March 2014 Moldova Trip

Jim Ranck, Hamilton Horst, Les Yoder


Tuesday March 4 we left Newark Liberty Airport at 5:15 pm. Dan Ness took us to the airport. The winds were in our favor and we arrived in Munich about 45 minutes ahead of schedule. It was nice to have a little extra time between flights. Also, this trip we did not have to go thru any extra security checks, which made it a little nicer. It also means that I did not have to discard my bottle of water and purchase another one in the Munich airport.

Travel to Chisinau also went well and we arrived a little after noon. There was a little heightened security at customs, due to the Ukrainian situation, but there was no problem getting our luggage and didn’t have anybody who had their bags checked, which was nice since we were bringing in a few extra goods for other people.

Igor Hmelic picked up, gave us a quick tour of Chisinau and dropped us off at the outdoor art market in Chisinau, where Andy Otean met us, took us to the bank to change some US Dollars to Moldovan lei, and then Jim and Hamilton were able to purchased some souvenirs to take home. We then went to Mall Dova, where we ate an early supper. After supper we went to the CCI Center in Bedesti, which will be our base until Saturday evening.

Michael picked us up Thursday morning, along with Horia Nedelciuc, from Invest Credit, and we traveled to the village of Birita to meet with 4 greenhouse growers. The purpose of the meeting was to get to know them and learn of their cultural practices and problems, so that we can be better able to put together some helpful information for some seminars that we want to do with Invest Credit later this year.

After lunch at Andy’s Pizza, we went to purchase a preparation table for the cook of the Daycare in Valdu Lui Isac. We took the table back to CCI, so that we didn’t have to carry it on our car roof for the next couple days. We had a little time at CCI to do some planning for the rest of our time here, and then enjoyed supper at Gok-Oguz, an ethnic Moldovan restaurant.

Friday morning we traveled to the village of Dubasarii Vechi to meet with some more greenhouse growers. Again, very similar practices, and they talked quite a bit about their unstable markets and marketing challenges. I encouraged them to focus on the things they could do something about, and spend less time worrying about things beyond their control.

We went to visit on of the growers and look at his greenhouses where he was starting tomato plants. He was doing a very good job and we will be visiting his operation in May to see how things are progressing thru the growing season.

One of the biggest challenges at the moment is some sort of disease that is devastating many of the growers, regardless of cultural practices. They haven’t been able to tell me what the disease is, only describe the symptoms. There have been experts from Russia and other places that have not been able to find any solution to the problem, and there is no known treatment. It will be interesting to find someone who can follow and document the progression of the disease, taking pictures, ECT.

Early afternoon we were able to catch up with the youth from Valdu Lui Isac, who are at a 3 -day youth gathering in Chisinau. There were over 2,400 youth from all over Moldova attending. This is the largest Christian youth gathering ever in the history of Moldova. There were between 200 and 300 young people who made decisions for Christ – 6 of them young men from Michael’s church. We spent about an hour with them before having a late lunch at McDonalds, stopping at Metro to purchase some gifts for the ladies at the Daycare. Friday night we ate supper with Ghena and Alina Russo.

Saturday we traveled to Dancu, where we met with Dumitru Cravcencu and Slavic Duman and finalized plans for them to travel with us to the US. We also met Brian Pile, from Breadline. It was a great opportunity to meet someone from one of the main supporters of Dancu.

I had the opportunity to visit the Community Center where the children of the village were giving a Mother’s Day program. And, of course, like everywhere you travel in Moldova, whenever are in any type of church meeting you are asked to share a word. So I gave a short – 10 minute- word, not wanting to prolong the program, as lunch was prepared for the children and their mothers. It was good to see the impact Dumitru and Slavic were having on their community.

Jim, Hamilton and Michael spent the time with Vasile Gulica- Tabita’s Engineer- going over the corn planter and making sure that it is ready for this planting season. They got the planter in excellent shape, and Vasile is an outstanding mechanic and really understood how the planter is to work, so we believe that part of the project is well cared for.

Slavic’s wife Ana had a wonderful lunch for all of us, and then we traveled south to Valdu Lui Isac where Sasha and Helena Pascal fed us a wonderful supper. Pastor Andre and his wife also joined us. Helena will be cooking for us this weekend since Angelica is in Chisinau with the youth. We spent quite a bit of time discussing the opportunities for AgriService Moldova, how we can be more effective, if there is any prospect of really making an impact. We discussed the idea of holding some seminars in conjunction with an evangelical campaign this fall.

On Sunday morning we visited the village of Colibas, about 15 minutes from Michaels, where I brought the morning message. We had a chance to visit with the pastor, Zechariah Vasilache, a man who carries a true vision from God. The church is the 4th largest Baptist church in Moldova, with around 500 members. They are presently launching a building project to build a Family Center that will provide home for up to 15 orphans in a family center. They are doing all of the work themselves, and are in need of funds to build. Then back to Helena and Shasa’s for lunch, time for a short nap, and then to church in Valdu Lui Isac.

The Sunday evening service had a program given by the children from the Daycare for Mother’s Day. Very few of the parents of the children attending the Daycare are Believers, and this has been an excellent way for the church to reach the community with the gospel – having several programs in the church given by the children. Over the years, many have been added to the church because of the exposure they get from the several programs given by the children each year. For many it is the only time they have ever been in a church, and they have the opportunity to meet with the Believers who are so important in running the program at the Daycare.

After the children’s program, I brought the evening message, and then we went to Helena’s again for supper. Pastor Andre and his wife Lydia joined us for a great time of fun, food and fellowship.

On Monday morning I brought a message to the pastors of the churches in the Southern District. They get together once a month for worship, teaching and planning. Among the things that were discussed is the possibility of AgriService Moldova holding some agricultural seminars along with their Evangelistic Campaign this fall. We will be working on the details of how we could partner with them – perhaps doing several seminars as a pilot project to test the waters for future collaboration.

After the Pastors’ Meeting we visited the Daycare, where we gave a small gift to each of the workers. We also had purchased a new table for the cook to use in preparing the meals for the children. Much of the equipment in the kitchen needs to be replaced, as well as a major remodeling of the entire kitchen. There are holes in the floor, and when it was built, they used the cheapest materials they could find. After lunch with the pastors, we then visited with Ion Semeret.

Ion was the first person that we started to work with in Moldova in 2004. After Ion worked with us for 5 or 6 years, the people of the village started to adopt the practices that he was using, realizing that this a much better way of raising crops. It was rewarding to learn that the many years of working in Moldova is bearing fruit.

Ion had stopped coming to church the last couple of years, but this summer asked if he could be accepted back into fellowship. He and his wife have been experiencing some health and financial setbacks, and he realized he was not walking a life pleasing to God. Ion asked for financial assistance to purchase supplies, greenhouse equipment, and we also went to look at a good used planter to replace his worn-out one. He has money in a long-term note at the bank, and if he takes it out now to pay for his spring needs, will be penalized all of the interest. We decided to loan him the money since he will be able to pay it back by the end of the summer.

After visiting Ion, I spent some time visiting with Victor Becaru, and his sister Angela. I got to know Victor well last year. He is a talented young man who has a desire to use his talents in graphics, web design and mobile app development to start a company that would be able to financially support youth camps in Moldova. He is going to Paris this month to do more training, and is hoping to come to New York City by the end of this year to start designing mobile apps for private companies.

I visited with them for about 2 hours until it was time to go the youth meeting. Of course, Michael asked me about 3 hours before the meeting if I would speak. I wasn’t totally surprised by this, so I had been keeping something ready, just in case. It was a great meeting, with the youth still excited about the conference that they had just attended. I’m sure that had a significant impact on their reception of the words that this old man spoke to them.

After the meeting we stayed around for about another hour, talking with the many youth who have become our friends. So it was about 9:45 pm before we made it back to Michaels where Angelica had another great supper for us. Jim and Hamilton stayed up playing Dutch Blitz with Adriana until the wee hours of the morning. I like to think that I was the wiser one by making it to bed soon after 11 pm.

In the morning we visited with Andre and Helena at the Daycare to hear how things were going there, to listen to the needs that they have, and to assure them that we are continuing our support of their ministry. They have experienced the loss of support by the group in Europe that helped them start the work, gradually reducing financial support until discontinuing it completely a year and a half ago. AgriService Moldova picked up the support last year, and God has been touching people to support this specific need.

They have been extremely frugal with the resources we have been providing them, as they have been uncertain how long we will be supporting them. We wanted them to realize that this work is something that we believe we will be able to raise the needed funds, not only to buy the food for the children, and pay the workers, but to be able to find the resources needed to fix the kitchen, repair the leaking roof, and the indoor toilets that don’t’ work, replace the falling-apart windows, get new playground equipment, and the list goes on.

The impact of this ministry on the community is so great, and we believe that we need to be able to find ways to continue this work. For most of the children, the 2 meals a day they get there are the only food they get. And the level of education they receive there is evident when they go on to the state run schools, getting the best grades as they continue their education for years to come. More than 50% of the children accept Christ and many become part of the fellowship in the community.

We then drove to Cahul to meet with Petru Pascal, who we met for the first time last year. He needed to go to 2 funerals in the afternoon, so we spent about 2 hours talking about building a new hog operation, and improving his corn production. He is farming about 1,200 acres of corn, wheat, barley, sunflower and vineyards. Petru is doing a great job with the limited resources and technology available to him, and he has a waiting list of people who want to work for him, because he treats his worker fairly, providing transportation, food, and actually paying them what he says he will pay.

He is someone who we will continue to meet, and find ways that we can provide technical assistance. He is someone that I would love to bring to America, to experience the kind of results that are possible with the proper resources. Although he is not a believer, he is receptive, and we believe that we can use this ministry to share God’s love to him and his family.

We came back to Michaels for a late lunch, and then visited Nicholai Cheptene – a deacon in the church who has been asking me to come see his greenhouse operation. He is doing a tremendous job with what he has, and I asked him when he is going to come to America and give seminars to our growers. He was getting ready to plant cabbage outside tomorrow. He starts his own plants, makes his own potting soil, and makes up his own fertilizer solution to put through the drip irrigation.

He has also started some zucchini, and will be planting about 500 plants for the first time this year. He has cucumbers plants started and has a quarter of an acre of greenhouse space for two crops of cucumbers this year. He uses micronutrients as both a foliar and in his drip irrigation. He has been getting some technical advise from an NGO from Romania, and pays close attention to where he buys his seed, chemicals, and fertilizers.

I tested his water pH, and want him to monitor it throughout the growing season, and also monitor his fertilizer and spray solution pH, so that we can fine-tune his program. I am convinced that a number of the issues we are facing with herbicide, insecticide and fertility challenges are pH related. He is a grower that we will continue to work with, and hope that we can implement new technologies there that we can use for other growers.

We were able to get back to Michael’s soon after 4 pm, have a little time catching up with emails, and such. We declined visiting any more people in the village, so that we could have a little time visiting with Michael and Angelica. We had a relaxing evening, having supper together with family.

Wednesday morning we stopped to visit Igor and Vera Costeleanu, another couple we met for the first time last year. We had assisted them with purchasing feed for their pigs last year, and they are a couple that we would love to be able to help get a thriving farm going. This is the man, when I saw how well cared-for his animals were in horrendous conditions, told myself, “Now this is a farmer.”

Igor and Vera moved last fall, into a home they are in the process of purchasing. It was in very bad shape, the lot piled with junk, and overgrown with trees and brush,with a house that most of us wouldn’t use to house animals. They have done an incredible amount of work, adding 2 additions to the house, constructing facilities for the animals. It is hard to imagine how they were able to accomplish all of this late fall and through the winter.

They currently are milking 3 cows and have another soon to give birth. They are selling all of the milk with the exception of making cheese occasionally. Their milk is in high demand in the village, being of exceptional quality. They would like to increase the herd eventually to 20 cows, needing to build more facilities. They would like to purchase 2 more cows right now, having a number of people offering them some animals. The price they could buy them is very affordable. They are asking if we can assist them with this.

They also have 2 sows that are producing piglets, one of them from the sow we provided feed for last year. She was an exceptional sow, and her daughter shows all signs of being the same. That was a huge help to them, and they are reaping the rewards from that now. They also have a couple of smaller pigs that they are raising.

Igor and Vera are very hard working, resourceful and dedicated people. Their journey of faith is an incredible one that needs to be told another time. They were able to glean a lot of corn from fields that had areas that could not be harvested last fall due to wet field conditions. They have more than enough to get them through this year, even with increasing their animal numbers.

Igor also shared that he has an opportunity to rent long-term a field of 2 hectares. He would like to plant alfalfa in it, but again, has no funds to be able to do this. I also said that he needs to build a shed that he can store his hay in, currently having it on a stack outside that he has covered with plastic. Forage quality will be a topic that will need to be taught in the future.

We talked about what he would need to build a structure that would meet his needs. He said he is able to go to the forest and harvest the poles he needs, and is able to buy some used roofing at an affordable price. I continue to marvel at the resourcefulness of the Moldovans, who are able to do incredible things with so little to work with.

The farmstead is located on a piece of ground that I certainly would not have chosen as a place to build. The lot is about a hectare, with the house built on the level part of the lot, and the barns built on the side of the hill that slopes down to a small stream. Igor certainly has thought about what it will take to build the barns he needs in the future. He plans to use concrete culverts to enable him to direct the stream, and use the soil from excavating for the buildings to level the lot. No EPA permits needed – just go ahead and do what you want!

After spending a lot of time listening to his ideas, and discussing options, we joined them for tea, his delicious milk, cookies, and other treats. Igor and Vera shared the journey that they have traveled with God. How God saved Igor from a life of drinking, and brought them together after knowing each other 20 years before. As Igor wept, telling his story, I laid my hand on him, and prayed for him and his family. Again, a story that need to be told another time in greater detail. They are one of those couples that God needs in Moldova, determined to stay together as a family, not having one of the parents go to Italy for work to earn enough to provide for themselves, like so many are doing.

Igor’s pastor was with us all of this time, and we got into a very interesting discussion about priorities and the balance of work, family and church. His pastor was sharing his concerns about the demands of farming on Igor, and how that keeps him from attending church meetings, and takes time from Igor doing things for the church. I stressed the importance of maintaining milking times, and Igor said that every time he changes evening milking time to make the church service, he loses 3 liters of milk. This may not sound like a lot to you, but it represents about a 10% loss of production for that milking.

It is a very interesting dynamic for the church, since Igor is the only farmer in that church, and created a lot of interesting discussion – one that will not be resolved quickly. I stressed that they need to recognize God’s calling and gift that He has given Igor, and to be willing to be flexible to accommodate him. It was a very worthwhile talk, and one that I am certain that we will continue in the future.

We decided that we are going to find the resources to help Igor and Vera move forward, trusting that God will provide them, even though we do not have the funds currently. It will take about $5,000 to plant the fields, purchase the cows, and build the hay storage. The story of Igor and Vera are one of the many that we encounter, and prayers are needed to have the wisdom to know how to respond to the many needs.

In the afternoon we traveled to Chisinau, and had a couple of hours to visit the Ag Exposition that started that day. It was the first time that I had a chance to this annual event, and we didn’t have near enough time to take it all in. We did have a very good contact with a company that has a feed mill that is making a number of feeds for dairy, chickens and pigs. They have a very nice product, and at least on the pig side of it, have a good program for hog producers. There will be future discussions with them.

As we were leaving when the show was over, we passed a company that was selling Kinze No-Till planters. Last year they had a planter that planted about 1,000 acres No-Till. They will have 5 planters in the country this year, already having over 10,000 acres booked for planting.

As we shared the work that we are doing in Moldova, the rep went and got the owner of the company to come and talk to us. I ended up spending about an hour with him, talking about our experience with No-Till farming and cover crops. He shared what they are learning, and wants to visit some farms in the US who are successful with this type of agriculture. We talked about how we could help them with demonstration plots, and doing seminars with them this fall. It opens the door for both our ministry, and a business opportunity for Cover Crop Solutions. It was another example of a Divine Appointment that God has been granting us as we continue to follow what He has called us to do.

After a delicious supper at La Placente, we were glad to get to CCI where we went to bed early – 8 pm – and had a good night’s sleep, after another packed, fulfilling, successful trip to Moldova. We ate breakfast before heading to the airport. On the way we stopped at the John Deere dealership to see about getting some replacement parts for the planter. We will have to see if they are able to get what we need, or if we send them from the US.

We met Dumitru and Slavic before we got to the airport so that we could pack some of the cheese they make, into our luggage to bring to the US. For a taste of some of the most delicious cheese you will ever eat, come to my house, or better yet, come with me to Moldova!

Travel home went very well, no problems with tickets, passport control, transfers, the flight or customs. Slavic and Dumitru were able to make the trip along side of us the whole time, with the exception of going thru the passport line entering the US, but the crowd was the smallest I have ever experienced coming home, and I was able to keep them in sight the whole time, so it wasn’t a problem connecting again.

But God wasn’t quite done yet! On the crowded bus in Munich transferring us from our flight from Moldova to the flight back to the US, we were standing next to a lady and group of young ladies who were talking about Chicago. Jim asked if they were from the US, and then asked what they were doing in Moldova.

It turns out they were college students who had just spent some time with a ministry that is providing homes for girls at risk. When orphans reach the age of 16 they are put out on the street, and many find themselves victims of Human Trafficking. This organization provides homes, spiritual guidance and training for them to find safe and rewarding jobs. I was able to give the lady – didn’t even have time to get her name – my last AgConnect Ministries business card, and we promised to get in touch. I have already contacted the organization here about meeting to see how we can partner with the work in Moldova.

We were picked up at Newark Liberty Airport by my brother Karl, who graciously provided us, not only with a ride home, but also with an abundance of food and drink that we enjoyed, even though our internal body clocks said that it was 3 am.

Please continue to remember us with your prayers as we seek to do the work that God has called us to in Moldova. My plans are to return to Moldova in late April thru the middle of May. My son Jordan is planning on going with me on this trip. I will be trying to keep you informed of all that is happening with the work in Moldova, and elsewhere, as God continues to expand the work of this ministry.


Leslie Yoder