Doug and Janet organized the conference just like they knew what they were doing: making signs and handouts, organizing books to give away, advertising over the internet to the Moldovan Christian community, setting up speakers and their topics, and finding local volunteers (including Kostanza) to keep us supplied with coffee and tea, and to cook for us. Doug also facilitated the roundtable discussions. I was shocked to learn that they had never organized a conference before. Everything ran so smoothly that I had been convinced that they had done it many times.
The first of the attendees arrived the night before. She was uncertain about being able to get to the conference on time, so she had contacted Doug about coming early. So Bobbie, an English missionary, spent the night with me and Sally in the female bedroom, also known as the conference room. In the morning we moved the mattresses to an unfinished back room, and rounded up all the available tables in the house. Jurek set up the projector, screen, and laptop with Sally’s flash drive.
Meanwhile, Kostanza and the other local women arrived to help out with coffee and meals. They didn’t speak English, but they worked hard all day long, singing and talking together in Romanian, which is what they speak in Moldova. Soon after they got started, the other attendees started arriving in twos and fours. I served as greeter, giving each person a name badge and information packet with the day’s schedule, a brochure about GoMissions, my and Sally’s card (a two-sided business card), and a GoMissions rubber bracelet bearing the phrase “I love GoMissions.eu,” and I checked their name off on the master list.
Some people knew each other, and some also knew Jurek, who has now come to Moldova so often that it has become like a second home to him. Others dove right into that all-important secondary motivation for attending a conference: networking. As is often the case among Christian missionaries, even if we don’t know each other, we know many of the same people. For missionaries in Europe, it really is a very small world.
The program started late, due to the late arrival of people who had trouble finding Jurek’s mission house. However, they phoned and got directions and soon found the house. Meanwhile Yuri, one of the young men that lives in Jurek’s house picked up his guitar and started playing worship songs. Doug had asked him to prepare songs to sing in Romanian and Russian, but that are well-known in English. Yuri did a great job picking out songs, and everyone joined right in singing.
Once the last arrivals was in the door and settled, Doug opened the program with a brief welcome, a prayer, and invited Yuri to play some more. He didn’t realize that Yuri had already played his entire repertoire, but never mind. They were all songs that everyone knows and loves. A funny moment came when we had gone through one song in Romanian and a second time in Russian, then Yuri said, “English!” and nothing but silence and then laughter followed because we all knew the chorus, but not the rest of the song. Then, because Yuri was about to leave to go on a mission trip to India, we gathered around him and prayed for him.
Next, we each briefly introduced ourselves and our interest in attending the conference. The last one was Sally, who introduced herself in her PowerPoint presentation on Assessing Student’s Needs and Designing Lessons. Again I found myself marveling at how gifted Sally is at putting together an interesting and engaging talk. She has been an independent businesswoman for many years, so Sally is very clever and creative.
Then there was a brief coffee/bathroom break before the next session, which was taught by Johnny, a recently retired teacher from the UK. Johnny now teaches English at a church in a town not far from here. He taught a session on Classroom Management. As he spoke about maintaining order in the classroom, Johnny spoke about the importance of treating each student with love and respect—especially when it comes to maintaining discipline. In fact, he spoke so passionately about loving your students, that I could easily imagine that Johnny’s students must all love him, too. It would be hard not to love a teacher who smiles so warmly and laughs so easily.
After lunch Jurek showed some slides of his mission house in action, filled with Polish and Moldovan teenaged believers, playing games and singing songs, getting ready to go into the nearby villages on outreach.
Moldova is the poorest country in Europe, and on the streets and in the shops, it is rare to see anyone smile. The Orthodox Church stands in gaudy golden contrast with the disheveled gray surroundings—it seems a mockery. Most Moldovans still identify themselves as Orthodox, though church attendance is very low. The poverty of Moldova is so bad that the orphanages are filled with children who are not really orphans, but simply abandoned by parents who can no longer feed them. And the plight of the Moldovan orphans is very bad indeed. Most orphanages release their young adults into the world without the necessary life skills. So equipped with only a bus ticket to the city where they are expected to somehow find an apartment and a job and begin to fend for themselves. The traffickers know this and cruise the bus stops near the orphanages, looking for newly-released girls (and boys) to whisk away into a life of prostitution in Western Europe. Some orphanage directors even get kickbacks from the traffickers by handing over young girls.
So it is against this backdrop that Jurek enters the villages each summer with his teenaged missionaries. The children see his van coming and they run to greet it. They entertain the children with games and stories and songs, all on the theme of God’s great love for them. Jurek has recorded it all in pictures and video. In fact, he has been taking pictures of the conference since we first arrived to set things up.
Next it was time for Sally’s next workshop: Communicating with students. Sally is highly creative and innovative, so she showed us some wonderful ways to incorporate Jesus into any English lesson in a way that feels very natural and normal. She said that she always tells the language school in the first interview that she is a Christian missionary and an English teacher. That way, if someone finds out about her talking about Jesus, the school can’t say that they didn’t know about it. In her lessons, illustrating the past tense using a person or a story from the Bible is easy to do, and she gave us some examples. She also uses the Bible to illustrate other parts of speech, as well.
Sally also showed the class her latest genius idea: black clothing labels machine embroidered in gold, which she had gotten in bulk from China. They say: “Jesus – Light of the World.” She has sewn them onto her clothes in odd places: on a sleeve, on a pocket, at a seam, or at a hem. They are small and tasteful, maintaining the professional look of her wardrobe. And because they are in odd places, they catch the eye and evoke comment, which becomes conversation—either with her students, her co-workers, or strangers on the bus or in the coffee shop. She gave away several of the labels, and encouraged the attendees to use them.
Sally also periodically holds an English lunch outside the language school with her students. Since the venue is outside the language school, she is freer to share her faith. She has had students come to the English lunch, wanting only to talk about Jesus, which of course, she is only too happy to do.
After the afternoon tea break, there was the final workshop, which focused on the books and other materials that Doug and Jane had brought with them from Poland. Since the books had been sitting out on shelves all day, the attendees were practically salivating at the thought of getting their hands on these materials. They had had the opportunity to browse the selections, but now Doug spoke about how to choose the right materials for their needs. He had told me the day before that often the teachers will choose materials that fail to sufficiently challenge their students. So he encouraged the teachers to think about choosing the higher level books in order to draw their students into a more advanced level of English—and possibly themselves, too.
Then after a lovely dinner the conference concluded. Doug read us the parable of the talents, and instructed us to write on a piece of paper three talents that we have. Then he said that with these talents comes the responsibility to use them for the Kingdom of God.
This morning we went to a little church in a village nearby. The church didn’t have a sign outside, but there was a cross-shaped window on the front that made it obvious that it was a church. Jurek told us that the church had been meeting in a very badly dilapidated house built with asbestos. So some German believers helped by building a church building for them. Many people refused to go to the bright, shiny new church building. This is likely for a number of reasons:
- The new building smacks of the Orthodox Church’s ostentation
- The Orthodox Church collaborated with the Communists, so because the new building reminds people of the Orthodox Church, it also reminds them of Communism
- Most Moldovan Christians are plain people, playing no music in church, wearing a headscarf to church, no makeup or jewelry. It feels wrong to them to go to such a fancy church
- The new building is so clean and bright that it is a bit intimidating for Moldovans, who are used to things that are dingy and gray
- Because of all this, the new building doesn’t feel Moldovan, but foreign
All of this is a real shame because the people of the church were very sweet and welcoming. The songs were sung loudly by all, with only the pastor at the front. He sang with eyes closed, as in prayer. We were assigned interpreters who didn’t interpret much. One was seventeen, and the other in his early twenties, neither had very strong English language skills. We understood that they had been put on the spot. It’s one thing to understand a second language, but it’s another to interpret from your native language into a second language, even if you’re conversational in that language.
One woman went to the front and sang a song that God had given her. Of course I didn’t understand a word of it, but the heartfelt emotion came through. Another woman told about a dream God had given her, and concluded with a song.
The pastor preached about the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, and since I couldn’t understand and the translator couldn’t translate, I began to think about what our guide told us in Jerusalem just a month ago. He said that when you think of the people waving palms, you picture something like a king whose slaves continuously fan him with palm leaves. But he said that more likely the people had pieces of the date palm leaves, which are long and pointed, and they were waving them like swords because they expected Jesus to raise an insurrection against the Romans. And from that thought, my mind meandered to how Italians use olive branches instead of palms. Olive branches symbolize peace, the opposite of how our guide interpreted the Triumphal Entry. Hmm . . .
Sally had bought Italian chocolates (Baci!) to give to the churches we visit. So she approached the pastor’s wife after the service. She received them graciously, but as soon as she got them, the pastor’s wife gave away all the chocolates. I don’t know if she kept one for herself.
The pastor and his wife asked us how we felt there. I was unsure whether they meant Moldova or in the church, but in either case, the answer was the same: welcome. That answer brought smiles. We’ll see if we feel welcome tomorrow . . . stay tuned! God is good!