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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 – 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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