Orthodox Christian Mission Center’s Blog

June 20, 2008

Notes from Romania, Vol. 4

Note from the Editor:
Recently, OCMC sent out a call to our Missionaries, asking them to provide us with blog contributions. Floyd Frantz, Missionary to Romania, answered us with this series of entries, painting a vivid picture of his activities in Romania during April and May of this year. These entries have been edited and will be posted in groups of 2-3.

To continue about the violent street protests in Chisinau last year at Christmas, this does of course not represent all of Moldova’s young people, but it is the representation of a certain group. It also speaks to the fact that there were so few churches in Moldova under Communism and to how radical the Communists actually were. We should note that in 2001 a Communist president was elected, and that he has held power ever since. It shows how desperate people can become.

However, it is not as simple as it would seem. Under Communism, Moldova had a fairly good standard of living for the system. After 1989 and the breakup of the Soviet system, Moldova fell on hard times. As in Romania and much of Eastern Europe and Russia, the Communist system was not very modern or efficient in manufacturing. When the Eastern Bloc trade agreements stopped and everyone had to compete in the modern world, they simply could not compete with more modern countries with better manufacturing techniques and better transport. As a result of this, today Moldova is the poorest country in Europe; it is probably decades away from joining modern Europe. Its economy is based in agriculture, and the methods of farming are not well developed compared to the rest of the Europe.

One thing we see here is that everyone has a vineyard. I cannot tell you in words how important wine is to the culture here. It is everywhere. They serve it instead of water at dinners, and everyone drinks it. They say that it is of good quality. I do not drink myself, but those who do swear by it. Some of them swear after drinking it too.

To start today, I need to say that I have decided to simply write about what happened today, Monday, and then to continue the other thread about Moldova tomorrow.

The day was pretty normal: we worked on fixing up the flat that we are staying in, and we met with a doctor from the hospital. He is the local “Narcalog,” which is the common Russian term for addictions specialist. They are doing mostly detox, but are also doing some counseling while the patient is in the hospital. He was really open to us, and we expect to have a good collaboration with the hospital. Part of what we do is visit alcoholics while they are in the hospital and invite them to attend our groups when they get out. The AA groups help a lot with giving them peer support, and we also have out-patient treatment programs based in the “Minnesota Model.”

Tonight was group night at the Deaconia social center in Leova, which is run by Fr.John. The meeting started out with, “The spiritual life is not a theory. We have to live it.” (This was taken from page 83, of the book “Alcoholics Anonymous”), and the group topic soon turned to a discussion of God, and “Higher Power.” Well, it turns out that all three of the people from Leova were agnostics. They did not know what to believe about God. One of them shared about being brought up by Communist parents to believe that there is no God. He has figured out on his own that there is some kind of “Order,” or “Higher Power.” Well, “Higher Power” is how AA members often refer to God. It was really a good discussion about spirituality, and I was surprised by their openness and sharing about this. Under the Communist system, usually there was not much sharing of things personal in nature, especially about things like “God.” We joked a little about what AA tells newcomers about God: “There are only two things you need to know about God, one, that there is one, and two, that you’re not it.”

Well, I really cannot describe the feelings in that room. It was like being somewhere that was “bound” by something; it was “tight,” or “frozen.” Tense might be a good word to describe the feeling. I did not notice it so much until after we really started talking about God. Then there was like a “freeing up” of feelings, or a “loosening” of some kind. What kept amazing me was how open they were to talking about spiritual things, and they were not at all anti-God, quite the contrary; they were very open to talking about God and spirituality.

We are starting our treatment program here in Leova in June, and it will be a good chance to invite them to explore their spirituality in a more full way. Fr. John will be our spiritual counselor.

I really do hope that all of you will pray for this community of people who are trying to recover from their alcoholism, and for my staff who are with me from Romania (Rici and Ucu), and for me.

Today I will continue our newsletter with more about Moldova, and the problems that are facing this very small Eastern European country. Not long after I got here, I asked Fr. John why social programs are important here in Moldova. He gave me several points that I would like to share with you. Some of them I may have already mentioned, so I will be brief. I paraphrase Fr. John’s comments:

Under Communism, there was a well-structured society and low unemployment. The society was accustomed to having the State take care of them, from birth to death, but they were expected to work. Today, there are few resources here, high unemployment, high poverty, and few social programs. Related to this, it is important to note that as much as 25 % of the working age people have left the country to find work abroad. Many of these young people already have had families, and as a result of this the family is falling apart; it is loosing its structure. Alcoholism, child and family abandonment, distrust of authority, and general social breakdown are everywhere. However, people do trust the Church and seem to accept the social programs that we are offering. Yesterday’s entry is a good example of this.

Well, I don’t like ending on such a downer subject. The weather here today is really perfect, and many of the trees still have their blooms on. Also, (remember that meeting with the narcolog?) Rici (Romanian staff) went to the hospital today and two new people are coming to the group tonight. That is a joy to me. You know, when I think of it, there is always something good to share about. I should “stay on the sunny side” more often.

One last thing, I drive back to Cluj tomorrow, so will not be able to send any thing out. I do thank you for your interest in our work, for your good words, and most of all for your prayers.

To continue my newsletter from two days ago, Fr. John believes that the biggest problem facing Moldova today is that so many people are leaving the country to find work, and many of those leaving are young mothers. Alcoholism is a big part of the problem—in families where there is high alcohol use, there is often physical, verbal, and emotional abuse. Of course, in countries like Moldova, where the standard of living is much lower than in the West, the woman is much more dependent upon the man for financial support. As a way to escape this, many mothers simply leave the country and find work elsewhere. In my discussion with Fr. John about the young people, I asked him directly what the young people need most. He said without hesitation, “Mothers—they need mothers.”

It is hard for us to imagine a society with so many mothers missing, gone off to work somewhere. Of course, I am sure that he is referring to the kids who are in the most difficult situations, but there are a lot of them. In Leova, there is one school with 400 abandoned kids, and in Cupcui, a village near Leova, there is another school with about 60 abandoned kids and orphans. We are working with Fr. Petru (Peter) the priest in Cupcui also, and I’ll be writing about his village also in a later newsletter.

Moldova also has a very serious problem with human trafficking, including the sexual exploitation of young women and girls. There is also quite a lot of heroin transported through Moldova on its way to Western Europe, and there is also an increasing amount of marijuana being grown in Moldova. Of course, young people are drinking a lot of alcohol anyway, and the drugs are just complicating an already difficult situation. Fr. John says it’s a problem that is not getting any better. Combined with all the alcoholism, poverty and the lack of opportunity, it is a very bleak picture for the young people over here. (Ed. Note: For an article on the fight against human trafficking in Moldova, visit http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/05/05/080505fa_fact_finnegan)

For those celebrating Holy Pascha on Sunday, I wish you a most blessed and Christ filled “Day of Resurrection”!


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