John and Paula Stevenson
Our first morning in Moldova starts when Ron comes up to get Sergei and me to help him try to dig out his four-wheel drive. He has tried to drive through the freshly fallen layer of snow and has gotten stuck. We trudge through the foot of snow to where he had left the vehicle and tried to help. No luck. An hour of digging and pushing doesnít manage to move us a single inch. I come back up to the flat to change clothes that are now damp from digging in the snow. The water doesnít come on this morning until just before we are leaving for church, so we dispense with showers and go Moldovan-style. We offer to spring for a taxi rather than walk to church. Even in this, Ron has to forward us the money since we havenít yet had the chance to change our dollars into the Moldovan Lei.
Table of Photographs
Click below to view each photo:
Corum Deo. Paula addresses an assembly from the Corum Deo Christian School.
Friends in the Snow. From left to right are Ron Helton, Adela, Paula, John and Debbie Ball standing out in front of the steps to the building which houses the Seminary.
Second Year Students. Back Row: Uri, Sergei and Peter; Front Row: Angela, Kate, Tanya, Olga, Nastia and their instructor, John Stevenson.
Third and Fourth Year Students. Paula taught Public Speaking to this combined class.
Students and Teachers. John and Paula with some of the students of the Modova Bible Seminary.
On the Street. Paula and John on the streets of Moldova.
Translation Friends. While Seminary classes are taught in English, this is not the case when speaking in the Christian School. Paula with two special friends who served as translators: Natasha and Tanya.
Sergei. Paula and John get ready to head for class with the host of their flat, Sergei.
2001 Graduating Class. A photo of this year's graduating class of Moldova Bible Seminary.
Kishinev Bible Church now meets on Sunday mornings which means one can no longer sleep in and still be spiritual; it used to meet in the mid-afternoon. The church is well-attended, even in spite of the fact that traffic on the snow-covered streets is hazardous and the nearly foot of snow that blankets the city makes traveling on the sidewalks undesirable.
We receive reports of the other ministries that are ongoing throughout the city. Our students have already planted a second church on the other side of town and are in the process of planting a third church in one of the outlying villages. In spite of the continuing growth of these ministries, there have been some setbacks and there have been times that Ron has been tempted to throw in the towel and to return to a more normal life in the United States. The government has recently announced that they will be nationalizing farmlands to bring about a greater degree of collectivism under the new communist regime. The government has also severely limited humanitarian aid from the West. But it is not these political events that have been so disheartening, but rather certain internal problems that have arisen involving a few of the students, graduates and former visiting professors. I am reminded that these sorts of problems both from within and without are reminiscent of what the church faced in the book of Acts.
Moldova returned to a communist government last February, but the only notable change is that there is a lot more red tape. This has been especially troublesome for the medical missionary work, but both the church and the seminary are doing well.
The terrorist attacks against the United States have had a bigger impact. Paula and I are among the first visiting professors to come from the States since the bombing of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. On site instructors have managed to keep the programs going, but our presence is a welcome relief for the seminary staff. The local attitudes toward the United States have been that of overwhelming support. Ron has had people he doesnít even know learn that he is American and come to offer their hugs and support and encouragement. The Lord is taking the tragic events meant for great evil and is turning it to good to those who love the Lord and who are called according to His purposes. God is great and it is wonderful to see this aspect of His greatness.
The guest flat has been expanded since we were here last and now it includes an extra bedroom and bathroom as well as an extra meeting room. We shared the quarters with Doctor Swede and his wife Pat, medical missionaries who have been working in clinics in some of the outlying villages. Dr Swede has retired from his regular practice in Oregon and he and his wife are looking to future opportunities to serve the Lord through the establishment of medical clinics in Moldova.
I seem to run an early internal clock whenever I am in Moldova and that means awakening awake about 5:00 a.m. with my head abuzz with new ideas to incorporate into my class. I get up to commit them to paper and to await the water being turned on so that we can prepare to meet the new day.
Paula is teaching Public Speaking to a combined class of 3rd and 4th year students while I am teaching Biblical Archaeology to 2nd year students.
What was snow on our first day has turned to treacherous ice along the walkways. We are almost out to the street when Paula takes a nasty tumble, one leg shooting one way while the other takes a different direction. I have my hands full and am unable to catch her, not that I would have been able to do anything but add my own calamitous descent. We make it via the crowded shuttle bus to the Seminary only to find that the elevators are inoperable here, too. Eleven flights up, Paula is out of breath but her leg from knee to ankle is actually feeling better. We check her ankle and it seems swollen, but then it usually seems swollen.
The Seminary has grown and expanded in the past nine months since we were last here. They have acquired an additional flat on the 11th floor where the Seminary Classrooms are located and this has allowed for another large classroom.
We both teach each the morning. My class is in Biblical Archaeology and we began with a survey of significant archaeological finds and how they each relate to our understanding of the Bible. Then we turn to a survey of the entire Old and New Testaments with an eye to archaeological finds which impact our understanding of the Bible.
Paula takes her students to Ephesians 4:15 where Christians are exhorted to speak the truth in love. Every other class offered by the seminary will teach the students what is that truth or how to be loving in its expression. Her class is unique in that it will focus upon how to do the speaking.
The following is a portion of one of Paulaís letters, giving the events of a typical Moldovan day:
Monday morning came early. After dressing and eating an Oatmeal Raisin Breakfast Bar and packing up all of the handout materials for both classes, we were off. Donning my 20 pound leather winter coat and snow boots in the outer hall is always an experience for me. We go through the inner door then the outer door that feel like they are made of a heavy gauge steel and could easily be used as prison doors. This is a clue that lets you know we are in Moldova. If you aren't sure yet, stepping out into the hallway outside of your flat where the elevator door opens is another big clue. It isn't the condition of the paint on the walls, for that has been painted white and clean. There it is. The elevator. The condition of the two foot elevator door is one clue; second is the elevator button that usually sticks in the wall when pressed indicating that you will soon be walking down seven flights of unlit stairs by way of a flashlight and we did this morning. If you are fortunate enough to have the elevator door open the beginnings of an unusual aroma will waffle and linger in your nostrils for a time. Your next clue is the condition of the position of the floor of the elevator. It always is just a little above the floor where is should be. Stepping onto the elevator floor is always a step of faith.
Pressing the elevator buttons inside of the elevator for the desired floor with your knuckle or winter gloves for hygiene purposes would not be unwise. I am happy to report this trip I have not seen any globs of spit dripping from the buttons but only on the floor and they are easy to avoid. I have my Moldovan winter boots to puddle through anything. The next huge clue emerges as you step off of the elevator, but that only happens after you are very thankful that the door even opened in the first place. Why is this you may ask? There are so many things to choose from. The filthy walls painted a typical low income housing two tone green complete with graffiti. The rusted mailboxes look like they are from the abandoned housing projects in the Bronx from the 1930's. What is unusual about these mailboxes with no cover on them for privacy is that they are still in use. I do not take the word filthy lightly here. I don't mean the walls need a slight clean up and a coat of paint. It is almost indescribable which I find interesting since I can usually describe almost anything; however the word sandblasting just came to mind.
We are finally out of the building and ready to head off to the Seminary. The snow was deeper than I thought it would be. It looks like wind has piled up the white stuff against the walls of buildings and has completely covered some cars. This is dangerous stuff. Did you know this? It turns to ice. Now how is a Florida girl supposed to know this? As we make our way around the building heading out to one of the main streets to catch a van to the seminary, my first real encounter with ice other than in the form of a cube takes place. Before I know what happened, one leg goes one way and the other leg goes the other. I am sure I was quit graceful. John is loaded down with a bookbag and a suitcase full of handout manuals for students in both classes plus our teaching manuals. Getting me up is another matter all together. I am chuckling as I write this now. After that Sergei and John each took an arm. John asked if I was alright. I said noooo, but I was walking.
We walked just a few more feet to the van and the door opened. I stood still for a moment still reeling from my experience just seconds before, looking at the large step that I would have to take to enter the van. A large Moldovan man just looked at me for a moment and then started talking to me as is to say, "Lady get in the bus." I just looked at him with a blank stare and didn't even use my two lines of Russian. I was able to maneuver myself on board and squeeze myself halfway back to the middle of the van. In these vans half of the people sit, on one side and in the back. The other half stand holding on to a ceiling rail they have installed. I would estimate there were about 15 to 17 people easily in this van. Remember all of these people have winter coats, boots and hats on. This just adds to the tight fit. This van should hold about 7 people comfortably. Getting out of the thing is a story in itself, especially if people have gotten in after you. Just picture your face and body smooshed up against the window with 15 other people, winter coats on and luggage full of notebooks.
The next hurdle in my morning adventure and it isn't even 7:30 yet is getting to the 11th floor of the seminary. Getting off of the van I was extremely careful, and would not take a step unless I had John and Sergei to hold on to. The path to the seminary was slick as an ice cube. We took it slow. It probably looked like a Tim Conway impersonation of the "old man." Finally I am in the building and this lobby looks the same as I described earlier, except these elevator doors are wider and the elevator is larger than two feet by two feet. The button is pushed, and pushed again. Nothing. No sound. This is a sign that we will be getting our morning exercise. All 11 flights, and I did them in record time considering my icy tumble - probably ten minutes. Actually the more I climbed the better my leg felt. After arriving on the 11th floor I entered my room. Someone helped my 20 pound coat off because I did not have the energy to lift my arms for the task. I removed my boots before entering the room and laid myself for a moment on the table for a respiratory break. After sitting down I inspected my left leg and I was happy to report all was intact.
I have 16 wonderful students who are very excited about learning and being in ministry. I am honored that I can play a small part in their education. It is more than wonderful that John and I are partners, real soul mates in a teaching ministry. God is very good to me, to allow me to be able to do this for His glory. Who would have ever thought that a young girl who had so much trouble learning could end up teaching and being a part-time missionary in another country. As a young girl about 4th grade, I can remember wanting to be teacher or a missionary. With God all things are possible.
In addition to our regular teaching assignments at the Seminary, Paula accepts an invitation to the Corem Deo Christian School to meet with the teachers and give them lessons on methods of exercising classroom discipline and the use of positive reinforcement techniques. She also addresses the combined student body in one of their chapels.
I speak to Ron about next year teaching an additional class on "Introduction to the Biblical Languages" Ė something that would teach the students some of the rudiments of Greek and Hebrew while training them to utilize some of the language helps that are available. They used to have Bibleworks in their computers, but a student accidentally ruined the disk and then the program was later erased from the schoolís mainframe. They presently have no Bible programs for their computers.
The weeks pass quickly and before we know it, the time has come to return to the States. On the morning of our departure, it is so cold that the locks on Ronís SUV have frozen shut and it is with difficulty that he finally manages to get a rear window open and crawl through the vehicle to get the doors open. We have had a couple of weeks of cold bodies, but our hearts have been warmed by the fellowship of friends in ministry.