Open Doors in Moldova

by Matthew Hillier

Matthew (Australia) is the founder and director of CMIAid. He and his wife, Ruth, serve in Moldova.

Moldova is a small ex-Soviet country in Eastern Europe, nestled between Ukraine and Romania. Its population of 3 million has loyalties split between Western Europe and Russia. The official language is Romanian, although the majority also speak some Russian and a few only speak Russian. Like most of the former Soviet countries, with the exception of Central Asian Muslim nations, its predominant religion is Eastern Orthodox. Moldova is also one of the poorest countries in Europe. Despite its religiosity there are open doors for the gospel throughout the country.

When I was a young student, encouraged by the school bus driver, I began sending letters to persecuted Christians in Eastern Europe. With the fall of communism in 1989, I finally received the first replies to those letters. Christians behind the iron curtain had been encouraged to know they were not forgotten. Now, as new freedoms emerged, they began to ask for Bibles. Letters grew to become parcels of literature and aid and, from there, large shipping containers. In 1996 I made the first of many regular visits to Eastern Europe. Finally in 2010, the Lord provided resources for a permanent base to be purchased in Zirnesti, southern Moldova, and I was commended to full-time work in Moldova. In 2011, I married Ruth, who had been serving the Lord in Armenia, and she joined me in the work. We now have three boys: Samuel, Benjamin and Joshua.

Small Beginnings

CMIAid,1 a Christian charity, began in Australia in 1988. One of the first ministries to be established in Moldova was a meals-on-wheels programme to assist elderly people in the community. This programme still runs today and provides about 50 hot meals daily to people in their homes. Associated with this is a family support programme that provides firewood, potatoes, medical care and other assistance to those in need.

In 2010 the first summer children’s camps were held in the village of Zîrnești and a weekly gospel outreach commenced. 2012 was an exciting year when we saw a young lady accept the Lord as Saviour – the first from the village. A month later her brother was saved. Not long after this the Zîrnești Christian assembly was established.

The Lord enabled CMIAid to purchase an abandoned five-story apartment block in the village. With the help of Christians from many different countries, this building was renovated and named the Bethesda Centre and is now the home for various ministries.

As the work developed, the Lord guided and led us to think outside the box. Unusual methods for building bridges to reach people in the community began to open up. Areas of service we never expected or planned to be involved in were brought before us. As we followed the Lord’s guidance, we witnessed tremendous blessings in these somewhat unusual ministries.

Community Service

Fire Service – The Fire Service was founded in 2012 with the supply of several fire trucks to Moldova. One was given to the government fire service in the nearby town of Cahul. With the second vehicle, CMIAid established a volunteer fire service staffed by workers on call from within our team. We now respond to about 90 calls annually, which include car accidents, house fires, grass fires and flooding. Over the years, we have seen how God has used this service, perhaps more than any other ministry, to open doors for the gospel. Each year at Christmas we present every professional firefighter in Moldova, approximately 4,500 people, with a gift bag containing gospel literature, a gospel calendar and other gifts. Many of these firefighters are visited in person and we are able to build close friendships. Similarly, close ties have been made with the police. Their children attend the summer camps and other events and the police voluntarily cover our Christmas festival. Their presence assures safety and order, and they never leave without hearing the gospel message.

The Teachers’ Resource Centre – This ministry, which is located in the Bethesda Centre, soon became a popular place for government schoolteachers within a 100km radius. Over 400 have registered with us. Teachers are given access to computers, copiers, printers, laminators and other simple facilities not available in their schools. We are amazed how God has used this to build bridges with teachers from local schools and it provides a foundation of trust and understanding for other children’s ministries.

As we followed the Lord’s guidance, we witnessed tremendous blessings in these somewhat unusual ministries.

Children’s Ministries

Step Into the Bible Programme – In May 2019 the Director of the Education Department for our region visited us to see the gospel presentation we were showing the schoolchildren at the teachers’ resource centre. After the presentation, we waited in anticipation to see what he would say. Would he allow the programme to continue? We were delighted to hear him tell 52 school directors, ‘I want to encourage you to register your school to see this presentation. Our children need to know these stories from the Bible.’ God has used this man to open many doors for the gospel.

As part of our outreach to Moldovan schoolchildren, a gospel play is presented in five rooms with each being a ‘chapter’ of the story. The current presentation, Child of the King, tells the story of George Müller’s life and of William, an orphan who came to know the Lord Jesus as his Saviour. So far, about 5,000 children have seen this presentation and we expect that number to double.

Summer Camp – Summer camps are popular in Moldova. Each year, five weeks of children’s camps and two weeks of youth camps are held with about 1,000 attending. This year we expect to hold two one-week English as a second language (ESL) camps with the help of a team organised by MSC Canada. We give thanks to the Lord for the way He has used these camps to touch the lives of many children with the gospel.

Postal Bible School – The Postal Bible School continues to be an effective way of encouraging children to read and grow in their knowledge of God’s Word. We use Bibletime2 lessons in Romanian and Russian. Post boxes are placed in each school so that children can easily post their completed lessons, which are then marked and returned to them with the next lesson.

Christmas Festival – The Covid pandemic brought limitations to the work. However, the rules allowed for outside events so we planned an outdoor Christmas festival. The front area of the centre was set up with games and activities, Christmas lights, displays and free food. There were four points where children could visit to hear a gospel message. They would get a stamp once they had heard the message and they needed all four stamps to proceed to some of the activities and be given their gift. We were delighted when over 9,500 people came in the first year and 13,000 last year. It was wonderful to see children and parents hearing the gospel and taking literature to read at home.

Ukrainian Refugees

The war in neighbouring Ukraine brought extra opportunities and challenges. After the Russian invasion many refugees came to Moldova, some of whom stayed at our campsite. We were able to assist with the provision of food and humanitarian help and we distributed much literature in Russian. Among the first to arrive were two 18-year-old twin girls who came with their mother and stepbrother. Like most of the refugees, initially, they showed little interest in the gospel. However, after a few months, as they attended a weekly club, the twins’ interest in spiritual things grew. First, they asked for Bibles in their language, then they started attending meetings and had many questions. In June a team arrived from Russia, led by Sergey Sidorenko, to assist with our Russian language children’s camps.

The two girls met Sergey and heard his testimony. He challenged them about their relationship with the Lord and started daily Bible studies with them. One morning both girls were excited to share the news that they had accepted the Lord. Praise God for the way He uses every circumstance for His glory. Before they left for Ukraine, they asked Sergey to baptise them. What a joyful occasion this was for the assembly in Zirnesti. God answers prayer!

Pray

  • that the doors in Moldova will remain open for the gospel
  • that godly wisdom will be given to the team in their witness
  • that many children and teachers will be impacted by the message given in the Step Into the Bible programme
  • that the Lord will raise up more local teachers and workers for the ministry among children.
1 Christian Mission International Aid (CMIAid).
2 BibleTime is made available by Bible Education Services in Northern Ireland.
For further information, see: www.cmiaid.org

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