard workers.
Due to my age and circumstances, I have withdrawn from all my service positions, in the church, with the school, and the Union. I am a free man now with no attachments and church or community responsibilities.
I now spend my time writing, reading, computer, telephone calls, loving my seven grandchildren (Michael, Alexa, Nathan, Lauren, Bella, Ruby and Luca) and paying attention to my health. I also have more time to spend with Arpi.
My future plans: compile my sermons and writings (which may end up printing 6 volumes), continue Yerchanik Hooys, travel in the United States, if health permits, and preach wherever invited.
I am 78 now. All my parents and grandparents have gone to be with the Lord. I hope I will join them one day, but I pray God to give me health and sound mind to serve Him in the years to come. I don’t want to go to heaven soon and empty handed.
My wish is that all my children love and respect each other and help each other in times of need. They live a Godly life and train their children in the wisdom and fear of the Lord.
I am a blessed man. Although all my dreams are not fulfilled, most of them are. I thank God for all the opportunities He’s granted me to serve Him and for extending my life after three heart attacks. I thank all who have prayed and are praying for me.
I hope and wish that my children are proud having me as their father, my grandchildren are proud of having me as their grandfather and Arpi is proud and happy of having me as her husband. Most of all, God is proud of my life and service to His Kingdom.
I owe my past and my future to Him and I have committed my life to serve Him with all the opportunities he will grant me in coming years.
Praise and glory to His name.