- Written by James Meason
OM Moldova River Adventure
With a population of 4.5 million, Moldova is the smallest and most densely populated of the former Soviet countries. It is also considered one of the poorest nations in Europe, with an annual income of about $880 USD.
Moldova is also around 98% Orthodox, However, although few attend church and many have never heard the Gospel, the Moldovans are considered spiritually open. Evangelical churches are growing despite occasional persecution from the Orthodox Church and increasing poverty.
It is hard to pin point exactly how we feel called to Moldova or Eastern Europe. We have not had a prophetic word, nor have we had a specific bible reference beyond the great commission. It is more a state of the heart, that when God has burdened your spirit for a people you have never met, and you just know he wants to go and do something out of the comfort zone.
I guess for years, I have had a passion for Eastern Europe, and so when Meg suggested she felt God prompting us to go to Moldova, it was no real surprise to me. I had also been feeling the same and so getting the motivation to get the wheels turning was not very difficult. We feel very strongly that in the Gospel of Christ we have a wonderful message that needs to be shared, (Well that is why we are in OM after all) and hearing of the spiritual openness of the Moldovan people was a huge encouragement for us not to fear sharing our faith.
After the first day of orientation with the whole team, we set off for the northern area of Nistru River which flows north to south along the entire length of Moldova's eastern side.
The Nistru also for the most part represents the border between Moldova and Transnistria
Transnistria was a part of Moldova, but in 1990 it declared independence which prompted a civil war lasting 2 years. Today it wishes to become a part of Russia, and is fairly closed to Moldovans and foreigners alike. This does present a challenge as the flow of the Nistru often carries the raft to the banks of Transnistria, but if we landed their and were caught, we would most likely end up in jail, at least for a day or two.
The north is also the area represented by a green triangle on the map hanging in the OM base signifying the most untouched areas by the Gospel, with few if any evangelical believers in the most of the villages. This seemed the most appropriate place to construct the raft. The village we started at was called Vadul-Raşcov, this is one village north of where the last river team ended. Over the 10 days we worked our way south through: - Socola, Tarasova, Solonceni, and Ciorna, which is just outside a the major town of Rezina.
Before you get any ideas of Robinson Crusoe, or Castaway, I will tell you that the raft is largely pre-fabricated. It is constructed from a metal frame, onto which planks of wood are nailed and empty oil drums fastened. It may sound less exciting than building a raft from scratch but, the reality is that this raft will carry everything, from 12 people and your entire luggage, and sometimes your tents too. Safety is also paramount and so a good solid raft is essential. I would also point out that the weight and shape of the raft does mean it is not exactly aero or aqua dynamic, and requires pretty hard work at times to keep moving.
Camp life is essential; we cook for ourselves, clean up, set up the tents, and pack it all away again. This happens nearly every day as we travelled along the river to the different villages. Occasionally you spend a couple of nights in one spot but mostly the set up and pack down was a daily occurrence. Having the ability to just get stuck in and do what needs to be done is a crucial attitude. The team, support each other, share testimonies, worship and the open up Gods word together each day.
I think the biggest thing to get used to is no fresh running water and no toilets. In some villages there are Moldovan toilets, but they are nothing more than a roof over a whole in a concrete slab, and therefore often quite smelly, so most of us opted to dig our own hole in a secluded spot each time.
The children in Moldova are often very poor, and sometimes are under the care of their grandparents, as their parents have left the country to find work elsewhere.
They are mostly fairly respectful, and love being involved with any kind of game or craft activity. Life for them is hard, with little money and the need to work in the fields when not in school and so the simplest of activities fills them with joy. Mostly the ministry consisted of group games, a puppet show, some songs, drama and at least one if not more clear gospel messages.
The favourite of all games was by far laser, which consisted of two ropes that move along the field in opposite directions, one high and one low, and the kids have to avoid being touched by them. The stars of the show were always the puppets, children young and old, (even the parents) were filled with joy and laughter. Most of them can never afford to go to a travelling puppet show, and so often this was the first time for them and best of all it was free.
The magic of the youngest children seeing these puppets come to life is priceless.
During our time it was also a great privilege to get out into the villages and meet some of the neediest people. We were able to take bibles for adults and children in both Romanian and Russian, and show practical love with a food package of general essentials. It was wonderful to share the gospel with them and hear their stories, even if at times it was heart breaking to hear their desperate need, but that just creates a sense of determination to come back with more people so we can perhaps help them in more practical ways next time.
Tanea was one such lady, she lost her sight 3 years ago, and was now totally blind. Last year she lost her medical pension, leaving her penniless. It seems to get a medical pension, each claimant, has to have a check-up every 2 years, but not from 1 doctor, more like 5, one doctor for the eyes, one for the heart etc. Each doctor’s visit incurs a fee and means a bus trip into town, which for a blind poor lady is very difficult. Even when she was receiving the pension it was only around £25 a month. If that were not bad enough she would then have to make a 3 hour trip to the Capital Chisinau to get the results verified. Penniless and without hope she was left trying to gather scraps of metal and wood with a friend from another village, in the hope that can sell enough to buy a piece of bread that day. Her house was falling apart with holes in the roof, and it was just heart wrenching to then hear that some of her windows were also broken by the neighbours, who had then never helped to fix them. Winter time in Moldova can get down to -20 to -30°C, with no money for food to eat or wood to burn, her prospects are bleak. As a team we decided to put money together to pay for her medical examinations and travel, it was good to be able to help in some small way, but it left me with a burning desire to take a team back to fix up the house.
The OM Team
The OM team in Moldova are just wonderful to work with. Each have their own inspring testimony, and they all work very hard to encourage and support you in getting ot of your comfort zone. For our time we were with Spiridon, his wife Stefanie, Eugen and Matthew and Helen (Matthew is the field leader) I have learnt a lot from them, even in a short space of time, and already they feel like family.
Matthew Skirton (OM Moldova, Field Leader) began his introduction with Romans 10:15 "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" He prayed that during our time our feet would become beautiful. This was a great blessing for me as I was having trouble walking due to severe eczema on the soles of my feet which healed as we went from village to village.
God also inspired me to share Proverbs 25 "Like cold water to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country."
Never underestimate the value of foreigners going out to simply share the good news of Christ.
You often feel you should be meeting more practical needs, but what could be more important than seeing the light of Christ illuminate the lives of the hopeless...
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