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 questionable things just to make a little extra money. On this particular day the politician in charge of the boarder crossing was requiring a particular form to be completed 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 (remember it’s pronounced like “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.
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 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 regional culture and history – it’s these kinds of beliefs that often make discussions with the local nominally Christian population 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 regional brogues in the US (they say they cannot, though Tim does recognize that Kathryn’s accent is different than others). 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”
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.
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 the State of Georgia. We decided that this was evidence that the interruption to our Romania trip was all part of God’s plan for the day.
When we got to their 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.
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.
Our sixth day was another one that required an adjustment to plans. We had hope 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 went 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 had the opportunity to speak 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, the previous home to many of the girls who Brian and Kathryn have cared for. It was shut down recently which is why the family we visited has been working hard to make sure the orphans in their area find homes.
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.”
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 had a good opportunity to get 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.
Afterwards Mandy died M’s hair – something she’d been looking forward to all week. She 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.
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.
After that Brian helped me give M a photography tutorial. She has a really good eye for photos, so I mainly went over the camera functions. We left her with a used lens – one donated by a Frazer member – and an inexpensive tripod that I bought for the trip.
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, or 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 must be emphasized 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 regular 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 were able to participate in a substantial depth and breadth 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.