Tuesday, December 25, 2007

We're back!

We made it back to the States on Christmas Eve without any problems! Our luggage arrived and everything, praise the Lord! So, we'll spend the holidays with family and figure out what God has for us next. We tentatively plan to work and begin raising a son in the U.S. for the next couple of years, and then see where God takes us.

Thanks so much for your prayers and support! We couldn't have made it to Moldova and back without them! Please keep in touch!

(Aside: Justin has written a lengthy debriefing about his time in Moldova for his sponsoring organization, BPN. It includes his observations on the church, the economy, politics, and Business as Missions overall. If you're interested in reading a public version, just send him an email: justintapp@pobox.com).

We wish you all a VERY Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Our last day in Moldova! (Justin)

It's hard to believe that the time has come to say goodbye! We've had such an incredible time here, learned so much, and made so many great friends. We're very thankful for this experience!

We've had some tough goodbyes in the past couple days, including a mini going away party at the Invest-Credit office.

Vasile and I met online this morning and he showed me his great strides the past week. The site is looking great! The difficult administration side of the site is finally complete, and in the next week the first public version should be uploaded. It is going to be higher-quality than the secular sites of its kind here.
He's worked day and night this week to get things done. We're quite thankful for him, and for your prayers for him. We will leave him with a monetary gift of the small amount of donor funds we have left. We think that's a good use of our remaining funds.

Joni has worked hard to pack everything, and we appear to be under the limit in our weight allotment.

Today we will say goodbye to our host landlords. They will come over and pray with us and say our goodbyes. They've been very kind to us.

Our travel itinerary is:

12/23 (5:45pm-6:35pm) Chisinau to Vienna.**
12/24 (10:50am-3:00pm) Vienna to D.C.
12/24 (5:15pm-6:47pm) D.C. to Cincinnati.

**We will have an overnight stay in Vienna. This was unintentional; we couldn't find a reasonably cheap plane ticket without an overnight layover and this Vienna leg was the cheapest. We've tried to save as much money in travel as possible.

We will post again when we get back to the States.

Please lift us up as we travel home for safety, connections, and luggage arriving! Thanks so much for your prayers and support over these five+ months!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Crunch Time! (Joni)

I just wanted to give a quick report on the doctor's appointment we had on Thursday - our last appointment in Moldova! They did several tests and I spent a total of 3 hours there, given the 2 1/2 hours I spent in the waiting room! However, they officially declared me to be healthy and the baby is healthy, and they wished us the best of luck for our future. Overall, my experience with Moldovan medicine has been a positive one, although I'm glad to not have to continue it any longer - mainly because I'd prefer having a primary caregiver whose first language and culture are the same as mine! Praise the Lord both for our health and our positive experiences here!

The title of my post is referring to the fact that we're less than 48 hours from departure! The next two days are going to be really full for us - me with packing and Justin with finishing up his projects. Neither of us made as much progress on those things in the past couple of days as we wanted to, so please pray for God to multiply our time and give us wisdom and peace on dealing with everything that comes up!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Countdown Begins (Justin)

We're in our final week in Moldova. Here's what it looks like:

1. Vasile is working hard on completing the behind-the-scenes admin stuff on the website and getting it set up like we want. I anxiously wait for his results. He's busy with exams, work, and other things, so please pray for him to have time and energy to get the brunt of the job done this week!

The final version of the site will not be completed by Sunday, so I will be staying in touch via e-mail and Skype once we return to the U.S. Hopefully, the vast majority of the site will be finished and all that will be needed is individual information from churches, translation in Russian/Romanian, and a willing Administrator to manage the site once it's completed. Please pray for these 3 things to be completed!

2. Joni is packing things up. That's a tough job, figuring out what to take and what to leave. Please pray for her stress level and energy.

3. Saying goodbyes. We've got several people that we need to say special goodbyes to. Our landlords, our co-workers, our friends, etc. Please pray that all this goes well and that we don't make any cultural "faux pas" by leaving someone out!

Thanks so much for your prayers and support. We'll let you know how it goes!

Saturday, December 15, 2007


Yesterday afternoon, Joni took this picture of snow falling on our gate.
We snapped this picture this morning from the street. You can see the accumulation! And then it continued snowing most of the day.
This is looking down our street. The snow makes everything look so much nicer, and is a lot of fun.
The problem is that they do not salt, sand, or plow the roads in Chisinau. So, the sardine-can packed minibuses slip and slide trying to gain traction on hills and such. It makes the ride across down much more interesting, especially at night as roads become sheets of solid ice!
Today we attended an international craft fair hosted by the International Women's Club. I think every humanitarian and international aid organization was represented, along with representatives from over a dozen countries. International foods, music, dancing, crafts, and information about what each organization is doing. The proceeds go to various charities here in Moldova. You can read more about it here.

One of the highlights was that Peace Corps and a few other American groups were selling American books, magazines, movies, and even American food-- Campbell's Soup, Hungry Jack pancake mix, etc. That was a very big deal to the large number of ex-pats who were there.

There were also Moldovan schoolchildren performing traditional songs and dances, accompanied by Santa Claus. They went around to each booth and sang carols and blessings. Santa Claus was pretty terrifying. Joni got this good pic of him loudly bringing Season's Greetings to some foreigner.
The snow was a blessing. Overall, it was a great day and we felt like we contributed to some good causes. It's sad to think we'll be leaving here in a week; the time sure has flown.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Christmas Tree Saga Part 4 (final chapter?)

Last night we attended a "Town Hall Meeting" for Americans at the U.S. Ambassador's residence. I asked the Ambassador what his office was doing to foster better relations between the Chisinau Mayor's office and the national government. He joked a little about the Christmas tree controversy, but stated that he was doing what he could to convince both sides that cooperation with the opposition was essential to good governance.
He also gave some background into why both sides dislike each other, and says this is mainly a problem in the big cities like Chisinau, and not in the countryside.

On Wednesday a group of 50-100 protestors, mainly youth but including the Mayor and other officials, took to the National Square.
"Many of them brought artificial fur trees, which were put within the fenced place, designed for the chief New Year tree of the country. Then during several minutes the young people were standing silently and holding pictures of the European capital cities, where the New Year trees had been already installed. After this they left the square peacefully. The protesters placed a symbolic small fir tree in the place where the Christmas tree once stood with baubles conveying such messages as “Right to Personal Freedom”, “Right to Security”, “Right to Free Expression”, “Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion” etc."

News link 1. News link 2.

Apparently, the controversy contributed to quite an ugly day in the Moldovan Parliament. As we returned from the Town Hall meeting last night, we passed by the original fir tree (which was moved off the Square) and saw it still being guarded by several policemen.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

When in Moldova...

...look like the Moldovans do! It's fun here now that the weather has turned very cold, because everyone's pulling out their serious winter gear. Fur hats, scarves, long leather coats, you name it. My missionary friend, Nancy Russell, loaned me this leather coat so I could stay warm this winter, but I must say it also makes me VERY stylish...It has a zip-in fur lining, a fur neck ruff, and a thick fur-lined hood. No getting cold in this dude! The fur hat was just a silly addition at Kelly's house where we took the picture. Even if I wanted to wear it, I couldn't because it was too small for my head! It made for one nice picture, though! And yes, people really DO walk around looking like this on cold days here.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Chisinau Christmas Tree Saga (Part 3!)

More news. Yesterday, the mayor signed an ordinance instructing workers to restore the Christmas tree to the central square. When city workers arrived, they found the tree guarded by "tens of police officers." Thus, the tree remains where it is.

The Chisinau authorities have expressed concern about the central authorities’ unwillingness to celebrate Christmas on December 25, with the Christmas tree in Chisinau’s central square expected to be officially lit on New Year’s Eve and not earlier.

Since Moldova is mainly a European Orthodox country, Christmas is celebrated here on January 7 as per the Julian calendar after a 40-day fast.

The political struggle continues.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Chisinau Christmas Tree Saga

The saga continues! Oddly woven into a news article about how Chisinau City Hall is having its heat cut off, there is a long story about the Christmas tree. The English version is a little confusing.

Apparently, on Friday the mayor of Chisinau (a young, Western-minded, non-Communist) ordered a Christmas tree put up in the central square. The mayor had 3 youth from the Liberal Party guard the tree in his own personal car. He apparently anticipated trouble, as they were armed with video cameras.

The police (who knew whose car it was) came, arrested them, drove them around the city for hours and erased their video. The police also ordered the tree cut down and moved off the square. They placed it behind the Arc de Triumph across the street. Here's picture of where it is now. The youth were released, but may have suffered some emotional trauma: "(One of them) said that in such conditions the youth do not see any reason for remaining in the country, but, at the same time, they gained strength." The Mayor responds:

The Mayor described the given actions as “a gift made by the central authorities to the Chisinau residents on the International Human Rights Day”, which is celebrated on December 10. According to him, the three young men have been hostages of the government that does what it wants.

So... happy Human Rights Day! And, bah humbug!

Christmas Cards

Alina (Ghena's wife) makes fabulous Christmas cards and sells them internationally. You can look at her designs here:

I am posting this months after I promised I would, so I feel really guilty. If you're interested in ordering some cards, we can perhaps bring them back to you when we return to the States in 2 weeks.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Baptism Today (Joni)

I had the privilege of being able to witness a baptism at church today! Well, actually, it was 41 baptisms! I really wish I had brought my camera! It was a sight unlike anything I've ever seen before. I'll do my best to describe it for you.
This is a previous picture of the stage of my church, and I've cropped it to zoom in on where the baptistry is. Until today, I didn't even know there was a baptistry there! The floor comes up from that part behind the choir loft where the plants are sitting in the picture, and the bottom window of the cross is actually a door! So the baptisees lined up along the front of the church, then filed up along the left side of the stage beside the choir and down into the baptistry. The baptisees (about 15 men and 25 women - They don't baptize children.) were dressed in all white and were a neat sight to behold! Two pastors in blue robes led the procession and preceded them into the baptistry. Then they went in two-by-two, and each were dunked by a pastor after affirming their faith. There was a guy standing in front of the choir loft holding a microphone on a stick to the mouths of the pastors and baptisees, so we could all hear what was going on. After being dunked, the newly baptized then proceeded out the rear door where the cross had opened, so they were actually getting out of the water behind the wall, and it worked so smoothly that way! Each time the ones who had just been baptized were getting out and the new ones were getting in, the choir sang a little "Praise the Lord, Alleluia" song - even though they sang it 21 times, I never got tired of it! It was so neat! And I was shocked that they were able to baptize all 41 people in just 20 minutes!

Especially moving were the man and wife that were baptized together - what a change in that family! There were also two sisters who were baptized together, and I know that was meaningful and special for them. Most moving for me, though, was this really old lady who clearly was physically ailing. But you could see the determination on her face even from where I was sitting in the balcony. She had to have an usher on each side of her helping her up the stairs of the choir loft, and it took about 5 men to get her down into the baptistry. Then she was baptized by herself so she could have a pastor on each arm helping her back out of the water. But what a victorious moment when it was accomplished! Praise the Lord!

And then the most entertaining part of the day was after the baptisms were completed and we were waiting for the baptisees to get dressed and come back out to their seats. The choir sang, and then a lady got up and was doing a solo. I noticed that the women who had been baptized were slowly coming back out to their seats one by one, and I was surprised that their hair was dry! I thought, Are all 25 of those women really back there using hairdryers? Can the electric system hold that? And surely enough, right in the middle of the poor soloist's song, boom, the power went out. A few of us in the audience snickered because we knew what had happened. All the hairdryers had overloaded the circuits and popped the breaker! We sat there in silence before about 30 seconds before someone finally decided to take action. We for some reason had a live brass band playing that day, so they struck up a tune while they tried to get the power back on. They got it back on before the band had finished their song, and not too much longer all of the baptisees came out, most with perfectly dry hair.

It was a neat, fun, and moving experience, and I'm so glad that I was able to witness it before leaving Moldova!

Friday, December 7, 2007

Bah, humbug!

Here's a great article that says so much about life in Chisinau, Moldova. Installing the official Christmas tree requires agreement with both the city and national government, who don't talk to each other. Anyone who wants to take their own initiative will be arrested on site. :-)

"The central authorities do not forbid the installation of a Christmas tree in the National Assembly Square before December 25, Minister of Culture & Tourism Artur Cozma told Info-Prim Neo.

At the same time, Cozma said the central authorities were looking for “a live, big, beautiful and representative fir tree”, which would be erected in the Square at the end of December.

“What’s the hurry with the 25th of December?”, answered Cozma when asked to clarify whether the Government’s quest for a Christmas tree would end before that date. The Minister suggested, however, that most probably it will take quite a while. “When we find it, we will think how to bring it to Chisinau, how to install it…”, the official explained.

Earlier this week the Chisinau authorities expressed concern about the central authorities’ unwillingness to celebrate Christmas on December 25, like i n most places around the word, which could leave Chisinau’s central square without a Christmas tree on that date.

Chisinau Deputy Mayor Lucia Culev said there were instructions not to erect any Christmas trees in the Square and “anyone who disobeys will be picked up by police”.

Chisinau Mayor Dorin Chirtoaca said he will wait for the confirmation of these rumours, and if they happen to be true, “will seek alternatives for the winter holidays to start before December 30”. At the same time, the mayor stated that he is inclined to avoid any arguments with the central administration on this matter and rather seek to come to an agreement as to the preparations of the city for the holidays."

New Years is when people typically do their Christmas-like rituals. The Orthodox Church's Christmas (the Orthodox Church is supported by the central government) is actually January 7th, so that may play a part in the "what's the hurry?" statement.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

On Time (Justin)

Maybe the most difficult thing I've had to deal with here is the concept of doing things on time. You hear this complaint from Americans in just about any foreign country, but it seems a little more acute here.
I once joked with a British guy here, after he'd waited a long time for someone to pick him up "on time," that Moldovan time is GMT + 2 hours and at least fifteen minutes.

This morning I was told I'd be picked up at 8:30. Then, at 9:15 I received a call saying "we'll be there in 5 minutes!" The car finally arrived at 9:30. It was raining outside, so I ended up going in and out of it while waiting. Unfortunately, someone showing up an hour later than they stated is quite common here. It's hard to make dinner plans with someone.

Paying bills on time is a big one for me. In America, our credit scores are penalized if we make a late payment. Here, there is no credit score, so there's less incentive for people to pay on time.

Example: Our cellphones are on someone's "family plan," so we're reliant on them to pay the bill.
We get text messages from Orange saying "tomorrow is your due date!" However, after the due date there is a 2-week grace period for paying. You receive a few text messages saying "if you don't pay in 5 days your service will be disconnected!" Orange even makes it easy to pay, you can just buy cards at any kiosk on the street. The owner of the family plan never pays on the due date, but waits until the very end of that grace period. This makes me quite nervous. If we lose cell service, Joni can't call me if she needs something, I have to borrow other people's phones, etc.

Sure enough, last month our service was disconnected because the owner waited until the last possible day, then something came up and he couldn't make it to the store. When it approached time to pay the internet bill I started calling him every day to remind him. It made him angry, but it made me feel better.
(Yesterday he called and said he'd paid the bill early, ie: 2 days before our service was cut off again. I was very surprised and happy!)

I learned in my Corporate Finance class how to calculate the time-value of money, and that you should always wait as late as possible to pay your bills. "Wait until it costs you goodwill with the other party," or in other words until it is unethical.

Invest-Credit deals with late-payers all the time. These people are mostly Christians, but struggle with paying on time. I get to listen to Roman chide them out over the phone as any good bill collector should. I asked him this morning:
"Roman, do you think not paying on time a sin?"
He thought for a minute and replied:
"Yes. Because you're lying. You say you'll pay at a certain time and then you don't pay, so it's a lie."

As Christians, we should conduct business transactions "as for the Lord," (Col. 3:17). We should be examples of our ethics and good work that the World will look at and marvel at (Matt 5:16). Our reputations should be spotless (Eph. 5:3). We should be the best clients, the best customers.

It's important to instill in Christians the ethic to pay on time to ALL their creditors. This Saturday, Invest-Credit is holding one of its client trainings, where they teach things like ethical business practices. Maybe there will be a session about paying on time? That'd be nice to hear.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Girls' Day Out... to Romania!

On Sunday, our friend Tanya needed to make a trip to Iaşi (pronounced yahsh), Romania to pick up something from a coworker. It's only about a 3 hour drive, and she wanted some company, so she invited us and Kelly to go with her! Justin needed a day to rest before starting another work week, so it was just us girls who decided to take a day trip to another country!

We left at about 9 in the morning, arriving in Iaşi right at noon. Tanya was supposed to meet her coworker at a mall, so she waited for him while Kelly and I wandered the mall. Moldova definitely does not have anything that looks even remotely as Western as this mall! Romania is newly in the European Union, so I guess they want to prove they belong there! Kelly and I looked like country bumpkins coming to the big city for the first time... eyes big, ooh-ing and ahh-ing at everything. The mall had all sorts of neat Christmas decorations, and they were playing American Christmas music over the speakers, so it was just like walking into any mall in America!One thing I had definitely been excited to learn about this mall was that they had a KFC in their food court! Now, in the States I'm not a huge KFC fan, but I have been absolutely craving chicken strips during my pregnancy, and Moldova does not provide anything even remotely like what I've been wanting. So we stopped at KFC and got me a large order of chicken strips to bring home with me!I didn't eat them for lunch, however, because Tanya said that Iaşi had a Pizza Hut, and THAT'S where we were going for lunch. However, when we arrived where the Pizza Hut used to be, it wasn't there anymore! At that moment, though, Tanya remembered a really neat place called Little Texas, and she said we just HAD to eat there. It is a restaurant that was opened up by an American, and they serve real authentic Tex-Mex food! (Read the NY Times article that includes this restaurant here.) It was so neat walking in there and seeing the swinging doors, the longhorns over the door, the huge Texas flag on the wall, and the life-size cutout of John Wayne to greet you!

After splitting appetizers of nachos and chicken quesadillas, Kelly and I ordered the Colorado Chicken Burrito that came with rice and beans, and Tanya got a Barbecue and Mushroom Burger. The food was AMAZING and definitely authentic. I felt like I was back home in Waco for that hour! :)On the way back out of the town, we stopped at the Gelateria Venezia for some Italian-style gelato, which was also delicious. Then we hit the road back for Moldova!

Our border crossings weren't the smoothest they could be - long lines and inefficiency. However, we made it and we are SO GLAD we went! And now I have another stamp in my passport - I've been to Romania!

Thank you, Tanya, for letting me tag along and making it a fun day of new experiences!

By the way, I had my KFC chicken strips for lunch today, and they were DELICIOUS! :)

Saturday, December 1, 2007

A Day Against Traffick

Tomorrow is the National Day of Prayer Against Human Trafficking in Moldova. This was organized by some international NGOs in cooperation with the various denominations here. I know some churches will have some prayer meetings and possibly sermons about the situation.
If you watch any documentary about sex trafficking you'll always see Moldova highlighted, as many of the women and children are trafficked into Romania, Bulgaria, Italy and other places for exploitation. (Apologies for previous email we sent stating this was a few weeks ago, we misunderstood the schedule in church that day). Ask yourself this Sunday: What am I doing about injustices like these? What is the Church doing?

Here are some numbers of significance (HT: Smitty at Cloud Chasing):

27 million slaves exist in our world today…in the year 2007. Slave trade generates $32 billion annually (it will soon overtake drugs and arms trafficking). MORE slaves are in bondage today than were bartered in 4 centuries on the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Each year 800,000 to 900,000 HUMAN BEINGS are bought or sold. Nearly 200,000 people live in slavery at this moment in the US…an additional 17,500 new victims are trafficked through out borders each year. Over 30,000 additional slaves are transported through the US on their way to other international destinations. 80% of trafficked persons are female; 50% are children. 1,000,000 children are FORCED to sell their bodies every day in their global sex trade.

Book Review 2 (Joni)

Justin and I have both recently read books about Moldova. Justin read a deep and ponderous tome exploring the historical and political facets about Moldovan identity. I read a book by a British comedian exploring his misadventures in accepting a bet that he could beat all 11 players on the Moldovan national soccer team at tennis or else he had to strip and sing the Moldovan national anthem on a public street in downtown London.
Playing the Moldovans at Tennis by Tony Hawks was exactly as funny as my brief description of it above makes it sound. This is Hawks' second book and also Hawks' second bizarre bet. (The first book/bet involved something about hitch-hiking across Ireland with a refrigerator? That book is next on my "to find and read" list.)

Besides the hilarity of the whole situation, the book is actually pretty insightful about Moldovan culture. It definitely expresses very well the feeling one from a more Western country gets upon arriving in Moldova and trying to accomplish anything. The adventures set forth in this book took place in 1998, so it also helps me understand how far Moldova has come in just 9 short years. Some things are very different from the way they were back then (For example, now Moldova has street lights at night. Back then, the government wouldn't pay for the power to light the streets at night - the danger of falling into an uncovered manhole was imminent.), but some things are still very strangely the same (For example, there is still a strong possibility that the inattentive person could fall into an open manhole...).

I have come across some who didn't think the book was as great as I did. (My husband is one of those people.) The storyline is pretty basic and could be outlined in about 10 pages. However, with the humor and insights, Hawks manages to fill about 200. Justin thought this was kind of gratuitous and wished he would just get on with the story. I, for the most part, enjoyed all of his notes and side stories, especially things involving the family he lived with in Moldova. He in fact was able to form moving relationships with them, and it was very neat to see him explore how to cross that line into becoming accepted into the hearts of Moldovans - something I am still trying to learn about.

And Hawks is just plain funny. By page 6 I was laughing out loud, and by chapter 2 I had tears streaming down my face. I literally had to stop reading and put the book down so I could start breathing again because I was laughing so hard! Not every chapter was that funny, but just when I started to get bored and wish the story would move on, he would include a funny story that had me laughing again. (The one where he compared the way one of the Moldovans played tennis to a man trying to ward off an attack by a swarm of bees comes to mind...)

So I would recommend this book to those who want to be entertained and learn a bit about Moldovan culture.

DISCLAIMER: There is some language in this book, and I've spoken to others who found some of the humor to be off-color. Please don't read this book and then be offended or think I'm some kind of heathen. If you might be offended, don't read the book!