Terry and Andrea Davis smile nervously as they’re about to sing in front of hundreds of Moldovans at Jesus the Savior Church in Chisinau, Moldova. Looking around for a translator, Terry realizes he will have to use the basic Romanian he learned during the week to introduce himself and Andrea. Before even a few awkward moments of silence pass, Terry gives a flawless introduction with the few words he knows. One quick glance around the church, and it’s easy to tell everyone is impressed.
The Davis’ are among more than 20 North Carolina Baptist pastors, church leaders and wives who traveled to Moldova Oct. 22-29 to see how they and their congregations can partner with Moldovan believers to reach their country – and beyond – for Christ. The trip is part of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s effort to lead churches to partner with the 33 districts of Moldova.
“We’ve been praying for Moldova for so long, and then the opportunity came to go,” said Terry, who helps lead youth and children’s ministries with Andrea at First Baptist Church Leland. Terry said Moldova has meant missions to him since he first heard about the fall of Communism there in the 80s.
“It’s only natural to say … ‘We’re there,’” he said. “We’re definitely planning to be back.”
Moldova is that sliver of a country situated between Ukraine and Romania. Most of its people are known for being the poorest in Europe. But while many of its people struggle economically, there also is a growing spiritual darkness.
BR photo by Shawn Hendricks
Tracy Caldwell, pastor of New Piney Grove Missionary Baptist Church in Kannapolis, talks with a Moldovan pastor during his trip to the country Oct. 22-29.
Though elaborate Orthodox churches and decorative crosses with pictures and statues of Jesus can be spotted along most roads in the country, there are few evangelical congregations. About 90 percent identify themselves as “Orthodox Christians,” but few claim to have put their trust in Jesus as their Savior.
During the week in Moldova, the North Carolina group divides into two teams to travel up and down the country to meet many Moldovan pastors and church leaders working with the Moldovan Baptist Union. Among those churches represented on the trip are Grace Community Church, Sylva; First Missionary Baptist Church, Concord; First Baptist Church Leland; Dublin First Baptist Church; Gorman Baptist Church, Durham; River of Leland; Mount Vernon Baptist Church, Fayetteville; Hephzibah Baptist Church, Wendell; New Piney Grove Baptist Church, Kannapolis; Southside Baptist Church, Wilmington; and Abiezer Baptist Church, Rock Hill, S.C.
N.C. pastors on the trip are greeted warmly by Moldovan Baptists. Local pastors share about efforts to send out missionaries and minister to their villages, region and other countries.
While most share about how God is changing lives, they also endure the challenges and hardships of life in Moldova.
“The ministry has become more difficult in the recent years, and the growth is not as fast as in the 90s,” said Peter, who pastors Kalarashovka Baptist Church near the far northern corner of Moldova.
In recent years the area has become a “spiritual desert,” Peter said.
“There is only one evangelical church or group per 5 villages,” he said.
Many Moldovan Baptist leaders work with local pastors who are desperate for mentorship and support from churches in the United States.
Behind all of the presentations and excitement with starting new work, there are many who struggle to provide for their families and lead a church. Unlike many pastors in the States, most in Moldova are bivocational.
Economic challenges in the country have forced many Moldovans – pastors included – to move out of the country to find a better way of life.
“It seemed like the last four or five years we started to lose the leaders more than [we] used to, and … the main factor is economics,” said John Miron, executive director of the Baptist Union of Moldova. Miron will speak at the Baptist State Convention’s annual meeting in Greensboro to challenge N.C. pastors to partner with Moldova.
“When looking back we [didn’t have] much freedom as we have now, but … the big challenge now is everybody thinks ‘How can I feed my family, take care of my children?’”
John McIntyre, pastor of the River at Leland Church, said he feels a “kindred spirit” to many of the pastors he met in Moldova and their struggle to lead a small church.
“I definitely know how it feels,” said McIntyre, a bivocational pastor who walked away from a full-time ministry position to plant the church he is now serving.
“When we first planted, I went for six months with no income,” said McIntyre, who has had to take on a variety of odd jobs to provide for his family.
“I know that [Moldovan pastors] have faith in their call, and they’re greatly committed to do what they’re called to do, and they know that God’s going to provide,” he said. “They’re definitely an encouragement to me.”
“It’s been a hard summer, but … I hear them say it’s been … a hard few years.”
Regardless of his own challenges, McIntyre plans to find a way for River of Leland to partner with a Moldovan church planter.
“We’ll definitely be partnering in some way,” said McIntyre, noting his church may team up with another N.C. church to help. “Whether that’s coming once a year, maybe helping rent a facility for a new church plant to meet,” he said. “A hundred dollars a month will rent a house for a new church plant. That’s doable.”
Moldovan pastors also are encountering and struggling with other growing issues – such as divorce – among their members. Human trafficking is another growing problem in the country.
Pastors are desperate for mentorship from experienced pastors in the States, said Vitalie Fedula, pastor of Jesus the Savior Church in Chisinau.
“I think pastors need to be encouraged … and taught what it means to be a pastor,” he said. “My desire is for the church to be the kind of church that would make Jesus smile.”
Though oceans apart, Cameron McGill, pastor of First Baptist Church, Dublin, explains his connection with many of the Moldovan pastors and his desire to help.
“The issues we face are similar,” said McGill, who traveled overseas for the first time with his wife, Tiffany.
She went to Moldova earlier this year with another mission team. “We’re in a small town,” McGill added.
“We’re a fairly small congregation, and if we’re not careful, we’ll begin to say, ‘We can’t do anything.’ What we need to do is that which God has called us to do, and we can do these partnerships.”
With a congregation of about 70 people, Ronald Hester, pastor of Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Fayetteville, said his church may partner with its association.
“Reality is reality,” said Hester, noting few at his church would be able to travel. “It would not be possible for our church to send a complete team, so we’ll work through the association to do a partnership.”
The key is for pastors to be passionate about the need, said Mike Sowers, senior consultant with Great Commission Partnerships for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC).
Hoping to spark more interest, the BSC led this latest trip by footing the bill for much of the expense. Each person on the team paid $600 to help with flight, meals and hotel expense. The convention covered the rest.
“Very rarely have we taken people on a vision trip or to a spot, and they haven’t caught at least some vision to get involved,” he said.
“All we’re doing is putting seed out there because we want to equip the local church. If it’s going to be successful, it’s got to be a ministry of the local church.”
Aaron Wallace, pastor of Hephzibah Baptist Church in Wendell, explains that if the BSC needs the church’s help then that’s good enough for him.
“We want to follow our Cooperative Program dollars,” Wallace said. “We want to partner with the convention. … I don’t want to work outside them.”
“We could help with the medical missions. Our church is strong with camps. … We’re equipped and ready to do it.”
Wallace challenged other pastors considering the partnership “to start small” when challenging their congregations to get involved.
“Let that passion go from you to a few others,” he said. “That’s the nature of discipleship. Kingdom growth is multiplication. It’s just going to continue to grow.”