Moldova

Prijatnovo Appetita

Last night, I was invited to dinner at the flat of a couple who serve on the ministry team of Kishinev Bible Church. They are Gagauz. The Gagauz are a Turk people from southern Moldova who speak a very distinct Turkic dialect. Since I was a special guest, they served me the favorite of the Gagauz, “kivirma”. Kivirma is a layered pie stuffed with sheep’s milk cheese and soaked with sour cream before baking. Not to be missed!

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I had borscht for lunch today. The combination of beetroot and beef is hard to pass up. This came from a seasoned Moldovan culinarian who has been making this recipe for over 50 years.

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There is a McDonald’s directly across from the building where I’m staying. Only one of three in the city. It’s not even a temptation. I’m not sure that it’s even real food…but it’s always crowded. Kivirma and Borscht are worth coming to Moldova for.

Jesus said in John 6:55, “For my flesh is real food and my and my blood is real drink”. I didn’t plan the sequence of my recent two meals. But the kivirma kind of reminded me of that real food…the borscht of that real drink. While so many are following the crowds to McDonald’s, Jesus has invited us to sit down at table…with Him…to eat and drink the real stuff. “Prijatnovo appetita”.

Stairs to Nowhere

The name of Karl Marx came up in my class today. Marx wrote in 1843, “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.” My students, while too young to have personally experienced the full impact of an ideology that sought to eliminate the existence of God, certainly see the sting it has had on the older generation who still long for those “better times” under the Soviet system.

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I felt that sting today. In the afternoon I again went on visits with the elder care team. We rang the door bell of an apartment on the visitation list. Fully expecting an elderly woman to answer, I was greeted by a beautiful 10 year old girl, excited that visitors had come and especially excited to see an American, so she could practice her English (her vocabulary was about as extensive as my Russian, but she was trying hard!). She was the granddaughter of the woman who quickly appeared at the door to welcome us (I have not posted their names or pictures to protect privacy).

At first I thought the little one was just visiting, but soon learned that her mother had died of cancer when she was three. Her father abandoned her, claiming that he could not take care of her.

As we spoke to the grandmother, now in her mid-seventies, I commented that her grand-daughter must be a great blessing to her. “Nyet”, she said. “The government gives me only $10.00 a month for her”. I wasn’t expecting that. The granddaughter whose eyes had lit up, now dropped them, looking down at the table. “My life was better in Soviet times…it was easier. I had more, but now I have nothing…God has done nothing for me.” She didn’t want to talk much about God.

Marx created stairs that lead to nowhere…people are still trying to climb them. Religion the sigh of an oppressed creature? “Nyet!” The Apostle Paul declared in Romans 8:18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us.” I walk by that staircase every morning…it is in the building just outside my classroom…now a bold reminder to pray for this grandmother and her granddaughter.

The granddaughter recently has been coming to Kishinev Bible Church…pray that her grandmother will not be too far behind.

Hitler, Stalin, and the Power of a Transformed Heart

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I met Zina today. She is 93 years old. Kishinev Bible Church has an elder care visitation program that regularly visits these forgotten ones. Over 75 are on their list. Zina was born in 1923 in a small village which is now part of Ukraine. Moldova had unified with Romania in 1918, but the merger made a pathway for the emergence of Soviet Moldova. Russia always had an interest in the Romanian culture. Zina grew up in a very difficult time.

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In 1939, the Stalin-Hitler Pact was announced. A few years later Zina was married and she and her husband were able to secure their own home. Then, Moldova was named the Moldovan Soviet Socialist Republic. Romania joined forces with Germany in an assault on the Soviet Union. During that time, Zina’s home was bombed and completely destroyed. After the war they were able to find another home…much nicer than the first. But Moldova was returned to the Moldovan S.S.R. Due to her husband having a friendship with a Jew, the anti-Jewish purging that began in Chisinau in 1903 was still in full operation, and Zina and her husband were taken from their home and sent to the work camps in Siberia.

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While at the camps, many people froze to death due to the harsh winters. Zina and her husband shared a small cabin with a curtain partition to provide some separation between two families. They received one log per day for a fire. The fire would never last through the nights. Their water supply would freeze solid until the next fire could be available. Zina’s right arm became frostbit. When faced with amputation, she refused, telling the doctors that she wouldn’t be able to care for their baby. Her arm healed.

Eventually they were released from the camp and moved back to Chisinau…into their home! Then her husband died. Her son died. The Communist government seized her home, as they did many others without any payment, to make way for a school. They gave her the apartment that I visited today…probably 10×15…generous of them.

Zina is a woman who has many reasons to be bitter and angry. But then she was introduced to the person of Jesus Christ through the ministry of Kishinev Bible Church after a neighbor in her apartment building invited her to the worship service. Lost two homes, her husband, her son, victimized by two evil regimes…but found Jesus because of a neighbor in an apartment building that she didn’t want to live in.

While I was assisted by an interpreter, I could almost understand her. Not her Russian words so much…but she had a sparkle in her eye and a burning passion in her heart for Jesus. That communicates in any language.

Putting the Pieces Together

Have you ever put one of those 1000 piece puzzles together? They seem almost impossible. My mother loved them and we always had one out on a card table in the living room when I was growing up. It would sometimes take months putting it together…everyone in the family would work on it…sometimes just in passing by. I would always sneak a piece and hide it in my room. I wanted to be the last one to complete it…to have the privilege of finishing it.

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I told this story to my students this morning after each of us had shared how we had come to Christ. We talked about how God put the pieces together in our lives…all in miraculous ways…opening our eyes to the truth. I had them read through Luke 24:13-35. After the resurrection, Jesus shows up and begins walking along with two men on the road to Emmaus. These men were still trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together. But Jesus opened their eyes showing them that He was the last piece. I would have loved to had been there.

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I broke the class into groups and gave each of them a few pieces of a puzzle I had brought along. Of course none of them could tell what the puzzle was at first. That’s what life without Christ is like. So they came together and began using their combined pieces to put it together. The only problem was…I was holding the last piece. Old habits die hard!

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God has given us a great privilege…He’s entrusted us with the last piece of the puzzle…the good news of the gospel. Maybe some of us are hiding it in our room. But He has called us to take the last piece to every tribe and language and people and nation. May God open eyes to the truth. May we hear the stories of miracle after miracle…like I heard this morning.

When The Door Closes

I have just arrived in Chisinau, Moldova today. The Compass Church has been partnering with Kishinev Bible Church Ministries for a number of years now. Just in case you’re wondering about the spellings, Chisinau is Romanian, Kishinev is Russian. The country speaks both languages, although since the fall of the Soviet Union, there is a growing desire to move away from Russian, speak Romanian and align more with the west…with English rapidly becoming desirable as a second or third language.

I met Evghenni Sologubenco about seven years ago in Hungary…but that’s another story. He is one of the teaching pastors at Kishinev Bible Church and the president of Moldova Bible Seminary. At that time, he extended an invitation to me to teach at the seminary and I’ve been coming ever since.

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Evghenni met me at the airport today and took me to lunch. We began talking about doors being closed in our lives…and in our ministries. They are facing such doors in their ministry with the church. Earlier last year they lost their lease agreement at the school where they had been meeting. The door closed. This forced them to find another location, which they did, but it caused them to meet in the late afternoon. This brought challenges to their growing children’s ministry…since little ones often nap during that time. Just a few weeks ago, they were told that they could no longer use this location. Another door closed.

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What do you do with closed doors? Well, I guess you could try to reopen it, kick it in, or give up on ever going through another one. Or, you could trust that God is opening one you currently cannot see is there. I shared with Evghenni about a time when a door closed in my life. It was hurtful, if not a little embarrassing. I thought for sure though, it was where God was leading me. But it wasn’t. Initially confusing to say the least.

When I was in my third year at Bradley University in Peoria, IL. I was facing major challenges with life direction. I was in the business school, but with one problem…I didn’t like it…at all. I was growing rapidly in my new found faith and the prospect of working in the business field became less and less desirable. God was tugging at my heart. I was eager to study the Bible and serve in full-time ministry. I began searching for an alternative. Somehow, I was told about Wheaton College, that it would be the perfect place to recalibrate my life toward ministry. I applied. I was called to come visit and meet with several of the professors in the Bible department. Everything went great and I began making plans. My acceptance letter finally came in the mail.
But there was one problem. It began by saying, “We regret to inform you…” I read that two paragraph letter over and over again. How could this be? My heart was right, the timing was right, the school was…well, I thought was right. The door closed. I was hurt, confused, embarrassed and felt like a complete failure. But I had never left God’s thoughts.

I ended up staying at Bradley, changed my major to history, went to Dallas Theological Seminary, then to Trinity International University for a doctorate, serving in ministry at The Compass Church for the past 32 years. How could this be? The door was closed. But I had never left God’s thoughts. I had professors at each of those schools become some of the biggest cheerleaders in my life. All because of a closed door.

Back to lunch. The conversation quickly turned to another door. Perhaps one that is wide open. Closed doors bring new vision. Space is opening up for lease in the heart of their ministry target area. The prospect of a new, more secured location is creating kingdom thinking. They are talking about expanding ministries, adding a Romanian and even an English speaking service, a men’s ministry (the absent father in Eastern Europe is commonplace), gaining additional accreditation for the seminary, and developing their reach to children and students.

We dreamed for a couple of hours about the door God was opening. I was cheerleading…all the while thinking about that letter…that I’ve kept. I now serve as the Campus Pastor at Wheaton…just a stone’s throw away from the college. God has His unique way of reminding me that I have never left His thoughts…and reminding Evghenni…that he hasn’t either.

Awana Hope Center

One year ago, The Compass Church provided a generous donation through our Christmas offering to help make the Awana Hope Center in Nepal a reality.

We were fortunate to be in Nepal on the day of its ribbon cutting and dedication. It is a holistic center, in that it houses a medical clinic, a church, regional training facilities that serves India, Nepal, and Bhutan, and of course Awana. There are currently over 50,000 children in Awana Clubs throughout Nepal. This center will give children in the area a place of refuge. Many of them are children whose parents are in bonded labor at the brick kilns in the valley just behind it.

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We enjoyed a great ceremony that included lots of singing, drama, ethnic dance, and lots of memory verses by the children. There was also a Member of Parliament present who addressed the guests.

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I accepted this certificate of appreciation on behalf of The Compass Church and the congregation’s generosity.

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We begin the long flights for home tomorrow…out of Kathmandu. I have appreciated all of your prayers. Thank you.

Trips like these remind me of why The Compass Church reaches here, near and far. Our investment of time and resources truly are making a significant difference. I am always humbled in the presence of these church planters, amazing men and women of God. Through them, the kingdom is advancing…far.

“After this I looked, and behold, a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb.” Revelation 7:9

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Outside of Paro, The Kingdom of Bhutan.

Partnership

After a morning speaking at churches, we had a full day of trekking and meetings. The three men below are pastors of the base churches that are recruiting, training and mentoring the church planters that we help support.

What’s amazing about them, is they are from different denominations: from left to right …Pastor Sebastion is Methodist (he joined the partnership this year recruiting 2 of the new church planters); Pastor Rajendra is Baptist (4); and Pastor Suman is Assembly of God (4). I told them, “I’ve never seen this type of partnership among American churches. I don’t think it would happen!” God has brought them together working alongside each other, ReachGlobal, and The Compass Church.

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After a two hour drive, we did a little trekking…no, not in the Himalayas, but in some pretty rugged terrain in an area called Naubise, to visit Pastor Keshab Thapa.

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The building was built with funds from The Compass. The earthquake destroyed Pastor Keshab Thapa’s church and his home. Eventually this will become his home, but for now, it is a place of worship for his congregation of over 70.

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Below is the home which Pastor Keshab and his family is currently living. Yes…very humbling. Notice the dish! Even out here you can get on the web…the primary and important means to access resources and to stay connected to the partner churches.

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This family of five hope that within a few years, they can build a new church and move into their new home. They are content with what they have, extremely thankful for our help, and motivated to reach more.

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Commissioning Day

Four years ago, The Compass Church teamed with ReachGlobal to launch what was called “The 50/5 initiative”. The goal was to launch 50 new churches in five years in Vietnam, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Nepal and the Philippines. That goal has been met…and exceeded! From this original group of 12 church planters in Nepal, there are now over 15 churches with over 100 new believers. It hasn’t been easy, but God has been faithful.

When Ambika, pictured below on the left, started a church in a new area far from her home, many challenges confronted her. The mainly Hindu people did not want a Christian presence in their village. They even tried to poison her at one point. There are now 9 home church groups with over 25 people in attendance. Pictured with her is Balkumari, an early convert.

Pastor Minh and his wife, below, shared in his report that his initial days were met with extreme loneliness and discouragement. I spoke at his church three years ago. At that time he was meeting in a rented garage…which he could use for two hours per week. Once his church began to grow, he was able to secure a tract of land and build a modest bamboo structure for the church. Then the earthquake hit on April 25. Many people lost their homes, but the church was still standing. His church became a place of refuge and brought goodwill to the village. He received a commendation from local officials. The faith of the believers there is getting noticed.

The 10 new church planters gave reports. After beginning their work in March 2015, twenty-four people have already given their lives to Christ! Among the new converts is a former Maoist – a militant atheist wanting nothing to do with God. God determined otherwise.

I gave the commissioning address, reminding them to hold fast to their calling. Stephen Chandra, International Asia Director for ReachGlobal, said the prayer of dedication over them.


Ambika (on left) and Balkumari

Pastor Minh and his wife

Prayer of Dedication

The 10 new church planters

Church Chairman, Doug Shuptar with three of them

Doug shared a devotional as we began the day.

Combined with the entire group! Just think-five years ago, none of this existed!