As a writer, there are very few things that leave me at a loss for words. Yet, the past ten days in Moldova have had exactly that effect. When I became the journalism intern for Lipscomb Missions the fall semester of my senior year, I had not yet had the privilege of joining a Lipscomb missions team. But as I told the incredible stories of team members, team leaders, and team supporters, I quickly found myself longing to be a part of Lipscomb’s global movement. Until I began researching trips, I had never even heard of Moldova, a small country nestled between Romania and the Ukraine. Still, on May 25, I found myself on a plane to this small piece of the former Soviet Union.
In the weeks leading up to the trip, I was preoccupied, to put it lightly. I graduated from Lipscomb University with two degrees on May 6 and had just started two part-time jobs. I was deeply entrenched in planning my upcoming wedding to the love of my life. I had filled my plate with a myriad of exciting and important things, and honestly, I was stressed out. Getting on the plane, I couldn’t help but think about all of the things I had to do at home. After two days of whirlwind travelling, our team arrived at the team house where we ate an incredible traditional Moldovan dinner before going to our rooms. Suddenly, I was alone in my small periwinkle space. Rejecting the silence, I opened the window so I could listen to the sounds of Moldova: a pack of wild dogs howling at the night sky, geese calling to each other in a rough jumble, boisterous laughter from the boys playing soccer (“football”) outside. In that small, still moment, I knew why God had brought me halfway around the world to Moldova. He was teaching me to surrender.
Every day of the trip, the theme of surrender echoed in my heart. I let go of the stress that I had lugged across the Atlantic Ocean. I released my obligations and anxiety and allowed myself to fall deeply, madly in love with Moldova. Everything about this small, eastern European country caught my heart; the culture, the food, the people, the language. Everything is a strange hybrid of Russian and Romanian, creating something uniquely Moldovan. The first two days, our team led a weekend retreat for the girls of the Grace House, a home for girls who have aged out of orphanages and state-sponsored boarding schools. I was overwhelmed by their open, joyful hearts. In spite of the language barrier, our team connected with the Grace House girls on a deeply intimate level. Within the first day, I knew that they were so much more than just friends; they became my sisters. After two days of multilingual worship, devotionals, spa time, games, a traditional Moldovan cooking lesson, and lots of laughter, I realized that I had never bonded so quickly or so completely with anyone before. Yet, I still didn’t really understand the mission. These girls were such lights, such beacons of Christ’s love. I had not been there to see their beginnings, so I couldn’t fully fathom the transformative nature of Justice and Mercy International’s work.
Over the next four days, I was faced with the other side. We traveled outside of the city to visit two villages, Ciorescu and Puhoi, and the Striseni Orphanage. The first day, I felt myself slip into self-preservative instincts. I didn’t want to play with the kids or get to know them because it hurt on a soul-level. The second day was much worse. Near the end of the second day, I sat down with Joanna, one of our incredible team leaders, and confided to her some of the seeds of overwhelm and deep sadness that had begun to grow in my heart. Joanna began to cry, and so did I. It was a relief, a beautiful moment where she gave me permission to weep for the situations of the children that we had encountered. That night, she asked the question that had been beating itself against my brain for the past two days: how do you go about living now that you have this new knowledge of the world in your head?
On one of the last days of our trip, I finally found an answer to that question. The whole team had gathered in the team house for the last time, as a couple of our team members had to leave early. It was a bittersweet moment and Jamie Pratt, my fellow missions intern, pulled out a guitar and began to lead an impromptu worship session. She started to lead a Chris Tomlin song that I hadn’t heard in years called “God of This City.” The lyrics are as follows:
You’re the God of this city,
You’re the King of these people,
You’re the Lord of this nation,
You’re the Light in this darkness
You’re the Hope to the hopeless
You’re the Peace to the restless,
There is no one like our God…
For greater things have yet to come
And greater things are still to be done in this city…
How do you go about living now that you have this new knowledge of the world in your head? Surrender. Over the past ten days, I've seen beautiful, smart children whose parents chose not to keep them in favor of drugs or alcohol. I've met girls who spent the first decade of their life begging on the streets. I've seen a country, broken by poverty, the fallout of ideological change, the footprints of a broken Union scarring the landscape of a new nation.
Over the past ten days, I've seen a brave family from the city sacrifice their time and energy to serve a rural village. I've seen a courageous, passionate woman who has adopted and devoted her life to 60 children (and counting). I've seen real kindness, hope, and joy and true, unfaltering faith. I've met young adults with huge, courageous dreams.
I have seen the best and the worst of mankind. I have entered into suffering with strangers I can’t even communicate with. And I have encountered joy and gratitude in proportions that completely blow me away. How do I return home after witnessing these things and live as if these stories aren't carved in my head and on my heart? I don’t. Instead, I have surrendered this country to God. Back in America, I have peace and joy because I know that surrendering to God is the most active and personal way I can make a difference in this country, this city, this community that has irrevocably taken a piece of my heart. My God is the God of Moldova and He isn’t done.