Armenia-Born Pentecostal Appointed Illinois District Court Judge

by | Jul 31, 2004 | Charisma Archive

Sam Der-Yeghiayan came to the United States and attended Evangel University, thanks to an Assemblies of God missionary

The first person of Armenian heritage to ever become a federal judge keeps a low public profile. Sam Der-Yeghiayan (dare-yea-ge-yan) doesn’t grant interviews, to avoid giving political adversaries fodder for misconstruing his Christian views.

But that doesn’t stop others from loudly applauding his accomplishments.

The one-time Assemblies of God missionary who helped him enter the United States isn’t surprised that his protégé now sits on the U.S. District Court for Northern Illinois.

“Sam always had the drive to be somebody and not just be another person,” said William Ilnisky, pastor of Lighthouse Christian Center International in West Palm Beach, Fla. “That’s what made me willing to invest time in him and help him out.”

Born in Syria but raised in Lebanon, 52-year-old Der-Yeghiayan came from a Christian family. But as a teen he generally spent more time with gangs than in church, Ilnisky said.

The two met soon after Ilnisky went to Beirut in 1969 to establish a campus ministry near American University. His first year the missionary also taught at a high school for Armenians.

While Der-Yeghiayan “played a lot of games,” at 18 he accepted Christ and was filled with the Spirit, telling Ilnisky, “I’ve traded my gun for a sword.”

Despite this change, “I realized if he stayed in Lebanon he would probably be dead quickly because of uprisings between Muslims and Christians,” Ilnisky recalled. “In Lebanon, everyone carried a gun for protection.”

Because of his connections to Evangel College, which became a university in 1998, Ilnisky arranged for Der-Yeghiayan to obtain a visa and enroll. His first home in Springfield, Mo., was with the school’s president, the late Robert Ashcroft, father of U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft.

After obtaining a social sciences degree, Der-Yeghiayan went on to the Franklin Pierce Law Center in Concord, N.H., and became a naturalized citizen. After graduating in 1978, he became a trial attorney for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) in Chicago.

Four years later Der-Yeghiayan became counsel for the INS Chicago district, overseeing a three-state area. He held that post until becoming an immigration court judge in 2000, where he served until joining the federal court a year ago.

Rated “qualified” by the American Bar Association, Der-Yeghiayan was approved by Congress 89-0.

Der-Yeghiayan is the third Evangel grad to hold high public office. The others are Adm. Vern Clark, chief of U.S. naval operations, and Todd Tiahrt, a five-term congressman from Kansas.

The first alumnus on the federal bench, Der-Yeghiayan has a legion of admirers in Springfield. His alma mater recently presented him its 2004 Regius Award, which honors social sciences alumni for outstanding professional achievement.

While in Missouri Der-Yeghiayan visited Bryan Sanders’ administrative law class, where the professor said the judge “captivated” his students.

A former real estate developer and attorney, Sanders believes the skilled graduate’s integrity enables him to walk a fine line between his Christian beliefs and upholding the law.

The professor is also impressed with the judge’s humility, saying “it’s like a breath of fresh air” to see someone of importance avoiding an arrogant stance.

“He’s very well reasoned and cautious in the things he says and does,” Sanders said. “He’s not a knee-jerk judge. I think that’s what has gotten him credibility. I didn’t perceive in him a political bent. He truly looks to the written law.”

Robert Spence, who succeeded Ashcroft as president and knew Der-Yeghiayan his senior year, remembers a focused, dedicated student–one who opened a pizzeria during college to help pay his tuition.

Sometimes challenged by struggles with language differences, Der-Yeghiayan “had to work a little harder and excelled,” Spence said. “It was obvious to those who knew him that he was going somewhere.”

J. Calvin Holsinger, a semi-retired professor who continues to teach a course in public history, echoes that sentiment. He described his former student as a “go-getter,” and Holsinger said he was touched by the people who came from long distances to attend the spring dinner honoring the Evangel graduate.

“People from his past who heard about it made an effort to be there,” said Holsinger, who heard the judge praised as a capable, helping person. “He seeks to do his best for the country.”

During Der-Yeghiayan’s swearing-in ceremony, Attorney General Ashcroft said the Founding Fathers knew individuals who would lead this nation best were those committed to fundamental maxims of liberty.

“This nation needs more men and women, more boys and girls, who will follow in Sam’s footsteps,” Ashcroft said, the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin reported.

On Evangel’s campus, many would add a hearty, “Amen.”
Ken Walker


Stay up-to-date with current issues, Christian teachings, entertainment news, videos & more.

The latest breaking Christian news you need to know about as soon as it happens.

Prophetic messages from respected leaders & news of how God is moving throughout the world. 


Have We Departed From the  Simplicity of Christ?

Have We Departed From the Simplicity of Christ?

Recently I heard a pastor say the following: "When I was pastoring and saw little fruit, I began to call those with potential to reach others for Christ to our home and to mentor them one on one. That's where massive growth happened in the people." Local pastors and...

Take the Fight to the Enemy, Before He Strikes at You

Take the Fight to the Enemy, Before He Strikes at You

Read Time: 3 Minutes 7 Seconds “When the Philistines heard that they had anointed David king over Israel, all the Philistines went up to seek out David; and when David heard of it, he went down to the stronghold,” (2 Sam. 5:17). When David heard that he was under...

Joyce Meyer: Becoming a Prisoner of Hope

Joyce Meyer: Becoming a Prisoner of Hope

Read Time: 3 Minutes 56 Seconds God is good. And He has a good plan for each of our lives. No matter what may be going on right now, God’s plan is unfolding. In the meantime, Romans 12:12 tells us to “be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer,”...

Victimized By Gaslighting? 5 Steps to Finding Freedom

Victimized By Gaslighting? 5 Steps to Finding Freedom

Read Time: 2 minutes 26 seconds The term "gaslighting" has gone viral across social media this year and Merriam-Webster chose it as their word-of-the-year, saying searches for the word spiked 1,740% in 2022 alone. We're breaking down what the Bible has to say about...


WATCH: Vlad Savchuck: Life, Health and the Bible During a recent visit to @HungryGeneration, Pastor Vlad Savchuk asked Bill Wiese to comment on his personal experience applying the Word of God to his own...
Miraculous Divine Intervention Birthed by Thanksgiving and Praise

Miraculous Divine Intervention Birthed by Thanksgiving and Praise

Read Time: 4 Minutes 2 Seconds When I first became a believer in 1970, my mother was one of my first “converts," giving her heart to Jesus as soon as I shared with her the beauty, the power and the opportunity of making Jesus the Lord of her life. However, my father...

I’m Going Defcon G on the Enemy

I’m Going Defcon G on the Enemy

Read Time: 1 Minute 32 Seconds The last six years have been the best of times and the worst of times. I’ve seen more death, destruction, disease and devastation than I care to remember. I’ve also seen the hand of God move in extraordinary ways. Indeed, sometimes I...

Prophetic Vision: ‘Now is the Time of Your Healing’

Prophetic Vision: ‘Now is the Time of Your Healing’

Read Time: 3 Minutes 41 Seconds I was remembering a time when my husband and I were praying over friends who had been in a situation for many years that had caused deep trauma to their souls. As we were praying for them, I became aware of an angel standing over them...

5 Ways to Improve Your Emotional and Spiritual Health

5 Ways to Improve Your Emotional and Spiritual Health

Read Time: 4 Minutes 50 Seconds Do you believe the Lord is concerned about your emotional and spiritual health? He is. He wants you to know how to improve your emotional and spiritual health to be resilient in turbulent times. One of the most powerful things you can...

Pin It on Pinterest