In August 2022, Helle Liht, EBF Assistant General Secretary and Rachel Conway-Doel, BMS World Mission Overseas Team Leader (Relief) visited the work of Moldovan Baptists among refugees. These are some of their impressions and reflections from their time there.
Moldova is a small country in southeast Europe, bound by Ukraine to the north, east, and south and by Romania to the west. Its 33,846 km2 of land offers home to 2.6 million people. By 23 August this year, the UNHCR reported 585,614 border crossings from Ukraine because of the war. This makes the highest number of border crossings per capita compared to the other countries neighbouring Ukraine.
Moldova is not an economically rich country, yet its people are abounding with generosity and good deeds. This is what we experienced again and again when we visited the Bălțata Centre and local churches hosting Ukrainian refugees.
When the war broke out in Ukraine six months ago, the Bălțata Centre near Moldova’s capital Chișinău was not yet finished. Being built for use as a foster home and conference centre for the Union of Christian Evangelical Baptist Churches of Moldova, it was only hosting some local families with their foster children in the completed sections of the complex. Other buildings in the complex waited their turn, still not having connections to heating and electricity systems, and the dining hall and the roads between the buildings were still uncompleted when the war started.
The Moldovan Baptist leaders were under no illusions about the breadth of these tasks. Most people would have never opened the centre at this stage. Yet the calling to serve Ukrainian refugees in this space became very clear within the first day of the war. This calling to serve those in need is what drove them to open, with hope, prayers and full trust in God overcoming the rational arguments. And so the visionary leaders decided to open the centre for those escaping the war in Ukraine. The foster home parents became volunteers and the Bălțata Centre transformed into a temporary home for 400-500 refugees at once.
Miracles started to happen. The heating and electricity systems were connected faster than expected. People from the surrounding villages left food behind the dining hall doors and left without expecting any words of thanks. One neighbour asked whether they needed pork meat and when he came to deliver it, it appeared to be the whole pig. Others brought eggs (even quail eggs with regular frequency!), flour, vegetables, bread and pastries. Ever since opening, the storage place for cooking ingredients has not been empty and other needs have been fulfilled thanks to kind neighbours, total strangers, faithful church members and the support of the global Baptist family.
When the camp leaders told these stories, it very vividly brought to our minds the Old Testament story of Elijah and the widow who used her last bit of flour and oil to bake bread for the prophet. She heard the call, trusted God, and her “jar of flour was never used up and the jug of oil did not run dry.” (1 Kings 17:16 NIV) This strong sense of calling and trust in God is what has carried our Moldovan sisters and brothers this far and helped cultivate an atmosphere of serving.
A local chef who had decided to leave the country because of the war, decided to stay and volunteer for the centre. We suspect most people at the centre had never eaten such tasty food every day as cooked by this chef for the Ukrainian refugees!
Christian psychologists visit the camp two or three times a week and offer support to mothers and children. Beautiful paintings and handicrafts created by children and mothers during the therapy sessions decorate the dining hall and other common rooms.
The refugees themselves have created a rota to help serve food, wash up and keep things tidy. They have helped continue to build the centre. One landscape architect has designed an area known as the ‘park’ with the refugees helping to plant bushes of lavender and other plants around it.
The calling to serve that the union, churches and volunteers embody is not a conditional service. Working hours are not counted, personal resources not spared, and refugees are embraced with love and care. And little by little the lives of war victims have started changing. We saw children playing football, running around the campus and laughing. Mothers looked relaxed when they talked at the dinner table, grateful smiles enlightening their faces. In several places where we chatted with refugees we heard their words, “We like it here. We are helped by ‘golden’ people.”
It is the love of God, embodied by our Moldovan sisters and brothers that changes the lives of refugees and gives them hope to face the future. And it is the prayers and faithful giving of the global Baptist family that give strength to our Moldovan sisters and brothers to follow God’s call to love and serve.