The Republic of Moldova is a tiny landlocked state in Eastern Europe, located between Romania to the west and Ukraine to the north, east and south. For nearly three months this past summer, this small nation was home to Broken Bow alum Tara Woodward.
Tara attends Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa, where she is a junior majoring in accounting with a minor in Christian missions. As part of the school’s missions program, Tara had the opportunity to visit Moldova with the group HOPE International.
HOPE International, along with its partner Invest Credit, provides a different type of mission work that what comes to mind for most people when you think of missions. Their mission is providing loans and assisting with funding for poverty stricken individuals in some of the poorest countries in the world.
HOPE practices a holistic approach to poverty alleviation. Microcredit and basic business training enable individuals to build businesses and break free from physical poverty. Clients find that their increased income enables them to provide more nutritious and regular meals as well as improved housing and education for their children. But HOPE isn't only concerned with physical poverty. Christ-following loan officers share the hope of the Gospel in the context of relationships, ministering to spiritual poverty as well.
Tara explains that even though Moldova is no longer under communist rule, the effects of communism still linger heavily in the country. Because of that it is very difficult, if not impossible, for Christian missionaries to visit there, making organizations like HOPE a vital tool in reaching these individuals with the Gospel message.
“A lot of mission work is done from behind a desk,” Tara explains. “And a lot of kingdom work is done from behind a desk.”
She says when she shares her story of spending her summer serving as a missionary, most people expect to see pictures of her holding African babies or helping some sick, distraught people. Though that is not the capacity Tara served in, her experience was just as life-changing and her stories just as real.
One of Tara’s stories involves a gentleman named Victor.
“Before Victor and his wife started a chicken business, Victor was an alcoholic. Then, after Victor and his wife started attending a church near their village, they became Christians, and Victor stopped drinking. For a while, everything was good, until they found out that his wife had cancer.
“After many prayers for her healing, God miraculously took the cancer away, and everything was fine again. A year later, the cancer came back and his wife only lived a short time later. Victor’s original 300 chickens were dwindling to 45 because of the medical expenses.
“After the death of his wife, Victor Rotaru was left with seven children to care for, a dwindling business, and an ache in his heart. Life was hard, but Victor knew that God is still faithful and has a plan despite tough seasons.
“Victor received his first loan from Invest-Credit in February to build his business and has taken out a second loan since then. Emily [an intern with Invest-Credit] and I were able to see his newly built chicken coops and his plan to add another. “Sometime after the loan, he felt God calling him to be a pastor in his small village. Now he pastors a church of thirty people and has a vision of bringing about the kingdom of God through his business.
“Currently, he has over 100 chickens with plans of growing to 500, as well as providing employment to local community members. Victor also has adopted at least four children from an orphanage, because growing up without parents in Moldova is very difficult. “Victor loves his kids and you can clearly see that. You can see that he loved his wife and still misses her very much. But you know what the best part is? That Victor’s chicken business provides the necessary meat for orphanages and elderly homes in his area. Not only does he offer a unique product, but his clientele base is truly inspiring.”
This is just one of the success stories that Tara came home with. She summed it up best by saying, “Success happens when a client finds hope again.”
Tara describes life in Moldova like “stepping back in time.” Many villages don’t have running water or electricity. A lot of people don’t own cars and get around with carts pulled by donkeys or horses.
The remnants of communism have greatly affected the economical and spiritual growth of the country, says Tara. She adds while the country is very agriculturally rich, it is very under developed.
Romanian, known officially as Moldovan, is the official language of the country. Tara says that did pose some communication issues for her.
The great majority of Moldova's population is Christian Orthodox--96% of the population nominally belongs to one of the two main Orthodox denominations. However, Tara did not visit one of the Orthodox churches while she was there.
“I have truly learned that the church is us - not the building,” says Tara. “This trip has made me more aware of what the church looks like - whether it is the church in Orange City, the church in Broken Bow or the church in Moldova.”
Tara says that on her entire trip she could see the hand of God working. She had her computer confiscated when she boarded the plan in Toronto, but by the time she landed in Vienna she had become acquainted with the man sitting beside her and he fought to get her computer back.
She became friends with a girl in Moldova, Cristina Bodarev, only to find out this girl had been chosen to receive a scholarship to Northwestern, the very college Tara attends. She requested to have Christina as her roommate, and though with that late of notice the request would have typically not been accepted, it was - and the two girls are now roommates.
While some might call that coincidence, Tara says she Christina talk about it all the time. “We know it was God at work - there is no other explanation!”
Tara says her mission trip provided a lot of challenges, but that helped her grow and learn some very valuable life lessons.
“What I learned wasn’t so much about micro-finance, or why Moldova is so poor,” Tara explains. “It was about giving and receiving Grace.”