UNGHENI, MOLDOVA – Wrinkles lined her face and wisps of gray hair poked out from underneath the blue and yellow scarf wrapped around her head. She stood in the doorway bundled up in a long gray coat. A smile never left her face.
The woman was glad to meet the team from the United States. She thought their religion was better than hers and said they were better people. The team shared the gospel with her. They explained that they were not better than her, and that only the grace of Jesus Christ can save sinners.
She listened and then spoke with such kindness. She said she just couldn’t do it. All her life she was taught to go through a priest to reach God. No one could ever have assurance of eternal life, she said.
The team prayed with her and with the young woman with her, perhaps a granddaughter. During the prayer the younger woman began to weep. After the prayer, she continued wiping tears from her eyes.
She appeared to be so close to responding in faith to Jesus Christ.
BSC photo by Kenny Lamm
Ashley Allen, left, prays with a Moldovan woman. Some of the BSC team went door-to-door to share Christ.
“We met one person after another who was so ingrained in orthodoxy that there’s this blindness over their eyes that they can’t see Jesus – because they think they already know Jesus,” said Kenny Lamm, worship and music consultant for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC). “It will take God’s power to lift that fog from their eyes.”
Lamm was one of 11 staff from the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina who participated in a mission trip to Moldova March 9-19 coordinated by the Convention’s Office of Great Commission Partnerships.
Lamm saw hope represented in the young woman.
“The younger generation could be so pivotal in Moldova because they are not as steeped in the religious traditions,” he said.
Throughout Moldova are icons, or constant reminders that teachings from the Moldovan Orthodox Church are firmly rooted in minds and hearts of its people.
An icon is known as a blue, cross-shaped box mounted to a wooden pole that holds images of saints, Mary, or Jesus on the cross.
Icons are everywhere, from a roadside to a hilltop overlooking a village. Driving into the city of Ungheni, an icon sits just off the left side of the road, near the railroad tracks before arriving at the house of culture. During the former Soviet Union days, buildings called the “house of culture” were used to teach Communist ideals.
Evangelicals would label the icons as graven images. Moldovans who follow the Orthodox tradition believe they are a sign of blessing and one way to point people to God.
John Miron, president of the Baptist Union of Moldova, knows the challenges that come with trying to penetrate spiritual darkness. Miron and other pastors were chased out of a village when they tried to start a church there. Tires on their cars were slashed and the priests told them they were not to assemble in the village boundaries.
In the village of Parlita, where the mission team served the first day, they met a woman with young children who had never heard the name of Jesus.
“When I asked her if she knew of Jesus, she said no,” said Iana Fincher, BSC church planting ministry assistant. “I asked a couple other times to make sure she understood me – but she had no concept of Jesus.”
Fincher was born and raised in Chisinau, Moldova’s capital city, and moved to the United States with her family as a teenager. Her ability to speak English, Russian and Romanian allowed her to serve the team well as a translator.
Fincher’s family learned about the gospel when a Gideon from the United States was in Moldova handing out Bibles on the street. Fincher’s mom received one of the Bibles. She soon began attending a Bible study so she could understand more of what she was reading.
Fincher’s mom prayed to receive Jesus Christ and so did her dad. Her dad did not learn about Jesus until he was about 40 years old. Her grandmother and uncle prayed to receive Christ shortly before they died, but the rest of her family in Moldova does not believe in Jesus.
The village where Fincher’s parents grew up is still without a church.
“The people we visited in the villages were completely hopeless. They had been lied to about God and about Jesus. And these people are the rule; not the exception,” Fincher said. “I saw how raw lostness is and how sad it is.”
Merrie Johnson, BSC senior consultant for student evangelism and ministry, met a woman in the villages who had never owned a Bible.
“She told us that the priest reads the Bible to them. They don’t read the Bible for themselves,” Johnson said. “We gave her a Bible and she couldn’t believe it. She was beside herself with joy.”
Johnson also met an 82-year-old man who was not saved. His wife, a believer, wanted her husband to hear what Johnson and the team had to say about the gospel.
“He stood there the entire gospel presentation and listened. But he said, ‘I can’t do it.’ He kept saying, ‘This doesn’t equal what I’ve heard in my church.’”
The spiritual darkness is overwhelming, but the Convention’s mission team saw the power of God at work while in Moldova.
The woman in Parlita, who had never heard of Jesus, prayed to receive Christ as her personal Lord and Savior. Several team members had opportunity to share their faith and then watch as God worked and people responded to the gospel. On the Sunday before the team left Moldova some team members preached in churches throughout Chisinau.
One of the churches, Gethsemane Baptist, meets in a Russian public elementary school that was once used as a meeting location for Communist leaders.
One of the church members is a woman who before she was saved used to teach, as she described, atheist propaganda in the school. The Sunday the team was at the church, a teenager someone who described himself as an atheist – prayed to receive Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior.
The team saw up close the hopelessness that comes without Jesus Christ and the need for God to work in hearts. Before the trip, Fincher prayed for God to show her lostness and to break her heart for the Moldovan people.
“I am so glad to know that through faith I have assurance of salvation,” she said.
“I have never been so thankful for that. I remember thinking during the trip how I never wanted to take that assurance for granted.”
For photos and videos, visit flickr.com/photos/ncbaptist.