Lake Norman Baptist Church (LNBC) in Huntersville has a growing understanding of international missions because of a four-year partnership with a small country in Eastern Europe. “Moldova has helped us cast our eyes beyond ourselves,” said Bobby Blanton, the church’s senior pastor. “We have really stepped up our missions emphasis over the last couple of years, and Moldova has been a big part of that.”
The church has participated in mission projects in Cuba, Honduras, Panama and Haiti, but Blanton said this new partnership has given the church a much needed, sustained missions focus. And the breadth of the project has offered a variety of ministry opportunities for members with different skills.
The partnership has included medical clinics, children’s Vacation Bible School ministry, church demolition and construction, pastoral training, youth camp ministry, orphan hosting and adoption, nutritional outreach and vocational training. Blanton has been to Moldova three times and plans to return this year to train pastors. Almost all national pastors are bi-vocational and have no formal training in ministry. “The pastor training has been a great blessing to me,” he said. “My heart is with those pastors … I can’t say enough about the work ethic of the people in Moldova. It’s amazing. The pastors work in the fields during the day and preach in the churches on the weekend. God bless them.”
LNBC prays for and supports 12 pastors, providing $1,000 annually for each pastor’s ministry.
Last September LNBC held a massive food-packing event that yielded 70,000 dehydrated meals in sealed packets. The church shipped 40,000 meals to Moldova and 30,000 to Haiti.
The pack-a-thon was organized in part by Feed the Hunger (feedthehunger.org), a ministry based in Burlington that works with N.C. Baptist Men (also known as Baptists on Mission) and many Baptist churches.
Ron Hoppe, a volunteer missions coordinator, manages the Moldova partnership for LNBC. He said a church member worked with FedEx to arrange delivery of the four large pallets of food. “FedEx donated the complete cost of air freight to get the pallets to Moldova. They arrived on schedule, undamaged and nothing had been compromised,” he said.
From left, Pastor Ivan Nedeoglo, Ron Hoppe, missions coordinator from Lake Norman Baptist Church and Victor Mirza, pastor of Agape Church in Chisinau are working together to meet physical and spiritual needs in Moldova.
The food arrived in late October and is stored for weekly distribution throughout the year. Each meal meets the daily nutritional needs of four adults or six children. The packets include beans, rice, dehydrated vegetables and vitamin powder.
“It’s not gourmet dining,” Hoppe said, “but in locations where food is a major issue, this will be a very powerful tool that pastors can use to get out into the communities and expand ministry opportunities.
“We’re excited to see what the potential of those meal packets might be to help the pastors in Moldova spread the gospel,” he added.
Victor Mirza, pastor of Agape Church in the capital city of Chisinau, Moldova, said the meals help small churches as they work with children and families in the villages. “Most of the villages have a children’s ministry where they depend on these meals,” he said. “After school, the kids come to church for a meal and a Bible lesson. This is a great resource for these local churches to reach children.”
Some of the food is distributed in a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center, orphanages and to the poor. Mirza said a large portion of the meals went to neighboring Ukraine, a nation that has recently experienced much social and political unrest.
Hoppe said the value of Moldova’s currency has declined significantly, making food more expensive. “So the meal packets are more valuable now than when they were packed and shipped,” he added. “Victor and the other pastors are using those meals in ways that are innovative and effective to reach their communities.”
An older Moldovan pastor and wife who live on $150 monthly, still found a way to feed 20 children in their village twice each week, Hoppe said. “So, stepping in and providing them with some of these meal packages made a great difference in their ability to serve their community.”
Some LNBC volunteers enjoy manual labor, so they responded to the needs of a small church in the town of Leova. An old, unsafe building was demolished, and a new church is being constructed on the same site. In 2012 Hoppe learned about a home for disabled and developmentally challenged adults that had a very inadequate kitchen. “A man in our church who is an architect made a trip over to evaluate the needs, then he drew up plans,” said Hoppe. “A team from LNBC demolished the kitchen and took a lead role to rebuild a commercial kitchen. It was a very significant project, and it certainly improved the quality of the food service provided in the home.”
Moldova’s sustained poverty and high unemployment has created a large number of orphans. When an orphan reaches 18 years of age, they are forced to leave government-run orphanages. Jobs are scarce; crime and human trafficking lure many children into hopeless traps. LNBC is trying to respond to that need, also.
Hoppe said LNBC is asking some hard questions. “How can we engage these 17 to 19 year old orphans in a productive way from a vocational or occupational perspective, so they have some legitimate means of supporting themselves?”
He found a family who runs a group home. “They take in 5-6 young men who have to leave the orphanage system with no place to go,” Hoppe said. “The husband of the family is a mechanic. Since the government offers some trade school training for aspiring mechanics, we asked him, ‘What would it take to set up a small auto repair business where some of these young men could be gainfully employed?’ So, we are in the exploratory phase to see what it would take to set up that small business as a ministry.”
Another vocational ministry idea surfaced when they met a man who leads an addictions ministry. Hoppe said, “This man has professionally made boots in the past. We had an opportunity to see the footwear, and it was quite impressive. So we are looking at the opportunity to gainfully employ some young men to help produce work boots, if we have an outlet to sell those boots.”
LNBC’s missions leaders are exploring ways to export the boots. “They were producing what looked to me to be a good quality men’s, fur-lined work boot for under $25.00,” Hoppe said. “I think we can generate funds for that ministry without any difficulty whatsoever.”
Hoppe is trying to launch a project similar to one that is working in Ukraine. It will train orphans in computer programing skills, and work with businesses in the U.S. to contract with the graduates to program remotely. He said, “This is a fairly ambitious undertaking, but we believe this is something that has potential to succeed.”
Hosting and adopting
The Lake Norman church is no stranger to the ministry of adoption. “Our church family has established quite a record of orphan child hosting and adoption,” Hoppe explained. They have worked with several adoption agencies, but most recently with New Horizons for Children.
Last Mother’s Day the church announced the establishment of a scholarship fund that provides financial assistance to families interested in hosting and those making a commitment to adoption. Church members have connected with orphans in Latvia and Ukraine, but not Moldova. On Hoppe’s trip to Moldova in March some representatives from New Horizons for Children met him in Moldova, along with the government’s secretary of social services and the secretary of family services. They hope to see some results from the meeting by the end of the year with short term hosting relationships. Some of those could turn into adoptions.
“What is exciting to me is that this is another point of contact where our church family can be part of an ongoing dynamic relationship,” he said. “If we can get some of these kids there integrated into our church families over time, I think that will bode very well for the relationship between us and Moldova, and ultimately for the gospel.
“We want to show these children the love of a Christian family, that there is more to life than what they have seen, and there is hope. These kids need hope.”
Relationships vs. events
Both Hoppe and Blanton want the Moldova partnership to focus on long-term relationships, not short term mission events. Hoppe said, “It’s easy to go on a mission trip, have an event in the country and never hear about it again. In our activities, we are trying to enter into relationships and also see how those relationships interact.
“If they need a new church building, fine, but there’s far more to it than that. If we are ministering to those kids in the orphanage, we ask ‘What can we do with and for those kids when they get out of the orphanage?’”
The partnership has something for everyone. Hoppe said, “Somebody is interested in construction, somebody has a heart for children, somebody has a heart for hunger, somebody has a heart for medical needs, somebody has a heart for Bibles – if we can present opportunities to engage as many of those constituencies within our church family as possible, I believe we will succeed.”
History of Moldova partnerships
When the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina began a partnership with Moldova in November 2011, two separate channels of ministry were established. One was a partnership with the Baptist Union of Moldova. This is a “convention” of 490 Baptist churches and mission points in this small Eastern European nation.
A second partnership was launched with a small network of churches labeled the Agape Network, named after the Agape Baptist Church in Chisinau and a fellowship of churches that were not comfortable with some of the theological positions of the union. Many N.C. Baptist churches were already working with the Agape network and with individual churches across Moldova. Lake Norman Baptist Church in Huntersville has taken the lead role in this second partnership.
The Biblical Recorder reported on the partnership with the Baptist Union in a story about Hephzibah Baptist Church in Knightdale in the Feb. 28 print issue. Read the story here.