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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.