As most of you probably know, six young people (and one old person called Olly) from St Leonard's went on a trip to Moldova between the 14th and the 22nd of February. Now that we've been back a while, I've finally made a blog post to let you know what we got up to on our mission trip...
Friday (Day 0)
We arrived at the Reign head office in Bicester at 7pm for our first night of the trip. We spent the evening getting acclimatised with the group and setting the tone for the coming week. We had a briefing from the Reign team on what to expect and an explanation of the code of conduct that needed to adhere to while away. The ‘rules’ for the trip spelt out the word ‘PROUD’ with P standing for punctual (we did our best on that one!). We then had some games all together, had a quiet time and then settled down for our last sleep before Moldova. The boys slept on the floor of what used to be a motor bike garage! The girls however got a much better deal and were on real beds in actual bedrooms.
Saturday (Day 1)
At around 9am the coach arrived to take the group of around forty young people and leaders to Stansted Airport. As we had got there with lots of time to spare, there was plenty of time to make sure everything was in order and everyone had something to eat. We flew with MoldovaAir which was not a bad experience, although few of us were sitting next to someone else on the trip and the flight was delayed for almost an hour before it finally took off for Chisinau. We did get a complimentary sandwich and drink with the three-and-a-half hour flight, although my chicken sandwich being labelled ‘bird’ didn’t really put me in the appetite for it. We arrived safely and one crowded shuttle bus later we were into passport control. For safety, we were instructed what to say to the passport control officers – luckily there was no problems there.
Once baggage had been collected, we were off in several of OM’s vans back to their base on the outskirts of Chisinau. There, we were served with pizza that while cold, was much appreciated. After everyone was registered in and had signed all the relevant paperwork, we had our first Moldovan quiet time followed by the formal introduction by OM. It was certainly a memorable experience, featuring a ‘practice’ run of a home visit using OM team members as members of a fictitious Moldovan family – which didn’t go brilliantly under less than serious circumstances. We did learn a lot from it however; luckily the translators would be there to make sure we weren’t totally independent. Once the beautifully flowing and melodic song ‘We are OM’ had been sung, we had a communion – with some sweet red juice instead of wine, of course.
With the welcomes over it was time to go to the accommodation for the night: two separate buildings in two separate locations, one for each gender. Tired and relieved to be getting into a proper (bunk) bed, everyone got some well-deserved rest.
|The dining hall in Chisinau (this was Sunday)|
Sunday (Day 2)
Woken early in the morning, we had to quickly pack up our things; we wouldn’t be staying there again until Friday. We reconvened back at the OM centre, had breakfast and gathered the bags together. We said goodbye to our friends from the other two church groups who were going to a different city for a week and got on a minibus to Soroca alongside our acquaintances from Cogges Church in Witney. The journey took around two-and-a-half hours which were made to seem shorter with some fun games and some interesting Moldovan TV.
We arrived at a church building, although it didn’t look like a church building from our entrance whatsoever – it did stand out by means of the luminous blue, yellow and red (Moldovan colours) playground, however. After we made sure the swings worked correctly, we were introduced to all the local members of the team in Soroca, such as the local Pastor and his wife. We were then cooked a wonderful risotto-like dish which was quickly and completely cleaned out. As we were running two programmes the following day, one for the children and one for the adults, we discussed what we had pre-prepared in our groups and made sure we all knew what we were doing. When it was once again time for bed, we were once again staying in two gender-split buildings. There was some sense of dread beforehand about what the conditions would be like – which was not helped by the image of the long-drops at the church in Soroca – but once we arrived at our respective lodgings we were pleasantly surprised. The Boys were staying at a church, adorned with marble and chandeliers all around. The girls were staying at some sort of house that, apparently, was just as nice. The boys church was certainly very comfortable to stay in - aside from the ‘hole’ and the power cuts, naturally. The mattresses were laid out on the floor of the upstairs and we had our final rest before the real work began.
|Our group posing in front of the view in Soroca|
|First meal in Soroca|
Monday (Day 3)
Awoken at 6:45, straight into the orderly five minute queue of showers, rucksacks packed, back to the (main) church. That was the morning routine for the next few days. The routine continued with getting out the tables and chairs, having breakfast, putting it all away again, getting out our notebooks and bibles, writing down the ten or so verses and spending the next hour in silence, reading and reflecting. As we had woken up quite early, we often walked the fine line between prayer and napping. Our youth group would then meet separately and discuss what we had thought about the material and ask any questions we had about it.
We then set off to our first village in vans with all the things we needed for the day, such as our kid’s club materials – which luckily nobody had forgotten to bring so nobody had to go back for them. This also included a number of food parcels, which were delivered to the homes of the people who needed them by some, while the others took Romanian copies of the New Testament and Psalms which were given to people as part of our ‘street evangelism’. This all included having conversations with the Moldovan people about their faith with help from our translators. For lunch we gathered in the ‘culture centre’ (village hall) where we would be conducting the various programmes that afternoon. After first playing football and parachute games on the field with them, we led the children’s club which was based on David and Goliath. This featured a pantomime performance from Finn Sheard as Goliath, with one of the greatest dramatic falls ever witnessed. We then moved onto the craft, where we constructed little catapults out of sticks and elastic bands – surprisingly powerful especially when fired at close range, as me and Finn found out in the game section. We gave them small felt balls to use as their ammunition and they all had fun taking it in turns firing it on Goliath (and me, for some reason). Regardless, everyone seemed to have a lot of fun and it was great to be able to engage with the children through play even if we couldn’t properly communicate with them.
Immediately afterwards we hosted the adult’s programme, opening with a few people presenting about what life is like in the UK followed by some testimonies prepared by some of the young people. Following this was a short talk about Martin Luther – a topic that is definitely relevant to the people of Moldova, many of which didn’t have the opportunity to own a bible before we gifted one to them. After a lengthy and passionate speech by the pastor, bibles were offered to anyone who hadn’t already been gifted one and a large amount of clothes were left out for people to look through and take. When everyone had left, it was time to clean up and head back to the church in Soroca to eat and debrief before heading to bed after a very long day.
|Preparing for Kid's Club!|
|Telling Moldova about Church in the UK|
Tuesday (Day 4)
Tuesday began with the usual breakfast routine before we were shipped off to a new village. We arrived at something that wasn’t a church, but would be soon – which is why we were there. It was a building and land that had just been purchased for the purpose of running a church there, attached to a vineyard which was long abandoned and non-functional. We were split into two teams – one would be putting their gloves on and de-cluttering the vineyard and the other would be putting on their face-masks and demolishing more or less everything inside the building. The gardening team did everything from raking to digging up trees while the construction team greatly enjoyed tearing down walls. We worked non-stop until lunch, which we had worked up a big appetite for.
After an excellent soup and pasta lunch we did a little more street evangelism and the like, while me and a few of the boys got the chance to get on a wood truck and deliver (via haphazardly throwing it over the head of whoever was in front of us) to the houses of people who couldn’t afford it. Standing on the back of a moving vehicle is something you really can’t do in England, which made it all the more exciting. Only one person got hit in the head from someone else’s wood tossing, so I’d say that’s pretty good all things considered. After re-joining the evangelism groups we handed out many bibles and had many good conversations about faith but eventually it was time to call it a day and head back home. That night we went back to the boy’s church to debrief and listen to our OM group leader talk about some relevant and important issues, which was another routine we had throughout the week. We played ‘My Chair’ too, but that was less of a spiritual experience.
|Gathering together before work began|
Wednesday (Day 5)
Wednesday was a bit different because we were hosting a programme for 16-25 year olds that was taking place in the church in Soroca – so we had a lot to prepare to make sure we were ready. We had split into groups and worked out the order and details of the worship, games and testimonies to make sure we were prepared to welcome everyone. First, however, we returned to the vineyard for more digging and/or destruction. By the time our work was done it was nice to take a step back and realise how much we had achieved between us. The waste truck was full to the brim and once we had thrown the last of the rubble on top a tractor came to take it all away. It was certainly an achievement to be proud of and the sisters of the church-to-be were very grateful for our help.
With our tasks at the vineyard completed there was still time before the programme. We took the chance to visit the historic Soroca Fortress, which was built right on the edge of the river overlooking Ukraine. We split into groups and did a bit more evangelism – one group took soft drinks to give to men and one group took flowers to hand out to women, with the goal of engaging people in conversations about God. This went quite well, with a lot of people taken aback by the kind gift. At the bare minimum, people appreciated the gesture. Another group invited people to sit and talk to them, although when I returned to see how they were getting on they were singing songs in a circle with a drunken man with a pungent fish odour so I’m not sure what occurred there. We also had a small amount of time to take some typical touristy pictures in Soroca as well as some very brief exploration.
Finally, we headed back to do the programme back at base. Although it was a little worrying nobody had shown up after ten minutes, it soon became evident that it was just the local time-keeping and soon we had a good number of people to enjoy our service of sorts. We brought some great games over to Moldova such as ‘Splat!’, which came naturally to one quick-armed Moldovan teenager who annihilated all of us with ease. After we had testimonies and speeches from many of the group, we had a chance to mingle and start conversations with the local people as well as play a traditional (?) game of high jump.
|Sitting in a circle with our new Moldovan friends|
Thursday (Day 6)
We were warned about Thursday on the first day, because Thursday was the day we went to the most problematic village, where the local priest was going door to door and commanding parents to not send their children to the kid’s club that OM were putting on. It was just a place for the children to play, eat and enjoy themselves while hearing some biblical stories – but the priest did not like religion reaching further than the inside the church. As sad as this was, many children did turn up for the club which was nice to see. Only some people in the group ran the children’s programme as the building was not big enough for all of us and the children combined. The rest either took to the streets with their bibles or went to visit people in their houses who had food parcels or wood delivered to them. There was one person who stood out to us in particular: a woman, who was a carer for her disabled daughter (she was almost 70, the daughter about 40). She saw how differently the two religious groups in the village operated: the priest would come to her house, eat her food and leave, without even praying for her bed-ridden daughter. Our church gave her wood, prayed for her, talked to her and made her feel loved. She said “…the priest can come around here, I don’t care!” because she knew who the love of God was truly operating through. It was so inspiring to see such courage and belief from someone in such a different part of the word.
Following this we had another adult programme to run, featuring more worship and testimonies from young people. The room was quite full of people eager to hear more, so we were relegated to standing in the back area. After another long and powerful (I assume, I couldn’t understand it) speech by the Pastor it was time to leave the village, the last one we would visit over the course of the week. A lot of people agreed it was the inspirational village we visited; it really showed the depth of poverty that existed but it also showed the amount of strength and faith some of these people had in such difficult circumstances. Although I’m not sure I’ll ever go back to Parcani, I really want to see it doing better in the future.
|Visiting, delivering wood and evangelising|
|Our Evening Meal in Soroca|
Friday (Day 7)
After some last-minute packing, it was time to gather all our stuff and pay one last visit to the church in Soroca. After we prayed and had been prayed for we had one final reflection time in Soroca before the bus came to take us back to Chisinau.
We arrived in Chisinau around midday and immediately met up with the other group who had also just come back. We had a bit of tourist time to ourselves, which of course we used to go to straight to McDonalds. Things were a little cheaper in Moldova, so we ate very well. We visited the markets and some people bought some interesting cultural artefacts, some of which didn’t involve Putin riding on a bear. We were also taken to see the large church in the centre of Chisinau, which was about as vast and extravagant as you could imagine. It seemed like there was a rather stark contrast between the opulence of the church and the poverty in the poorer regions of the country.
We had some time to go back to the OM base in Chisinau to debrief and reflect on the week we had and how we were going to continue our lives after the trip had finished. After dinner, we had a communion and foot-washing, which some people enjoyed more than others. The evening was a calm and spiritual time, where we sang songs together, did more quiet bible reading as well as talk amongst our church group about the experiences we had during the week.
|One last team photo with Cogges|
|15th Century Monarch of Moldavia: King Stefan the Great|
Saturday (Day 8)
We woke up early, as usual, to catch our flight. It was a short journey to the airport and a quick transition through to the plane, which wasn’t as badly delayed this time. Under four hours later, we had landed back in England and after two or three more hours we were back in Bicester and being picked up to go home. Everyone had a great time on the trip, discovering so much about a different culture and learning so much about God through that. Wherever we went we felt like we had a positive impact in people’s lives, even it was just talking to someone about our faith. We are really grateful for the opportunity to go, so thank you to everyone who made it possible!
“One of the highlights of the trip, for me, was helping out with the children’s programme. We had around 30 children attend! It was amazing to see all the children enjoy playing parachute games with us, our recreation of David and Goliath and making little catapults. I got to know one child in particular, and it was inspiring to see her joy despite her difficult family circumstances".