By Sharon Mager
EDINETS, Moldova— Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network churches are and have been sharing Christ throughout the world. In addition to ministering to a diverse mission field in the Mid-Atlantic area, Network churches have partnered with each other and with other conventions and associations to reach across the oceans.
A partnership with the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware ministering in Moldova began in 1995 and lasted until 2000. At that time the Delaware Baptist Association continued the partnership, ministering in the northern areas of the country and that partnership still flourishes today. A mission team returned in November after sharing the Gospel 14 times at medical mission clinics.
Every year, the association collects funds to buy medicine. Offerings come also from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia, and Maryland. American team member’s expenses pay for Moldovan and Ukrainian doctors, nurses, translators, ground and air transportation. This ministry has resulted in changed lives, baptisms and new churches in this country bordered by Romania in the west. Ukraine borders Moldova on the north and east. Those new churches are now ministering through medical clinics to make disciples and to plant more churches.
Moldova’s history can be traced to the 1300s to the Principality of Moldavia. From the 1500s to the early nineteenth century, Moldova was a vassal of the Ottoman Empire. In 1940 it became the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic until the dissolution of the USSR. The country declared independence in 1991. It was just three years later that Network churches began doing ministry in Moldova.
Mal Utleye, who led the mission efforts, said from the beginning people were very open as teams conducted revival meetings, vacation Bible schools and pastors’ conferences. “If it wasn’t in a church then maybe we’d have services in a town hall or school. We reached people. In those days people were curious about Americans. Now that has somewhat cooled off. They’re still curious, but not as much as when they first got their freedom,” Utleye said.
“I think that one of things the former Bishop of the Baptist Union said is true, With more freedom, the people become more materialistic.'” (The Baptist Union is similar to a convention in the United States).
“The more money that is floating around, the less dependent they are on the Lord,” Utleye said, adding that though Moldova is extremely poor, people have more freedom to travel to neighboring countries to work and bring or send back funds. “It’s a typical Soviet Union communist culture trying to survive as a democratic culture,” Utleye said.
Utleye said that they began to explore the possibilities of medical clinics because good medical care isn’t easily available and transportation is difficult.
They began first in churches and mostly believers came to the clinics. The following year, those members brought their friends. Now more than 50 percent of patients are not believers, and they hear the Gospel, many for the first time. From the beginning, leaders began having the clinics in areas that had no churches, presenting the Gospel before the clinics. As a result, people came to faith in Jesus and churches were started in those villages. Patients make appointments for the doctors, thus providing the church with follow up information.
“We share a brief presentation of the Gospel before each clinic and all of the doctors are believers. They often pray with people and witness if they have the opportunity. Often Bible studies are started and churches are planted,” Utleye said.
Utleye said the teams have been working with Peter Mihilchuk, a passionate Moldovan pastor who also ministers in Ukraine.
“Whenever his church ordains a deacon…the assumption is that, if possible, if this person has the gift, he will learn to preach and teach and plant a new church,” Utleye said.
Utleye said that through the DBA and the Network’s partnership, the teams have helped Mihilchuk plant almost a church a year in the last 15 years.
“These churches would not be typical here, some have 15 or 20 members, some less, but in a village where folks don’t have cars that’s a great ministry,” Utleye said.
This year, Utleye said he and fellow mission leader Gayle Clifton, pastor of Upper Seneca Baptist Church, each preached 14 times in seven days. Utleye’s wife, Mary, and Lois Godfrey, a member of Greensboro Baptist Church were also on the Moldova team and assisted with the clinics and ministry. Mal and Mary and Clifton and Godfrey worked in two separate groups, each ministering in different villages with individual teams of doctors, translators and other helpers.
The clinics run for several weeks and are led by Moldovan and Ukrainian pastors who preach when the Delaware and Maryland team leaves. “We expect God to plant new churches with this ministry,” Utleye said.
This year, leftover funds were donated to a Moldova church to cover costs for a needed heart operation for a young boy. Utleye said those situations arise often, and by meeting those needs, more people become open to hear at the Gospel.
The ministry in Moldova has been fruitful. Utleye tells of one day when he and other ministers were standing in front of a home talking. “A car came screeching to the side of the road and a guy gets out and says, ‘Is there a pastor here?’ We said, ‘Yes,’ and he said, ‘Can you come to the car? This lady said she wants to repent and receive Christ. Can you help her?’ She got down on her knees and prayed to receive Christ,’” Utleye said.
New believers are clothed in white robes made by churches and they’re baptized as their professions of faith in local ponds, rivers or creeks.
So how many have come to faith since the partnerships began? Utleye said, “We leave that kind of results to them. I learned early on that counting noses is beyond what we’re there for. The Gospel in itself is powerful enough. People ask, ‘How long are you going to go?’ and I always say, “As long as the Lord is telling us to.”