May 2016

Suzanne and I, along with our son, Shane, arrived in Chisinau at noon time on Friday May 20. We were met at the airport by Slavic Duman, and stopped to visit with Nelson Zimmerman, president of Cross Links who was on a trip to visit some of their projects in Moldova. After spending some time with him, we went to Dancu, where we have been working with Tabita Agriculture Association for a number of years.

We had a great lunch, and then Slavic took us on a tour of their facilities. It was Suzanne’s first time in Moldova, so it was good for her to see firsthand some of the things she has been hearing about that the ministry has been involved with over the years.

IMG_4324Saturday was a very busy day, with Shane filming a lot of the projects in the fields, the dairy, the vegetable plots, the irrigation system, along with footage of life in Moldova. In the afternoon Slavic took us to visit several very poor families in the village that they have recently started working with.

As always, a personal connection touches your heart, and I continue to be amazed at human resiliency, how a little hope and encouragement allows people to live a joyful life in deplorable conditions. IMG_3468Dancu Tabita’s work in their community has touched so many people, as their social programs include feeding the elderly, after school tutoring for special needs children, programs for handicapped children, Youth in Action – where the young people from the church do many practical things for needy individuals and families, such as cutting, splitting and delivering firewood, home repairs, ect.

We stayed with Dumitru and Carina Cravencu whose hospitality is always outstanding. We enjoyed many good meals, sitting around the table with many members of the family. We are always made to feel at home when we are with them, and cherish the relationship that has developed.

AgriService Moldova has been working with Dancu since 2006, and since the founding of AgConnect Ministries in 2013. I have spent much time with them, increasing our involvement in their agriculture enterprise which so vital, as it is an important part of their being able to help their community. There are over 200 members of the association, farming about 700 acres. This has allowed better farming practices to be used, and by farming the land together, much more efficient use of equipment and labor is realized. The dairy project is another very vital component of the farming operation, and AgConnect Ministries is committed to revitalizing that project.

Sunday morning we worshiped with them at the Baptist Church that Dumitru founded. I was asked to bring the morning message, and we had a good time fellowshipping with the Believers in Dancu. A delicious family lunch, a beautiful sunny day, good company, what more could anyone ask for?

Michael Caraivan picked us up about 4;00 pm Sunday afternoon and took us to Vadul Lui Isac where we will spend the next week, staying with Michael and Angelica. Of course, Angelica had a feast prepared for us, and we spent another enjoyable evening with our family in our “Moldovan Home.”

Monday and Tuesday were spent with Angela Zimmerman, visiting various greenhouse and vegetable growers, filming the projects, and talking to the growers about such things as water quality, soil ph, and the impact on fertility programs. Angela’s commitment to spend time in Moldova developing programs for the Greenhouse/Vegetable Project will greatly improve yields and economic returns for the families and pastors who depend on growing vegetables in small plots and greenhouses as a way of supporting themselves.


Angela has started some trials to demonstrate different methods of improving production. We are looking for a place for her to conduct numerous trials of methods, various fertility products, ect. and use it as a place to bring people to show what could be possible choices for them. She has also been doing a number of soil and water tests, some with kits that AgConnect Ministries
provided for her, as well as using the Soil Institute in Chisinau. One of our challenges is having access to timely, accurate information on soil and water quality.

Monday evening was spent with the Youth Group in Vadul Lui Isac, where I shared a short word with them. I have appreciated getting to know this committed group of youth over the past 3 1/2 years, and always make sure that at least once on my travels to Moldova, that I have time to spend at least one evening with them.

IMG_4659With some rain on Tuesday night and Wednesday we decided not to visit any field projects, so we spent quite a bit of time visiting the Youth Home that was recently opened by the church in Vadul Lui Isac. They started with 3 children that were living with their alcoholic mother and a lot of other people in a very crowded, rundown house. They were poorly clothed and fed, dirty and lice-infested, and mostly abandoned. When the State Social Services removed the children from the home, the mother shrugged it off and said, “If you take these, I’ll just make more.”

The oldest girl is 6 and is quite shy, the middle child is a 4 year old girl who responded much more openly, and their 14 month old brother was sleeping peacefully during our visit. The wife of the couple who are the house parents used to work at the kindergarten, but since she was a young girl dreamed of having a home for children. There will be room for 10 youth, each with their own bed. Some of the children will be there longterm, some for just weeks, depending on their situation. While they are there, they will be well cared for and loved. With the State closing orphanages and moving the children to group homes, many churches are building homes to care for these children.

IMG_4691On Thursday morning we visited the kindergarten and enjoyed spending quite a bit of time with the children. This continues to be a work that has greatly impacted the community and the church. It is always enjoyable to watch the children eagerly learn and blossom under the love, care and personal attention each child receives. And of course they enjoyed when we joined them in the playground, pushing them on the swings, and all of the other playground equipment.

In the afternoon we went to Roma and Claudia Cheptene’s home, where I spent some time with Claudia working on AgConnect Ministries website. We stayed for a delicious supper, and spent the evening visiting with them.

13318946_1004206202947801_1237518074_n copyFriday morning we went to Cahul where we met up with Michael, and then spent time going to various shops and walking through the market. It doesn’t matter where in the world you are, were there are goods to be bought and sold, commerce will take place. We also went to the Plumbing Supply store and purchased another water filtering system to give to a family with young children.

Water quality is deplorable with extremely high nitrates and bacteria, as well as being very hard. For the last 2 years, ACM has been purchasing at least one filter on each trip to give to a family, with priority to those with young children. It is the hope that all households would be able to have good drinking water. The health benefits have been very noticeable for the ones who have installed these systems.

IMG_4760In the afternoon we visited with Ion and Eleana Semeret, enjoying looking at all that he is doing, in the vegetable plots, pigs, sheep, ect. Ion was the first farmer I visited with in 2004, looking at the first comparative plot that we started in Moldova. He has done an outstanding job implementing the methods we have been sharing here in this country, and as a result of his efforts, many in the village now follow the practices he has learned from us. Of course we were invited into their home for tea, which quickly turned into trying peach compote, a Moldovan version of scrapple, sheep cheeses, sauces, breads, ect. And because he knows I like lamb, he sent us home with some lamb they had just butchered the day before, and with 2 different types of sheep cheese.

Saturday was a beautiful day, and we spent the day at Michaels, relaxing, reading, catching up with emails and other correspondence, going over the progress and direction of the Greenhouse/Vegetable Project with Angela Zimmerman.In the afternoon Michael and I delivered the water filter to the family we purchased it for, and then I spent some time with Claudia doing some more website work.

On Saturday evening we enjoyed a cookout at Pastor Andrei Ciobano’s home, even though a brief shower chased us indoors just before we finished eating. We spent the time visiting in neighboring Alex and Elana Pascal’s home, getting to know Joe Jackson from Dublin, NC who has been coming to Vadul Lui Isac to help with the work here for the past 4 years.

thumb_IMG_4799_1024Sunday morning was another clear, sunny day, and I brought the morning message before we had another one of Angelica’s delicious meals. When we tell her not to make so much to eat, she tells us that she wants us to get a taste of all of the different foods that are in Moldova. And so we eat, and eat, and eat. But it is enjoyable to sit around the table afterwards and visit with friends and family.

On Monday morning we headed to Chisinau, stopping in Gotesti to visit with Igor and Vera Costeleanu. We weren’t sure if we would be able to see them on this trip, but I was so glad that we were able to arrange a brief visit. Things continue to be very difficult for them in starting their small dairy farm, with weather and economics being a big mountain to climb. There are days
when they wonder if it is worth all of the efforts, and I am thankful that we were able to bring some hope and encouragement to them, and to spend some time praying with them. They are the type of couple we envisioned assisting in our work here, and it is rewarding to be able to be used in ways that impacts their daily lives, and their spiritual lives. Once again I was humbled when they shared how they fasted and prayed for me during my difficult health journey this winter.

When we arrived in Chisinau we visited the Outdoor Art Market, buying some gifts and souvenirs to take back home. We walked around the city center for a little bit, seeing the Parliament and the central park. We then went to Valeri and Maria Belous’ home, where we will be staying the next couple of days. They are a pastor couple I have come to know, and they were anxious to meet Suzanne, as they have seen many pictures and heard about her the past 5 years that I have been staying in their home. They have enjoyed having Shane and Jordan stay with them, and now the picture is almost complete, needing Shane’s wife Katelyn to join us sometime.

thumb_IMG_4825_1024As always, Maria had a delicious lunch for us, which we enjoyed eating outside. Valeri joined us and we had a nice time catching up on each others lives, and then when Igor Hmelic stopped in, planned our tourist agenda for the next two days. In the evening we visited one nearby parks, probably the nicest one in all of Moldova, well maintained and full of beautiful gardens.

We stopped and visited their church, “Voice of Truth” and I was impressed in the growth they have experienced since I last visited the church 5 years ago. They were holding a meeting with recovering addicts, convicts in transition to community and homeless people. They are having a huge impact in their community, and have vision to reach many diverse people groups.

Back home for another large, late night supper. I’m not sure that I will ever really get used to eating at 9 and 10 pm, but when in Rome . . . We sat around the table telling stories, laughing and also having serious moments as we shared the paths that God has taken us on. We have much in common as we share our journeys, how we have been called to areas of ministry and in ways that we never expected.

Tuesday morning after breakfast we went to tour the Cricavo winery, which has it’s storage underground in an old limestone quarry. It is a city underground with 200 km of streets cut thru the rock, where they store and age their world renown wines. We saw private stocks of wine from many dignitaries, politicians, and other famous people. They have the only bottle of wine from a batch that was made in Jerusalem in 1902, that is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. It was a very impressive tour, and we were glad for the opportunity to have the chance to visit.

In the afternoon Igor met us and we traveled to Orhei, the “Grand Canyon” of Moldova, where there are limestone cliffs, and many caves. The caves have been used many times by the natives as places to escape from conquering armies, especially during Turkish invasions.

There is an underground Orthodox monastery that is carved into the limestone cliff, where there are about a dozen smallthumb_IMG_5011_1024 cubicles that priests stayed in. There is still a priest that stays there and is always present in the chapel. There are still services held on special days, and people come daily to pray at the altar. About 500 yards away on the top of the cliff is a modern Orthodox synagogue that is the regular synagogue, and we happened to be there when the priests were doing one of the daily liturgies. There were about a dozen people there who were lighting candles and praying, and it was another special moment to be see the century’s old ceremonies being celebrated.

thumb_IMG_5056_1024We returned to Chisinau in the evening to the Bible Institute where we were able to meet up with my cousins, Karen Sue Miller and Lois Ulrich, who were with a group of ladies who came to minister to ladies in Moldova. It was a special moment to catch up with family from Indiana and Illinois who I don’t get to see very often. We ate supper with the group, and spent a couple of hours visiting with them.

It started to rain just as were were heading back home, and the heavens opened up with a mighty thunderstorm. In less than 10 minutes water was rushing down the streets, and we had a very difficult time getting back home, as many streets became flooded and many cars were stranded. There were places where the water was over the curbs and flooding the sidewalks. With Chisinau’s hilly streets, there were many places where the streets looked like rivers with water that was 10-12 inches deep and fountains erupting from the sewers. But we made it home safely if slowly, and the storm continued well into the night.

With the city freshly washed, and the sun slowly making it’s way through the clouds, we headed to Transnistria Wednesday morning. This was my first trip to the region, it being unsafe for foreign visitors in my early years here and with me being too busy the past several years for me to take the time just for a visit. Roads we traveled on were nicer and the countryside cleaner and neater than the rest of Moldova, and people appeared to be a little more prosperous than what I find in my normal travels.

We first visited an Orthodox Church and a memorial park honoring those who died in the conflict between Transnistria and Moldova, and then the Bendery Fortress, built in 1530, that withstood many attempts to conquer the region, and has largely been restored, turning it into one of the more popular tourist attractions. One of the rooms has been dedicated to hold many devices used to torture people during the Inquisition. There seems to be no end to the many cruel ways that mankind has used, and is still using, to force people to bend to a certain belief or lifestyle.

We visited an outdoor market, monuments celebrating various military generals and leaders from the past 500 years, and ended the visit with an absolutely outstanding meal at a restaurant that served traditional Moldovan food, waitresses dressed in traditional Moldova outfits. We had a fun day with Valeri and Maria Belous and their children, Bogdan and Carina. And having Nelu as our interpreter kept things lively. We told lots of stories and jokes, sharing common saying, such as “Letting the cat out of the bag”, or “Esti varza!” – you are cabbage (a piece of trash). For all of us, it was a relaxing and enjoyable vacation, as Valeri and Maria are like many involved in ministry, with lives so busy that they can’t seem to find the time to get away and spend time with their families, leaving for a short time, the cares and responsibilities that are so demanding.

After returning to their home, we packed our bags, freshen up a bit, relaxed for an hour and then on our way to our next home we will spend the last to nights, stopped for supper at La Placinte, one of a chain of good, popular restaurants, and feasted once again on some traditional Moldova food. We ate placintes, which is a pie stuffed with combinations of cheese, potatoes, cabbage, meat or fruit. Ate soups, salads and bread, ending with pastries filled with apple, cherry or pumpkin. After supper, Valeri took us to Ghena and Alina Russu’s home, where we stayed until we left for home on Friday morning.

On Thursday morning, we met with Richard Sanders and Jeff Owens from World Team, Eugen Tcaci from Operation Mobilization and 2 of his colleagues from the B4T team, and Cale Rogoyski who is working on a feasibility study for dairy development for Invest Credit. Also at the meeting was Paul Lindstedt, a missionary who has been in Moldova for over 10 years teaching in the Bible Institute in Chisinau.

I’ve met with Richard and Cale a number of times in the past couple of years, talking about Business as Missions, and Dairy Development in particular. We’ve discussed ways that AgConnect Ministries can be a resource to different missionaries and mission organizations that want to start agriculture programs that could serve their particular ministry in a number of ways, such as providing food, providing training for life skills, providing income to support their work.

thumb_IMG_5364_1024They are looking to AgConnect to provide technical support, education and training to farmers and staff, and helping to provide guidance as they explore opportunities that may fit their vision. The people from OM and B4T have been trying to launch some programs, but would welcome training and guidance, along with a much higher level of technical support than they have received in the past from other individuals. We spent a couple of hours sharing vision and potential opportunities to work together, and we will need to have more times of connecting and developing a relationship.

In the afternoon, we met with Ghena and Cale to discuss their progress on Dairy Development, and to explore ways that AgConnect can help with their Greenhouse projects. We have done a number of seminars for Invest Credit, and are looking for ways to help develop more advanced programs for their growers.Later in the afternoon, Cale and I met for a more extended discussion on Dairy Development, and Cale’s future plans.

Thursday evening we ate supper with Ghena and Alina and had a nice time visiting and catching up with what is happening in our personal lives and in our life callings. We went back to the house, where we started the process of packing our bags, trying to find a place for all of the things we to bring home with us. We were able to fit everything in our suitcases and carry-on bags, and were able to get a good nights rest.

After breakfast in the morning, we said our goodbyes to Nelu Becaru, who was our faithful translator and guide who keep us well entertained.Then it was time to say goodbye to Ghena and Alina before heading to the airport for our flight home. The trip home went well, and we were met at the Harrisburg airport by my faithful brother, Karl. He has picked be up from the airport the last 10 trips to Moldova, always gracious no matter what time of the night we get home. For Suzanne and I, this was a very enjoyable, relaxing trip, where we got spend quality time with friends in Moldova, not being pressured to make the next visit, see the next person who would like our assistance. It was a good introduction of Moldova and the work of the ministry for Suzanne, and many people were happy to meet her, as they had seen her pictures and were anxious to get to know her.

Thanks for the many thoughts and prayers.
Leslie D. Yoder