Moldova’s recent history has been one of changing borders and, as a result, changing rulers. Once it was part of Romania, then for decades it was under the Soviet Union until that empire began to crumble with the fall of Communism in the early nineties; then it became an independent republic in its own right.
Since then, it has not been immune from internal troubles having experienced war in the breakaway region of Transnistria. This section of the country is not recognised by any major country in the world, its claim to fame being that it has a division of the Russian army there.
During the Russian era of dominance, Moldova was a reasonably prosperous country with a flourishing agriculture, much heavy industry, and fruitful vineyards spreading over its low sprawling hills. The capital Kishinev was a favourite holiday haunt of some of the Soviet leaders.
Since its independence it seemed to proceed down the road to democracy, only to return the Communist Party to power again. Its story has been one of underachievement because of corruption and lack of visionary leadership.
The potential of this little country of four and a half million people is enormous, having some of Europe’s best land, capable of producing enough food for the population and leaving a lot more to export. But sadly, this potential has not been developed to full capacity.
With independence, Moldova lost its chief market in Russia. In addition the country’s infrastructure would appear to be going backwards, with only very minor improvements having been made. For some years now it has been classed as the poorest country in Europe.
Even with that as a backdrop, or perhaps because of it, Moldova is proving to be good soil for the planting of the gospel. Having been involved in ministry in Moldova with Slavic Gospel Association for seventeen years, I have been able to observe the national situation and get a feel of the spiritual pulse of Moldova’s evangelical church.
It all started for SGA back in 1993. That year, by invitation of Evangelical Baptists, SGA were invited to begin a training programme for pastors and church planters there. These were men who had not had the privilege of studying in Bible college or seminary. In fact, most of them did not even have personal copies of the Bible.
They seized this opportunity, and in total about 120 completed the course that year in three different centres throughout the country. In 1994, again at the request of church leaders, we began a two-year mission school with a structured curriculum. This has been held in the city of Balti, in the northern half of Moldova. This has been our main area of operation.
Since its inception, the ministry has known the Lord’s blessing with around 180 students to date having completed the course. The students are interviewed and chosen by church leaders. According to statistics given to us by these leaders, 80 per cent of those who studied over those years are continuing to minister in Moldova, Ukraine or Russia.
Church planting in Moldova’s remote
villages and towns is not for the faint-hearted. God’s servants there encounter much opposition from the Orthodox priests and their people, who claim that the territory is theirs. Often the local mayor joins with the priest in trying to obstruct church planting. In some cases opposition is quite militant.
In 1993 there were about 140 Evangelical Baptist churches. Today there are well over 500. This shows something of the amazing growth with which the Lord has been pleased to bless the preaching of the gospel in Moldova. With such growth there are always problems, and one of these is finding resources to fund local pastors and church planters.
SGA have been able to help in supporting many of our former students who are engaged in this vital work, through our leadership support scheme. The ideal, of course, is for each church eventually to move towards self-support.
In addition, there has been the problem of finding suitable buildings in which these fledgling fellowships could meet. To meet in a house is not compatible with the local culture, as that, to the minds of the community, cannot be a church.
An initial project was launched to supply portable buildings that could be moved to any location where needed. So when a young church eventually got a suitable permanent building the portable one was moved to facilitate evangelism in another area.
Planning permission to erect these portable buildings in villages has proved difficult to obtain in recent times, so the project moved on to purchasing village houses that could be renovated and made into Houses of Prayer. Over the last few years, SGA have been able to provide 24 buildings in total. These are proving to be a great help in the work of the gospel.
A major problem that the church in Moldova is presently facing is that many of its leaders and potential leaders are leaving to go to America, where there is an open door for them as they come from a former communist country.
Others go abroad to find work in order to support their families. At any given time between one and 1.5 million of the population are abroad working. This adds to the burden of those pastors remaining, as they have to take responsibility for many more churches.
Moldova is proof, if such were needed, that the seed of the gospel often takes root in countries where people are less gripped by materialism. The ‘growth’ years were undoubtedly the 1990s and early years of this century.
In recent times growth has slowed down. The believers are longing again for a move of the Spirit that will bring many souls to Christ.
There is much cause to thank the Lord for what has been accomplished in the cause of the gospel over almost two decades in Moldova, but there are still many unevangelised villages where the Orthodox Church holds sway. If the emigration tide could be stemmed, there would be many more workers available to engage in preaching Christ.
Slavic Gospel Association UK