Samaritan’s Purse is actively engaged in the spiritual rebuilding of Moldova through Operation Christmas Child and The Greatest Journey.
Perestroika is not just something of the past.
The term, which means rebuilding in Russian, took international stage in the mid-1980s when former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev initiated a season of economic and political restructuring that spilled over into social life. It was like spring for Christians throughout the republic as controls loosened and they were again allowed to practice their faith openly without fear of repercussion.
More than 30 years have passed since those exciting days, but in the former Soviet republic of Moldova, spiritual rebuilding continues even now with the help of the Samaritan’s Purse project Operation Christmas Child and its follow-up discipleship program, The Greatest Journey. Local churches are using these tools to reach villages that, in some cases, have no church or even any believers.
Sixty-year-old Andrei Ciobanu, a pastor in the village of Vadul Lui Isac and leader of Baptist churches in southern Moldova, said, “We still have 70 villages in the south that don’t have Protestant churches or Christians. Our goal is to get to these villages and share the Gospel there. These projects are a big opportunity.”
Pastor Andrei remembers when being a witness for the Gospel was difficult. Growing up before Gorbachev’s reforms, he remembers what it was like to claim Christ’s Name in the Soviet Union. When he was a child, his parents became believers and began meeting in secret with other Christians. One of his distinct memories is of the Communist party breaking up one of those meetings.
“Don’t move. Stay where you are,” they said as they searched the home for Christian material. Stuffing the handwritten Bibles and hymnals they found into a sack, they ordered the group outside. While everyone watched, the Communists threw the precious literature down the hole of the outhouse.
Pastor Andrei’s family was persecuted repeatedly. He remembers that in his school of 800 children, he was one of two children singled out at an assembly. In front of the whole group, teachers pointed out that these Christian children “darkened their society.”
By the age of 16, the pressure of being from a Christian family was too much for Andrei. He left home to work with the Communist Party youth organization in Kazakhstan. After that year and a couple years of mandatory military service, though, Andrei returned to Moldova. While traveling around the republic working at the age of 22, he asked his coworkers if he could join them in listening to a Christian radio program in secret. After hearing the message, he knelt down in a field and prayed to accept Christ into his heart.
“It was my goal from the time I repented to tell people about the Gospel,” said Pastor Andrei. “It was more difficult before perestroika, but after perestroika there were lots of possibilities to bring the Gospel into schools.”
Following Pastor Andrei’s conversion, 12 of the school staff, who once told him there is no God, repented and became Christians. The school director who had persecuted Andrei also invited him to come to the school to share the Gospel. This man later accepted Christ and was baptized.
18 Years of Great Joy and Good News
“Since Samaritan’s Purse came to Moldova in 1997, it has opened many doors in the area,” said Pastor Andrei.
Recently when he approached one village about coming with Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts, the Communist mayor told Pastor Andrei they could come but warned him against preaching the Gospel.
Nevertheless, Pastor Andrei got a chance to share Good News. During the distribution he asked the children, “Do you know where these shoeboxes came from?”
“No,” they answered.
“These shoeboxes are prepared by people in the West who celebrate Christmas. Do you know what Christmas means?”
Pastor Andrei proceeded to share the true meaning of Christmas, and the mayor did not mind. There are no Christians in this village but they are now arranging to begin The Greatest Journey discipleship course there.
“We have mayors calling us and looking for us,” Pastor Andrei said.
“A small present in Moldova opens so many doors. It is a great opportunity to share the Gospel with both children and adults.”
At a recent school assembly, students, teachers, and administrators all listened to Pastor Andrei share the Gospel. He then invited the children to an event at his church. It was vastly different from the experiences Pastor Andrei had in school.
“I remember from my childhood how at school we praised the name of Lenin,” he said. “Now at school, children praise the name of the Lord.”
Pastor Andrei remains burdened for areas of his country without a Christian witness. In the Kantemirov district, for example, he says more than half of the villages do not celebrate Christmas or know what it means. While in the Leova district, only four of 34 communities have churches.
Now that the 12-lessons of The Greatest Journey course are being offered in Kantemirov, Pastor Andrei said, “This is the beginning of a new church.”
Speaking to those who support the outreach of Samaritan’s Purse through local churches in Moldova, Pastor Andrei said, “One day you will understand how many doors have been opened, how many hearts have been reached, how much joy you have brought to many children who have never received a present before in their lives. On behalf of thousands and thousands of children, I’d like to thank you who do this ministry.”
Please pray for the witness of Pastor Andrei and other evangelical leaders in Moldova. Pray for more Gospel opportunities through shoebox gifts and for more children to grow in Christ through The Greatest Journey.