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!