Our flight to Moldova went off without a hitch. I met Tom Mason in Atlanta and we were able to make the rest of the trip together. Sergei met us at the airport in Chisenau. The temperature was cold, but the ice and snow had virtually disappeared, leaving only the deep brown mud everywhere. Flying into Chisenau looked like flying into a mudbath as the entire county looked brown. The gates of the city are looking more run down than ever. This would all change several days into our visit when a heavy snow would leave the entire city under a whitened cloak.
Sergei does not drive, so he picked us up by taxi and we bundled into one of those tiny cabs. It is a good thing we did not have more baggage as the cab driver complained that he was not getting paid enough for what he was hauling. There are times when Moldova reminds me of South Florida.
The classes went well. My class was made up of pastors, ministry leaders and youth workers. They were a fun group and easy to get going in conversations and questions, so there was no lack of attention or onset of even the least bit of boredom. They were ready with answers to the questions that I posed to them as well as being ready to ask questions of their own.
The excellence of the Moldovan hospitality had not dropped a bit and our meals made it difficult in the extreme to lose any weight while we were there. Perhaps it was good that the elevator in our building was not working -- the extra exercise did us good. On most days, we would walk down to the seminary. Classes were held each morning and then the afternoons and evenings were generally given over to one-on-one meetings in which we were able to get with various ministry leaders for encouragement, training and relational bridge-building. I also had opportunity to preach at the church of one of our former students, speaking through a Russian translator.
At the close of one particular class sessions, one of my students asked about my professional life as a fire fighter and then asked, "Where do you find time to come and to teach us?" I answered that I was taking two weeks of my annual vacation to dedicate to teaching them. The class was silent for a moment as they pondered this revelation and then someone asked, "But why?" I replied, "Because I think all of you are worth it. Don't prove me wrong." It was at times like these that I was able, not only to provide theological training, but also to encourage and to exhort these students to faithfulness in their various Christian ministries. While these students are involved in theological training, they are also already on the front lines of ministry as they pastor churches, lead evangelistic teams and reach out both into their communities as well as out to the rest of the Russian, Rumanian and Gazuk speaking world.
They say that "getting there" is half the journey, but the most hair raising part of our trip was in getting back home. Tom and I passed through passport control and ticketing and customs with no problem, but when it came time to board the plane, a representative from Moldova Airlines came out and told us that they were only boarding people who were not going on to Atlanta. No further explanation was given, even though we repeatedly asked what was going on. As time wore on and the plane still had not left, we were given one excuse after another. First someone said that Amsterdam was not permitting Moldova Airlines to land in their city and that we would have to wait in Moldova for an extra four days before we could be diverted instead to Rome on the following Tuesday. They were quick to maintain that this was the fault of the Amsterdam Airport and had nothing to do with Moldova Airlines. In the words of Shakespear, they protested too much and it was obvious that there was something more afoot.
A bit later, one of the Airline employees let slip that the plane had not been fully fueled and that this was the cause of the delay and the resulting delay was causing everyone to miss their connections so that Moldova Airlines was attempting to cut their losses by not allowing passengers to go to Amsterdam in the first place.
Tom and I listened to all of this and then we went off into a corner and prayed about the situation. Within a few minutes, another airline representative came out and called out our names and the names of three other passengers who were permitted to board the plane. The remaining passengers were not permitted to board and we eventually took off for Amsterdam less than half full.
The delay had caused us to miss our connecting flight in Amsterdam and after walking from one end of the airport and back again, we finally found our way to the Moldova Airlines desk. Fortunately, this desk was staffed by Dutch representatives who exhibited the typical Dutch thoroughness and professionalism. All flights both to Fort Lauderdale as well as to Minneapolis were full, but they could get me onto a direct KLM flight to Miami. I took their offer. Unfortunately, Tom had no such luck and was told that he would have to spend the night in Amsterdam and catch a connecting flight in the morning.