The following transcript chronicles John's May 2000 mission trip to teach at the Moldova Bible Seminary. Moldova is a tiny country nestled between Romania and the Ukraine. Formerly a part of the U.S.S.R., these people are open to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our mission is to train up local resident leaders for the ministry.
SATURDAY/SUNDAY: DAY ONE
The flight from Miami to Amsterdam is picture perfect. My traveling companions are Tom Mason, a fellow pastor from St Andrews who is teaching classes on the Church and on Family Counseling, and Ron Peters, a videographer who will be making a documentary tape. Ron does freelance work for PBS as well as for some of the cable channels. The three of us were able to get a seat together by one of the emergency doors, which meant we had a full aisle in front of us with all the leg room that we could possibly want. It was a smooth ride all the way and we spent it either reading or discussing theology. We flew over Ireland and England and managed to look down on Nottingham and Sherwood Forest. The flight had been delayed at takeoff and we landed the next day at Amsterdam an hour late. This meant a literal quarter mile run from one end of the airport to the other and we arrived at our transfer plane only moments before they shut the door. Our total time in Amsterdam was only 15 minutes and our luggage, which had been checked in, did not make this transfer on time.
The flight from Amsterdam to Budapest was on a smaller plane and a little bumpier. We spent the time catching our breath and cooling off from out airport run. Budapest looks like a lovely city, at least the historic part. The American dollar must be rather low, as I priced a shirt and tie and $200 US Dollars.
When it came time to board the plane to Moldova, we went to the gate for departures. There were two medium-sized jets at the gates on either side and a much smaller jet parked way out on the runway. As we went through the gate, they had all of the passengers board a large shuttle bus. I joked to Tom and Ron that there might be a smaller plane past the small jet. Sure enough, our van headed toward the smaller plane and then suddenly turned the corner. Down to the end of the line of planes and around another corner to take us behind the airport. There was a line of even smaller jets. We passed the first and then the second. Hidden between these small jets was an even smaller two-prop plane. As the van pulled up, we saw the tiny letters on the side announcing Air Moldova.
By this time we were laughing out loud. We climbed the three steps up to the plane and took our seats. The ride was bumpy but fun as the pilot and copilot left their cockpit door open and we were seated immediately behind them.
Ron Helton met us at the airport and he drove us through the city to the apartment where we would be staying. The evening weather was cool in Moldova but not cold. I would be rooming with Greg Shipley, an old Florida Bible College classmate who went on to Grace, Westminster and Princeton. Greg was scheduled to teach a class on the Minor Prophets to first year students. My class would be on Biblical Archaeology and I would have 2nd and 4th year students. It was a combined class as it had been canceled in the past when a professor was unable to make the trip. I would also be teaching a couple of sessions in Tom’s class on Marriage Counseling.
Tom and Ron Peters (pictured here with me in the "lobby") would be sharing the next room and our host for the apartment would be Eugene, a recent graduate from the seminary and Ron Helton’s right-hand man.
MONDAY - DAY 2
I awoke early this morning as the sky was just beginning to pale with the morning light.
Rolling over to check the alarm clock, I was surprised to find that it was five in the morning. Daylight comes early in Moldova. Greg showed me how to turn on the heat for the water - it is much like starting an outdoor propane grill, only these fittings look like they were jury rigged and would never pass a fire safety inspection in the States. We only keep the propane on while we are taking what passes for a shower. It is cold water only for the rest of the day. The good news was that we had water at all. This isn't always the case and the water is often turned off entirely throughout the city.
A shower involves getting on your knees in the tub; the holder for the shower head is only about three feet high. There is only one temperature, although it could be adjusted slightly at the water heater by playing with the propane fixture. Nevertheless, a hot showed is an appreciated luxury. Most residents of the city are limited to cold showers or no showers.
A shower was refreshing and left me time to catch up on Email while the other fellows got up and took care of morning business. After a brief but satisfying breakfast, we headed for the seminary. It is about a mile walk and it is through what seems to be the most pleasant part of the city. The route is lined with trees and the air is crisp and cool without being uncomfortably cold, even to my Florida sensitivities.
Instead of its normal location on the 11th floor of a major high-rise, the seminary classes are meeting at a local college of music. These rooms are on the first floor, meaning that there are no stairs to climb or elevators to chance. The rooms are also a lot more spacious than those of the seminary.
Three classes meet in the morning - Tom Mason teaches 3rd year student on the Church, Greg Shipley (a former classmate of mine from FBC) teaches a class of 1st year students the Minor Prophets, and I have a mixed class of 2nd and 4th years students as I teach Biblical Archaeology. There are two hours of class, broken by a chapel, which is then followed by another two hours of class. I am finding the students to have a good command of English and able to follow my Americanisms. Unfortunately, my student manuals still have not arrived from the airlines and we do not know when or if they will catch up to us.
It was only now that Ron Peters found that his video camera was malfunctioning. The video frame showed a small but annoying flickering of the picture and Ron believes that it is being transferred to the tape. He does not have a backup camera, the cost of which exceeds $20,000. To make matters worse, he had a professional shoot scheduled for next week as soon as he returned from Europe.
The city streets were nearly empty as today is a national holiday. It translates to "Dead People's Day" - a bit like our Memorial Day only without the military emphasis. Tomorrow will also be a holiday - the celebrating of Victory Day and the end of World War 2 in Europe. The seminary is the only school in the city that has not let out for these two holidays.
Kishinev is the capital city of Moldova and, as such, is the most prosperous part of the county. This relative prosperity translates to poverty when compared to most American cities. The buildings look like slums, even the ones that are only three years old. Some have peeling paint, the rest have unpainted CBS block or some combination of the two. Elevators are built to hold 2 or 3 people – you put in more at your own risk. The streets are filled with potholes. This has one advantage in that no one drives exceptionally fast and accidents are hardly ever fatal. On the other hand, pedestrians cross streets at their own risk. They are expected to jump out of the way and no allowances are made for slow reflexes.
For lunch we hitched a ride back to Ron Helton's flat where his wife Dorcas had prepared a sumptuous meal. For the afternoon, Ron Peters and I decided to tag along with Tom Mason, as I will be team-teaching with him in his class on Biblical Counseling.
Following the afternoon class, we walked back to the guest flat. These apartment buildings are noteworthy for their extreme drab ugliness. Rising15 stories into the sky, they all appear to be unfinished with raw, untreated masonry bedecking their facades. It is not that they are old buildings that are falling apart. It is that they are new buildings which are falling apart - some only several years old. When I asked Ron Helton about them, he replied that it was the communist policy to construct all new buildings so that they were equally ugly - communism dictated that all people be brought down to the lowest common denominator.
A trip to the airport allowed us to pick up Ron Peter's equipment that has finally arrived, but there is still no sign of the luggage belonging to Tom or myself.
Dinner was again at the Helton flat after which Ron drove us down to see the seminary and to do some shopping. The seminary is located at one of the optimum areas of town. It is right across the street from a new MacDonalds that will be holding their grand opening tomorrow. This would be no big deal in the states but it is considered to be the talk of the town and they expect to be mobbed with people tomorrow.
Ron wanted to show us the Seminary facilities, but when we got into the elevator, it would not engage with the load of 5 people, so I took the stairs. All of that physical training stands be in good stead. The seminary facilities are nice and they are trying to obtain the entire 11th floor - they already own most of it. This way if they move their location, they can use the floor as student dorms.
When we went to come back down, the elevator became even more stubborn and would only operate with a load of two, so I had company on the staircase. Again, it is a structure that would not pass fire code violations - there is no standpipe of any sort in the stairwells, although there is one in the interior of the building.
Also next door to the seminary is the most expensive and exclusive store in town. I am told that it is owned and operated by the Italian Mafia and that most Moldovans could not possibly afford to shop there. There is a grocery store downstairs and a small clothing, sports and toy section upstairs. The prices and the upkeep of the store resemble the typical American market.
Tom purchases a shirt to replace the one he has been wearing since Saturday. It is dazzling in its design and color and we kid him about how his students will be in no danger of falling asleep in class.
TUESDAY - DAY 3
I woke early this morning, a little after 5 a.m. with the sky beginning to lighten. It gets light here early and our room has no curtains so we find ourselves getting up early. Added to this is the fact that all five of us in the flat are sharing the same computer and getting up this early is a
good way to get some uninterrupted computer time.
Although this is technically the guest flat for visiting professors to the seminary, Eugene (pronounced either the English way or "Gena" - he answers to both) stays here on a regular basis. He is a graduate from the seminary and Ron Helton's right hand man. He also serves as Ron's translator whether at a staff meeting or from the pulpit where Ron preaches.
Tom Mason and Ron Peters are sharing one room. Tom is a light sleeper and Ron snores, so Tom has been having a little problem sleeping and this morning I found that he had moved to the couch in the living room. We left him slumbering peacefully as late as we dared.
Good news! Ron reports that his Video Camera is back up and running. He is back in business and will be able to shoot video today. Ron got his video camera working today and is able to take video of us teaching. The problem was that the Russian florescent lights were putting out an electrical charge that was interfering with the camera. When we turn off the lights and only went with the natural light from the windows, the camera works fine.
A shower feels good and I think that I have gotten the knack of setting the Propane to an acceptable temperature level, not scalding and not frigid. Some clean clothes would be nice and Dorcas offered to do laundry, but thus far we have nothing to change into and don't relish waiting in the buff for the washer and then hanging clothes out to dry (the Heltons do not have a dryer).
I am rooming with Greg Shipley, an old Bible College acquaintance from 25 years ago. We have made it a point of walking to school together for the last two days and have caught up on old times. Greg has a keen mind and a sharp humor - he has his PhD. from Westminster and also studied at Princeton, but he describes himself as a "Parish hack" - he has been pastoring in England for the past 12 years. It has been fun having him as a part of our team.
Classes went well this morning although there was still no sign of our luggage and therefore no student manuals. But the students seem to be doing well enough without them for the time being. My class is going along at a good pace and we are right on target with respect to the material that we have to cover. Ron Peters had his video camera working and he was able to shoot plenty of video in the classroom as well as to interview Ron Helton and get shots of the outside of the facilities. The students regularly lead the half hour chapel service in the mid-morning and that lends itself to some unusual presentations.
Eugene picked us up for lunch and drove us to the Helton flat - this will be our standard operating procedure as Tom Mason has an afternoon class and only an hour break for lunch. There isn't enough time to walk anywhere.
The talk of the town has been the new MacDonald's fast food restaurant that opened up across the street from the seminary offices - that is about a half mile from the site where we are currently holding classes. Eugene stopped here to eat this morning as they were offering a "buy one get one free" and it seemed as though the entire city wanted to get in on the deal. Two of
our students ate there for lunch and reported the lines being out to the street and that they were only allowing people to enter the building one at a time as people got their food and left.
Good news at lunch - one more piece of luggage has turned up at the airport. Ron got his yesterday so that means that either Tom or myself will have some luggage waiting. We mentally flip a coin and wonder whose it will be.
Tom still does not have his teaching notes for any of his classes, so I took most of his afternoon class on Marriage and Counseling. I will take one more afternoon in the next day or so to speak on the Biblical perspective of the issue of Divorce and Remarriage. After that Tom will be on his own.
When the afternoon classes are done, Tom and I walk back to the flat. There is a staff meeting going on and Ron Peters waits to do some filming and get some footage of the staff in action. He will catch a ride back with Eugene when the meeting is over. It is a good time for Tom and I to talk about ministry and life in general. I've really been enjoying the opportunity to get to know Tom better. He is a keen thinker with a heart for both the Lord and people.
After relaxing for a bit back at the flat (that walk seems shorter and shorter each day), we meet up with Ron Helton and another visiting professor who is flying out today. We will combine into one trip to the airport to see him off and pick up our new piece of luggage. When we get to the airport, there is more good news - BOTH remaining pieces of luggage have arrived. There is a wait for the agent - that is the Moldovan way – and then we are off with our luggage that appears not too worse for the wear. We are all in good spirits as we return to the Helton flat for a small dinner with Ron and Dorcas. It is a quiet dinner with just the four of us and they share some of their recent struggles in ministry. I think it is good for them to have someone on whom they can unload.
We get back to our flat by 9 p.m. to find Ron Peters and Greg already there. They had eaten while we were at the airport and are watching a video. I am beat so I make ready for an early bedtime.
One of the visiting professors was arrested last week when he was stopped and his papers were not on him. He was released five hours later – nothing happens quickly in Moldova. I normally make it a point to carry my passport with me, but they now have a new regulation that visitors are also required to sign in with the police station as to where they will be staying. Although this was already done when we obtained our visas, Eugene will be going down to the station to sign us in.
WEDNESDAY – DAY 3
Up again at 5 a.m. - this is getting to be habit forming, but it is the best way to get some computer time. It is a cool, clear day. The weather here has been picture-perfect and there was no need for the heavy winter coat that was packed in my luggage. It is just as well as the luggage didn't get here until yesterday afternoon. I look in on Ron and Tom - the latter has moved once again to the couch in the living room. We let him sleep a bit before waking him.
Today we travel to the seminary in style - Eugene drives us as we have a lot of student manuals to carry in addition to our normal notebooks and Bible. The students are delighted to get the study manuals as it makes taking notes a lot easier for them. On the other hand, I now have to be more exact in the following of my class outline. Thus far we are exactly on schedule in covering the required material and the class input in the form of comments and questions shows that they are finding it interesting.
By the time we are done with morning classes, Eugene has arrived with our passports and papers indicating that we are "legal." We will carry them with us from now on.
After lunch back at the Helton’s flat, I check with Tom to see if he needs me for today’s class. The only section that I have to teach regards Biblical teachings concerning divorce. He will leave this section later as he first wants to deal with marriage – "Let’s get them married before we get them divorced."
This means I have the afternoon free. I initially think of a nap, but I no sooner have laid down than Ron Helton is at our door with a suggestion that we go downtown for some filming. It is Ron Peters who is needed for this assignment, but Greg and I decide to tag along. We stop at various locations throughout the city while Ron Peters gets video of key areas. Once the shooting is done, Greg and I decide to take some time and walk through the downtown area, visiting the outdoor marketplace and some of the shops along the way. Greg speaks a smattering of Russian and knows his way around the city, so I am in good hands with him. He is a virtual tour guide of information on the history of the city and it is an educational time for me. Kisheniv is an old city with a history going back nearly 500 years. They have been dominated by the Turks, Czarist Russia, Communism and Hitler’s Germany. To this day they are a nation in flux.
We eventually take a shuttle bus back to our flat. The ride costs one lei – the equivalent of 12 cents. I let Greg spring for the bill rather than dig it out of my wallet. He is delighted to be such a big spender.
The Heltons are very down to earth people. Dorcas is the perfect host and we have had all of our lunch and dinner meals at her table. The Heltons hire a housekeeper who does the cooking for the mid-day meal. The food is terrific and always followed by a desert. I thought that with all the walking and climbing of stairs I might drop a few pounds, but any added exercise is offset by the good food that is served.
The flat in which we are staying has every modern convenience - except A/C which would only be missed in the dead of summer, perhaps July and August. There is a small kitchen-dining room where the 5 of us can squeeze around the breakfast table. The refrigerator beeps at you if you leave it open for more than 4 seconds. There are three bedrooms, though Eugene's is tiny with only one bed. The living room has a TV and VCR - we have some archaeological tapes loaned to us from the Heltons that we are previewing when we have a free few minutes.
DAY 4 – THURSDAY
I slept in a bit this morning – it was after 5:30 before I rolled out of bed. The sun wasn’t up yet due to an overcast haze across the sky. Perhaps not rain, but maybe a bit cooler. It was downright warm yesterday.
Greg comes to the seminary to teach several times a year - it isn't so expensive coming from England - and he is able to make it back by Sunday morning. He also makes regular trips to southern Moldova where the conditions make Kishinev look like wealth and luxury - no electricity at all and living conditions that sound primitive
Greg and I walk to the seminary together – either he is getting faster or else I am getting slower – that fellow can keep up a rugged pace and I have to work to keep up with him. Tom follows at a more leisurely pace and Ron Peters has other plans – he will spend the day traveling to hospitals and other places of ministry to shoot video.
I use some short video segments in class which depict the archaeological sites at Jericho and Beth-Shamesh as we cover the period of Joshua and Judges. These kids have had little exposure to the geography of Israel and a picture can be worth a thousand words in helping them to visualize the narratives of the Bible. I accompany Tom to his afternoon class and this results in an interesting discussion on the subject of the Will of God during our walk back to our flat.
Tom and I meet up with Ron Peters and Greg at the flat. Ron and Dorcas have a Bible Study this evening, so we decide to walk down to the new MacDonalds for dinner. It is located at the bottom of a long hill across the street from the Seminary, about a mile from the flat. Their prices are a bit cheaper than what you would find for the same order in America by nearly half. We top it off with a vanilla ice cream cone (they only have one flavor) which costs all of two lei – about 24 cents.
DAY 5 – FRIDAY
Our last day of the week starts off like all the others – morning breakfast, the now familiar walk to the seminary and morning classes. Halfway through classes the power goes out in the building. There is enough natural lighting to continue with classes, but the overhead projectors and VCR’s are now useless. We adapt and the classes go well. Praise God for chalkboards.
Tom and I accompany some of the students to the local MacDonalds and then go up to the Seminary high-rise for the afternoon class. The elevator only holds a two-person weight load and will not operate with more, so some of us take the stairs eleven flights up. It helps to work off the Chicken McNuggets. We are feeling a bit footsore after class, so Tom and I indulge and spend a Lei (12 cents) to crowd into a shuttle van which deposits us a mile up the hill. We make do with a quick snack and a half hour of down time before we are once again walking over the Music Center where there will be a Praise & Prayer Service.
It is a large service with around 250-300 in attendance. They have a large theatre hall in the rear of the Music Center. Eugene is leading the praise band and the music is good. He is an accomplished worship leader as well as the translator for Ron’s sermons. Lyrics are done first in Russian and then in English. It is wonderful to hear the Lord being praised in various tongues. This is followed by a time of praise and exhortation where various members of the church stand and share with the congregation. Everything is bi-lingual with translations from Russian to English and back again. Finally there are prayer requests made after which people break up into small groups of 3-4 for a season of prayer. The service ends with the entire congregation joining hands and closing in a final hymn of praise and a prayer.
We have a late dinner at the Helton flat and it is after 10 p.m. by the time we head back to our own apartment. Luckily, the elevator is working as the stairwells are dark and no one has thought to bring a flashlight with them. The lights from the stairwells are routinely missing as people have stolen not only the light bulbs, but the fixtures as well.
A girl was reported to have been injured outside our building today when a piece of plaster broke away from the building and fell on her, giving her a deep gash in the arm. From this look of the buildings, this is no uncommon occurrence. The plaster is pealing from every building that we have seen. They are in a constant state of disrepair. Even the buildings that were constructed within the last several years have this run-down appearance. As the deterioration continues, the actual stability of the buildings begins to be compromised. To make matters worse, this is an earthquake zone and small tremors are not uncommon. The effects of a major earthquake would be comparable to those of which we read in Turkey that kill so many thousands.
It is around midnight by the time we head for bed and Greg and I are still talking when a phone call comes in stating that an open door has been reported at the seminary offices. Eugene tries to call the student who is supposed to be staying there, but there is no answer. This means that he will have to make a trip to the seminary to check things out. Greg and I accompany him and Ron Helton meets us downstairs. Things are okay at the seminary, though there is no sign of the missing student. Boris Subotin, one of my students from the Biblical Archaeology class, is there with his wife. He has been working on his research paper assignment and he delivers it to me. It was he and his wife who reported the open doors. The police meet us downstairs and we report that the offices are secure. By the time we get back to our flat it is nearly 2 in the morning. I am wide awake, so I stay up to read Boris’ paper – he has done a fine job.
DAY 6 – SATURDAY
I sleep in late today. Everyone else is already up and about when I finally arise. Ron Peters is going with Eugene and Ron Helton to visit a maximum-security prison. They won’t have any problem getting in; we kid Ron about the potential for a longer visit.
Tom has arranged for several of the students to meet us and to act as a guide for a trip downtown for some shopping. Debbie, the fulltime English teacher, joins us for the shuttle bus trip, but she has her own shopping to do. Greg also tags along. We stroll along the open-air market, picking up some souvenirs. Vendors are selling traditional Moldovan dolls, whistles and other trinkets. There are a lot of artists who are displaying their paintings. After making some purchases, we have lunch at a sit-down restaurant. The bill for five of us comes to 100 lei – less than $10.
The students have other plans for the day, so they go their own way and Greg has more purchases to make, so Tom and I catch the #8 Shuttle which takes us back to our flat. The shuttle is crowded with 13 people plus the driver packed into a mini-van. I hand my lei forward and Tom also hands in a bill. We take no great notice when change is passed back, but the driver turns and points to Tom. Meanwhile the money is passed around and finally one man in the rear takes it and pockets it. We sense that something isn’t quite right and Tom checks his Moldovan currency. By his estimate, he is 50 lei short and realizes that he may have inadvertently paid with a 50 lei note instead of a single lei. An argument ensues between the driver and the man in the back of the van who pocketed the money. Others in the van chime in, but neither Tom nor I can follow any of it. Finally the man hands Tom the change back.
After we debark from the van, the same man approaches us. Although we cannot understand his words, he is insistent that he was due the change that had been given back on the van. We listen for a while and finally to avoid any further confrontation, I hand the man a 50 lei note – it amounts to a little under $5, is no great loss and fulfills the injunction that we should be at peace with all men (Romans 12:18).
In the evening we all go to a formal dinner in the old part of town. The dinner is in honor of our graduating class and they are awarded with study bibles. It is a fun time and Greg and Tom are in rare form – they are like a comedy team that never stops.
DAY 6 – SUNDAY
We were able to sleep in late as church does not meet until the mid-afternoon. It is possible to sleep in and to still be spiritual. Ron Peters and I go over to the Helton’s flat in the morning and Ron tapes while I interview Ron & Dorcas, asking them questions about their ministry. It is a fun time and Ron gets plenty of video footage for what will be a key part of his documentary tape. Afterwards we return to our flat and Ron shoots video interviews of myself and the other two visiting professors. He is looking for short sound bites to be edited into the video and we work to comply. We watch him at work, masterfully setting up the lighting and sound until it is just right for each desired shot.
After the session is shot, Ron Helton takes us all down to MacDonalds for lunch. We have eaten there more in the past week than any of us normally would in the States.
The church service begins at 3:15 in the afternoon. There is about a half hour to 45 minutes of music led by the praise and worship team and led by Eugene. One of my archaeology students is playing the bass guitar and Dorcas is on the keyboard. Songs are normally in Russian, but they repeat some in English. Ron preaches with Eugene translating. Ron preaches from Mark 2-3 about Jesus and the Sabbath and how the Lord views people as more important than human traditions. He closes with an invitation for those who wish to hear the gospel to meet with him in one of the side rooms. Such a gospel message normally takes quite a while as many of these seekers have little or no Biblical foundation and he regularly begins his sharing of the gospel by talking to them of creation and Adam’s fall into sin in the Garden.
DAY 7 – MONDAY
Ron Peters got off to a very early but safe start this morning. He had to be up around 4:30 a.m. and I said my farewells to him last night. This morning at breakfast, Greg came running into the kitchen, proclaiming, "I checked in Ron's bed and the tomb is empty! He has risen and the grave clothes are folded neatly with the pillow folded separately by itself." You have to be able to visualize Greg’s British brand of humor to get the full gist, but Ron would have appreciated the post send-off. We are told at lunch that Ron had no problems at the airport and that he was not charged extra for his overweight luggage.
Tom has his normal afternoon class and Greg and I take the opportunity to relax in the flat. Tomorrow we will begin grading student papers that come due. Tom and Greg are late coming back. They find themselves trapped for over a half hour in the Seminary elevator when it stops between the 6th and 7th floors. Fortunately, that elevator is be bit roomier than the one in our building – it would have been comparable to sharing a telephone booth with three other people.
Nick, one of the 3rd year students, comes over and shows us how to cook a Moldovan dish. It consists of meat and cheese wrapped in ravioli-type pasta. It is a little bland in taste, but that might be the result of masculine cooking. Afterward we all go into the living room and Tom shows us how to do some of his simplest card tricks. They aren’t so easy to us novices, but I learn one or two of them.
Debbie, the English teacher, calls at 11:30 pm to say that someone has been banging at her door and that the lights to her flat have just gone out. Eugene and I go over there, but the intruder has departed and the lights are back on. They had apparently been off for the entire building and it was merely a coincidence that someone had tried to enter her apartment at this time (perhaps due to being on the wrong floor and not realizing it).
DAY 8 – TUESDAY
I get an Email from Mercy telling me that Ron missed his flight in Amsterdam and was re-routed to Detroit. His luggage is also missing which includes all of his camera equipment that was needed for a shoot this week in Pensacola.
Classes go well today as we go through the period between the Testaments. There are some sleepy students who stayed up late completing the research paper that is due today. But all of them are enthused enough to stay awake in class. The afternoon is spent is reading and grading these papers. There is some obvious difficulty in their writing in English, but the papers are quite good. I kid Greg about having found a cure for insomnia – just read a couple of student papers and one finds his eyes growing heavy.
Tom takes Stas and his fiancé out for Chinese food - Stas is scheduled to begin a church plant later this summer. Greg and I have dinner with Ron and I schedule next year’s Biblical Archaeology class for February when Paula will have off from school and will be able to accompany me. It will be a cold time of the year, but it is the only time presently available.
Ron and Dorcas leave next weekend. They will be taking Eugene with them which means that all of the top staff will be missing. Eugene's visit is only for a few weeks as he is needed back here. It is he who makes all of the day-to-day operations run. He is a neat fellow and only graduated from the seminary himself last year. He and Ron are an extraordinary team.
Ron told us a great deal of his story the other day. It ought to be in print as it reads like a novel. The two of them have been through some incredible times and I am amazed that they have pulled through. Dorcas is due for a rest. She has professors like us eating lunch and dinner at her flat 5 or 6 days out of the week. It used to be worse - until last year she would have these same professors sacked out in her living room week in and week out. Their kids are now grown and married, but a great deal of this ministry was accomplished while raising three kids.
DAY 9 – WEDNESDAY
I speak in chapel today on the issue of the meaning and implications of Justification. We are now into the archaeology of the New Testament and focused upon Herod’s Temple. We also made use of a video which the Helton’s have which makes great use of the model of the city at the Holy Land Hotel. Eugene says that he won 5 lei off someone by using one of Tom’s card tricks. I’m not certain that he is joking and I know that Tom hadn’t planned for his tricks to be a source of profit for students and staff of the seminary.
After lunch, I teach a portion of Tom’s afternoon class, dealing with the subject of divorce and remarriage. When class is over, I start to step onto the seminary elevator and the entire elevator car bobs up and down. I step back and we decide that discretion is the better part of valor and take the 11 stories of stairs back down to ground level. It is a warm day and, rather than walk, we spend a lei to take the van from the seminary back to our flat.
Tom is tired so he goes into his room for a nap. I fall asleep while grading papers – I’ve been averaging about 5-6 hours of sleep a night. When I awake, Greg and Tom are nowhere to be found, but they have left one of the keys for me. I go over to the Helton flat and they are just leaving. I will catch up to them later. The Helton flat is like Grand Central Station with students, staff and professors coming in and out. Everyone who comes in is offered dinner and several days worth of leftovers are used up in short order. Afterward it is back to the flat and more grading of papers before bed.
DAY 10 – THURSDAY
I am up early – something I ate last night apparently does not agree with me. The water in the city is normally turned off at night and that means there is no water to flush the toilets. Hopefully the water will come back on in the morning – this is not always the case. I sit in the study waiting for the first light of morning and think about life in Moldova.
Moldovans are wrestling with the concept of self-discipline. In the old days of communism, everyone was well-behaved because of the constant threat that you could be arrested and put to death for little or no cause. Now that communism is a thing of the past, the Moldovans have found that they have no basis and no concept of self-discipline. It is one of the problems that Ron is seeing among his teachers in the Christian school.
Another issue facing Moldovans is a massive unemployment. Jobs are extremely difficult to come by and people often work without pay in hope that they will eventually be able to receive a paycheck. The students graduating from the seminary will be going to work for the church and receiving a salary of $150 per month. This is more money than most doctors receive – which possibly accounts for the poor state of medical health in this country. I have seen relatively few old people here. They don’t normally live that long. A man in his upper 50’s is often at the end of his life.
Tom, Greg and I each complete all of our class lectures today. I close with the story of the Fall of Jerusalem and Masada and point out the dangers of turning away from the cross. I have never seen my students quite so attentive and the class session ends on a hushed whisper.
All lectures are similarly completed. This means that tomorrow’s classes will consist only of the giving of final exams. After lunch at the Heltons, Greg and I take the bus over to the Seminary where we link up with Tom who is giving his afternoon class their final exam. The three of us take a bus downtown to do some quick shopping – I pick up a special gift for Paula while Greg has to get some items for tomorrow’s commencement ceremonies. Another bus takes us directly to the hall where students are gathering for the commencement rehearsal. It is amazing how efficient the bus service is here in Kishinev. One comes along every few seconds and you merely wait for the one that is going on your route. We have yet to wait for more than 4 minutes for a bus.
Following the rehearsal, Tom and I walk to the local MacDonalds with Christina, one of the graduating seniors. Christina spent a year with Tom’s family back in the United States when she came as an exchange student. Her parents are not Christians, but they have come into town for their daughter’s graduation. They speak almost no English, so we conduct all of our conversation through Christina. It is a fascinating time.
Christina’s grandmother was deported to Siberia during the Stalin years and her father was raised there. He has had a hard life, but he is quick-witted and fun. He is presently out of work and his wife has a job that pays 350 lei a month – that translates roughly to about $28 a month. Tom and I split the cost of the MacDonalds meal, it would be over a week’s salary to them.
At one point, he quips, "Ask two Americans a question and you will get three different opinions; ask ten Moldovans a question and you will only be given one opinion." We are reminded that this is a man who has seen people shipped to Siberia for expressing a conflicting opinion. He has seen communism at its worst and thinks highly of capitalism, yet sees it failing to overcome the gross and blatant graft that is going on in the Moldovan government.
When the subject turns to the gospel, the two of them are frank with their questions. Tom later tells me that this is a vast improvement from the time he last spoke to them. They have not yet believed, but perhaps they are closer to the Kingdom. They are typical of many Moldovans. They have a hard and difficult life and seem open to giving the gospel a hearing. And yet, they have little or no Biblical foundation. All their lives they have been taught that the Bible is nothing more than a fairy tale and a crutch for weak people. They have a spiritual need and they known that they have such a need. But they have been conditioned to turn away. The remarkable thing is how many young people are turning to Christ in spite of this conditioning. I believe that the gospel is winning here in Moldova. These young people are making an impact in their city for Christ.
DAY 11 – FRIDAY
Tom and I sleep in late as our exams are not scheduled until 9 a.m. We are halfway to the seminary before Tom realizes that he has left his passport back in the room. We hope not to be stopped by the police as that can result in a difficult time if one does not have the right papers. But we arrive without incident and our students take their exams. Tom and I have some discussion regarding objective-based education and the formulation of a curriculum based on the specifics of what the student will be able to demonstrate.
After lunch back at the Helton flat, I meet with a Jewish violinist named Edward Shzaibman who is planning to immigrate this summer to the United States. Although he has traveled extensively through Europe, he has some concerns about life in the United States and is full of questions. We talk about Christianity and he admits to a general belief in God, even though he has been taught all his life that God does not exist and that religion only leads people to ruin.
In the evening are the Commencement Exercises for the Seminary. There are two students graduating and there is great celebrating as they complete their studies and embark on their continuing ministry.
My narrative ends here. The following day, Tom and I fly out of Moldova and travel to Budapest and from there back to Amsterdam where Paula meets us. Tom continues to the United States while Paula and I fly down to Munich. I preach through a translator at the German-speaking church in Unterschlieshiem and later in the week teach a home Bible study in the same manner. It is another week before Paula and I arrive back in the States.