We feel slightly amazed when we listen to Mihai Chisari describe the children’s and young people’s activities in the Imago Dei church in Chisinau. Somehow this little fellowship seems to manage to reach out to literally dozens of the city’s youngest inhabitants. Seventy teenagers, aged 13-17, including a few of the Ukrainian children still taking refuge in the city, attended their camp this year, and when we asked Mihai where they get enough helpers to cope with such numbers, he replies in his usual matter-of-fact way: ‘Most people in the church help’, as if that is the most normal thing in the world. The truth is that almost all the mums and dads in the congregation attend camp with their little ones, and organise themselves so that there are always enough responsible adults around to be in control of what is going on. And what 'goes on' includes loads of fun activities, plenty of crafts and workshops, but also a very focused teaching programme- Day 1: Can we trust the Bible? Day 2: Why is Christ unique? Day 3: What is the Big Story of the Bible? Day 4: What is the Church? (an emphasis on the Church as a community, not a building or a business). Each evening there was a ‘Talk Show’, in which one of the leaders was interviewed, and each interviewee linked their testimony to the day’s Big Question from the morning session.
But it was the moments around the campfires at night that were especially memorable for Mihai. As he talks about the deep conversations about spiritual truths that took place in that intimate atmosphere, this pastor’s face changes. He is no longer simply giving a factual account of an encouraging event. He is reliving with evident emotion those encounters where he had witnessed the work of the Holy Spirit in some of those youngsters, most of them from Eastern Orthodox backgrounds (whether in Moldova or in Ukraine), but with a mindset that is basically secular.
That would have been an encouraging summer’s outreach by any standards. But the church presses on with the children’s work too, planning a Vacation Bible School for younger children in the coming weeks, and carrying on with the weekly studies for different age groups of boys and girls, respectively.
These groups have grown in size since camp ended, in spite of the fact that, as Mihai comments, they include study sessions that would normally be considered ‘uncool’ by typical teenagers.
All of this outreach is taking place alongside the church’s ongoing effort to support Ukrainian refugees. Those crazy days in late February, when the building opened its doors to dozens of refugees, have passed, and there are no longer mattresses on the floor that have to be stacked away each day. But, with the help of EMF’s Ukraine Emergency Appeal Funds, the Imago Dei church has rented four apartments that have been occupied for months now by displaced people who had nowhere else to go, and who still have no other refuge. Around twenty-five people, mostly mothers with children, are being supported in these flats. Food distribution is still a weekly task for the church team, and when we spoke to Mihai he and the other helpers were sorting out a shipment of long-awaited clothing that had been sent from Greece.
Mihai is thankful that he has recently been able to leave much of the responsibility for this aid work in the hands of one of the church deacons, for he believes in the need to spend quality time in the preparation of solid biblical food for his flock, and he has a wife and two little girls to shepherd too.
Moldova is a small, poor country that often feels insecure at the best of times. Its gas supply comes from the breakaway region of Transnistria, which is loyal to Russia. In many senses it can ill afford to offend the Russian super-power, yet this little nation has valiantly punched way above its weight in its support to incoming refugees. The Imago Dei church has played its part in welcoming and helping desperate Ukrainians fleeing the horrors of war, and it is still doing so, though the numbers of displaced people seeking shelter and help have decreased in recent weeks. If Russia were to intensify attacks on Black Sea ports like Odessa again, there could be another flood of refugees, of course. Who knows what the next few months will be like for the citizens of Moldova, or for the little congregation at Imago Dei?
One thing is certain. With the Lord’s help, Mihai and Irina Chisari and the hard-working team in their church will be seeking to serve the cause of the Gospel, whether among their fellow Moldovans or among the people who have been turning to them for help in the worst moments of their lives. These have been months of intense labour, of a seed-sowing that has been as exhausting as it has been exhilarating. Will you pray that the Holy Spirit will give life to that seed sown in the hearts of Moldovan teens and children? Will you ask the Lord to work in the hearts of so many Ukrainians who have heard a message of Gospel hope for the first time in their lives?
PS Since this article was written, Mihai has been rejoicing in the fact that his sister Stela has openly professed conversion. She was baptised by him in early August 2022.