Mission on the margins

Journey to the edges of Eastern Europe with Jenny Muscat as she explores how CMS people in mission are making a difference in Ukraine, Romania and Moldova.

Ethnically diverse communities. Children with disabilities. Adults grappling with addiction. A church planted in a town known for high crime rates. Sharing Jesus in the poorest country in Europe.

These are all glimpses of contexts in Eastern Europe where CMS people in mission are seeing God at work.

“What I really love is seeing people’s lives change through their faith and through their obedience to God.”

Alison Giblett
Alison Giblett on the train back from a visit to Moldova

Mission partner Alison Giblett has been in Ukraine for the last 16 years, and shares her passion to see God transforming lives in a context of spiritual and economic hardship.

Alison explains that life in Ukraine is difficult – with economic instability meaning that many are struggling to get by, particularly in the villages.

Many churches in the villages cannot afford to pay a pastor, so church leaders are juggling their pastoral role with providing for their families.

For young people, unemployment is a significant challenge.

There are also high levels of alcoholism: Alison shares that 40 per cent of men have alcohol problems, meaning that in most families there is someone grappling with addiction-related issues.

Through the Genesis ministry, Alison runs training programmes to help people overcome life-controlling problems including addiction and destructive thought patterns. They learn to develop healthy habits based on God’s truth.

Tremendous transformation

Before entering the Genesis programme, one man’s struggle with alcohol cost him his marriage and his church position. He had travelled to Kiev with the intention of going abroad to start afresh. Then he met Alison. While he had sought help and reduced his alcohol consumption, he still felt worthless and without purpose or identity. Alison encouraged him to stay in Kiev and work through the Genesis programme. He was reluctant, but agreed to start the course.

As he opened up to Alison and other leaders, the man began to see his life turn around. He decided not to travel abroad, as he realised that running away wasn’t the answer.

He has now gone a long time without drinking. He has learned to control his temper and no longer manipulates people into giving him money. He and his wife are still separated, but they are friends again and there is a possibility of restoring that relationship.

This man is now a Genesis leader and counsellor, sharing his testimony of all that God has changed in his life. This is just one of the tremendous stories of transformation that Alison has seen.

Valery Alymov and Alison Giblett with members of the Tabernacle of the Living God church, Kiev

Alongside Genesis ministry, Alison is involved in evangelism and discipleship through a church plant in Kiev, Tabernacle of the Living God, and mission visits with the Holy Spirit Mission, going to villages and towns around Ukraine.

Alison serves with CMS local partner Valery Alymov (main picture), the pastor who started the church plant and who leads the mission trips.

Valery became a Christian as a young army lieutenant in 1988. While drinking tea, he heard the voice of God saying, “I exist, seek me.”

Valery read religious books and asked others about God – but didn’t hear any Christians preach. In 1991 he watched the Jesus film and decided to follow Christ.

Since then he has led a number of churches – including one that he started in his garrison with other officers and soldiers because there was no access to church.

An open country and a labour of love

Members of a Holy Spirit Mission team speak with a resident in Rzhyshchiv, Ukraine

Valery is passionate about sharing the good news of Jesus in Ukraine:

“People in Ukraine are very open compared to other places. There’s no laws against preaching the gospel in the street or squares and so we have the opportunities to do personal and public evangelism.

“God has given us a special grace to do this evangelism and so it helps us to warm people’s hearts and approach people in a way that is not threatening and they can hear the gospel.”

As he shares the gospel, Valery has seen people freed from addictions and marriages restored.

Last August, CMS staff members Stephen Wells (communications) and Tanas Alqassis (regional manager for Europe, the Middle East and North Africa) joined Valery, Alison and a team from their church on a trip to Rzhyshchiv in the Kaharlyk Raion region, whose name translates as “the cursed land”. This is an area with limited Christian witness, and where many people are involved in the occult.

The group had given up a week of their holiday and paid to travel to the area – sleeping on a church floor for the week. This is the normal routine of the outreach trips – reminding Stephen that mission is “not just about what is comfortable or convenient for us.”

The groups pray early each morning, then head out and speak to people on the streets and in their gardens, sharing the gospel and praying for people when this is welcome, as well as inviting them to a concert at the end of the week. They return to the church to share testimonies and pray during the day. Tanas was struck by their faithfulness in prayer, commenting, “these people are prayer warriors”.

At the end of the week, the team put on an outdoor concert in a park, where people could come and hear music, a gospel message and stories of changed lives.

Valery is involved in the outreach at every level – from the overall planning and speaking at the concert, through to the manual labour of setting up the equipment.

For Valery, the important thing is to preach the gospel simply and with sincerity and love.

A vast field of work

Valery is not the only CMS local partner in this part of the world involved in church planting and evangelism. Sergiu Bradean leads a church in Constanta, Romania.

Located in the east of the country by the Black Sea, Constanta is a city with many ethnic groups. For Sergiu and his wife, Diana, arriving in Constanta from further inland five years ago, this represented an opportunity for cross-cultural mission on their doorstep.

Sergiu Bradean and his wife, Diana

They are learning about the cultures and finding culturally relevant ways to present their faith. Constanta has a population of around 300,000, and the evangelical Christian community in the city is around 1,000.

Sergiu comments that, along with the wider region of southern Romania, it is “spiritually poor”, meaning that there is “a vast field of work” for Christians in the area.

The church they lead, Golgotha Baptist Church, has a congregation of about 150 and has long been committed to mission in their area and further afield.

Golgotha has planted multiple churches. Two of these are in Constanta, and a church was also planted to be a light in Cernavoda, a town known for having particularly high rates of crime and prostitution and where girls are recruited and trafficked into the sex trade.

The main church is connected to two mission churches just outside Constanta in Tuzla and Ovidiu.

The areas of ministry Sergiu and church members are involved in include:

  • connecting with children and their families, including English classes, holiday clubs and a children’s choir;
  • running summer camps, particularly using football coaching to bring young people from different communities together and share the gospel;
  • a Christian music and arts festival for young people;
  • work in prisons, contributing to New Testament studies and helping prisoners and their families to prepare for release and reunion;
  • a Christian radio station that can get to places that would otherwise be impossible to reach;
  • and meeting the practical needs of impoverished families in their community.

Representing Jesus

This final area of meeting practical needs is important in Constanta. Many people travel there for summer work, but if they lose their jobs at the end of the season, they can be left unable to afford to return home.

For families, this can mean children drop out of school because they cannot afford the materials needed. Sergiu and Diana therefore try to put together backpacks with enough resources for at least the first semester, so the children can continue their education.

Diana said: “You can tell them about Christ, but if you don’t show up where they are in need, if you don’t help them pass this moment in their lives, they won’t understand you.

“Jesus was all about doing not just talking. So that’s what we need to learn as a family and as a church.

“We need to understand that coming to church on Sunday is not enough. You have to be relevant to the whole week.”

Sergiu and Diana have seen the fruit of these efforts, telling us of a couple who joined the church: “We saw two houses that looked poor in the neighbourhood. So, we took some food to these houses.

“At one house we met a couple living in a tiny space. We gave them something to eat and then we invited them for a meal.

“We had a family at church that organised meals for older people, not only the poor. As the couple lived very close to the church, they walked to this meal and started coming to it every week. And they started coming to church.

“The woman wants to be baptised. Her husband also wants to, but keeps saying maybe not this year, he’s not prepared.

“It’s amazing to see them on Sunday at church. Whenever we have a prayer time, it’s either one or both of them praying out loud in the whole congregation. We have members of our church who I’ve never heard pray out loud in five years.

“And these people, they are just so grateful for everything Christ did in their lives and the changes they see.

“They want to be so close to him and are ready to forget everything and everybody around them just to be able to say, ‘Thank you Lord for saving my life.’”

One of Sergiu’s dreams for the future is to plant a church in the local Turkish community. He is partnering with a Turkish pastor who started the first Turkish congregation in Romania to make this a reality.

Yet amid the busyness, Sergiu explained, “We don’t want to just do things, but to represent Jesus.”

Mulling over Moldova

Sandwiched between Ukraine and Romania is Moldova, one of the poorest countries in Europe.

Alison went to Moldova in 2019 to reconnect with some of those people that she had run Genesis programmes with a few years ago. And in 2019, more CMS people in mission moved to Moldova.

Sharon Rose admits that when she was first invited to consider spending time in Moldova, she wouldn’t have been able to find it on a map. A friend invited Sharon to join her on a trip to Dancu in 2016. On that trip, Sharon was blown away by how the local church community were sharing God’s love. She comments: “There were lots of needs but so much hope.” After a couple more visits, Sharon decided to move to Dancu on a longer-term basis, and joined CMS as a mission associate.

She moved to Moldova in autumn 2019. Sharon is now using her professional skills as a speech and language therapist to work with a team supporting children with disabilities and their families.

Mark and Arleen Rowell and Sharon Rose recently moved to Moldova

Arleen and Mark Rowell were reflecting on what God might want them to do next, as Arleen came to the end of a job and Mark considered retirement.

As they sought to discern where God might be calling them, they started conversations with CMS and it became clear that Moldova was to be their destination.

Although they knew that there were people from Eastern Europe living in their town in the UK, Arleen and Mark realised that they didn’t know very much about the countries these people had come from.

They read a book about mission in Moldova that whetted their appetite and discovered a Moldovan fellowship in the next town.

After undertaking training in teaching English as a foreign language and visiting Moldova to meet the pastor, Arleen and Mark are now teaching English in Cahul, a small town in the south of the country, through a project run by a local church.

The project involves teaching English to children, young people and adults – and there are over 400 students.

Through the teaching programme and other community projects the church is able to build relationships and create a space for people to find out more about the Christian faith and to demonstrate that Jesus is relevant to everyday life.

All these people in mission on the margins of Europe are committed to sharing Jesus in word and deed, being present and bringing hope in the face of great needs.

All have seen that Jesus is at work with those who are forgotten or left behind, and that mission means being on the margins.

Might God be calling you to the margins, near home or further afield? Find out more about placements with Church Mission Society:

Published 3 February 2020
Europe, Middle East and North Africa

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