Moldova 2019 – Days 3&4

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Day 3

We started the day traveling to a village to visit a fascinating historical site. The area has archeological finds that date back to when this region was part of the Roman Empire. As well as evidence from the kingdom that followed that era which at one time encompassed part of Moldova and Romania. The most fascinating thing was this cave that has been used for different purposes by different groups through the centuries and is currently a small monastery. You can see how it would’ve made for a good hiding place or military outpost as it has a outlet onto a ledge overlooking the surrounding valley. More recently it was used by the church as a place for prayer and meditation. The place is filled with museum pieces of importance to the Orthodox church. Many Icons, carvings, and different things used during worship and meditation.

Today, this cave still has an occupant: a solitary monk who studies there all day and is available to answer questions. This monk looked like he stepped out of a time machine that came from the 1200s. He eagerly explained (in Romanian) about the history of the cave as well as the history of the languages in this region. These history lessons are helpful in understanding the challenges that Brian and Kathryn face in their work. As I’m sure anyone who would read my blog can probably recognize, the culture and history of a country (or city) has a great deal to do with the roadblocks that missionaries (and pastors) face when following their calling to be the hands and feet of Christ to people in that place.

Just like in the States – in any country really – there are preexisting assumptions and prejudices about faith here in Moldova and this comes from years of cultural Christianity – again, not unlike the U.S. – only instead of mainline Protestantism, the primary influence is Eastern Orthodoxy. And instead of American materialism throwing things off, it’s deep-seeded historic influences that often manifest in what appears as superstition. One small but very ubiquitous example is the placement of large crucifixes at every crossroad outside of the city – a carryover from an old superstition about evil spirits being present where roads meet.

To be fair, the Orthodox Church is like any other Christian sect – it has many faithful, sincere Christians, while also having a large number of nominal participants who partake in the ritual out of duty. I have been moved each time we’ve walked into one of these churches. There is no doubt the God is at work in and through the Orthodox Church even though it looks very different from Church where we’re from. Though they face similar challenges to the church in the US.

The Orthodox Church up the hill from the cave

When we got back to Brian and Kathryn’s apartment we spent the afternoon and evening hanging out with the girls. We played games and ate dinner. These young women are all working toward independent living – going to university and preparing for life. Their day-to-day lives are very similar to any college student in the U.S. and what I’ve heard repeatedly from Brian and Kathryn on their visits back home is that all their girls would want us to know that they are just like us.

They wouldn’t want to be seen as charity cases or just as someone with a tragic backstory. They’re all vibrant, energetic, creative, talkative, people with opinions, hopes, and dreams. They like music and movies and at at least one restaurant we visited they were scoping out the cute guys. It seems like they’ve been laughing at least half the time that we’ve been here as they’re constantly joking around. They each have enough personality to fill a room by themselves. Only God truly knows how different things would be for them without this ministry.

I know this will sound obvious, but I’m just struck by how these young women could be my niece or younger sister – or the daughter, sister, or cousin of anyone reading this back home. Meeting them in person, it becomes harder and harder for me to stomach the reality of the orphan crisis here and what the kids in this country experience all the time. I don’t want to sound like I’m trying to solicit some kind of emotional response, I’m just trying to be honest about my own epiphany. When I took Spanish in high school I learned the difference between the verbs for knowing something because you have knowledge and knowing something or someone because you have personal experience with them. Knowing them makes the reality of what is happening here all so much more personal.

M & A – That’s a tube of Ice Cream, by the way.

It was after dinner that night that we came to what probably will be the highlight of the trip for me personally. If you’re reading my blog for the first time then you won’t know that I recently finished my MFA in film and television directing. As a part of that I produced a faith-based short film about foster care. It tells the story of a teenage girl with an abusive mother who comes to live with a foster mom.

Kathryn had requested that I send them a subtitled version of the film a while ago, but due to the cost of having it done I hadn’t been able to make it happen up to this point. Thanks to the generosity of the many people who supported us, we paid to have my film, Refuge, subtitled in Russian. While Romanian is the language here, pretty much everyone speaks Russian as well as it is more of a trade language in this part of the world. I burned several copies onto DVD and brought them with me. You can see the trailer here:

Honestly, after I got here I was nervous to show the girls the movie. I even said to Kathryn and Brian that I wasn’t sure they’d like it, but Kathryn assured me they would. Only M and A could be there to watch it. I was surprised that they leaned in throughout the whole thing, at one point saying that the character of Claire reminded them of one of the other girls that Brian and Kathryn had cared for. They laughed at the humorous moments and they demanded more after the story was over. It was a huge personal compliment to have them enjoy the story as much as they did and a big treat to watch how engaged they were.

Day 4

We started the day by splitting into two groups. Kathryn, Matt, and I all went to QSI, an international school here in Chisinau (pronounced like Quiche-Now; I’m going to keep writing that until I remember to say it correctly.) This school is all English speaking and apparently has a substantial tuition, so it mostly is made up of children of people who work in the embassies and wealthy locals. Ergo these are not impoverished orphaned children. They are, however, a long way from their home and live pretty isolated lives. For many of these kids their family might be the only people from their home country throughout all of Moldova. Kathryn has gotten to know the principal of the school and has been able to form relationships with some of the kids in the school, once again showing the reach of their ministry exceeding what is expected.

Story time with Mister Matt

At both QSI and the international preschool which we visited afterwards (where Kathryn also volunteers), Matt “Mister Matt” Williams provided his services as story reader extraordinaire. Matt works in the Pike Road branch of the Montgomery Public Library and as a part of his responsibilities he reads stories to over 700 kids a month. Needless to say that the kids really enjoyed Mister Matt’s interpretation of several fun children’s books. The teachers were actually pretty engaged too and expressed thanks to us for stopping by for the morning.

At the preschool Kathryn had to translate one of the books into Romanian

Meanwhile, Mandy and Karen went with Brian to pick up supplies for kits that we’re giving to three different ministry groups. Once again, thanks to the generous support of our partners we were able to spend over 5000 Lei on donations. That’s a little under $350, but the 5000 number is much more reflective of the amount of supplies they were able to purchase. They then sorted everything into kits for the different groups.

The kits included shampoo, conditioner, body wash, toothpaste deodorant, feminine hygiene products, toothpaste, tooth brushes, razors, shaving cream, dish soap, laundry detergent, cleaning products, trash bags, baby wipes, baby lotion, hand sanitizer, and some candy to top it all off.

These kits are for:

  • CTI, an organization that looks to provide shelter and care for single mothers and their children
  • The Ciabanu family, a Moldovan family who took it upon themselves to help foster and find homes for all the kids being forced into homelessness when an orphanage was closed in their village.
  • The Vitalie family, who in addition to having four kids of their own have taken on four more boys to care for.

We got to make a delivery to CTI, a home for single mothers and their children. Single motherhood is almost impossible here as the culture shames unwed pregnancy, while also creating the conditions for single-motherhood to occur. This is one reason why children are so often abandoned, so CTI is as much an orphan prevention ministry as it is a ministry to single mothers.

The clothesline outside of CTI

While we dropped off those supplies Karen and Brian did the lion’s share of dinner prep for us and the girls. We sat and watched a movie and wrapped up our evening, heading back to our apartment. The girls all turned in early as they all have exams coming up.

By the way, while we ate dinner M was meeting with a Moldovan who has been doing mission work in Africa. She’s curious about it. Me: speechless.

Thanks for reading thus far, and thanks everyone for the continued prayers as well as the financial support that made all this possible.

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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!

Haiti Trip: Day 3

Today  marked the last full day here in Haiti, it started very early as Patrick, Butch, Michael and myself went out to take a look at one of the places were looking to possibly relocate the Deaf community. The land looks like a really good option, though nothing is certain yet.

 

The trip out and back to the land was a short drive, but a long trip because of Haiti’s traffic and poor roads – this is the single biggest challenge to anyone patience, though our team has never showed a sign of frustration toward it. I got to sit and talk with a young man named James. James is going to college and majoring in computer science. He speaks English really well and taught me several Creole words including the word for sweet, which is pronounced something like “doose” which is also used the same way it is in the States – to express that something is especially cool. Kyle Reschke and I have adopted the word for expressing our approval at something.

When we reunited with the rest of the group at the deaf camp we were excited to find that they’d made a great deal of progress on the Census. As soon as we got there Tara interpreted for a young man who wants to be a preacher. He said he reads the Bible but he doesn’t understand it all and he wants to be educated – it was a powerful testimony.

 

Anne Louise and Kaylee were hard at work in the deaf camp painting the faces of the children. The kids in the camp are so cute and they’ll walk up to anyone and just hold their hand or beckon you to pick them up. Several of the kids were ver fascinated by my equipment. Something that was funny to me was that even the youngest of them wanted to see every picture I took of them on the back of my camera. It reminded me of my nieces and nephews who did the same before they could form sentences.

The kids are so affectionate and trusting, its hard to leave them, but with the census completed and a thorough ‘orvwa’ said to all we climbed back onto our bus and left the deaf camp. As we were leaving a deaf man came up to the side of the bus and signed to robin. “I need a Laptop, a TV, anything. I’m married. I’m bored.” We couldn’t help but be a little entertained from the young man laying it out there. This did eventually turn into a real discussion of ways we could encourage community building and even entertainment within the deaf community.

 

In the afternoon we visited a church where we discovered they have a considerable ministry to the deaf already in place. This Baptist church would be considered a small to medium building in the road in the States, but here its one of the larger churches in the area. Walking into the church there was a sense of calm. Butch commented “It feels like Frazer.” We sat in their sanctuary and met their pastors then we went out into their courtyard and played basketball with some of the teenagers at the church. We met a few deaf folks that don’t live in the camp. Its exciting to meet future partners in ministry here.

Last night we enjoyed dinner here at the children’s home one last time and sat down with our team plus Margret and Tara and debriefed. It was clear that everyone was excited about the possibilities moving forward; moving the community, building them homes, getting them clean water, educating them, building them as a community, giving them fun things to do and building  them a church.

There is much more a could tell you, but I have to get packed. I’ll see many of you soon. Thanks for the prayers!