MOLDOVA (BP)–Crawling all over the moving tire swing, Constanta lets out a giggle -– the kind that only comes from a 10-year-old girl. She and her friends won dominion over the swing from the boys and are not about to give it back.
The playground at the Christian Community Center in her village is Constanta’s favorite place in the entire world. It’s a place where she can forget her worries. It’s the only time she doesn’t miss her parents.
Constanta’s parents left Moldova, a small country in Eastern Europe, in search of work. She, like so many of her classmates, lives with grandparents or relatives. Constanta knows she is lucky; her friend Ludmila and her siblings live by themselves in the family home. Neighbors stop in to check in on them from time to time. The Christian Community Center is one of the few places where they can act like children.
The founder of the center, Coada Ilie, saw a growing need back in 1998 when Moldova’s economy hit rock bottom. He saw parents leaving the country to find jobs -– and leaving their children to raise themselves. One in nine children in Moldova –- about 100,000 -– grow up without at least one of their parents. At least 30,000 of these grow up without either of their parents, according to a BBC report.
Money earned by Moldovans overseas, typically sent back to the country to support their families, makes up more than a quarter of the gross domestic product, according to the World Bank.
Growing up without parents has its effects on Moldova’s children. They are vulnerable, Ilie says, and often have psychological or social problems. They also are targets for human traffickers because they don’t know where to get help when they need it.
Ilie started the Christian Community Center in an effort to reach out to these children and their families. After school, they receive a nutritious meal at the Baptist ministry -– often the only meal some have that day. They receive help with homework and have a choice of such activities as learning computers or playing on a football (soccer) team.
The unique thing about the various activities is that they are all Bible-based, Ilie says. “All of the children learn about Jesus here and study the Bible,” he notes. “Without parents around, they do not learn morals and ethics. So, we try to instill Christian values. Many of the children are coming to know Christ through this program.”
Valeriu Ghiletchi, president of the Moldovan Baptist Union, wishes more believers would catch a vision for ministering amid one of the country’s most pressing needs.
In one village school Ghiletchi visited, 100 of the 150 students had no parents at home; they lived with grandparents, a relative or took care of themselves.
“That’s 100 students without parents in one village,” he says. “These children have nothing to do. They need someone to talk to. This is an opportunity to reach them with the Gospel and change the fate of our country.”
To Constanta and her friends, living without parents at home is normal. She doesn’t realize she craves the attention of adults, but it is easily evident: As the boys storm the tire swing, the three girls run screaming to Ilie. Each grabs his hand and hides behind him. He laughs and asks how their day went. Ecstatic to have his attention, the girls begin describing their day as only 10-year-olds can.
Sue Sprenkle is a regional correspondent with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board. Learn more about Moldova in the 2007 International Mission Study, available at www.wmustore.com or by calling Woman’s Missionary Union customer service at 1-800-968-7301.