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The understandable fears of a pastor in Chișinău, Moldova


There are photos of Mihai Chisari, EMF missionary and pastor of the Imago Dei Baptist church in Chișinău, the capital of Moldova before the conflict in neighbouring Ukraine. In pre-war photos he, like the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, was pictured in casual wear and was freshly-shaven. In the latest videos, after more than two months of relief work in which there has been so little rest and so many demands, Mihai, like Zelensky, is seen in a military-coloured shirt, and has a moustache and beard. It really is hard not to draw comparisons! As the Imago Dei church enters the third month of its intense efforts to help refugees, we wondered what life is like for Mihai and his church as they labour on in love towards the Ukrainian refugees they have been serving so well.

In an article for Sky News on 29 April 2022 Moldova correspondent Mark Stone writes 'There is deep concern in Moldova not only that the Ukraine conflict could spill over here but that the future of Moldova as a county could be in jeopardy.' Stone cites the country's deputy prime minister Vlad Kulminski "Our future as an independent state does depend to a great degree on how successful Ukraine is in fighting for its independence and resisting and ultimately surviving as an independent state".

Mihai and Irina with Delia and Elisa

As Mihai Chisari and his team at the Imago Dei Baptist church in Chisinau contemplate what is happening in the 'frozen confict zone' of Transnistria, a Russian-backed breakaway territory in Moldova, they cannot help but be apprehensive. Explosions in the region this past week have unsettled everyone in Moldova. Whoever has been behind these attacks, the disruption caused could very well be used by this region as an excuse to raise tensions with Ukraine. Russia would no doubt come in to Transnistria with greater force (there are aready troope there); Moldova,which is looking to join the European Union, would feel very threatened indeed, for Russia alleges that Moldovan Russian-speakers are oppressed in that country and need rescuing. That claim of oppression was given as the reason for Russia's 'special military operation' to 'liberate' its 'brothers and sisters' in Ukraine.

Mihai and a few of the Ukrainian refugees the church has helped

So as the relief workers in the church Mihai pastors work on tirelessly and selflessly, making up aid packages, helping refugees find accommodation, speaking to them of the hope they can find in the gospel of Christ, they cannot but wonder if it will perhaps not be too long before their own little country is dragged into a war in which it could not easily put up much of a defence. Mihai tells us that all of them have fears of their own to deal with in this sense, even as they work hard each day. They have witnessed all-too-closely, all-too-deeply, what war does to people. But they carry on giving and giving, and are as selfless at this stage as they were at the beginning of the conflict, when they jumped into vans and drove to the border to rescue freezing, fleeing, and fearful people who at that time believed that their city of Odesa might be destroyed at any time. The church became a refuge overnight, with all the members of this tiny church shopping, cooking, cleaning, listening and giving of themselves. The floors of the church are no longer covered in mattresses, for the refugees, who as time went on came from cities and towns further to the east and with deeply-traumatised bodies and souls, have generally been found accommodation in other rented lodging before they then carry on in their journey westward. A few refugees had begun to return to Ukraine when they believed that Odesa was not going to fall so soon, but later explosions there have halted their plans to return. There are not as many incoming refugees as there were at the start, it is true, but there are still hundreds of people being helped by the Imago Deo church. Each day there is food distribution, each day there is a little time set apart for the members of the team to give a short talk on a Bible passage, each day there are people who have never looked inside a Bible, or heard about the grace of God in Christ, who are gladly and eagerly receiving Christian literature and Bibles in their own language. The generosity of donors to our EMF Ukraine crisis appeal funds has made much of this possible.

The truth is that interest in the gospel is, according to Mihai, 'like never before'. Every day, when the room fills with 45-60 people, there are Christian songs ringing out before someone opens a Bible and begins to explain the Christian message. Hearers ask for Bibles, and request some for their children too. Refugees who had never been inside an Evangelical church before are attending services, where the sermon is interpreted for them, as are a few of the songs, so that they can join in. 'We have multiple, multiple, great conversations', Mihai tells us. '...'God is at work. We don't know when the seed will bring the fruits that we desire to see, but we're pretty sure that God's Word is not sown in vain.'

Yes, it is encouraging. Yes, great things have happened. But we should remember what Mihai told us at the beginning. The situation in Transnistria could exacerbate at any moment. This little country of Moldova feels very vulnerable, knowing what has happened in Crimea and now in the rest of the territory of Ukraine. Mihai's fellow-citizens have given so much to those who have fled into their (already very needy) land. His own church, his own family ( he and his wife Irina, his little girls Delia and Elisa), have been sacrificial in their service. But they realise they are mere humans, with very natural, understandable fears. We need to pray for them. We need to pray for the refugees they are helping. We need to pray for Moldova.

Prayer Points

Mihai asks us to pray

  • 'that our faith in our Sovereign God may remain stronger than our fear and concerns'.
  • that Moldova will not be drawn into war.
  • that he and the church will be able to keep on helping, and not have to flee themselves.