UNGHENI, MOLDOVA – After just a day or two, walking on piles of snow and narrow strips of ice was a welcome relief from mud.
Walking on mud that had hardened somewhat wasn’t so bad because you could gingerly step on the top and squish along, slipping and sliding. Walking through the soft mud was more challenging.
Navigating through that was more like sloshing, and should anyone remain in one place for too long, the mud became like quicksand.
Sometimes the mud is even too much for the “Moldovan Mercedes-Benz” (a horse and cart, the common mode of transportation in villages) to handle.
The 11 staff members of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) who recently participated in a mission trip to Moldova became well acquainted with mud roads in Moldovan villages. For one week the team went door-to-door throughout villages in the Ungheni district, distributing food and sharing the gospel.
Each day they served in a different village and followed mud-laden pathways to meet people, often being invited into their homes. In one home an 11-year-old boy laid in bed, unable to walk. A wheelchair sat next to his bed, but it seemed a daunting task to get the boy and his wheelchair down the slippery, muddy hill.
The team met two older ladies, a mom and her daughter, living in a home consisting of only two twin-sized beds, – with barely enough room to stand in between – one cabinet and a small wooden stove on the floor, which served as a means for cooking and heating the home. The mom was bed-ridden and could not get up to go to the bathroom. For many Moldovans, a bathroom is nothing more than a hole in the ground. A table next to the bed with a pan served as her bathroom. The smell of urine drifted throughout the home.
The mission team saw similar living conditions in every village they visited.
Jimmy Huffman, director of Caraway Conference Center in Sophia, N.C., spent some time during the week going door-to-door in apartment buildings in the city area of Ungheni. In one apartment he said he saw the worst living conditions he had ever seen.
“One man living in the apartment looked like he was at the end of his rope,” Huffman said.
“When I reached out to touch him, you could tell that was the first time in a long time anyone had showed him any kind of compassion. I continue seeing that image in my mind.”
Moldova is marked by extreme poverty and is the poorest country in Eastern Europe, with agriculture serving as its main economic source.
At first glance it doesn’t seem so obvious. In the Ciripcani village, homes painted blue and green (popular colors in Moldova) are nestled among sprawling, rolling hills, and the village seemed still and peaceful.
But for many Moldovans, home life is anything but peaceful. It is not uncommon for men to go to Russia or other countries to find work in order to support their family back in Moldova. Some return home, but many do not. Human trafficking is very prevalent in Moldova, and the prime years are from ages 12-19. Up to 600,000 teenagers are lured into trafficking each year.
Moldova is also a spiritually dark place, with an evangelical population of less than two percent.
Despite all this, believers of Jesus Christ do live in Moldova. Although few in number, their faith is strong and their joy undeniable.
Merrie Johnson, BSC senior consultant for student evangelism and ministry met a man, a paraplegic, living in an apartment that would be condemned in the United States. He was a Christian, and wanted the mission team to go visit a friend who was not a believer. And he wanted to go with them.
“We have more stuff than we know what to do with [in the U.S.],” she said. “They have nothing. But they have a contentment we don’t have.”
The team carried him from his apartment to the car, and then up flights of steps in the next apartment building to the fifth floor.
“Nothing was easy for him,” Johnson said. “But he had such a burden for his friends to know Jesus.”
Pastors in the villages share that same excitement, passion and burden for people to know Jesus.
Ashley Allen, director of Embrace Women’s Missions and Ministries, shared how the pastors rejoiced when people in their village – and other villages – came to know Christ.
“There was excitement that the Kingdom of God was growing,” Allen said. “I remember walking into [an evangelistic service] the first night and being overwhelmed by the body of Christ.”
One night after the evangelistic service, the Convention staff had already boarded the van to head back to Chisinau when a local pastor came on the van, grinning from ear to ear. “Someone in our village got saved tonight,” he shouted.
To learn more about how to get involved in Moldova, contact Michael Sowers at (800) 395-5102, ext. 5654, or visit ncbaptist.org/moldova.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – This is the third article in a series about the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s staff mission trip to Moldova. For photos and videos, visit flickr.com/ncbaptist.)