Saturday, August 06, 2011

Moldova Trip 2011

From July 17 to 24, 2011, we visited a Bulgarian village in southern Moldova, called Valya Perzha (Valley of Plums). The village, together with a few others, was founded by the Bulgarians fleeing from the Turks (or pressed by the Russians to leave their homes so they could settle in this area and help Russian army in its campaigns) after the unsuccessfull Russian-Turkish wars in the beginning of 19th century.

For these 200 years these people have been under changing Romanian, Moldovian or Russian rules and have suffered the terror-famines inflicted by Stalin before and after the WW2. Due to economic migration in the last 2 decades, its population has decreased from 5,500 to 3,000 inhabitants but it is still one of the big Bulgarian villages in Moldova.

Together with a team of 2 graduates, 2 students, and our children, we helped the local pastor and his team running an evangelistic children’s camp at the local Baptist church there. This was the fourth camp in a row but it was the first time we were invited to help in the organisation.

The camp was attended by 90 Bulgarian children altogether. Each morning the children would start by doing a fun stretch exercises session with songs. Afterwards they would have breakfast and then the Bible lesson would begin. The theme of the camp was “School of Jesus” and the programme resembled a regular school day with lessons in different subjects. At the same time each lesson connected its subject with an aspect of the good news, including our sinful condition, God’s love and saving act on the cross, our response, what happens after we become Christians.

For example, the history lesson that I did had to explain the children what happened from the moment when God called Abraham to leave his home, to Jesus’ death and resurrection. I was actually dressed as Abraham and went on stage with my camel (two other guys from the team) which made children laugh out loud. Vanya led the Chemistry lesson. After showing some tricks on the video and explaining that Jesus’ miracles are not tricks, Vanya brought two jars with a dead (!) and a living frog in each of them and spoke about the fact that we are helpless to make dead things alive but only God is able to do so and he did it when he made people come back to life and then He Himself rose from the death. There were also music lessons where children studied songs, literature lessons (children learned by heart Bible verses in an interactive way, through songs and sketches), etc.

Besides the lessons, we did other stuff, too. Lazar and Yani from our team showed some origami crafts to the children. Debi, Moni and Eli danced some Kings Kids dances, and Stefan sang a couple of songs. Vanya organised a few more games. The local team had a circus show for the kids. It was great to be able to contribute to the programme and we really felt as one with the local team of youths from pastor Yura’s church.

Before lunch we would go to an opening in the woods where children would play relay games, other games and have fun. In the afternoon there were one more lesson, crafts activities and again games! We brought about 10 footballs, volleyballs and basketballs, other sports equipment and games, so in those moments the courtyard of the church looked like a very busy beehive! The children were split into teams each with a name (Green Smile, Little Bee, Break (between classes) and Little Oranges) and competed for prices. You can imagine the enthusiasm they had since most of their summer vacations are pretty boring and many of them have to help in the fields to their parents.

One of the days was announced as the day of encouragement. Each child had to do or say something encouraging to someone else. The same day we played an awesome game. We went to the woods again and the children were told that a plane had crashed in the place and they are to find the 8 victims and the parts of the plane. For each victim or article they found were given points. The victims were actually alive – some of the youths from the local church were painted with red pain on different parts of the body so they looked like badly injured . It was fun watching the children running in twos or threes looking for them and for the plane parts, and then returning carrying with difficulty these guys and other stuff… 

On the last day all the teams went to the woods and were told to go and find foil stones hidden there beforehand by the team. Each stone then could be exchanged at the ‘bank’ for ‘money’ and with this money each team could buy food products. Then they were supposed to cook their meals (it was done by the girls from our teams). After they completed they played a Ford Boyard kind of a game. It was a long day but it was great to see the happy smiling faces of the children!

On Sunday the children were invited to come to the service together with their parents or grandparents. Most turned in, and some came with their parents. One of the parents stood up and thanked pastor Yura and his wife Dusya for the work they’d done. She said that usually their children are full of energy and do a lot of mischief but in the evenings of each day of the camp there were so tired that they would just sit down and tell stories of the camp for hours and hours… Then the children performed some of the Christian songs they had learned at the camp and said a couple of Bible verses by heart. Then they were given a copy of a children’s Bible and some little gifts we had brought from Bulgaria for each one of them.

Before the service I went with pastor Yura and the other guest speaker Radik to pray. In Moldova if a guest speaker is invited this means that he preaches before or after the pastor (two sermons per service is a regular practice). This time there were two guests (and later, only to confirm my expectations, after our two sermons, the pastor gave a short message, too :). I asked Radik what topic he would be teaching and was surprised to hear that he had chosen the same topic as me – how we can be confident in the Lord, although with a different title. Then, I was curious to hear which passage he had chosen, I asked him about it. What my amazement was when I heard that he had chosen to speak from the same passage as me, Exodus 3 & 4. Since I was to preach after him, I cut some of the things I had meant to say and changed other parts to avoid repetitions. But it was staggering to see how God had led both of us speak on the same subject and use the same passage for the same sermon (we hadn’t spoken about that)!

Here I must say that without the contribution and help of our pastor and church we would not be able to do this trip. The money the church raised was enough to cover the travel and helped us buy so much stuff to make those kids happy.

We are also impressed by the sacrifice of the local team – pastor Yura and his wife Dusya, and the other guys who put a lot of thought, planning, creativity and energy into the camp, to make it happen. Many women from the church and not only contributed with products and other women from the church cooked every day for us in teams. When one easter Orthodox old woman saw the fun and joy in the church courtyard as she was passing along, she was so much moved that she decided to give half of her pension towards the needs of the camp. Another old woman, who had been very antagonistic towards this ‘loca sect’ in the past (she even cut off a tree in front of her house, just across the church, because the pastor would park his car under the shade of that tree), joined the kids during the stretch exercises in the morning. It’s great to see how through the change in these little children God is working in their parents and grandparents’ hearts.

Finally, the camp was also a great expression of the interaction between the BHSS movement and two local churches; the Varna Pentecostal Church and the Valea Perjei Baptist Church. It was possible as a result of a BHSS students trip to Moldova in 2010 and the relationships established then; and, secondly, most of the team, besides our children, comprised BHSS students and graduates.

Varna, August 6, 2011.