Sunday, September 9, 2018

Into the Vineyards: Summer Missions with Friends from Alabama

Back in 1997, when I was coming to the United States to study, several of my friends and mentors said to that what I will experience in America is much more than education. I will form friendships for life. Now, more than 20 years later, I see that they were right.

First, I came to study at Georgetown College, KY and later made may way to Beeson Divinity School of Samford University in Birmingham, AL. In 1998, I came to Birmingham by myself. I was not married yet. In 2003, both Natasha and I came to Birmingham as I was pursuing the D.Min. degree at Beeson.

Back then, we were showered with love and formed many lasting friendships with Christians from churches and Christian organizations in the city. One of the churches was Shades Mountain Baptist. Natasha and I attended Shades during the summer/fall of 2003. We loved our Sunday School class, which was taught by Sue Ann Arnold, learned a lot from the preaching of pastor Danny Wood and experienced great time of worship led by Michael Adler and the praise team.

When I think about the time spent at Beeson, I remember how wonderful it was to attend Dr. Lewis Drummond’s Evangelism class at Beeson with Jeremy G. (now Minister of Global Missions at Shades) and Dr. Charles Carter’s Spiritual Formation Class (Pastor Emeritus of Shades) with Kym H. who was coordinating member involvement at the church.

As the time went by, relationships with friends from Shades transformed into fruitful missions partnership. Shades is the church with extensive mission involvement all over the world. We are privileged that a few years ago Shades put Moldova on their missions map. It was a delight to host multiple teams from Shades that encouraged Moldovan churches, ministered to those in need and shared Christ with those who have not accepted Him as their Lord and Saviour yet.

We were blessed to develop (many others) a special friendship with Tori and Rush L. from Shades who came to Moldova on a number of trips. They fell in love with the country so much that they decided to actively involve themselves in Moldova missions on a continuous basis though Beyond the Vineyards. In February of 2018, they opened their home to us and hosted all of us as we attended the Global Impact Celebration -- a week of mission emphases at Shades.

In mid-August 2018, we at Turlac Mission had a great joy of hosting a team of 4 dear friends from Shades that came to Moldova. Cassandra H. and Tori L. have been in Moldova before. For Beth G. and Casey S. this trip was their first one to Moldova.

The team ministered in children's camp in Alexandreny, Northern Moldova and to teens at the cooking school in Beltsy, the second largest city in the country. Turlac Mission established the school two years ago in partnership with  pastor Andrei and Bethany Baptist Church to combat trafficking in women from Moldova by teaching teens to cook with the hope that they will start their own business and will be able to support themselves.

On Sunday, the next day after their arrival in Moldova, Shades team traveled to Karpineny in Western Moldova, encouraging believers in the local Baptist church and distributing food baskets to people in need. Gheorghe and Natasha, national Moldova missionaries - our partners - extended their hospitality to American friends. Gheorghe shares, "There is so much need in our town. There are so many homeless people. No one cares for them. Christ taught us to love people. This is why we want to help them in any way we can."

In Southern Moldova, friends from Alabama were involved in the ministry of the Hope Anti-Trafficking center (town of Chadyr-Lunga), which Turlac Mission helps operate because of your support. The team met with Christian families of Vasiliy and Luba, Joseph and Sasha.

In the town of Komrat, the capital of Turkish-speaking Gagauz region of Moldova, ladies from Alabama led a conference for Baptist women. Cassandra and Tori shared form the Scriptures on practical steps of walking with Christ, the role of a Christian woman in the family and her involvement in church ministry. Casey and Beth led a training session at the tailoring school for teen girls that Natasha started in 2016.

As I interpreted for Tori and Cassandra and listened to them share about their walk with the Lord, I could see how well they connected with more than 25 Christian women that gathered for the conference. I realized that it really does not matter where one comes from. When we know Christ, we have that special connection with believers all over the world, for we all believe in God. Paul said it beautifully, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism…” (Eph.4:4-5, BSB)

While in the region, we were able to provide food baskets for a number of families that struggle to make ends meet. V., the mother of four that received a basket, shared, "It was a joy to see Christian friends from America come to my home. Thank you for supplying food for my family. Thank you for reminding me that God loves me and that He will never leave me and my children.” It takes just $20 to supply one food basket (filled with rice, canned meat, flour, spaghetti, tea, butter, cooking oil, sugar and salt) for one needy family in Moldova.

As we were coming back to Chisinau, Moldovan capital, we stopped by beautiful vineyards. You can see them everywhere. Moldova is known for delicious grapes and grape products. For me, vineyards served as a reminder of a text from the Scriptures (Mat.20) about workers in the vineyard that were hired by the master at different hours of the day. It is true that no matter when and at which point of our lives the Lord called us to work in His vineyard, we all serve Him and have one purpose. We want to enlarge the boundaries of His Kingdom and show His love to people all over the world. At Turlac Mission we add, "one person at a time.”

As Cassandra, Tori, Beth and Casey were checking in for their flight to America at the airport in Chisinau and we were saying our good-byes, I kept thinking that as Christ's ambassadors we should rather say, "Until we see you again!" We part for now but Christian mission continues until Jesus comes and we see Him face to face (1Cor.13:12).

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Sold Out to Missions: Summer Missions in Romania and Moldova (Part 1)

August 2018 for us at Turlac Mission was a month sold out to mission work in Eastern Europe, namely in Romania and Moldova. Many of you prayed for this mission trip, for which I thank you. God blessed our work, and we were able to impact lives in this region of the world, which for the most of 20th century was under Communist and Atheist domination.

Both Romania and Moldova are close culturally. At times, they are called sister countries. Ethnic Moldovans and Romanians share the same language (Romanian). In 1918-1939, Moldova (back then called Bessarabia) was a part of Greater Romania. People from both countries were oppressed by most ruthless dictatorial regimes of modern times (Stalin and Ceausescu). In 1960’s-1980’s, while under dictatorship of president Nicolae Ceausescu, Romanians experienced severe food shortages. Freethinking Romanians were either imprisoned and tortured or forced to emigrate. Church activities were restricted and pastors were jailed for preaching Christ.

By 1989, with things starting to change in the Soviet Union and other East-European Soviet camp countries, Romanians revolted and deposed the dictator. Since then, Evangelical churches in the country experienced tremendous growth. Pentecostals and Baptists are the majority Protestant denominations in Romania.

This summer, friends of our ministry, Richard and Linda W. from Toledo, Ohio joined me for Romania and Moldova missions. Richard and Linda have worked/ministered in Eastern Europe in the early 2000’s. It was a delight to bring them to the region that they love once again.

Our first destination was Timisoara, the regional city centre of Western part of the country populated by ethnic Romanians, Hungarians, Germans, Serbs and Gypsies (Roma).

Together, we participated in a church service at the Grace Baptist Church of Timisoara pastored by Rev. Victor T. I wish you were there with us and could hear the praise and worship team from Grace sing! Romanians sing beautifully. Their language is a part of Latin family of languages, which are melodic and romantic. Pastor Victor ministers to two congregations in Timisoara, preaching 2-3 times every week. He said, “God gave us such a great time of freedom after so many years of persecution. It is our responsibility now to share Christ with all people in our city.” We are delighted to start a Christian partnership with Grace Church in their ministry to those who do not know Christ.

In Timisoara, we helped support anti-trafficking work by supplying sewing machines for the Areopagus Christian Center, where teen girls are studying sewing and alterations. The tailoring school at Areopagus was started by Canadian Christians who several years ago discontinued the work. It was a delight to help Romanians revitalize this ministry.

Areopagus does a great work in offering Christian counselling, establishing a dialogue between Christians and the secular society and anti-trafficking preventive ministry. As some of you know, Romania is one of the four main suppliers of young women for human trafficking in the world (Moldova, China and the Philippines are the other three). Anti-trafficking work is one of our main ministry avenues at Turlac Mission, so we thank God for this new partnership.

One of the most touching experiences for me was visiting one of the Roma (Gypsy) villages. As many of you know, Roma people have no country of their own. They have their own language and have their own customs and even the system of justice. Most even don't hold passports. Roma people move from place to place, and very few of them have formal schooling, which makes finding decent jobs extremely difficult. They are often stigmatized in Romania, Moldova and other European countries.  In recent years, a revival broke out among Roma people, and now Romania has a number of Roma Christian churches. Their manner of singing is emotional. It expresses their utmost reverence for God.

It was a great joy for us to help some of the families (both Gypsy and Romanian) by providing baskets with food and Christian encouragement. They have practically nothing and they were grateful that Christians from North America cared enough to come and help them. L. is a single mother of six, one of whom is confined to a wheelchair. She shared, "I trust God for provision for my children. I live in difficult circumstances, and I am truly grateful for your support." Your donation of $20 can buy food for this family that will last them for a week.

Lord willing, I am planing to return to Romania in 2019. We need your help in further supporting and sustaining anti-trafficking work in the Western part of the country. We prayerfully hope to put together a team of Christians (3-4 people) from North America that will be able to come and hold a sewing/crafts camp in Romania in the summer of 2019. Would you respond to God's call by saying, "Here am I. Send me”? (Is.6:8).

Friday, September 7, 2018

Sold Out to Missions: Summer 2018 in Romania and Moldova (Part 2)

From Timisoara (Romania), Richard, Linda and I took a flight to Chisinau, Moldova via Bucharest, Romanian capital. It was interesting that right during the time when we were in Romania, huge crowds of people in Bucharest and other Romanian cities were protesting against the current government. The protests in Bucharest turned violent with close to 400 people injured. We tried to understand the situation in Romania. From the news and conversations with Romanian Christian friends, we learned that the level of corruption in the country is very high, and the national treasury is empty because of uncontrolled spending by those in power. So, it looked like 29 years after the anti-Communist revolution, Romanians again decided to take to the streets. We did not know what the outcome of the protests would be and were concerned that this might interfere with our travel plans, but the Lord was with us and granted us safety in travels.

In Moldova, our primary purpose was: teaching pastors, missionaries and church leaders on "Biblical Perspective on Integrity, Time and Finance Management” as a part of our Leadership College program as well as reaching out to women that do not know Christ and encouraging Christian women in their walk with the Lord. So many women in Moldova deal with domestic violence and alcoholism of their husbands. They welcomed the time of instruction and fellowship from with Linda W., their sister in Christ from America.

Two cohorts of Christian leaders, both young and experienced ones, in Moldova's capital and in Southern Turkish-speaking region of the country had an opportunity to hear Richard W. teach on the important subjects of integrity, financial responsibility and proper time management.

A., 30, one of the Moldovan Baptist youth ministers shared with me after the seminar, “I was delighted to be a part of the seminar organized by Turlac Mission. The teaching on time management was very helpful. We, Moldovans, are not time-oriented people. We value relationships a lot but often waste each other’s time by not keeping our word and coming late to meetings and events. I also learned some principles of budgeting, which will help me plan my family’s and church’s budget.”

Linda W. taught teenage girls in Komrat and women in Chisinau on the “Meaning of Joy in Christian Life.” She shared with women two important principles that can help every Christian to keep joy alive in their lives: “Control the controllable and leave the uncontrollable to God.”

M., 50 from Chisinau that attended Linda’s seminar shared, “In Moldova, we often fail to have joy in Christian life because we look at our tough circumstances and up not to God. I was reminded that in God we find our real joy. We walk with Him daily, and He helps us overcome problems.”

As we parted with Richard and Linda at the Chisinau Airport, my heart was full of gratitude for their impact upon lives of Romanians and Moldovans. There is nothing more precious in our relationships as Christians than doing the Lord's work together. I hope that we can take more friends of our ministry on mission trips so that you also can experience the joy of missions!