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On a Mission in Moldova, Teaching at the Beltsi Bible Institute

July 9, 2006

I taught at the Beltsi Bible Institute in Moldova for two weeks in November of 2004.

11.7.04, 8:50pm, Beltsi Moldova

We are staying at the Scripnic home – Peter & Svetlana (dad & mom), 3 daughters – Irene, Diana & Catherine. They live in a 5 room apartment. The building is an old Soviet era cement monolith that is surrounded by a half dozen more. It is falling apart, I think it would be condemned if it were in the US, and this is a good part of town. Their apartment is very nice though, a real home.

Went to church today – a very different experience. There were 2 sermons that lasted 30 min. each. I preached in the morning and Diana translated. I bombed. It was my first time speaking through a translator and it was not easy.

At church the men sit on one side and the women and children on the other. Everyone, including babies, is in the service. The singing is great. The feeling of the service is fairly grave, but not sad nor depressed at all.

We went to a different church in the evening. I did not preach. They must have heard about the egg I laid in the morning.

The country suffers under grinding poverty. This place was never built up very well and what was built up has been run down and worn out. The good part of town looks like the bad part of south central LA, or Detroit. The roads were paved once, the curbs are broken up, the sidewalks are crumbling, the buildings are falling down and the ones still standing should probably be condemned. Everything is cement and dirt and peeling paint and cracks and weeds. Trash is everywhere. Rats run in the streets at night. People still get around in horse drawn carts. The few cars on the road belch smoke except for the occasional new Mercedes and BMW driven by the mafia. I have not seen any over weight people. Everyone has a garden, or access to one, to make sure they get enough to eat. Water and electricity go off regularly and this is the second largest city in the country. The children of this country have a deep hole to climb out of. Moldova is a 60 year project minimum.

11.8.04, 2:35pm & 8:40pm, Beltsi

First day of class. So far so good. I am learning to speak through an interpreter, it takes some getting used to. Classes are being held at an old communist youth camp that ought to be bulldozed. We are also sleeping here. There is very little heat, the rooms get up to about 50 degrees, there is no hot water at all & the bathroom is a breeding ground for the plague, but it does work well for school and I don’t mind all the mice. The food is not so bad. No big deal. I’ve slept in worse places, or maybe not.

11.9.04, 8:45am & 8:15PM, Beltsi

Waiting for morning devotions to start. The church here is very legalistic, therefore, worldly in its orientation. Not worldly in a Western money centered and self-centered way, but in a working in the flesh and motivated by fear kind of way.

Yesterday I asked the class how they would counsel a person in their church on how to overcome sin in their life. Their answer was, “Tell him to repent and fear God before God punishes him! Just tell him to stop it!” That is a direct quote. This is doomed to failure, completely lacks love, provides no hope at all and is devoid of spiritual power. This is the kind of thing that keeps people in bondage.

There is nothing to do in Moldova, and if there were no one could afford to do it anyway. There are lots of bars and nightclubs, few restaurants. The top 10% of Moldovan society has fled the country in the last 10 years, this includes the church.

11.12.04, 2:25pm, Beltsi

Wrote the test for class last night. It won’t be very easy, but not very hard either. What a very different culture this is. God can change it, if He wills, I’m glad that’s not my job. I enjoy the people though. If I ever come back I will be better prepared – more paper, pens, notebooks, appropriate clothes, bathroom items, etc. A laptop with a printer would be a necessity. A translation program for Romanian and one for Russian would be very useful.

An older pastor in class told me at the beginning of the week that he was very much against this “new theology” as he put it, but today he said he was understanding some things for the first time and it was all making sense. Thank you Lord!

All my students took the full 2 hours to take the test. After the test the whole class, except for the two troublemakers, asked if they could come back tomorrow (Saturday) and if I would continue to teach them. Then they asked if I would be coming back to teach again. I want to see these men trained. They need to be trained. The church here desperately needs them to be trained and I would come back if the Lord wills it.

This country and the people and the church are all an emotional workout. There is so much to be done and so many needs. The church here is not exactly weak, but it is not deep either. Commitment runs high, but it does not seem to me that there is much spiritual maturity. The church desperately needs well trained pastors.

The Baptists here think birth control is a sin. And for the women; make-up, earrings and pants are a sin too and they must wear head scarves.

11.14.04, 10:10pm, Sunday, Beltsi

On the way to church tonight I was informed that I would be preaching at a church across town. Vasili (my guide) drove me to the church, we went in the back door and straight to the pastor’s office. I met the translator and the pastor, we prayed and walked into the auditorium where they were just finishing up the song service.

The pastor walked up to the microphone and said, and I quote, “We have a guest speaker tonight from America. I just met him, I don’t know him, he is teaching at the bible institute, his name is Steve.” I preached on the greatest commandment.

After the sermon the translator said “Follow me” and we walked from the pulpit right out the door that is at the back of the preaching platform. I accidentally slammed the door on my way out. The translator escorted me to the back door of the church where Vasili was waiting and we walked to his car.

It was a cold windy night and it seemed a bit colder than usual to me, for good reason. When I stepped into Vasili’s van I felt a cold breeze, I reached down and found that the seam in the seat of my pants was ripped open about 10 inches!

I preached with a hole in my pants. No big deal because I was behind a pulpit, but the pastor of the church sat right behind the pulpit and he had a great view the whole time.

And not only that, we entered and left the pulpit area from a door in the wall that is next to the pulpit and facing the congregation in plain view of the whole church. When I left the church I had to turn my back to the congregation and they could see me walking away. I even had to stand in front of the door for a few seconds with my back to the congregation while the translator fumbled with the doorknob. I think that pastor will know who I am next time.

So anyway, I get into Vasili’s van and we are supposed to go over to another church and meet up with the other professors, but I have a huge hole in my pants. Vasili speaks little English, and I don’t speak any Russian. But, after a few moments of strange gesturing on my part and a few raised eyebrows and puzzled looks by Vasili, he finally understood what had happened. He began to laugh uncontrollably and we almost crashed.

When he regained control he said “Scripnic” (the name of the people we are staying with) meaning “Let’s go to the Scripinc’s and get some pants without a hole in them.” I said “Nyet, church.” Meaning that they were at church and I did not have a key to their apartment. He said “Oh, da.” (Oh, yeah.).

Then he grabbed his cell phone and said “Diana” and called Diana Scripnic, but I knew that would not work because she was busy translating for the other professors at the other church and she would have her cell phone off, at least I hoped she had it off. The last thing anyone needed was for Vasili to catch Diana and tell her what had happened just before she went up to the pulpit to translate. Fortunately she did not answer.

So, we went to Vasili’s house and he loaned me a pair of his pants. Now, Vasili is a great guy, but he is about 40 pounds heavier and six inches shorter than I am, but there was no hole in his pants. I really did not care if people noticed the pants I was wearing were too short.

When we got to the other church things were just winding down and everyone laughed uncontrollably when we told them what happened. It was the best evening so far in Moldova and things were just getting started.

Next, we went to Vasili’s for dinner. When we arrived two things of note had transpired since I had been there to change my pants. First, Vasili’s wife had sewn up my pants! They are as good as new.

Second, there was a van parked in front of Vasili’s drive way. Vasili’s in-laws, brother-in-law and aunt & uncle-in-law had arrived unexpectedly from the Ukraine. No one knew they were in the country let alone expected them for dinner. Vasili and his wife were not exactly thrilled.

I think we were the first Americans the unexpected guests had ever met. They seemed nice enough, but they did not say much, they did not speak to us Americans and they just kind of stared at us all evening.

I also learned something interesting about table etiquette in this part of the world. No one uses serving spoons. I sat at the end of the table with the unexpected guests and after we prayed they used their forks to scrape food off of the serving dishes and onto their plates. I thought this was odd, but since their forks had not yet been in their mouths it really did not bother me at all.

But, after the first round of food they did not use their forks to scrape the chow onto their plates anymore. No, even that was too much of a lack of decorum for them. What they did instead was to use their forks and eat right out of the serving bowls!

Now, I had already had some food during the first round, but I wanted to be polite so I had not taken much, and their plates are about the size of our saucers so you can’t put much food on them anyway, and it had been almost 8 hours since we had lunch so I was very very hungry. The only thing they had not forked was the bread, so I ate bread. Come to think of it, so did Diana. She must have experience with relatives like this.

11.16.04, 4:40pm, Beltsi

Some of the students are not really equipped to be here, but I am glad they are here. They can pick up something of value to them and their ministry. Some of the guys are not used to processing information in this kind of setting and some struggle quite a bit with theological ideas and biblical problems.

I was expecting a deeper level of understanding and that was a strategic mistake. In order to teach to the level of the students and to make sure they understand the material I need to go slower than I planned. They struggle with some things that I thought would be simple and easy for them. As a result I think my teaching time is not as smooth as it could be, but while the translators are speaking they provide me with a moment or two to collect my thoughts and to be more precise in presenting the material.

I am tired today, but I very much enjoy teaching and I hope God is using it to help meet a great need in the church in this part of the world.

We have taken over the Scripnic’s apartment and I feel kind of bad about it. Svetlana, Diana and Catherine are staying in the apartment and are sleeping in the parents bedroom. Peter and Irena are staying at a friend’s home.

11.18.04, 9:48PM, Beltsi

This afternoon Vasili and I went to the market and I bought some things for my kids. I also bought some flowers for Svetlana Scripnic. That woman waits on us hand and foot – and she can cook! I also bought some flowers for Vasili to give to his wife. We walked from the market to his house and he communicated to me with the little English he knows that he wants me to move to Moldova to teach full time and to help in the church. I communicated that I would like to come back to teach once in a while. I don’t know if he understood me. I did not say that I have no desire to move here.

We went to a prayer meeting at Vasili’s last night, a good turnout. Vasili is a good man, we get along well and he told the group that he felt our friendship was like David and Jonathan. That is a lot for a Moldovan to say. The church in Moldova needs more men like him, but he needs to lighten up on the legalism. He is a product of his religious environment.

11.19.04, 10:04pm, Vienna Austria

Last day of class was today, we also gave a test. Everyone was bummed out to see us go. Everyone wanted us to stay. I am glad to be going home, but also sad to leave. Diana was on the verge of tears in the airport. Vasili looked like he was getting audited by the IRS.

On the bus ride from the Vienna airport to the hotel the American professor in charge said “Well, Steve, I would like to say it was a good time, but it wasn’t – it was an awesome time!” And I agree. I just pray that God uses our time there to strengthen the church and glorify Himself. Tomorrow we go home, and tomorrow we go home, life is a vapor.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Lisa Unruh permalink
    July 10, 2006 6:14 am

    That was AWESOME Steve!!
    I love reading/listening to you!

    your sister in law….Lisa

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