Thursday, August 30, 2007
So, how can the poorest country in Europe afford such nice churches?
I posed this question to Ghena after church. We had a great conversation and I got to hear some of his vision for Invest-Credit and how it relates to building the Church.
Joni alluded to the answer when she mentioned the Americans that were here. The churches of Eastern Europe are almost completely dependent on Western donations. The entire Baptist Union of countries like Moldova spend a great deal of resources raising funds. "Our congregation can't afford to pay us a salary," the pastors say. The suffer from the same free-riding effects that big American churches do, where 90% of the people just sit in a pew and don't do or give anything. Those that do give don't have much income.
There are several different tangents where I can go with this. For now, I'll just ask a question:
What are the effects of getting your funding from an outside source who doesn't speak your language or even see what you do except for maybe 10 days out of the year?
Well, in my previous experiences in Russia I learned a few answers to this question:
1. Resources of leadership are devoted to raising funds rather than to the Great Commission.
2. Lack of accountability to the local church means pastors don't care as much about the needs of the church.
3. Lack of true accountability to the distant and rarely-seen donor means that the money might be spent in ways the donor didn't approve of (an invitation for corruption).
4. Like the churches we saw, the Western money goes to things that the Western donor understands: sound systems, paved parking lots, and church decorations. If you judge a church solely by how it looks (which is how the local Orthodox do it), then these are very healthy churches.
So, I talked to Ghena about these things and he agrees that dependency on outside sources is what keeps many churches from growing. He says that only a few "charismatic" (Pentecostal) churches here are completely self-sufficient. They're healthy and reproducing quickly.
Ghena's vision for Invest-Credit is to help Christians create jobs and earn money that they can then tithe to their churches. As the income base of the church grows, the church can become much less dependent on the West. Pastors can again become accountable to their congregation, and devote their time and energy to pastoring rather than fund-raising.
So, that's what we're learning about here. My current question for all you mission-minded folks is: How can microfinance help foster a church planting movement?
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
This is the biggest church we've been to so far - it was a huge building and the place was packed! We sat up in the balcony, so we had a full view of all that was going on both on stage and in the audience. It was so neat!
Ghena kindly agreed to translate the sermons for us. (Note that I said "sermonS." In all the churches we've been to so far, there have been more than one sermon - some of them even had three! The worship services all last at least 2 hours. Much different from American churches that are tied to the clock!) So we sang a lot of songs in Romanian, the choir performed some lovely pieces, and Ghena translated the first short sermon. Then we sang some more and it came time for the second sermon. Ghena prepared to translate for us again, but then we noticed that two men stood up at the pulpit - one of them to translate for the other! Then, the preacher began to speak - IN ENGLISH! He was a visiting pastor from Indiana, and so we got to hear a sermon in American English! Very cool and it blessed us immensely. Another good thing about it for me was that it actually helped my language some, because I heard a sentence in English, then got to hear it translated into Romanian. I was excited about how many words I could pick out in the Romanian, even though he was speaking very fast.
So it was a neat experience for us to be attending church with friends and to get to hear a sermon in English! We'll definitely visit there again.
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
So, the past week has seen some progress on the aforementioned website project. The domain name is registered, the server has just been configured to what we need, and we've got a programmer who has volunteered to be the point man. He's going to play around with some software and our design specifications and let us know by Sept. 1 how much time he thinks it will take. So, praise God, we've got a Christian programmer working on it and a few more who are interested in the project.
Just last week, Ghenna talked to someone needing to hire several unskilled laborers, and greatly wanting to hire Christians. However, there was no way to connect him to believers except by word-of-mouth.
Keep in mind, many of these churches don't even have a "Barter Board" hanging up in their church foyer, and it's seen as inappropriate to announce job openings and such from the pulpit. But, everyone is eagerly anticipating a website like to link people together. Pretty much everyone I've talked to about it has said "You know, I've always wished for a website like this, but just never knew how to get it started. "
One day soon, I'll post an update with our programmer and with what else I'm busy with here. Joni will also post some fun pictures of our weekend adventures. We're making progress all-around!
Friday, August 24, 2007
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
And this one is a tube of ice cream like I was describing. This is actually a kilogram (2.2 pounds), and it cost $2.25. What a yummy deal!
And this is just a random picture of Justin with a wax figure of Leonardo da Vinci. (You can see that Justin was taking meeting this great man very seriously...) Sunday afternoon we went downtown because we had heard that there were some wax figures that had been brought in from St. Petersburg on display at the Museum of History and Ethnography. I'm a little creeped out by wax figures, but it was just $1 each to get in, and this display was pretty cool. It was a pretty random collection of figures, including several Russian czars, Rasputin, Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Yuri Gagarin (the first man in space), Ghengis Kahn, King Tut, and Shrek, among others. We would've had to pay another $1 to take photos, so we just took the picture of da Vinci, who they had standing outside. It was definitely a fun experience and well worth the $2.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
I'll post a picture of the ice cream tubes soon, as well as a picture of our anniversary dinner! I just forgot to bring my camera cord to the office with me today, and we don't have internet access at home yet. Check back tomorrow, and hopefully I'll have some pictures posted for you!
Monday, August 20, 2007
If someone had told me then: "Justin, two years from now you'll have completed your Masters and will be working in Moldova," I'd have said: "Sign me up!"
God is good. I'm thankful all has turned out like it has. We both like being here with each other, and she's the best partner anyone could have here.
I love you, babe!
Here's an old one of us from February, 2005. This was before we even got engaged.
Thursday, August 16, 2007
- Met a bunch of new friends
- Started working at a new place
- Learned how to navigate a public transportation system
- Learned our way around Chisinau, including where to buy all the things we need
- Eaten at Andy's Pizza at least 10 times in 14 days... :) (I'll post about Andy's soon!)
- Started learning a new language (Joni) or gotten better at the language we already knew (Justin)
Also, last night we moved into our new home! There's still a little work that needs to be done in it, but they got it to where it's liveable, so we moved in last night!!!!! IT IS BEAUTIFUL!!!!!!! I'll post a photo tour on here soon, but we are just thrilled with it! It's very spacious and lovely - much nicer than anyplace we've lived since we got married! We have a full-size refrigerator with freezer, a washing machine, and even our own water heater! All these are somewhat rare in Moldova. In the next day or two, we'll be getting internet at home, and I hear a rumor that before winter, we'll even get a clothes dryer. I don't know ANYBODY that has one of those. So this place is amazing.
I even managed to cook dinner tonight for the first time in over a month! That felt really nice. It was just pasta with meat sauce and sauteed zucchini, but we weren't eating out at a restaurant! Yeah!
In other news, my language study is going SO WELL! Thanks for praying! Please keep it up! We are moving SO FAST, but unbelievably I feel like I'm keeping up so far. I'm doing all my homework, and I carry my flash cards with me everywhere to pull them out and practice when I have a free moment. Thankfully, I don't have anything else to do yet but study language. It's a lot harder for the others in my class because they're either working or trying to take care of a baby or both PLUS trying to learn language. Please continue to pray for all of us.
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
The Moldovan Christian community is large with many churches all over the country. However, there is a lack of communication between believers and churches, no one seems to know what the other ones are doing. CAMED wants to change that (refreshing idea, eh?). Our job is to facilitate the creation of a website that will act as a sort of bulletin board system for the Christian community, particularly those in business.
The idea is simple: Suppose you want to find a plumber for your apartment, but you would prefer an honest Christian, and don't know who you can trust. You can call around and ask friends at church, but it would be faster just to go to a Christian website and see if there are any listed (like a "Shepherd's Guide" in the US). You see the plumbers's profile, and if anyone has used his services before and commented. Christians connecting with other Christians.
Suppose you're a Christian student wanting to rent a room in Chisinau but you'd like to find a Christian host family. This site will allow room seekers and renters to connect with each other.
The site will also be a place for churches to advertise events, post sermons, prayer requests, etc. so the whole community knows what everyone is doing.
I have very little web design or programming experience, so I won't be doing any of that. My task here is simply to help design the template, and to find local Christian programmers willing to help build such a site (for free). We've already lined up a company in Waco that has volunteered to host the site.
I had a great conversation today with a local programmer who thinks we can find some open-source modules using Joomla to do exactly what we need.
So, please pray for our project. Pray that we'll find willing Christian programmers familiar with PHP to help. Pray that the site will facilitate communication between believers here.
Monday, August 13, 2007
Sunday we did church with our host family's parents. A very big Baptist church. Tatiana, our host family mother has several brothers and sisters there, her brother and father are pastors.
Sunday night was a special occasion. Our boss, Ghenna, arrived from a conference in Peru, so we're finally acquainted with him! Dan and Beth Stafford also arrived from Holland with their baby, Rebekah. Dan works for BPN in some capacity and we look forward to getting to know them over the next 3 weeks. The Staffords treated us all to dinner at a nice place downtown to celebrate Ghenna and Alina's 6th wedding anniversary. In the picture it's Beth, Rebekah, Dan and myself on the left. Kelly, Alina, and Ghenna on the right. It was fun.
Problems: One macroeconomic problem we currently have is that the dollar continues to plunge against the Leu. The official exchange rate has fallen to 12 Leu/ Dollar, and shows no signs of stopping. When we first got here it was about 12.12, and it was 12.48 when we first started raising funds. On the street we get much less than the official rate, of course, 11.75 is the highest I saw today.
To put that in terms of cost, we raised funds expecting $8000 to be enough at an exchange rate of 12.48. At the current rate of 11.75, we need 5.8% more, or about $468, and this number goes up daily as the dollar falls. In total, we have raised $9,090, so we're VERY thankful to have some cushion. That's a praise.
Hopefully our living quarters will be finished in the next couple days, so we can give our host family their daughters' room back!
More soon on our official project assignment and developments with that. The ball officially got rolling for us today!
Friday, August 10, 2007
I was told "So, you'll ask this guy questions in Russian and then you can write the case study." Given a list of questions and some help from Roman on the tough ones, I began to learn about the business of Vladimir, a local cobbler.
Dream fulfilled: "Go converse with this guy in Russian about how his business affects his life, church, and community."
Sure thing! I think I did pretty well, by God's grace of course (Phil. 4:13).
Vladimir started making shoes around 2002, about the same time he started attending a local church. He got radically saved and left his life of sin while realizing that a relationship with Christ and honest work was the way to go in life. With no other professional training and few funds, Vladimir and a friend began learning how to make shoes just as Vladimir was beginning to study Scripture. Working in his at-home workshop, Vladimir learned about styles and sizes and trying new methods. After about a month, Vladimir began to sell his shoes at the central outdoor market. However, this was difficult because a customer's size has to match exactly what you've already made and brought to the market.
Vladimir realized that there was a market in his own neighborhood for his shoes. He began to take custom orders from people, realizing that people with special needs and requests couldn't find what they needed at the local bazaar. As he became more experienced, he branched out into new styles.
He is currently active in the local church as an usher. He tithes faithfully and gives money to missionaries and others who need it. God provided him a believing wife about a year ago, and his mother also lives with him. His business helps feed his family (his wife sells cosmetics, like Avon).1 year ago, "Vova" (as friends call him) took out a $400 loan from Invest-Credit, which he'd heard about at church. This helped him buy enough material for 4 pairs of shoes, and allowed him to make extra profit during a lean time of his business, which sees seasonal fluctuations. He paid off the loan in the course of a year, and is now eligible for an $800 loan.
Vladimir hopes to expand his business to include purses, wallets, and Bible covers (which he showed us prototypes of, quite nice). He also hopes to earn more money to start a ministry to needy children and hungry people. As he expands his business, he'll hopefully be able to bring on employees and create income for more people.
"My friends that I was once in sin with see my life now and want what I have. They come to church with me, and one even accepted Christ. Microcredit is important because it helps grow my business to feed my family and support my church."
Thursday, August 9, 2007
Our only experience with a taxi was taking one home from the airport upon arrival in Chisinau. You flag one down (They're not all yellow, but they all do have the yellow sign on top.), negotiate with the driver how much he'll charge you for taking you to your destination (usually around 25 lei, which is just over US$2), and then hold on while he gets you there as fast as he can go. Going to the outskirts of town, like the airport, is more expensive, and he also charged more for us since we had so much luggage. You can also call the taxi service and arrange for them to pick you up at home at a certain time. Most Moldovans don't use taxis unless they're going a particularly far or difficult distance, simply because they're so much more expensive than the other methods listed below.
Next we have city buses.
I can't say much about these because we've never ridden in one. I think they're basically the same as the trolley buses below, but just a little nicer and a little more expensive. (I think they're 2 lei, which is about 17 cents.)
The two methods that we use consistently are in the picture below:
On the left is a minibus and on the right is a trolley bus.
Trolley buses only cost 1 lei (8 cents!), and that's definitely all the ride is worth! They're pretty old and rundown. They run on overhead electric lines (You can see the two poles sticking off the top of the trolley bus in the picture.) so sometimes they can derail which cuts off the power, so the driver has to get out and get them back on the lines so we can keep going! That has only happened to us once so far. Trolley buses do have designated stops, so you just have to make sure to get off at the right one. If you miss it, though, you can just get off at the next one and walk back. Stops are about 1/2 mile apart, 1/4 mile apart downtown.
Minibuses are basically just 10-12 passenger vans outfitted so that the aisle runs along the passenger side and there is a bar to hold onto for those that are standing. Yes, I say standing. This is because although there are 10 or 12 seats on the minibus, there is no limit to how many people they will pack inside. If all the seats are full when you get on, you stand in the aisle. It's actually pretty hilarious when you've got 25 people inside one of these things, 15 of whom are standing in the aisle, and someone in the back needs to get off! You hear a lot of "Excuse me, please!" and people just squeeze by! Minibuses cost 3 lei, which is 25 cents. The only entrance to the minibus is the front passenger door next to the driver. When you get in, you hand him your money and tell him how many people you're paying for. Then he'll hand you your change. We've also seen where someone will get on and grab a seat first, then just pass their money up to the front via the other passengers. They're very honest about passing the money up and then passing back the change! It's when you want to get off that you have the real adventure because minibuses have designated routes, but no designated stops. So you have to just recognize where you are and ask the driver to stop and let you off! If you miss it, you could end up back where you started before you know where you are!
The advantage to minibuses is that they're MUCH faster than the trolley since they don't make all the stops. We'll be taking the minibus to work each morning since we live on the complete opposite end of town from the office. It might take us up to an hour on the trolley, but only about 25 minutes in the minibus. We also like trolleys, though, for when we're not in a hurry because there's so much more space on them, and all the windows allow you to look out and recognize where you are. Sometimes it's hard on a minibus to even get a view out the window, much less be able to look hard enough to figure out where you are.
All this is pretty daunting until you figure out the system, and our key to getting it figured out was finding a good map. Here's a small portion of our map (Click to enlarge):
Bus routes are pink, trolley bus routes are blue, and minibus routes are purple. Each route has a number, so you just have to make sure you get on a vehicle marked with the number of where you want to go. For example, we have to get on the 115 minibus to get to the office and the 22 trolley to go downtown. Each vehicle has the number of its route posted on the front and both sides of the vehicle. So to catch a trolley, you go to the nearest stop and then wait for the right number to come by. Generally it only takes a 5 minute wait for the next trolley on your route to come by, depending on how busy the street you're on is and how popular the route is. The trolley to take us from home to downtown comes really often because it's a popular route.
To catch a minibus, you just stand anywhere on the street that the minibus will go down. (Make sure you're on the correct side of the street, though!) When you see it coming you stick out your arm to flag it down. It will stop, you'll get on and pay the driver, and hopefully you'll be able to grab a seat! Then, you just keep track of where you are (I keep my map out and follow the route we're on if I'm not familiar with the roads and landmarks!). When you're getting close to your stop, make your way up to the front and let the driver know you want to get off.
So that's it. Simple, right?! :) Now just imagine all these things on the road together at once, together with passenger cars, a million pedestrians, and a few brave bicyclers! Yeah, it's madness!
I got an email from my sister this morning saying that last night when she was saying prayers with my 2-1/2 year old nephew, she asked him what he wanted to pray for. He said "Uncle Justin and Aunt Joni." When she asked him what he wanted to pray for us, he said "That they're safe." Besides being a really sweet story, I'm thankful that the Lord is prompting people (even little children!) to pray for our safety, considering the way transportation is on these roads! Especially come winter when the roads get slick, we'll be really thankful for your prayers for our safety!
Wednesday, August 8, 2007
On an entirely unrelated note, I wanted to give you all a few pictures to let you know what our life looks like here.
This is Justin standing in front of our house! At the moment, we are living on the third floor of the building behind him - that balcony with the flower boxes is off our bedroom. It's nice to be able to sit out on the balcony and look out onto the street. The weather has been really nice until yesterday when it started raining - and it's still pouring now!
The building on the right side of this picture will be our new house once it's completed. You can see on the right that there is a step underneath a window. That used to be a porch for a door connecting the house to the courtyard. Now they've walled that off and made it a window, so the only entrance to the house is from the street. That gives anybody staying in the house a little more privacy, and also the family doesn't have to be disturbed by our coming and going. I haven't been in the house yet, but Justin has seen it and he says it's going to be great! A bedroom, living room, kitchen, and bathroom - all we need! They're working hard to get everything in the house completed this week, and they're hoping we'll be able to move in Sunday.
Finally, I just wanted to post a picture of a fine eating establishment here:
Yes, we have 3 McDonald's in Chisinau! This is the main location on downtown's main street. We ate at one of the different branches on Sunday after church, and I was surprised with how popular it was with the Moldovans! The place was packed! The prices are about the same as they are in America, but that's kind of expensive for food in Moldova. We probably won't eat there much, but it was tasty!
So those are a couple of pictures for you to get an idea of what it looks like here. Check back tomorrow for my long post about transportation!
Monday, August 6, 2007
Upon our arrival, Valentina said that she had to get back to work, so she was just going to get us started at the first door and then leave us to figure out the rest on our own! This, of course, meant that Justin would have to be using his Russian skills to talk about medical things, and he was NOT excited about that. However, we didn't have much choice and so he bravely agreed to do the best he could.
We waited with Valentina outside the first door for at least 30 minutes, just to get into the first secretary who gave us our paperwork and told us the next 2 doors to go to. The first two stops were the two I had most been dreading - having blood drawn! I have been known to pass out when having blood drawn before, so I was a little afraid that this may turn into an ordeal. However, I was feeling pretty calm, and we waited for another 30 minutes outside that door before we finally got in. The phlebotomist seemed very friendly and Justin answered all of her questions in Russian. She took our blood and we were fine. Praise the Lord!
Our next stop was to go upstairs to another room where she would just do a finger prick to take more blood. There was no line at that door, and we arrived in there at 10:05. She did our finger pricks and that was fine (although it HURT!), but she said she also needed to take a urine sample before we could do our next stop, but they stopped accepting urine samples at 10:00. Sooooo... We had to leave and we'll need to go back early tomorrow. However, Kelly told us that the first two stops are the only blood they'll take, so we got the two we had been dreading out of the way today.
Tomorrow, apparently most of the stops will just be answering questions and getting physical exams, which we feel fine with. Valentina will also be available to stay with us tomorrow, so she'll be able to help Justin understand the Russian. So altogether it was a successful morning, although we didn't get as much accomplished as hoped. Please pray for us tomorrow, that we can get all the rest of the stops finished and get this medical part of our permit completed!
Sunday, August 5, 2007
Moldovan believers saw their share of persecution under communism. The guest house that is being converted into our living space used to be a Baptist house church during Communist days. Anatoly told us of how he remembers being a boy and his dad pastoring the church when the neighbors would call the police on them.
The cathedral in the picture is a Romanian Orthodox church built in 1832 in the center of town. The top of the tall steeple you see was reportedly blown up by the Communists in 1962 because the cross was higher than the tallest Communist Secretary's office, which was not allowed.
It appears that the church is now flourishing here. Slavik tells us there are 50+ churches like the one we attended this morning (that's A LOT for a city of 800,000 on this side of the world). The service was progressive by Russian Baptist standards. One of the preachers used a powerpoint presentation, and we sang several American praise songs translated to Russian, with no hymns. Lots of young people, including young men, which I found quite encouraging.
Our host family told us that the Moldovan Baptists have sent over 800 missionaries to various countries over the last 10 years. I've met a few in my travels, personally, and heard of several others doing great work in Central Asia. Their churches have small groups meeting during the week, and also do evangelistic activities like hosting basketball leagues, teaching English, etc. Slavik wants to go to a missionary training school here then head out on the field for a while. 2 of his sisters are active in organizing Sunday schools in villages as well as church camps for kids this summer. Pretty cool stuff, I'm impressed so far.
I'd heard about big Moldovan churches and met several missionaries. It's clear God has blessed these people and equipped them for ministries.
*Request*- Joni and I go to a medical "clinic" tomorrow and will undergo several hours of "tests" to begin our application for work permits. This includes everything from blood work to psychological exams! Please pray for us; even I am quite nervous about tomorrow!
Friday, August 3, 2007
We arrived at the airport on time, and although we had to battle the crowd, we managed to get our luggage and make it through customs without much hassle. For the first time of MANY so far in the last day, we were SO GLAD that Justin speaks Russian! We would never be able to do this without that. Valentina, the secretary at the office where we'll be working, was at the airport to pick us up, and she rode with us in the taxi to our new home. There we met Anatoli and Tanya, the couple who is so kindly opening their home to us. They have five children ranging in age from 23 to 7, all of whom live at home. Two of them are away to summer camp right now, but the other three are here. They are a wonderful and kind family, and they're working very hard to get our home ready for us to move into! I'm sure you'll hear much more about them in the days and weeks to come.
Valentina showed us the nearest grocery store, just a walk around the corner, and we picked up some staples - water, bread, meat, cheese, cereal, milk... Well, we thought it was milk. However, when we got home and I poured it to get a drink, it turned out to be plain unsweetened yogurt! In a carton like milk! Oh well, we learned a lesson about that - Read the carton and make SURE it says milk ("lapte" in Romanian) before buying!
We managed to stay awake until about 9:30 p.m. before we crashed and fell asleep. As Justin said before, our room is up on the third floor. They do have air conditioning in the house, but they don't run it very often. Our room has a balcony with a screen door, so we were just able to keep that door open and a nice breeze kept us cool all night long. The crazy thing about leaving the door open, though, is that we can hear the sounds of the city all night long. What might that sound like? Not traffic or music... No, the night sounds of Chisinau are barking dogs and crowing roosters! We were woken up early in the morning when the roosters started crowing, and we had a pretty rough time getting back to sleep. However, we managed to do it and slept hard til the alarm clock went off at 8:15. So we got a normal night's sleep, and I think that did wonders for our jet lag!
This morning, Alina (our boss's wife - they live just around the corner from us) met us at our house and helped us navigate the public transportation to get to the office. It is about 25 minutes by minibus to get to the office where we'll be working, because it is completely across town. It's actually pretty simple to navigate the public transportation as long as you know which bus to get on and where to get off of it! I'll do another post about the transportation soon, so check back! We think we've already caught on pretty well - we managed a solo ride home this afternoon and we didn't get lost! Once again, we're extremely grateful for Justin's Russian skills!!!
At the office, we met Kelly, who is another American intern working in our office. Her blog is linked in the column on the right. We had lunch with her at Andy's Pizza (I'll blog about that another day, too!), and then went sightseeing around town with her. She's only been here 2 months, so she hasn't done much sightseeing either! It was great, though, to have another American in the office to help us get things figured out. I think she's going to be a good friend.
So altogether, it has been an EXTREMELY successful first day - we love it! Pray for us as we continue to get things figured out and as we go through the ordeal of getting our work permits next week. From what I hear, there are some pretty unpleasant medical tests involved, and we'll be starting those Monday, so please pray for our courage and communication, patience and safety! Check back again soon!!!!
Thursday, August 2, 2007
Just to let you know that we made it on schedule with ALL of our luggage! Chisinau is a great and interesting-looking place. We’re living with a very nice host family, in their upstairs “apartment” while they finish renovating a guest house nextdoor. More on that later.
The flights went well. I (Justin) am still feeling a bit ill, but I made it. We’re here, and are quite thankful for everything going so well and the wonderful family hosting us!
Thanks for your prayers! We'll post updates with pictures soon!
Wednesday, August 1, 2007
We're both feeling better, thanks for praying. I'm still a little queasy, let's see how I do on the plane. :-P
Schedule is Cincinnati to Rome, then sprint through the airport to make our connection to Istanbul, then arrive in Chisinau just after 6:00pm (Aug. 2) Chisinau time (GMT + 2, or EST + 7).
This weekend we received more donations. I don't have the exact amount, but I think we are right at our $8500 goal! That's a huge praise, and great confirmation.
We don't know what tomorrow will bring, but we know that He does. Adios, America!