“I’ve never been so proud to be a Moldovan as I am today. People from all over the country are jumping to help the refugees from Ukraine,” Eugen, the OM country leader in Moldova, shared after witnessing the poorest country in Europe rise to the task of caring for those fleeing Ukraine. Since Russian troops entered Ukraine on February 24, 2022, more than two million people have fled, seeking safety in neighbouring countries, including Moldova. In response to this crisis, the evangelical church in Moldova has been among the first to welcome refugees at their borders, helping to find temporary housing and mobilising a generous outpouring of donations that include food and other essentials. Eugen and his team have been a critical networking hub for this wider response, as well as a physical presence at the border since people started arriving.
“I think it's so important for us to make sure that we are involved where God's heart is. In the Old Testament, God tells us to receive the foreigner and to take care of him. And He teaches us in the New Testament as well that it's important that we do for others what we want them to do,” Eugen explained. “So that's why we want to respond to these needs.”
The OM team has set up a circus tent at the largest border crossing from Ukraine into Moldova, where thousands of people pass through every day. The space provides an opportunity for people to step in out of the elements, which range from driving snow and chilly winds to mild spring weather. Many cross the border on foot, having been driven as close as cars or buses can make it before the immigration line begins. Some days, the cars waiting to cross the border stretch 14km back into Ukraine, leaving people to walk that distance if they are not planning to drive across. Families drag their rolling suitcases or duffel bags along while helping their children continue towards safety in Moldova. By the time they join the line at the border, they are exhausted. The hot drinks, snacks, water and benches in the OM tent offer respite for the weary and OM team members engage individuals in conversation, sharing the gospel, praying for them, answering questions and offering a listening ear.
Eugen keeps the needs of those arriving in mind as he coordinates logistics, networks with national churches and missions leaders, and inspires his team of over 70 people to serve. He hopes that those passing through the tent will ask: “’Who are you? Why are you helping us?’ And see that this is God's love being shown to them.” He recalled his own journey of searching for God and wanting more than he had known.
A life changed
Growing up in Moldova, where the Orthodox church is the predominant religion, Eugen experienced a fear of hell which propelled him into the church in his rural community. He recounted, “kneeling before an icon and praying, but all of a sudden it felt that it wasn’t the right thing to do. And I [turned] towards the window, to look at the sky and pray.” At 14, Eugen was invited to attend a New Years service at his grandmother’s evangelical church. There he experienced the joy of the body of Christ in worship together. During that visit, he attended several of the daily church services and heard more about the relationship he could have with Jesus. After a month, he was confident that he needed Jesus and made a commitment to follow Him.
When Eugen returned to school, even his teachers noted a difference in him and asked about it. He told them that he had begun attending an evangelical church. In Moldova, the orthodox believers are suspicious of anyone evangelical yet, his changed behaviour made an impact. Eugen’s younger brother joined him at youth group and soon after his mother also chose to follow Jesus.
As he grew older, Eugen developed his love for sports into a ministry platform. As a football coach, he included bible studies and prayer into the programme. He was invited to serve at an OM sports event as a referee and, after participating in several of those events, he saw the opportunity to reach more people across his country by stepping into full-time work with OM. In this role, he could coach and train other Jesus followers to use a similar ministry model and impact their own communities.
The loving hands and feet of Christ
Now, as the country leader for OM in Moldova, Eugen continues to look for the right approaches to ministry in each context. With a deep understanding of the culture and people, he has adapted and changed the work to focus on those who have no church presence in their community or access to the body of Christ. In the past few years, small teams travelled to rural communities, where they used a variety of methods to demonstrate and speak about the love that Jesus has for others. When the Ukraine crisis began in mid-February, Eugen saw it as another clear opportunity to be the loving hands and feet of Christ to those arriving.
“When we see people suffering, we want to answer the need. But more than that, because we have Christ in us and we know that that's what Jesus would do, we want to follow in His steps and do the same thing: which is welcoming people, giving [them] a hot tea and saying this is in the name of Jesus,” said Eugen. It is this foundation that keeps Eugen and his team serving at the forefront of their country – where the needs of arriving Ukrainians are critical and the message of hope and love just as urgent.