The following is the account of a brief interview by Zoom with Pastor Peter Mihalchiuk, SGA Regional Director, Moldova, about the severe challenges faced by believers and churches there, and the ways in which God has been working to bring blessing in circumstances of need, pain, and sadness.
The past year has been extremely difficult in Moldova. Tell us about the situation generally in the country.
The country was already suffering the effects of a failed harvest due to drought last year when the pandemic began so things were already difficult. The health care system in the country was entirely unprepared for the Covid-19 pandemic.
There was no access to or availability of PPE, and the quality of medicines, specifically antibiotics, was not good. Moldova’s statistics are some of the worst in E Europe, yet it is likely that there are many more cases which have not been reported.
Only the hospitals in the two main cities of Chisinau and Balti have the facilities to care properly for Covid patients. There are big differences between the cities and the villages. In the outlying regions hospital care is inferior and often inadequate, so the effects of the pandemic were severe.
How have the churches been affected? What difficulties and problems have they faced?
The most obvious difficulty was the inability to meet and have fellowship. Those in isolated communities were particularly affected by this, for often there is poor internet and telephone signal, sometimes none at all, and so believers were not able to communicate even virtually.
It was a time of anxiety and a challenging time. Where internet service was good, evangelists and preachers had to adapt, and learn how best to use Zoom and internet communication platforms, and believers had to adjust to ‘on-line’ services which were totally new to many.
The preachers and evangelists kept visiting and reaching out to the many who could not keep in touch, but despite taking whatever precautions they could, this made them more susceptible to infection, and sadly a large number of them became ill – some estimated that up to 70% were infected – including some past students of the SGA Mission School. Sadly, several died.
How have the churches responded to the problems and challenges of this period?
At first there was some confusion, with leaders and people not really knowing what to do and how to cope, but in many situations they adapted well, and became familiar with the use of social media for worship and fellowship purposes. On-line services, live-streaming, and Zoom were so valuable, and believers discovered and used other ways of communicating and interacting. Some set up group chats on Messenger as a kind of a ‘small group’ ministry.
However it was acknowledged that these were a poor substitute for face-to-face fellowship. In some locations believers continued to meet in very small groups for fellowship and encouragement.
SGA’s financial and practical support for leaders was invaluable, as was the continuing practical aid ministry to widows and other poor and vulnerable groups. Special services were arranged where the Gospel was presented, and food packages were distributed to the most needy.
The medical ministry team continued its precious ministry to body and soul, backed by the prayerful intercession and financial support of SGA supporters and others. It is to God’s glory that practical aid, especially to widows, could be significantly increased during the Covid period and not cut back.
Have people been impacted by the Gospel during this unusual and difficult time?
Yes, many have been troubled, and the opportunities to share the Gospel have been taken and they have proved very fruitful. In the early days of the pandemic in particular, there was widespread fear, and the thoughts of many turned to God. There was little hope of protection and deliverance from the virus on a human level, and many turned to prayer.
Many, who would not normally attend services also listened to the preaching of God’s Word on-line. In homes where there was only one believer, he or she was often joined by other family members to listen on-line, with the result that family members were brought to repentance. Praise God the Gospel has conquered many in the difficult pandemic times.
What challenges have you faced in keeping the Mission School programme going? What has been happening to keep the students in training?
A most encouraging development has been the involvement of local teachers in carrying on the teaching and training ministry. In the absence of SGA staff members, whose visits were usually of a two-week duration, the format of the school sessions was changed to fit lessons into two consecutive long weekends. This allowed local pastors to take on the teaching load.
Some sessions had to be cancelled, but whenever there was freedom to do so, the Mission School sessions continued. Another development has been in the curriculum, with the inclusion of several new subjects considered useful by the local church leaders.
In all of this we see God’s providential hand, strengthening the local base for the training of future Christian workers.