‘Strangle the leadership and choke the churches!’ was a core element of Communist strategy to suppress and ultimately destroy evangelical churches in the Iron Curtain era.
It was a plan which had deeply damaging consequences for the cause of the gospel, resulting in thousands of leaderless churches and countless communities throughout Eastern European countries without a glimmer of gospel light.
Moldova was one such country. Patrick Johnstone recorded in his 1993 edition of Operation World that, ‘Training for pastors is the greatest need. There are 185 Baptist pastors, none of whom have received any formal training. Pray for the founding of a Bible school. SGA is seeking to help in this’.
What is the situation in Moldova today? What progress has been made? Looking back over the past two decades, it is clear that the situation has been radically transformed.
Peter Mihalchiuk, an experienced Moldovan church planter and senior pastor, reports that in the early 1990s there were just over 100 small evangelical churches or preaching centres — one church for every 15 towns and villages. Today there are more than 800 evangelical churches — one evangelical church for every five towns or villages.
Peter praises God for this remarkable progress and acknowledges that partnership with SGA has been instrumental, in God’s hand, in bringing about this transformation in northern Moldova.
It is a striking example of SGA’s strategy in seeking to equip national believers throughout Eastern Europe to reach their own people with the gospel.
In 1993 an initiative was already being launched to address the urgent need for pastoral training. SGA agreed with Evangelical Baptists in Moldova to set up a one-year experimental training programme for pastors and church planters.
Over 120 students completed that course. None of these men had any previous opportunity for ministry training and they avidly grasped the opportunity to attend and gain as much benefit as possible from the programme. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive and plans were made to offer training on a more long-term basis.
A new school was proposed in Balti, north Moldova, and a Mission School Director, Pastor Nikolai Malai, was subsequently appointed, to administer and oversee the training there.
Partnership with this outstanding leader has proved to be a rich blessing to the school and its students, and an encouragement to SGA. (The remarkable story of Nikolai Malai, son of a village pastor and a pastor himself during Communist rule, is told in God’s man in Moldova, published by SGA [UK], available from: SGA, 37a The Goffs, Eastbourne,BN21 1HF.)
The Balti Mission School has been operating for over 20 years. Around 250 students have completed their studies, and over 80 per cent of these are currently involved in various ministries in Moldova, Ukraine and Russia.
SGA personnel soon realised that other kinds of support were necessary in this needy post-Communist country. Many in their classes were already serving small village churches with little or no financial support; some had to take full-time secular employment, reducing drastically the time available for ministry; some even had to leave the country in their search for work. Precious potential was being wasted.
Under its Leadership Support Programme, SGA began to financially assist those in most need, becoming partners in this practical way. Not only is this a blessing to the men, enabling them to remain in the country with their families, but it supports the spread of the gospel in Moldova.
Derek Maxwell, SGA’s General Director, states: ‘Practical support for national workers is invaluable. We firmly believe that sponsorship of indigenous missionaries represents one of the most economical and fruitful ways for urban and rural evangelism’.
The key to evangelising the north Moldova region is to reach towns and villages by evangelism and church planting. Preparation of church planters is a core purpose of the SGA Mission School, and it is encouraging to see a constant flow of men becoming involved in the difficult ministry of church planting.
They face a recurring problem. The Orthodox mindset is such that there cannot be a ‘church’ without a church building. To meet in a home or a building used for other purposes raises in many Moldovan minds the spectre of ‘cults’!
This major stumbling-block to evangelism had to be addressed. The need for ‘Houses of Prayer’ was critical and, under God, SGA has been able to help address this. Initially portable halls were purchased to be used by pioneer planters moving into a new area. These proved to be effective and useful in the first phases of a new ministry.
Where suitable property becomes available, a more permanent solution has been undertaken. SGA provides finance to purchase and renovate village houses, which then become permanent ‘Houses of Prayer’. Through this partnership and practical support, a barrier to the gospel is removed, as believers endeavour to reach their neighbours for Christ.
Travel in north Moldova is challenging at the best of times. For village pastors, preachers, and Christian workers, getting from one village to another to carry on ministry is persistently problematic and in poor weather conditions almost impossible.
In the fuel-scarce 1990s SGA provided bicycles for use by these servants of God. These were useful and greatly appreciated.
Recently, SGA’s ‘Getting Men Moving’ project has been supplying motorcycles for use by preachers and church planters; and occasionally small cars for older men or those who travel lengthy distances in their work. Giving to this project continues, so that SGA can provide for further transport needs as they become known.
Children and youth ministry
SGA also supports believers in Moldova in ministry to children and young people, including the provision of help for orphanage ministry and other humanitarian needs.
One exciting project was recently presented to the mission’s directors: the purchase of a permanent camp-site to assist in the evangelism and discipleship of children and young people.
Camp work in Moldova is a vitally important and effective ministry, and the churches were given the opportunity to purchase a former Communist youth camp site in an ideal location convenient to Balti. The very reasonable purchase price was nevertheless beyond the means of the believers there.
Through the generosity of SGA supporters in UK and Ireland, over half the cost has been met and Moldovan churches are adding as much to that total as they are able. Further financial support will be sent by SGA to this ongoing project, as funds become available.
In each of the last two summer seasons, almost 2000 children and young people attended camps using the renovated facilities there, enjoying a holiday but also being instructed in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Many of these young people come from non-Christian homes.
Recently, Nikolai Malai wrote: ‘We celebrate 20 years of very blessed co-operation with SGA. The Mission School’s impact is huge. Many brothers and sisters work in various areas of ministry to the glory of God. We have a rich fraternal relationship with brothers from SGA, and I pray that this will continue to grow. Thank God that SGA finds churches and believers who fund our missionaries.
‘Moldova is a poor country, with a serious job shortage. Often brothers are forced to leave their ministry for periods of work abroad. As a result, the ministry in the church suffers and development stops. My special thanks to the brothers from SGA and the churches and church members who faithfully participate in SGA’s ministry, by giving and prayer’.
Praise God that much has been accomplished in north Moldova over the last two decades. SGA’s strategy of providing a range of support to Moldovan believers, so that they can fulfil their God-given responsibility, is both scriptural and effective.
The work is far from finished, therefore in keeping with Nikolai Malai’s comments above, continued faithful prayer is requested for the country of Moldova, one of the poorest countries economically in which SGA [UK] operates, and also still one of the most spiritually needy.
Slavic Gospel Association www.sga.org.uk