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Moldova 2019 – Days 5 & 6

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Day 5

Our last two days in Moldova were marked with changes of plans. On Wednesday we had planned to take a day trip to Romania with Kathryn, Brian, Ellie, & Tim. We had hired a driver and were loaded up in his van with our passports, but on our way there our driver got a phone call when we stopped for coffee.

Missionaries in Moldova (and other countries like it) have a short-hand way of explaining why things go wrong or take too long – later when asked why our plans changed Kathryn simply would say “Moldova.”

The level of corruption in Moldova’s government is pretty intense. Bribes are seen as part of the political process, so occasionally a low-level political official will do things just to get bribes. On this particular day the politician in charge of the boarder crossing was requiring a particular form for all passenger vans leaving the country – except this form actually is unobtainable.

So the many professional drivers who shuttle people in and out of the country are left with a choice; bribe someone or pay an enormous fine. Our driver was actually trying to figure out how to get us on a bus that wouldn’t have the same restrictions, but after he explained the situation we opted to return to Chisinau (Quishe’Now.) Our driver insisted that he show us something interesting in Moldova so on our way back into town we stopped by a convent with a beautiful church.

A painting in the church explaining the punishment that awaits sinners with no mention of grace; helps explain the shame-ridden culture.
one of the ubiquitous crucifixes found at crossroads

While we were there, a nun gave us a tour. She couldn’t have been taller that 4’9″ and had several gold teeth and a lot of spunk. She explained about a tradition that none of us had ever heard of the Easter Orthodox church – one that I’m fairly certain no other Christian denomination believes in – the Holy Fire of Jerusalem. You can read the linked article if you’re curious about it, but it’s safe to say that it is very different from any Christian belief we have in the west. This is part of the Orthodox tradition that feels largely influenced by culture and history – it’s these kinds of beliefs that often make discussions with the nominal Christians that much more challenging.

I personally enjoyed this time as it allowed me to get to know Ellie and Tim even more. Tim and I had a nice discussion on the state of the institutional church – or should I say I rambled on about it and Tim patiently listened and chimed in. In the realm of more trivial things we talked about various accents in the U.S. and asked them if they could identify the differences between various accents. We also spent a fair amount of time discussing various U.S. and U.K. idioms. Though my favorite came up when Tim saw the church we visited and exclaimed. “Flippin’ Doodah”

You might say “Flippin’ Doodah” if you saw this too.

The primary purpose of this trip is to show love to Kathryn and Brian – spend time with them, hear their stories, and give them a mental/spiritual health boost. Since we could do that in Chisinau (Quiche’Now) just as well as we could’ve visiting Romania, it actually made little difference to us and worked out all the same. When we got back to the city we visited the “Mall Dova.” No joke. That’s the name of the mall in Chisinau (Quiche’Now) which is really as nice, if not nicer than Lennox Square in Atlanta.

Proof that I’m not making this up

After lunch at “Lord of the Wings,” we bumped into a missionary couple that Kathryn had introduced us to at her church on Sunday. They’re from the US, specifically Athens Georgia. This is particularly amusing since our whole team is from Georgia originally. Of all the people in Moldova we could’ve run into it’s probably the only other people from Georgia. We decided that this was all part of God’s plan for the day.

When we got to Brian and Kathryn’s apartment I took the opportunity to grab a video interview with Brian and Kathryn – updating everyone on their ministry here in Moldova – you can look for it on Frazer’s site in a few weeks. It’s always great to get them to sit down and talk about what’s been happening in their ministry. I realized that we’ve done it two or three times before this, so I actually pulled up the oldest video I could find of them to show to the girls.

A frame from the video shoot this week (not color graded, sorry)
A frame from a video Brian and Kathryn did about seven years ago

The extra time in the afternoon also allowed the others to get some rest and gave Mandy an opportunity to spend time with N. They baked brownies together – or more accurately N demanded that Mandy teach her how to bake brownies step-by-step and Mandy obliged. Thanks to Mandy bringing some flour from the U.S. (Kathryn says the flour here doesn’t make for good brownies) they turned out quite tasty.

God blessed us with this extra time with the Girls. We played more games and just enjoyed spending that much more time with them. Later in the evening after dinner the girls showed us several dances including this traditional wedding dance:

During this time Brian took some of the extra money that we had donated to help one of the girls that used to be in their care purchase some things for her home. This young woman is transitioning to independent living. Those of us from stable families in the U.S. don’t even notice how much we have and how easy it is to get basic things – need an iron? Mom will buy one. Need kitchen utensils? Here are some that belonged to grandma. These girls don’t have that luxury. Once again, I have to say thank you to our many generous supporters who are now part of this young woman’s support system.

The young woman we assisted gave us these bracelets she makes as a thank you

Day 6

Our sixth day was another one that required an adjustment to plans. We had planned to visit an outlying village and a ministry there, but due to some scheduling confusion on their part, their staff wasn’t going to be there on that day. Instead we when to Streshen (approximate spelling) and visited one of the families mentioned in my last post who are very unusual in that they are native Moldovans who are dedicated to foster care. They’re still building their home and currently have two girls, but have room for four. Since the orphanage in their town had closed they’ve been trying to find homes for the children in that area.

They recently lost support from one of the organizations they’d been relying on so we were able to bring them some supplies; cleaning and hygiene products. We got to talk with them and were blessed to see their passion for the orphans of their country. Because orphans aren’t valued, foster care is very uncommon. These people love Jesus and they’ve built their life around showing love to the least of these.

We stopped by the Orphanage in Streshen where many of the girls that Brian and Kathryn have cared for came from. It was shut down recently which is why the family we visited has been working hard to make sure the orphans in their area are cared for.

The facility didn’t look small until we heard that it had held 600 children. One of the girls that is living with them now came from there and apparently earned a reputation for getting into fights – which is both hard to imagine seeing her now, but easy to imagine seeing the close-quarters that she had to share.

In the afternoon we stopped for lunch and coffee. One of the girls, O, called to talk to Brian and Kathryn about having an especially hard day at work. I couldn’t help but realize how big my network of support is. If I have a bad day, there’s a long list of friends and family I can call and talk to, but these girls have Brian and Kathryn – Mamasha and Papasha – and not many others who they can lean on during difficult days.

I was chatting with my mom on facebook and told her about the day O was having and my mother happened to be in her morning prayer time – she said she would pray for O, so I took a screen shot of that message and sent it to O and explained that my Mamasha was also praying for her. That evening she was in a remarkably positive mood despite having had a terrible day – she expressed thanks for the prayers. It is amazing how the family of Christ can support each other around the world.

I was honored to have two of the girls actually sit down for interviews on camera. M, and N. M sat with Kathryn and let her interpret. Listening to her talk about who Jesus is to her is so moving. And I’m excited to share a few clips from her story with the Frazer family soon. N insisted on doing her interview in English, it was precious and very sweet to hear this distilled use of language – perhaps the most meaningful bit was her answer to the question “Who are Brian and Kathryn to you?” She struggled for a moment and finally just said “Love.”

N during her Interview

It is extremely important to me to be respectful of people’s stories. Whenever I do interviews with people who have experienced trauma, I never want for them to feel used, or coerced in anyway. This was part of the reason why it worked out well for these interviews to take place on the last day after I’d gotten to know them.

I was especially glad when Kathryn asked M after her interview how she felt, asking if she felt used, and she smiled and said that it felt good to tell her story. While Kathryn knew the whole story, this was the first time that M had shared the story in full all at once. What was even more amazing to me was her talking about her desire to go into missions in Africa.

Kathryn and M between interview questions.

Afterwards Mandy died M’s hair – something she’d been looking forward to all week. She actually came in this morning and shouted look at my hair! It’s now bright pink.

One of the girls, A, fixed us a traditional dish that was somewhere between grits and cornbread.

A, cutting this dish with thread.

Later Matt regaled us with one of his favorite children’s books – the girls laughed and made “awwww” sounds as he read the sweet story.

Also note the bright pink hair

After that Brian helped me give M a photography tutorial. She’s got a really good eye for photos, so I mainly went over the camera functions. We left her with a lens – used one donated by a Frazer member – and an inexpensive tripod that I bought for the trip.

Gotta hand it to Brian – he really did a great job of explaining some technical photography terms in Romanian

I had several people donate older digital cameras to us and Kathryn will be delivering those to the kids at the Cupcui orphanage on her next visit. She says that the kids there will be really excited to use them.

After that none of us wanted to leave for the night. “A” even offered to call all of our bosses to ask them to let us stay longer. All of the girls expressed that they wanted us to stay. We visited a while longer and headed back to our apartment with Kathryn and Brian where we stayed up late hearing from them enough crazy, funny, and heartbreaking stories to fill several books. I hope someday they do. Finally at 1am we called it a night.

I’m currently sitting our apartment. We’re waiting on the owner of the Air BnB to stop by for us to give him the keys. M and A came with Brian and Kathryn to drive us to the airport. Tonight we fly to Frankfurt where we’ll stay the night before flying back to Atlanta in the morning.

I want to emphasize how grateful Brian and Kathryn have been for us being there. They’ve been here for over five years now and this is the first trip that we – as in Frazer – have been able to do. I hope that we’ll soon be able to make it a yearly trip. In addition to offering Brian and Kathryn support, having these girls know that there is a whole family of people who are praying for them back home really means a great deal to them.

So one last time, thank you, thank you, thank you to all the people who gave to make this trip possible. We got to participate in a substantial amount of ministry, but it also was a great encouragement to Kathryn and Brian to finally have friends from their home church see all that they’re doing here. Thank you everyone who helped make this trip happen. And thank you for reading my typo-laden blog.

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Moldova 2019 – Day 1 & 2

Day 1

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Waiting to check in at the Atlanta airport

Our first day was mostly spent traveling, first from Montgomery to Atlanta then to Frankfurt Germany (at which point it felt like 1AM to us) then onward to Chisinau, Moldova, which I was only a little surprised to discover is properly pronounced more like “Quiche-Now.” Our trip was blessedly smooth and all of our many bags made it! This was especially exciting as most of our baggage was actually gifts for orphans or resources for Kathryn and Brian and the four young women they have living with them.

Waiting right across from the baggage claim were Kathryn and Brian along with one of their girls, who we’ll call “M” for the sake of my blog. Also present were UK missionaries Tim and Ellie who, Kathryn has told us are awesome musicians. Specifically, Kathryn said that Ellie has a voice like an angel. I like to make decisions for myself about who is and isn’t tonally angelic, so this evening I took a moment to listen to their music and, well, ok, Kathryn is totally right. They’re working on an album and doing some cool stuff. You can read about it here.

We went to Brian and Kathryn’s apartment where they and their four girls live. M, O, N, & A. All the girls speak English pretty well, but they’re more comfortable speaking in Romanian and it has the added benefit of allowing them to talk about us without us knowing. Teasing – to the point that might seem harsh in the states – is kind of part of the culture. Despite this, the girls are very sweet and expressed appreciation for us. They’re full of energy and laughter even though we pretty fatigued at that moment because of being awake for over 24 hours.

Sorry, not the best picture, but you get an Idea of this apartment

Kathryn and Brian had made gift bags for all of us and we were able to deliver some of our gifts to the girls. Crest toothpaste is especially beloved. To be clear, they have perfectly good toothpaste here, but they don’t have “Crest”, so it is pretty special to get it. The power of branding is amazing.

After gifts were exchanged and Christmas gifts were stowed away, we went on a walk around the surrounding area. We saw some beautiful parks, a few government buildings, Moldova’s take on the Arc de Triomphe, and finished the walk with a visit to an Orthodox church.

The church was especially beautiful inside and we happened to be there during their All Souls Day observance. Being that it is a place of worship photography is discouraged, but I did record this audio of their stunning chorale.

All of this without microphones

Our dinner was a pilaf dish prepared by N, who really did a fabulous job. Several of us has seconds. Despite being very tired it was fun to share a meal. Kathryn and Brian have worked very hard to create a real family environment for these young women and it shows in the way they relate to one another. While much of the time the girls simply refer to them as “Brian” and “Kathryn.” They’re often referred to as “Papasha” and “Mamasha” and Kathryn tells us that when one of the girls does something similar to her, they’ll say “Well, you are my Mamasha.”

After dinner we checked into our Air B&B which is clean and roomy. Brian picked up some breakfast foods for us and Kathryn helped us get our luggage up to our room. After putting it off as long as we could, we called it a night.

Day 2

Blessedly, we all slept pretty well. After breakfast Kathryn picked us up to take us to Cupcui, a village that’s about an hour drive from Chisinau (Remember, it’s pronounced Quiche-Now.) I have to brag on the team for handling the drive, crammed into the Jones’ Honda Element and crossing some pretty bumpy roads. Everyone handled the trip like champs with only the aid of some ginger chews to settle stomachs. . . and Dramamine.

The structure of the villages is pretty different from what we’re used to in the US. Chisinau is the only “city” and many of these villages really wouldn’t fit your picture of the word “town.” They’re more like large neighborhoods, each with farms, stores, churches, and varying houses. We even passed through Moldova’s wine country.

A small taste of the farm country.

At Cupcui we went to a children’s home there with which Brian and Kathryn have had a long-standing relationship. We helped put on a fall festival of sorts. M came and helped as well – the kids there LOVE her – and we met a few more missionaries from the Assemblies of God church. The team dove in and related to the kids the best they call could – this in spite of the language barrier. These kids would soften anyone’s heart. The moment I walked in I was met with a hug around the waist from a little boy.

It’s hard to accurately explain the poignant nature of moments like this without sounding trite. Kathryn pointed to one of the older girls living in the orphanage and showed me a picture of her from when they had first started visiting Moldova years ago. There are many mission workers who are pouring into these kids, but it would be difficult to exaggerate the impact that Brian and Kathryn are having in these kids’ lives. At the end of the many games, crafts, and other activities Kathryn offered a Bible lesson where she had kids read scripture verses and used a pumpkin as an object lesson. What kind of object lesson, you ask? Well I don’t speak Romanian, but the Kids paid attention quite well, so I’m guessing it worked.

After the festival activities were concluded, we took a walk around Cupcui village and right at that time a funeral March came passing by. This is a part of the Moldovan tradition as much as it is part of the Orthodox church in this region. There was an open casket on the back of a flatbed truck that moved slowly down the road. Ahead of it were people scattering flowers, dropping bread and drink offerings, and carrying wreaths. Directly behind the truck there was a woman leaning over the body of what was likely her elderly mother. She had tears in her eyes and we were instructed to make the sign of the cross when they passed. There was a larger crowd of mourners walking behind them. I didn’t get a photo of this because it wouldn’t have been appropriate, but it was a moving thing to experience.

We stopped and ate lunch and drove back into Chisinau. On the way we did get stopped by police, which is a regular occurrence here. He was cordial and once Kathryn showed him her credentials he let us on our way. More eventful, however was when Kathryn saw a gentleman that she’s gotten to know just from seeing him on the street. She quickly pulled over and grabbed some of the extra food from our lunch, went across the street, and gave him some food. I caught a photo of it. Though, Kathryn probably wouldn’t want me broadcasting it to the world. I just have to brag on my friends for loving people – even when they’re not directly in their sphere of ministry.

That evening, back in Chisinau we were treated to attend a service at the International Fellowship Church where Kathryn and Brian are active members. We got there in time for sound check, so I got a little of the praise band practicing. One of the songs they played had a very eastern European feel and even ended with “HEY!”

I was struck by how integral Brian and Kathryn are to this community. In the above video you can see Brian training a volunteer to run lyrics during the music. In the photo below Kathryn was called up to make an announcement because she’s organizing a thanksgiving meal later this month. There are enough US Americains (including the US Ambassador) who attend there that they decided to have a potluck meal where all the different countries represented are going to bring a traditional dish from their country. The gentlemen who gave the message was from Norway so he promised to bring some rotten fish.

The music and message were both a blessing – but the community it self is what impacted me the most, especially seeing all the races and languages represented in the congregation. After the service they invited people to pray with their prayer volunteers – and Brian and Kathryn stood up and shuffled to the side to be available for people to pray with anyone who needed prayer.

I’m just amazed at how despite the fact that their whole life here is volunteering in ministry – they’re also fully integrated into their church as volunteers in ministry. At Frazer, the church we’re all from, we have agreat emphasis on every member being a minister. They’ve really lived that DNA out in their approach to life in Moldova.

After the service we went to dinner at a new restaurant with lots of fine Moldovan cuisine. I don’t say that sarcastically. I’ve been to eastern Europe before and Moldova’s food is much better than my previous experience. One of the standard dishes in this part of the world is called plăcinte. And it is not at all what it sounds like. Pronounced “pla-chin-ta” it’s a light pastry – kind of like a large croissant – with some kind of filling. We had it with cheese, potato, meats, and pumpkin. We also had sausage and a few vegetable dishes, one of which was called “mother-in-laws-tongue” though I’m fairly certain no tongues – or mothers – were involved in the making of the dish.

After we got back to the apartment where the team is staying Brian and Kathryn sat and talked some and we got to hear about some of the recent struggles in their ministry. Needless to say ministry anywhere is hard, but in a place like Moldova there are many unique challenges and they have had some truly difficult circumstances over the years. We sat and listened and assured them that we, their church, are here and ready to listen and pray and do whatever we can when these situations arise.

These first couple of days have already been a blessing, and we’re excited to kick off another day here. Thank you all for your prayers and support. We have had a great trip thus far and we’re grateful for the many people who have partnered with us through financial contribution as well as intersession – please keep those prayers up as we head into another day this morning!

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All In

I’m not a big poker player but on occasion I have caught clips of professional poker being played on ESPN7. I remember seeing part of a championship game of Texas Hold ‘em that had one particular player who was known for going ‘All In’ in almost every game he played. Apparently it worked – he made it all the way to the championship game using this method. In poker, when you go all in it forces everyone else in the game to do one of two things: they have to go all in or they have to get out of the game.

Today, the senior pastor at Frazer issued a challenge to the members of the Frazer Family; he asked that in 2011, all of our members choose to go all in for Jesus. Much in the same way that poker player did in every game, we have to decide if we’re going to take the plunge – take the risk and invest all we have in Christ.

The average American church-goer would probably tell you that the Christian life isn’t terribly difficult because we generally still get to have our comfortable, safe lives. That’s not the picture that Paul gives us in 1st Corinthians:

“If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” 1 Corinthians 15:19

The early Christians were so invested in Christ that if it were all a hoax, they would have been men to be pitied. They knew that to be all in, they would have to give of themselves such that everyone around them saw the sacrifice in their life. It reminds me of something a friend of mine posted on his facebook page, I don’t know where he first heard it, but he said

“The kingdom isn’t advanced by technological progress, military tactics, or economic growth. The kingdom is advanced by sacrifice”

To be all in means to sacrifice. Many people have asked Jesus to be their Savior, but have they decided to be all in for him? I’ll leave you with the words of “I have decided to follow Jesus.” You may not know that this song is attributed to Sadhu Sundar Singh, a man who was born in India. He grew up in an entirely different religion until he had a vision of Jesus one night. When he converted to Christianity, his family forced him out of the house, only after his father tried to poison him. He witnessed for Christ for the rest of his life. Think about the sacrifice that he made – how he went all in, as you read these words.

I have decided to follow Jesus;
I have decided to follow Jesus;
I have decided to follow Jesus;

No turning back, no turning back.
Though I may wonder, I still will follow;
Though I may wonder, I still will follow;
Though I may wonder, I still will follow;
No turning back, no turning back.
The world behind me, the cross before me;
The world behind me, the cross before me;
The world behind me, the cross before me;
No turning back, no turning back.
Though none go with me, still I will follow;
Though none go with me, still I will follow;
Though none go with me, still I will follow;
No turning back, no turning back.

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