I must preface this with a cautionary statement that you shouldn’t count on me to contribute to this blog too often. But I had a Bible Institute assignment that seemed to lend itself well to public display, and so I’m posting it here. I’ve added a few pictures for this online version, so now it will be way over the word count if each one is worth a thousand words. I already went about 25% over the assignment’s required word count.
Upstate Bible Institute English class
Instructor Dylan A. Parfitt
April 21, 2018
Moldova Missions Trip Report
by Reese N. Parfitt
Sometimes when I think upon my imagined prowess as a world traveler, I like to make comparisons between the different countries I’ve been to. My young friends listen with gleaming eyes as I tell stories and describe faraway lands. But when I went to Moldova this March, I was in for an experience that made me feel like I was starting all over again on my first missions trip. It was good for me to have this reset, to humble me and to help me sympathize with my teammates who were learning the same new things.
Moldova is a small republic in Eastern Europe that doesn’t garner a lot of world attention. It’s a former Soviet socialist state, and is currently the poorest country in Europe. I had only heard of it because of missionaries Paul and Susan Hamilton. A group of 21 of us (mostly youth) from Old Paths Bible Baptist Church went to visit the Hamiltons in Moldova’s capital city, Chişenău. It’s pronounced “Kishenow”, but it can also be called Kishinev, and then there’s the Russian version of the name: Кишинёв. Welcome to the language barrier in Moldova!
I won’t have time or space to tell everything that happened on this trip. I’ll have to pick a few meaningful incidents to give you a glimpse of some of the new things that I learned. If you want the whole story, you’ll have to come with us sometime!
Our mode of transportation was Turkish Airlines, with a connection in Istanbul. That detail is significant because of our first team-building exercise. It was an unplanned team-building exercise from our point of view, but it became obvious that it was a divine appointment. Our flight from Istanbul to Chişenău was canceled because of foggy weather in Moldova, and we ended up walking minutes on end through that huge Istanbul airport, following an airline employee to different transfer desks and information booths until we finally got new boarding passes for the next morning’s flight. They wanted to put us in a hotel, but we would have had to get visas, go through customs, and leave the airport for some unknown location only to pack up and head back very early in the morning. So it did not take a very lengthy team meeting to decide that we were staying the night in the airport. The four adults in our group were champions. I’m sure they would have appreciated a bed, especially after 9 hours in economy class over the Atlantic. We had to go back through security, make a plan for where we would sleep, figure out the meal voucher situation, find the food court, eat… So it was quite late before we headed to our intended place of repose, Gate 203.
By the time we finished supper, Gate 203 was occupied by departing passengers. So we went next door. Between jet lag (meaning we did not think it should be night, even though it was night in Turkey) and the unusual surroundings, we didn’t have much hope for solid restful sleep. We bedded down in the waiting area of Gate 204, but around 1:30 a.m. there was a stirring as passengers began accumulating for a flight that would leave out of that gate at some odd hour of the night. So we gathered up our stuff and moved to Gate 203, which was now empty. Few of us felt like we were going to fall asleep again, and we were planning to go for breakfast in just a couple of hours. After breaking the tennis ball pitch-and-catch world record for Gate 203 of the Istanbul Atatürk Airport, and having some intense bowling competitions with the tennis ball and water bottles, we all gathered around for a time of Christian fellowship and giving of thanks.
That assembly in Istanbul at 2 or 2:30 in the morning, where everyone was exhausted and no one could sleep, was easily one of the highlights of the trip. We had rushed through the airport the night before in New York City, with the team divided into three or four fragments in different places, going different paces. We barely got through security in time to find our places in the boarding line and get on the aircraft. Some groups of seats were together, but the team was split up in different sections of the plane and we didn’t have too much communication. And if we had flown on that same night to Moldova as planned, the ladies would have been down at their house and we men in ours, and it would have been difficult to feel that we were one team. So while the circumstances here in Turkey were strange, they brought about some of our favorite memories of the whole trip and taught some of the most important lessons.
We sang a few songs (very quietly!) and did some praying. Then Pastor Folk, in his wisdom, suggested that we go around the circle in turn and each person tell something about themselves or their interests. At first, this struck me as an activity that would foster individuality or cliquishness. Instead, it helped us to learn more about each other and appreciate each other. We were given opportunity to “Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others” (Philippians 2:4). And we were drawn close together by it.
It was my first time to travel with a group this size, and I had been a bit apprehensive of how it would go. How could we achieve teamwork and stick together? Though it could not have been planned, this travel delay was essential to building our unity. There seemed to be multiple scenarios of “hurry up and wait” as we rushed from one end of the airport to the other. But everyone had a fantastic attitude; the strong supported the weak; the leaders “ruled” with diligence (Romans 12:8), keeping track of everyone; and the followers cooperated in one accord. Our chapter to meditate on together was Ephesians 4, and so many things from it were amazingly demonstrated to us as we each did what we should.
We weren’t even to Moldova yet. But we found that it didn’t matter! God dropped us off in Turkey and picked us up the next morning. It was as simple as that! I count our time in “The Oasis” (as Gate 203 is now affectionately called) to be a very precious gift from the Lord. It was a once-in-a-lifetime meeting that we didn’t even plan. God is good.
We did get on the plane the following morning (Saturday) and arrived in a chilly, drizzly Moldova. Almost every other “mission field” country that I’ve traveled to has a tropical climate. So the weather took some getting used to. The first thing I noticed on arrival was the worn-down concrete buildings everywhere. They looked as if no one had cared for them for the last forty years. A lot of things, like the roads in the countryside, gave the same impression. It felt like since the fall of communism over 25 years ago, nobody had gotten the fortitude of heart to move forward with anything. As we taxied toward the airport, we passed the derelict carcasses of former Air Moldova or Ukrainian and Russian planes. They had apparently been passenger airliners, but almost all had machine guns at the nose. That was a new sight for sure.
Customs was confusing for me. We had not been given forms to fill out on the airplane, so I expected to do it in the terminal before going through passport control. I was going to be the big expert and show everyone how it’s done, and help them fill out their forms. Maybe I would even be called upon for my language skills to try to interpret something. But everyone got in line, and when we got to the desk, no questions were asked. In fact, the customs officers didn’t even say a word to most of us! There was no incoming passenger card, no declaration of intended length of stay in the country, no questions about where we planned to visit. Just a small stamp in our passport and we were on our way. If you don’t have anything to declare in your luggage, you just take it and walk out. There was not even anyone guarding the door! I have never had any other customs experience where there is almost literally nothing to it! I have a feeling it would have been different in the Soviet days.
If I was hoping for an encounter with Russian border guards, we got a little taste of it when we traveled two different days that week into the region of Pridnestrovie. It’s an area on the eastern side of Moldova, occupied by Russian forces, with many of its people tending towards affiliation with communist Russia rather than the EU. (The UN doesn’t recognize it as a sovereign state, but it’s recognized by three other unrecognized states so that must make it all right…!) There is a border crossing on the road, where the KGB agents check your passport and give you a piece of paper to put inside. You have to show the paper when you come back through the border, and it tells you by what time that night you have to be out. Oh, by the way, the KGB hasn’t been in operation since 1991 — unless, of course, you’re in an unrecognized state.
Editor’s note: I don’t have any pictures of the border crossing, for what should be obvious reasons.
In this illegally-occupied sliver of the country, there are little churches with faithful people, probably not known to many people in the world. It is really amazing to pull into a little driveway and crowd into a tiny room with people you don’t know and with whom you can’t communicate because of the language barrier — and find out that you have so much in common. The apostle John wrote almost 2,000 years ago, “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). After Pastor Folk preached (through our wonderful interpreter, Brother Vonea), a lady made a confession to the church about some wrong attitude she had been having. She was clearly repentant and there was a blessed spirit of forgiveness and restoration in the room. I don’t recall the confession having much to do with the sermon, but the Spirit of the Lord had done His work and it was precious to see. Again, God sent us there for a purpose unbeknownst to us, and He was able to use us simply because of our availability.
Most of the week, the weather was dreary. The sky was gray and the sun only appeared a few times. Walking down the street, you would notice that many people’s faces wore a generally tired and downtrodden expression. I felt discouraged because I could not really communicate and I was not even picking up much language to be able to use, especially not on the Russian side of things! But even Romanian was much more different from Spanish than I had hoped. We spent numerous hours traveling in the vans to different places to minister, which was a bit tiring. But there was one particular thing I experienced that was just about downright depressing!
I don’t think I’ve ever been inside a Roman Catholic church, either in the U.S. or elsewhere. But if it’s anything like the Russian Orthodox church we went in, I don’t think I’m interested! While we were on the streets of Chişenău, passing out invitations to the meetings at church, Claire Nicot and I got to go with our Moldovan friend Iochim to see the inside of the church building. I was first perturbed at the realization that it is, for all practical purposes, a business. The church is open 9 to 5 every day, just like my place of work; and people are coming in all day long to buy candles and whatever other religious merchandise is for sale there inside the door. Then there are pictures and statues all around the room, and the devotees make their rounds to the different stations, making the sign of the cross, kissing the images, bowing, weeping, praying. The economy was decidedly different in here than on the streets outside. From the fancy roped-off chair that was reserved for some important person, to the hand-painted walls and domed ceiling, to the rich tapestries and fine chandeliers and picture frames, everything was absolutely plush and gilded. Somebody was obviously making out all right in the poorest country in Europe! I stood, somewhat shocked, observing this horrendous idolatry that dared to call itself Christianity. What treason this is, for the “church” to take all the elements from the Bible and use them as a backdrop for their false religion! How could anyone imagine that this is a denomination of Christendom? It is heathen!
As we made our way back outside, I pulled my church invitations back out of my pocket. But I was strangely changed. What had happened to me? Now that I had seen the solemnity and grandeur of their church tradition, how could I appeal to them with a nice, glossy, eye-catching invitation to the Baptist church? How could I argue against the sincerity and devotion of the worshippers? But such is the battle of truth against error! There is but one truth, and it has thousands of forms of wrong to fight against. We do well to stick close by the King James Bible and learn from it the way to please God. “But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him” (John 4:23).
I wouldn’t exactly say that experiencing the Orthodox church was a “highlight” of the Moldova trip. But it made a deep impression. It opened my eyes to an astonishing reality of the deceitfulness of religion and gave me a great appreciation for the truth of God’s word, which makes us free (John 8:31, 32). Maybe God put me there in a place where I couldn’t really understand any of the language so I would keep my mouth shut and learn something. There is definitely a need to preach the Gospel, just about any time. But David said in Psalm 39:9, “I was dumb, I opened not my mouth; because thou didst it.” It is good for us to realize that we know so little. Lord, continue to be merciful to us and teach us.
I believe God did use us to be a blessing to others on this trip. But it was a time of much learning for me personally. The Lord can do much more through our weakness than we can do through our strength. “For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith” (Romans 12:3). May God help us to acknowledge Him in everything we do, whether across the sea or in our home. It is so fulfilling to see Him receive the glory.