Nishan Krikor Sherinian Finds the True Church in Armenia in 1888
I was born in the year 1860 in the little village of Zara, Sivas County, Western Armenia. My mother died when I was only eight days old. My father, heartbroken over the death of my mother and needing to earn more money than was possible in our little village, went to Constantinople where he remained until I reached the age of nine years. Therefore for the first nine years of my life I lived with my grandmother.
When my father returned to Zara, he married a second time, to a widow who had two little girls of her own, and by whom he had three daughters and a son. My father lost his money in a small business venture and found it difficult to support his family. I helped him as well as I could until I was fifteen years of age. I had desired so much to go to school. I even had the opportunity when American Protestant missionaries asked my father to allow me to come to their school where they would educate me and make me a teacher or a minister. But my father would not allow it because I was the only boy old enough to help on the farm. Therefore, anxious as I was to get some education, my schooling was limited to a few winters when I was permitted to attend a small town school taught by very poor teachers who were spending their vacation time to teach.
Finally, when I reached fifteen years of age, I decided that I could no longer stay in my father’s house where I felt that I was not wanted. I therefore left for Constantinople. , When I arrived there I was alone, friendless and penniless. Work was hard to get because I had learned no trade. I finally in desperation took work as a servant in the home of an Armenian family who promised to pay me one Turkish piaster (four U.S. cents) a day. They said that they would save my money for me and pay me all at once in one lump sum a later time. However, I quit after I had worked for nearly two years and had received not one piaster for my hard work of serving the six members of the family. I then went to learn the barber trade from a distant cousin of mine who would pay me thirty piasters (US $1.20) a month as his apprentice. I went gladly to work, for now I could have a vocation. I had worked for only a short time when I received word of the death of my father on May 1, 1877. His death left his family in a very desperate situation with an unfinished house and a debt of around eighty U.S. dollars, which in Armenia at that time was a large sum.
Even though I felt I had suffered from my father’s neglect, I obeyed my conscience and assumed my father’s obligations. I worked hard, denying myself little pleasures, sending the family money from time to time, and paying off my father’s debt also.
My master saw how diligent I was and raised my wages many times in two years, until finally I was earning one hundred twenty piasters a month instead of the original thirty. This together with the gifts my customers gave me helped considerably. I also set up a business on the side of selling extra meats and breads to Turkish soldiers. Finally, my business was so good that I took my master in as partner and gave him a half interest.
During the five years following my four years of apprenticeship, I became not only master of my trade, but also paid off my father’s debts and saved eighty Turkish liras (US $360).
After nine years in Constantinople I decided to return to my native town of Zara. This was regardless of the pleadings of my partner and his attempt to get me to marry a fine girl in one of the English schools in Constantinople, whose picture he showed me.
Five days after I had returned to Zara, I opened a small dry goods store with part of my savings and also purchased about fifty acres of farming land, hiring some men with teams to work with me. I was successful in both ventures.
Until my twenty-fourth year of age I had little training in religion. I had always felt that someday I would be a minister. Even while in Constantinople I had appealed to the Protestant Board of American Missions to send me to America for training as a minister. They consented to send me to a school in Turkey but I did not want to attend school there.
After I returned to Zara, I learned of a new church which was called “Disciples of Christ.” And in December 1884, during a bitter storm, I was baptized into that Church.
On May 29, 1885, I was betrothed to my fifth cousin, Rebecca, a teacher in our schools. We were married a year and a half later, November 23, 1886, when she was eighteen year old and I was twenty-six. We were made husband and wife by the same minister who had baptized me in 1884. After our marriage we moved into a home I had built and we lived happily for four years. Our first child, a daughter, whom we named Arick for my mother, was born here in this house on November 6, 1887.
Meanwhile, I began to consider seriously our religious situation with the Disciples of Christ. We had no local minister or chapel, and so used my house for our gatherings. I wrote to the headquarters of the church in Constantinople and asked for someone to come out and ordain an elder so that such ordinances as the sacrament of the Lord’s supper, baptism, weddings, and funerals could be administered according to the rule of the church and the law of the Lord. We received word that we should select the man to officiate and then ask an elderly man to ordain him an elder or minister. We were very sincere in our desire to select the right person, so we fasted for six days and gathered on the seventh day to select our minister.
While we were doing our work as well as we could and had completed our new chapel for our Disciples of Christ congregation, one of the congregation members came to me and said, “Today there came a Latter-day Saint missionary from America to your father-in-law’s house, with Dicran Shahabian (our minister who has already joined this Church in Sivas,) and he preaches some new religion, called Mormonism. Come, let us see what he has to say.”
I replied, “Do not follow after such a new thing. There are many new churches today that we do not know about. We already have one, and that is enough for us.” But even as I spoke, a thought came suddenly into my mind: By what right did I forbid others to go, and why did I not go myself? If this man had something better, more nearly right, I would be held accountable for rejecting the word of God.
So that night I went with the others and listened to the American missionary, and I returned a second and a third night. We talked with the missionary until midnight, asking questions and discussing many important things. Each night we were reluctant to leave him.
The news of my attending these meetings was not long in traveling, and soon I was berated soundly for attending. Even my stepmother berated me. She began to weep, saying, “Surely, you will go to Zion in America and leave us all here in a miserable condition.”
I answered them all alike: “If the Lord reveals to me that this man is indeed sent of God and if Mormonism is true, I would accept the doctrines of this Church.” Even that very night I had said one thing to Elder Ferdinand F. Hintze, the missionary: “So far as I can understand, your words are all true, and your church is better than other churches. I have been seeking truth all my life. I am willing to become a member of your church through the door of baptism, but how do I know that you are an authorized elder and sent of God to preach his gospel?”
Elder Hintze answered: “Brother Sherinian, I cannot give faith to you. Faith comes from God. Go home and read John, Chapter 7: 16, 17, and, as the scripture says, you will ‘know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.’”
Some members of my family were very angry with me. I tried to comfort my stepmother, saying that I would do what was right, and adding, “If you will also accept Mormonism and are willing to go to Zion in America, I will keep you with me wherever I go.” As I went to bed, I prayed long and earnestly that I might know the truth.
The next morning, October 6, 1888, I went to my store with a heavy heart. Elder Hintze came in, and, observing my depressed state of mind, hesitated to address me. Suddenly he said, calling me by name, “I have been watching you for quite a while and saw that your face was sad.” I told him then that I had dreamed after I had gone to sleep the night before and that I wondered about the possible meaning of this dream. In the dream, my father-in-law, my two cousins, and I were seated on the floor with our Bibles in our hands and were having a gospel discussion. My father-in-law and I were defending Mormonism, and my two cousins were defending the Disciples of Christ. We could not be reconciled. Then the outer door opened, and a strange man entered the room, saying, “My friends, do not argue in vain, for these two are right,” and he pointed to my father-in-law and me. He then disappeared. At that time in my dream we closed our Bibles and looked at each other in amazement. My father-in-law stood up and pointing a finger at me, said, “Nishan, you and I will accept, but these will not accept.” Then I awoke and knew that it was a dream.
Elder Hintze smiled and said, “Brother Sherinian, indeed the Lord directly and promptly answered your sincere prayer, because the strange man who testified about the two of you was right, and when your father-in-law said that you and he would accept and the other two would not, he was right again, for yesterday I baptized Nigoghos (my father-in-law) and ordained him an elder in the Church, and you will be the second one.”
With a heart full of gladness I told Elder Hintze to take me into the waters of baptism. With two other elders we immediately went to the Kizilirmak River (“Red River”) which flows through Zara, and he baptized me. Afterwards he confirmed me a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Later in May 1891, my wife was baptized along with her mother.
From the day of our baptism it seemed to us that the adversary rose against us in full force. Even our own families and relatives turned against us as enemies and spread malicious stories and betrayed us. They tried to defame our good reputation before the government and to damage us financially. I went on a short mission for the Church, and some of our own kin set a snare for me while I was gone. Upon my return I was thrown into prison. While I was there, my son became ill with pneumonia and died. My wife suffered terribly at this time, and I was unable to console her. But through all these trials we remained faithful to the gospel, and I preached for ninety days to the other prisoners.
I opened up a little business again and took time also to preach. My wife at this time finished a beautiful rug which we sent to the Salt lake Temple to be used in the meeting room of the Council of the Twelve. The gift was accepted through President Lorenzo Snow, who wrote a letter to her expressing his appreciation, with his compliments and blessings.
In the mid-1890s serious trouble arose between the Turkish government and the Armenian people. Armenians began to be massacred by the fanatic Turks and wild Kurds. But the Lord was very merciful towards us and protected us. Our town was not molested, and not one single soul was killed, although three times the Turks prepared their swords against us and divided up the town of Zara among themselves. They intended to kill us and loot our property. But the Lord saved us through the Turks’ own prominent man, Isah Bey, who organized an army of his own and scattered the fanatic ringleaders.
During the following six years the animosity and hatred between the Turks and Armenians became so unbearable that we could not even visit each other’s homes or meet together for the purpose of worship.
Finally, in 1902 after fourteen years of faithful work in the Church, we planned our departure from our native land in order to go to Zion in America. This was a difficult task, for we had to get our passports from the Turkish government, and we could not sell any of our goods. When we left, we must promise never to return.
When we were ready to go, we had the equivalent of US $900.00 in cash, six Turkish rugs, a few carpets, bedding, and other necessities for our future home. There were six of us, my wife, our three children, myself, and my second cousin, Nishan M. Gogian. We left behind twenty-four members of the Church and twelve children. On October 8, 1902, at three o’clock in the afternoon, the six of us started on our long journey to Zion in America. A large crowd of people was gathered on the outskirts of our town, relatives, neighbors, and friends, both Armenians and Mohammedans, to see us off on our journey. Even some of our town officials came to bid us farewell with tears and lamentations Many of them followed us for miles and did not want to leave us.
After a six-week journey we arrived safely and happily in Zion, which was Salt Lake City in the US state of Utah, on November 26, 1902. That night we were received by the church as new immigrant guests in the Tithing House. The following morning, which was the American Thanksgiving, Elder F.F. Hintze came and took us to his home in the small town of Holladay near Salt Lake City. He let us use a small house of his for temporary residence.
The story of our lives in America is interesting, too, but we were most grateful for the privilege of going to the Lord’s house, the Salt Lake Temple, and being made a family group for time and eternity.
Note 1: Nishan Krikor Sherinian died in Los Angeles, California, in 1945.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon Church)