A few months ago, I couldn't tell you where it was or find it on a map. And I knew very little about the country or its people. But today I am beginning to understand the desperate need here.
Moldova. A landlocked sliver between Romania and Ukraine, and just a short hop to Russia. It was a part of the Soviet Union before its historic breakup in the 90's. Now, Moldova is a small, struggling, independent democracy with a declining population. It's claim to fame is that it is the poorest country in Europe AND the poorest of the former Soviet block countries.
Poverty is a massive problem here. And no one has it worse than the orphans - defined as those kids who have either lost their parents to death OR been abandoned by them. Believe it or not, abandonment is common here. It's almost cultural to drop your kids off, sign a paper saying you can't support them, and leave the country to never be seen again. In the U.S. this is rare, but here t's an epidemic.
Government run orphanages are...well...let's just say that you and I would never tolerate such conditions for kids - ANY kids - in the U.S.
But the worst part is what happens when these kids turn 16. At the completion of the 9th grade, the kids are simply thrown out. That's right, they are put on the streets, with nowhere to go and no one to help. They become quick and easy targets for human trafficking, the sex trade, gangs and drugs and alcohol.
Moldova is one of the biggest sources of human trafficking in the world. Between 200,000 and 400,000 Moldovan women have been sold into the sex trade since the fall of the Soviet Union. Boys are often sold into the human slave trade. It has to stop. It's an affront to humanity and the ministry we support here helps stop it before it begins.
I came here because PCC give significant support to a ministry I knew about from a distance, but wanted to know first hand: CERI, which stand for Children's Emergency Relief International.
CERI has several programs, but the one we're involved with is called the Transitional Care, where kids who have aged out of the government run orphanages are rescued and given educational and life skills support as well as housing and food while they stay in school. You can learn more about it here and here.
One of the transitional apartments I visited today was an abandoned building that had been converted into living space, but I assure you that none of us would live there. The boys told me - with no small measure of joy - that they got hot water one day per week. Tony asked, "Only one day a week, even in the winter?" The teenaged boy replied, "No, we don't have it at all yet. We were told we'd have hot water one day per week next year." And it's COLD here. I can't imagine living like this. I can't imagine ANYONE living like this. I wanted to dump out my wallet right there and tell them to go get some hot water or go get a room at the Hilton.
As we learned of each kid's story (we visited boys at the boys apartment and girls at theirs), my heart just broke at their pain. Abandoned, lost, unwanted, dehumanized, no where to go, no options. No hope.
Except us. The local church is the hope of the world.
What I wanted to know was if our investment of Kingdom resources here really mattered. All I can say is that I am overwhelmed with the difference PCC is making in these lives. I met with the staff of CERI today and heard them tell story after story of kids who would have never had a chance were it not for support from churches like PCC. These were stories of success and joy and life out of poverty, darkness and hopelessness.
But the best part was this: CERI is not only humanitarian, they are deelpy committed to the spiritual needs of those in the program. They have Bible study with these kids each week, and they pray for them every single day as a staff! At the massive summer camps, kids made decisions about following Jesus every year, and many times in between. We visited some of these kids today, and there is a free flowing conversation about matters of faith. These people at CERI really get it!
The bonus for me on this trip is that I'm connecting with and getting to know the pastor of a HUGE church in Texas - David Saathoff. Too humble to admit he's a really big deal, Dave has been invited to speak at some of the most prestigiuos events in the country. He planted his church 20 years ago and grew it to 7,000 people today. I really like him and he's teaching me all kinds of things about church, growth, leadership, etc.
I think God had multiple reasons for me to come on this adventure, and I'm excited to see what the next 3 days hold before I come home.