Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Nothing special this year. I mean, last year I was in Poland for Christmas - that was very special. The year before that I was in Canada - that was extremely special. But this year I'm in my own apartment in Chisinau having a very low-key Christmas. We had our team Christmas party last night - went out to a restaurant and then back to our base for dessert and some fun together. It was nice just to all get together - there were lots of laughs. By the end of the evening, though, I was exhausted and so glad I got to sleep in this morning.

Tomorrow I will go to church in the morning and then have some friends over for a meal late in the afternoon. I spent most of this evening preparing food for that - and more to do tomorrow. After Christmas I will relax.

The main thing, though , is that this is Jesus' birthday. I'm going to take advantage of the 'low-key' aspect of this Christmas to do some personal reflection on and nurturing of my relationship with Jesus. Ever since I went to Israel my time in the Scriptures has taken on a new depth. I love it when God seems to speak to me very clearly through His word, opening up new insights and drawing me closer. On this Christmas eve as I think of the Babe of Bethlehem, I also think of all my dear friends, for whom Jesus also came as a child, lived a sinless life going about doing good, and then died on the cross. His death brought forgiveness for our sins and His resurrection from death gave us victory over the grave. Truly, Joy to the World!!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Moving towards Christmas

The gray has turned to white. No, not my hair - in fact today a nice man at the salon helped me to turn that in the other direction. :-) No, I am speaking about the weather here in Moldova. The mild gray days have turned to bitterly cold white days.

It takes more energy to do everything, but each day the roads are more passable and the taxi and rutiera drivers a little bit less grumpy. Today, even with -17 C. temperatures, the sky was blue and so somehow things weren't so bad.

However, yesterday was another matter. We had teams going out to the villages to conduct children's Christmas programs. But the snow was falling like crazy and even with our monstrous new "tank" (as it is affectionately dubbed) the snow was a bit much to handle. The team got there and back safely, praise the Lord, but had a bit of an adventure through the snowstorm. Look how deep the snow was!

Alida reminded us how difficult it is for folks in the village who, even in this weather and in -20C temperatures still have to make their way outside to the toilet facilities. Need to keep a shovel handy if you want to get there in time!! Next time you take a few steps in your slippers to your warm bathroom and turn on hot running water, please pray for the folk in Moldova who are living in the villages with only an outhouse. They need to go to the well to get water which they heat using a woodstove in the house.

Saturday, December 12, 2009


The sky is gray. The days are short. The air is cold. The trees are bare. And reflecting the grayness around, people begin to feel low. I felt it the other day, that creeping depression. And I know that others are beginning to feel it. Life is hard. Sometimes one just feels so lonely - no matter how many people are around or how busy your life may appear. Gray. Depressed. And I can't help thinking that if those of us who have faith, who have come to this poor country to serve, who have a hope and a degree of financial security, who are part of a community of faith... if this creeping grayness affects us, how do they manage who have no hope? What of the elderly in the villages who are all alone with no one to visit them or care for their needs? What of the children whose parent or parents have gone to another country, leaving them with friends or relatives or sometimes an abusive or alcoholic parent? What of them? What of the unemployed whose efforts to find work have led only to discouragement and despair and maybe a couple more drinks each day? Into what inner resources do we reach to be able to offer encouragement to those living in the shadow when we ourselves feel that we too are succumbing?

People are living in the land of the shadow. Living in grayness...and many in darkness. We long for light; even the brightness and whiteness of newfallen snow would be a help to break the grayness. But the reality is that grayness in our souls goes deeper than that. Each of us have places in our soul that are vulnerable to the darkness. Though we may rise and protect those tender vulnerabilities with the light that comes in our relationships and our work and the things we do that feel significant, even still there are times when the creeping grayness enwraps and intensifies those soft spots, leaving us feeling that we ourselves are insignificant and will easily fade into the darkness.

When I begin to succumb I don't always know what to do. Sometimes I withdraw into that inner loneliness, allow the tears to flow and don't tell anyone what I'm going through. Wiser are those, I think, who reach out and ask for help and prayer and someone to help them rise out of the darkness.

When I read the Bible I see that God is very much aware of the darkness we battle, the darkness all people have battled over the course of time. And so He sent prophets. I think the prophets more than any found themselves in that cosmic struggle for light in dark places. In their darkness people were looking in all the wrong places for light - consulting mediums and spiritists and not seeking God. And the prophet Isaiah said of them, "Then they will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness." When we look in the wrong direction and focus on the grayness and darkness it does increase and Isaiah recognized that and so continued on with words of hope.

"Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress...

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;

on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned."

Centuries later another prophetic word would be spoken by Zechariah as he held his newborn son John in his arms and spoke of his mission in life:

'And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;

for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,

to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins,

because of the tender mercy of our God,

by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven

to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death,

to guide our feet into the path of peace.'

Zechariah, an old man who surely had experienced times of discouragement and despair, spoke of a new dawn with words like forgiveness and mercy and peace. In our times of darkness, we long for such realities.

And Isaiah spoke into his times with words of encouragement and hope:

'You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy...

you have shattered the yoke that burdens them,

the bar across their shoulders,

the rod of their oppressor.'

In times when his country and countrymen were facing crisis and disaster greater than they had ever before faced in their history, Isaiah continued to speak words of hope and called them to trust in the God who alone could save them. "His role was ever that of inspiring and challenging the drooping spirits of the men of Judah at times when hope seemed dead." (

Isaiah was a prophet, a seer and maybe that's what we need in the times of creeping grayness. We need to be able to see another reality, to see what God is doing beyond the darkness, or to have someone stand with us and tell us when we can't see it for ourselves. How reassuring is the verse in Psalm 139 when the psalmist too felt himself being enveloped in darkness:

"If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,"

even the darkness will not be dark to you;

the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you."

In the gray of winter and the days of loneliness and the slide into depression we need prophets - people who will play the role of inspiring and challenging drooping spirits; we need to be prophets for one another; speaking of the Kingdom realities that lie beyond the darkness and greater than the darkness. In the most difficult times of his country's history, Isaiah rose up and brought words of hope that have inspired generations - not for the words themselves but for the truth they pointed to. The truth and hope that there is One who knows our darkness and who has the power to overcome it, to bring peace, and to establish and uphold justice and righteousness.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given,

and the government will be on his shoulders.

And he will be called Wonderful Counselor,

Mighty God, Everlasting Father,

Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of his government and peace

there will be no end.

It is gray now. But true Light has come. And the more we look to the Light of the world, the more we will be able to reflect His light. We need not fear that the darkness will overcome us because it is when the darkness is most profound that the light shines brightest. Wherever you find yourself, even if in grayness or darkness, may the Light of the world, the Prince of Peace, the Lord Jesus Christ guide your feet into the path of peace. And then may you be a prophet for another, helping them to see the Kingdom reality beyond their darkness.

Have a very blessed Christmas!

** Scripture references: Isaiah 8:22; 9:1,2-4, 6-7; Luke 1:76-79; Psalm 139:11,12

Sunday, December 06, 2009

On the Road again

Just because my car died doesn't mean I never get around anywhere. In fact this week I've been on the road almost more than I was in the office! A group of us drove to a little village in the north of Moldova to discuss a new project proposal for that village with the church leaders. It was an interesting time together and always exciting to move ahead in the new things that God wants to do through us. We need lots of wisdom to hear His voice and follow His leading. These are some of the key leaders on our team, standing in front of our new vehicle. The pastor of Mateuti church is on the far left.
Coming back into the city that evening, I suddenly realized that it was December. For the first time that I can remember, Moldova is starting to pretty up for Christmas long before the end of the month. With "Old Christmas" (the Orthodox celebration) being on January 7, in the past little has happened early in December. But now that politics is moving Moldova westward, Christmas is starting earlier too. The Christmas tree is up downtown and the lights are shining over Stefan cel Mare and I need to spruce up my apartment for Christmas now, don't I?

Just the next day, I was again travelling, this time with Matthew and Claudia and Tanea, to the village of Razeni. We had been invited to help the pastor celebrate his birthday by joining him for a 'shashlik' (barbecue). I was a bit surprised to discover that it was fish - great big ones!- that were being barbecued on the grill. We stood close to it to stay warm - it's not freezing cold yet but when you stand outside for a while you do get chilled. We also were able to visit with the Challenge into Missions student team who were working with the church that week, helping to build their new building. Matthew took lots of pictures of the walkway and park that his church group had worked on when they were here in the summer for a short term mission. He will be going to England on furlough soon and be able to show the church how great everything looks now.

On Sunday I was on the road again, this time travelling with two of our team members who were going to their home church to give their tri-monthly report. This is one of the fun things I get to do that gives me the opportunity to see different churches in Moldova, to meet the leaders and people in the church and to meet the families of the team members I am helping to care for. Visiting Vadul lui Isaac with Aurica and Slavic was a very pleasant time. They attend quite a large Baptist church and afterwards we had lunch at the home of Aurica's sister, whose husband is an elder in the church. I also discovered he is the Youth leader for the Baptist Convention and I had conversed with him on the phone before - nice to put a face to the name! One of the other things we do on these church visits is to sell books. Recently we have re-vitalized our literature ministry and are getting more shipments of Romanian books to sell to Christians in the villages who rarely have access to Christian books that will help to build their faith and encourage them. We buy the books and distribute them at hugely discounted prices that make them affordable to the average Moldovan. This is a really significant ministry and it was very satisfying to see the excitement with which people swarmed around the booktable after the service. We went back with very few books left in the full box we had taken.
On the way to Vadul lui Isaac on Sunday, Lilian was our driver. We travelled in the new vehicle that OM Moldova recently bought. It's quite the um...vehicle! It is a Defender LandRover and the only one of its kind and size in Moldova. People stare as we go by - and that's quite something when you consider some of the other vehicles you see around here!
On the way home, I had my first opportunity to drive "the tank" or "the monster" (we still need to find a good name for it!). So don't feel sorry for me that my car is no longer. During the week I ride public transport and sometimes on weekends you will see me cruising in the Defender - missionary vehicle par excellence!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Grandma's Brag

My daughter sent me some pictures that made me very proud. She and her husband, Daniel, had completed a 'little project' for their son (my grandson) Alejandro. They built him a bed!! And it's beautiful! I am really really impressed and I can't help telling everyone how proud I am. I'm sure that Alejandro will enjoy this great bed!

And of course, I also want to take the opportunity to show you how beautiful my grandchildren are - and how much they are growing!! Alejandro is now 3 years old and Eliana is 1 1/2 and looks just like her big brother. Aren't they just the cutest? And, that's not all! There's going to be another little one joining their family in May. Grandma gets to keep on bragging! :-)


This week I have been multiply blessed. An e-mail from a friend reminded me of one of those blessings. My friend had mentioned the Needlework Guild in Toronto who gather homemade articles by the thousands to give to various organizations and helping agencies. It made me think with appreciation of all the work so many women do with their hands to bless others. And it reminded me of a lovely visit I had this week with one such woman in the village of Milestii Noi.
I and my colleagues were hosting some visitors from Holland whose agency provides financial support for many of the projects that we run here in Moldova. We took them with us to see some of the work and projects that they are funding. We went to visit the village of Razeni, where one of our student teams was helping the Baptist church in their new church construction project. The pastor was showing us around and telling us about his vision for this church and for the churches he is seeking to plant in the surrounding villages. The two Dutch brothers who were with us were interested to see some of the projects that their agency was supporting. One of those projects is the regular delivery of food parcels to elderly people who are struggling to get by. The situation of seniors in Moldova is incredibly difficult and those who don't have children or family to care for them are sometimes in the most shocking and horrendous living conditions.

We went together - four of us and the pastor - to visit sister Sophia and to deliver a food parcel to her. This lady is a Christian sister, a widow who lives all alone in a small village where there are only a handful of believers. They meet in various homes and sometimes in her home. She is very lonely as her 4 children all live elsewhere in Europe - places where there are jobs to be had.

In this particular case, her living situation was not all that bad, but that's not to say she was not in need. But she was not a needy person, per se, in the sense that, from the moment we walked in , this delightful faith-filled lady was giving to us who had come to give to her! As soon as we walked in she greeted us with a huge smile, and pulled out the table and chairs and started putting food on the table. We sat down together and had a meal and tea with her while asking about her family and her life in the village. She was delighted to tell us her story and answer our questions and tell us about what she does with her time. The Dutch brother asked if she reads the Bible every day and she answered in the affirmative and that then she spends time making things each day, such as the round chair pads we were sitting on. She jumped up to go to the other room and came back with a whole bag full of little slippers that she had made. Each one of us was given a pair for ourselves and for our family members. Our visiting Dutch friend has 3 children at home and she found slippers for all of them and for his wife. He mentioned that that day was his daughter's birthday and the pastor said that sister Sophia had just celebrated her birthday recently so we should sing happy birthday. I admitted that my birthday was to be in 2 days and so we all stood and sang the Moldovan version of the happy birthday song for Naomi and Sophia and for me. Sophia was still asking people who else they needed slippers for as we went out the door and I was able to restrain myself from mentioning my grandchildren, as she had already been so generous.
It was a wonderful visit to a dear lonely sister in Christ and we came away feeling very blessed and knowing that she felt blessed to have had us visit her! My feet right now are warm and cozy in the slippers that she gave me - a pair that she chose for me that fit me perfectly!

Friday, November 06, 2009

October Penance

I must apologize. I was kidnapped. Borne away from blogger by the seduction of Facebook. All my facebook friends have seen photos and had updates that many of my faithful blog readers know nothing about! I repent in dust and ashes... or, at least in a flurry of blog updates to get you up to speed.

You heard about the wedding, but you missed Corinne's birthday party. You saw photos of the park but you didn't accompany me on Stefan cel Mare street on the day of the civic holiday. So let me share with you some of the highlights from October:

October has been a pretty busy month, with Thanksgiving and all. In Moldova they don't celebrate Thanksgiving on a certain date as we do in Canada. Rather, each church chooses a Sunday in late September or early October to thank the Lord for the harvest. I didn't want to totally miss my Canadian Thanksgiving so I filled my apartment with the best aroma imaginable by making pumpkin pie. It was so good!

Besides Thanksgiving, October is also a month of birthday celebrations. My sister's birthday is October 16 - Happy Birthday, Beverly!

and my friend Corinne's birthday was on October 17. In true Dutch fashion Corinne invited me and some of her friends and neighbours to her home for her birthday party. We had a great time. Corinne had made a delicious Dutch soup - kippa suppe - and we all enjoyed that and birthday cake and a true Moldovan celebration. Moldovans are very earnest in their offering of birthday greetings and very devout even in their celebrating. Several of the women came with poetry to recite or read and flowers to present, along with a blessing. At one point in the evening we sort of played a game - 'Name the Psalm' - as one of the sisters recited entire psalms and then asked us to say which one it was! I knew a couple of them, where they were from - but I certainly couldn't have recited them like she did.

Corinne's birthday is also the same day she celebrates the birthday of her closest friend and canine companion, Silas. So even he had a gift or two to open.

During my visit to Corinne we went one day for a walk in the woods. It was a lovely fall day and the path was covered with newly fallen leaves. Silas had a great time exploring in the forest as well.

In October there is also a municipal holiday celebrating the anniversary of the city. There were all kinds of festivities in downtown Chisinau and I went down there with Natasha and Viorica and a visiting Brit and a visiting American! It was all about dancing in the streets!

Last Sunday I travelled with a couple of people to the village of Anenii Noi. Natasha was making her presentation in the church there, seeking to raise financial and prayer support for her upcoming journey to central Asia. She is shown in the picture below with another girl, another Natasha, who used to work with our team as well. That young woman is working with the church there, reaching out to young women and to the elderly. Another young woman who went through our training program is now working with her church and reaching out to street people. Such a blessing to see good fruit from the work we are doing....

cross-cultural communication & homonyms

So last week I was having some friends over for dinner. One of them, Ana* (*names have been changed to protect the innocent) asked if she could bring anything. I assured her that I thought I had everything I needed. She really wanted to know if there was something she could bring so finally I said, 'Well, you can bring flowers if you want.' Later that evening my guests arrived. Ana had with her a grocery bag with a big bottle of pop and some other things. She handed it to me and I took out the pop thinking the rest were her own groceries that she was going to take home. But she said, 'No, this is for you.' She lifted a 2kg bag of flour out of the bag. 'You said you needed flour.' For a brief moment I was uncomprehending, until suddenly I realized that I had told her to bring flowers! I burst into laughter and we spent the rest of the evening teasing Ana and laughing over yet one more cross-cultural blunder. But I did promise to make something for Ana with the flour the next time she comes over!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Saturday in the Park

Being a lovely fall day on Saturday, and having one of our new recruits - Denise - as a houseguest, we decided to go for a walk in the nearby park.

It was so lovely and many people had decided to do the same thing, taking advantage of the cooler but still comfortable weather to enjoy the beauties of God's creation.

There were families and mothers with babies and young people with various wheeled conveyances but mostly it was just a peaceful stroll.

On this Thanksgiving weekend, even though I may be missing the magnificent fall colours we enjoy in Canada and the turkey dinner with all the fixings around the table with family and friends, this was a special time of just appreciating God's creation and all that He has given me. This may be a poor country economically but the wealth of its beauty cannot be calculated.

A Rainy blessed wedding day

So last week was Eugen and Dana's wedding in Slobozia. It was truly a Moldovan experience! They had hoped to have the wedding outside and so the inside of the church was all set up for the meal and festivities afterward. With the rain and all, everything had to move into the church and so we sat there with the food spread before us as the service got underway. There was barely space between the tables for the wedding party to walk down the "aisle" but they were all lovely in any case. Getting from the parking space across the muddy street to the church was the first challenge. But Dana and Eugen appeared to just be happy that the day had finally arrived and everyone was rejoicing with them in the beginning of their life together.

Hannah, Lydia, and Rachel were junior bridesmaids - so lovely in the dresses that Natasha had made for them!

Rafael escorted Dana in, and his son Philip was the ring-bearer.

The day didn't start out too well for me. I was supposed to take a carload of people with me but as you may remember, Rosie doesn't like the rain and last time she was in that part of Moldova she broke down and had to be towed home. So, before we ever left Chisinau (thankfully!) Rosie just stopped running. I managed to pull off the road before the engine completely died and ended up travelling, along with my passengers, in the team van to the wedding. Cozy but we got there.

There was lots of food at the wedding. I mean the table were full from the time we first sat down and by the time the ceremony was over and we were able to eat, we were hungry. So people start eating and filling up. Then Corinne leans over to me and warns me - there's more food coming; this is just the appetizers. Sure enough before too long there are plates of hot meats and stuffed green peppers and sarmale and clatite - all the best of Moldovan fare. Delicious but by the end of the time, I was certainly stuffed! It was amazing how the girls who were serving were able to squeeze between the benches and tables to bring all these platters of food to set before us.

A Moldovan wedding is a fairly spontaneous affair with lots of opportunity for anyone who wants to contribute something to the program. Some recite poetry, some sing , in this case some of our guys even did a little drama about Dana and Eugen. People are invited to make remarks or bring greetings and they had a great MC who even had games in which the guests participated. The bridal party were asked to come up with ideas of what makes a man a man and a woman a woman. There were some very interesting answers such as, "a woman knows how to iron", and "men like football"... you get the drift. One lovely moment in the celebration was when the pastor invited a couple from the church who had been married for 50 years to come to the front and share their secret and give some advice to the newlyweds. That was pretty special and then Dana decided to honour the woman by giving her the bridal bouquet. Later, the dear lady came to Dana and returned the bouquet to her so that she could throw it to all the single ladies who were hoping to catch it!

By the time the eating was all done the sun had come out and so it was possible to continue outside with the cutting of the wedding cake and taking of photos. Everyone wanted to have their picture taken with the couple and so they did. I'm still waiting to get picture that someone took of me with the newlyweds. It really was a lovely and joyful day! Congratulations, Eugen and Dana!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Harvest Time

I just came back from a visit to Paicu, a small village in the south. Every year they have a harvest festival and every year Tamara has invited me to come. This was the first time I was able to make it. The young church invites the whole village to a thanksgiving service and then a harvest feast. The women of the church worked all night the night before preparing all kinds of Moldovan delicacies - salads, potatoes & chicken, stuffed green peppers, clatite (a kind of crepe), wafer biscuits with honey - it was all lovely and delicious. Somebody in the village had donated grapes - lots and lots and lots of grapes - and I brought a big bag of leftover grapes home, as well as a bag of fresh tomatoes and a couple loaves of bread that weren't used. Harvest season in Moldova is really quite wonderful. On the way home today there were many roadside fruit vendors with watermelon, squash, grapes and tomatoes. Truly God is to be thanked for the abundance of the harvest.

And at the same time as the village has shared the physical blessings of the harvest, they have planted the seeds of the gospel - generosity, compassion and caring, hope, the love of God, and the word of God.

"As the rain and snow come down from heaven,
and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it." - Isaiah 55:10,11

This morning as I led a Bible study on John 17 with the women of the church, I encouraged them to continue to do God's work of making Christ known, sharing His word, praying for those in their sphere of influence, and reflecting the glory of God in all that they do.

A chance to good to miss:

On the way home today we saw this sight and it was too good not to share with you. I was glad that Kate was with me to jump out of the car and go running to snap this photo. The driver thought she was crazy: "My car broke down - what do you expect me to do!?!" I never cease to be amazed at the ingenuity and practicality of Moldovans. See folks, I shouldn't be worrying about Rosie and whether she'll start or not - I should just get myself a horse!