My first time to Moldova was in 2003. On that trip, I knew that God had a huge heart for the precious orphan children I met and a huge calling for us, a baby church in Middle Tennessee. I must admit that before that trip, I knew very little about this small country in Eastern Europe. But, it was the statistic that 60% of girls trafficked into prostitution in Eastern Europe come out of this country of 4 million and then meeting some of these vulnerable children that truly grabbed my heart. Not only the girls, but also the boys are in danger of trafficking, organized crime and even suicide. I have returned every year since my first trip and our church, Rolling Hills, has been sending mission teams multiple times a year. By God’s grace, we have had a front-row seat to see Him change an entire country.
Camps for Orphans and Vulnerable Children with Mission Teams
I am writing this on a plane returning home with one of our summer mission teams. From the first year, the prioritization of taking mission teams from Rolling Hills and other churches has been the basic building block. By hosting camps at various orphanages throughout Moldova, we have been able to share the Gospel and to see countless young men and women commit their lives to Christ. Christ has transformed their lives with His love, just as He has for each of us. We have seen God changing Moldova, one life at a time.
Mission teams have also allowed us to connect with children in order to hear their story and see the depth of their need. Through individuals who have served on one of our teams, we have been able to meet physical needs with clothes and food as well as to foster on-going discipleship by connecting Christ-followers in America with these children. This has allowed us to meet pastors in area villages who have helped identify the need. I am so thankful for the hundreds of people who have gone to Moldova to serve – God has used you and continues to use your prayers, love and support. You are a part of God’s bigger story for this country.
After a few years of taking mission teams to serve in Moldova, we quickly realized that we had to do more. These kids were coming to know Christ, and we were able to give food and clothes, but they had long-term needs at the risk of not being met. In 2008, we started a non-profit called Justice & Mercy International. The first role of JMI was to hire a National Director and begin a sponsorship program. This sponsorship program has solidified the connection between an American (sponsor) and a vulnerable child in Moldova. This sponsor becomes a surrogate “parent” to the child providing resources for clothes, food and advice. Through letter writing and connecting a JMI staff member with the child, the child’s future is being impacted. Today almost 400 children are being sponsored through JMI in Moldova.
Different from great organizations like International Justice Mission (IJM) who rescue trafficked children from brothels, we are endeavoring to be on the front end – protecting the children and preventing them from ever having to experience the hurt and tragedy of this abominable situation. And, by God’s grace, it is working. Lives are being saved – spiritually and physically!
Transitional Living Homes
Through JMI, we were able to start a Transitional Living Home for when children outgrow and have to leave the orphanages at age 15 or 16 – their most vulnerable time in life. Today, we have a home for girls (The Grace House) and a home for boys (Boys to Leaders). The Transitional Living program is two to three years of providing a place for the child to live, a mentor (House parent), enrolling in additional school (“college”), teaching them English and spiritual discipleship. We have over 30 girls and boys currently living in our transitional living homes.
After the children graduate from the Transitional Home, they can move into an independent living apartment with others from the program. This allows them to learn how to live in an independent setting with the help of a social worker, vocational director and additional education. We have close 20 boys and girls in independent living apartments. It is exciting to see these kids growing up, exceling in school and attaining jobs in areas of influence – education, local churches and even government jobs.
By God’s grace, it is working!
Last night was an amazing celebration for JMI in Moldova. Our Mission Team shared in a graduation party at the Grace House for 11 graduates of the Transitional Living program. With caps and gowns, the graduates came out onto our stage in the back courtyard. With about 80 people present, we applauded the graduates for their hard work, prayed over them and blessed them. There was not a dry eye in the place. It was incredibly special!
Graduates like Ejor. Ejor grew up in the orphanage in Baltsi. He came to know Christ through one of our Rolling Hills mission teams. He has been in the JMI program for three years, and his English has progressed to the point where he now serves as a translator for JMI. In fact, Ejor leads worship at the Camps that our mission teams host in different orphanages and villages. Kids in Moldova are drawn to Ejor, and God is using him to impact the next generation there.
Graduates like Elijah. Eli grew up in the orphanage at Internat 2. This was our first orphanage in 2003, and we served at this Camp for 9 years in a row. I have watched Eli grow up. I met him when he was 8. He told me at graduation, “You were the first man who ever said he was proud of me.” These kids, just like all of us, simply need someone to believe in them. Eli was also one of our translators for the week and leading other kids to Christ.
At the graduation that night, Elena and Ion came to visit. Elena was one of our first girls in the Grace House in 2010. Since she graduated from the program herself, she has gone on to marry Ion (a godly man) and just completed her Masters in education. Next month, Elena and Ion are the leaders of a Camp at their Moldovan church for 125 children in their community.
After the graduation, we had a big celebration. We had a Moldovan band, and all 80 of us danced traditional Moldovan dances. We had a cake to celebrate the 5-year anniversary of the NGO status of JMI’s work in Moldova. I stood looking around at everyone laughing and having so much joy, and thought, “Only God.” Only God can change an orphan’s life and only God can change a country.
We certainly have a long way to go, but we take motivation from the fact that Moldova used to be known for sending orphan and vulnerable children into the sex slave trade, and now we are seeing Christ transform these young lives so that this country will be known for sending missionaries for Christ. Through the leadership of these young followers of Christ who are now getting jobs in education, business and government, and volunteering in their local churches, with American mission teams in orphanages and sponsoring vulnerable children themselves, we are seeing a new Moldova emerging – one with a hope and a future. God is changing this country, and we all have a part to play in His bigger story for this country. Get involved and join in what God is doing. Don’t miss it – God is changing a country!