He scanned the crowd gathered for the revival service and his gaze rested on a man with a beard. Pastor Andrei Ciobanu wasn’t quite sure why, but he knew something was different about him.
The man came that night ready to question everything he heard, but instead he listened and left a changed person. That night he came to know Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior.
The man went home and began praying for his son, Mihai Caraivan, to come to faith in Christ. He prayed for a year and a half before his son repented and trusted in Jesus. Not long after, Caraivan’s father heard from pastor Ciobanu.
“I went to him and said, ‘Give me Mihai,’” the pastor said. Pastor Ciobanu began mentoring the 19-year-old, encouraged him to attend the Bible college in Chisinau, Moldova’s capital, and set him on a path of vocational ministry.
As pastor Ciobanu and his translator shared this story with the 10-member mission team from Dublin First Baptist Church in Dublin, N.C. – all gathered in a two-room concrete home on the last street in a southern Moldovan village – he was in a world of his own, reliving that special night more than 20 years ago.
The team crowded into one room of the home because the single mom and her two daughters did not use the other room; they could not afford to heat it.
Moldovan women prepare food for a volunteer mission team from North Carolina. Through the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s Office of Great Commission Partnerships, churches can pair with churches in Moldova to train leaders and pursue ministry opportunities. One church who has established a partnership is First Baptist Church in Dublin, N.C.
Pastor Ciobanu is no stranger to this family. The single mom is Caraivan’s sister-in-law. The translator that evening? Caraivan, all grown up now with a family of his own. And the two-room house near the Romanian border? Caraivan’s childhood home. His parents lived there until his father was called to help with another church in a neighboring village.
Even after his dad came to know Jesus, Caraivan wanted nothing to do with God. He left home, but returned after running out of money and options for work. “My dad prayed that whatever it took, God would save me. I was completely broken,” he said.
When Caraivan began working with pastor Ciobanu he rode his bike 10 miles to the church in the Vadul lui Isac village.
An electrician by trade and also a youth pastor, Caraivan has invested his ministry in reaching out to youth. “When you change a young person’s life, they still have a full life ahead,” he said. “That is why I’m still in youth work.”
In October, the Dublin mission team spent a week serving alongside Caraivan and Ciobanu and saw firsthand the fruit that has come from their ministry together, as youth and college-age students are looked to as leaders in the church. From helping lead in worship services to serving in after-school activities with children, the church values the next generation of Christ followers.
The Dublin mission team devoted much of their week in Moldova to building relationships and exploring future ministry opportunities. Dublin has committed to a long-term partnership with pastor Ciobanu and the church, and this was their first time to work with the church.
Although the first time for Dublin members, the trip to Moldova was number three for Tiffany McGill whose husband, Cameron, is pastor of Dublin First Baptist. She had traveled twice in 2012, once with a Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) Embrace women’s ministry trip and another time on a vision tour with her husband through the BSC Office of Great Commission Partnerships.
Moldova, which is divided into 33 districts and is the poorest country in Eastern Europe, is bordered on the north, east and south by Ukraine and on the west by Romania.
Courage to stay
At this time last year Pastor Ciobanu was very sick and doctors gave him only months to live. Although they told him to go to the United States, he would have none of that; he wanted to continue serving until the end.
Now, after a liver transplant, Ciobanu is healthy and working in the village where he grew up. He has pastored the same church for 20 years.
“One year after being saved I had a vision. I cannot explain it,” he said. “But I heard this loud voice saying, ‘There remains so little time. You need to enter the work.’”
Ciobanu is trying to motivate leaders and church members, but it’s a challenging task. In his village of 3,000 people, about 1,000 work out of the country because of Moldova’s poor economy. Many Christian leaders are tempted to leave Moldova because of the economic situation.
Moldova is less than two percent evangelical. Ministry is challenging because Orthodox beliefs are so ingrained in the minds of Moldovans that having a personal relationship with God, and the assurance of salvation, are completely new concepts to many people.
“Everyone thinks they are already a Christian,” Ciobanu said. “They think the priest is distributing the grace of God, and the priest is resolving all the problems of sinners.”
Engaging in partnerships
Dublin has embraced an Acts 1:8 mission strategy known as “Here, there and everywhere,” with the Moldova partnership being the open door from God to serve globally in Kingdom work.
Dublin is also engaged in a partnership with a church in Woodside, Queens and will participate in the “Coats for the City” outreach in New York City later this year. Next summer, Dublin will send 50 people to serve in New York City.
“Partnership missions has caused me to re-examine my calling from the Lord and helped me see our church transition from “in-reaching” to “far-reaching,” said Cameron McGill. “Partnership missions has made me a better pastor who is now more committed to the Great Commission than ever before.”
Chuck Register, BSC executive leader for church planting and mission development, described Dublin First Baptist as the “model church” for North Carolina Baptists when it comes to strategic missions partnerships. “Simply put, when it comes to Acts 1:8, they get it,” he said. “Their Kingdom partnerships in New York City and Moldova are touching hearts and transforming lives with the gospel.”
Locally, Dublin is also seeking to make a Kingdom impact. Instead of moving forward with a sanctuary expansion, next year the church is planning to launch a second campus 25 minutes east in the White Lake area.
“Dublin has become a church on mission,” McGill said. “I’m excited about our future mission work – here, there and everywhere.”