CHISINAU, Moldova (BP)–Valeriu Ghiletchi radiates confidence as he strides toward Moldova’s parliament building.
As one of the first Baptists elected to government service in the former Soviet Union, his assurance rises out of a conviction that God has called him to help his struggling people in their quest for freedom.
It’s an awesome responsibility, and Ghiletchi is well aware that Baptists and other believers around the world are watching him almost as closely as are the communist legislators down the hall.
Among Moldovan Baptists, Ghiletchi is a respected leader — a pastor in charge of youth ministry for one of the country’s largest churches, a teacher who helped establish the Baptist seminary.
Can a lone Baptist make a difference in a former Soviet republic?
Ghiletchi hopes so.
The very idea that a Baptist — much less a Baptist pastor — would run for political office apparently offends many people in Moldova.
Before Ghiletchi won election to parliament in 1998, his Party of Democratic Forces (DPF) was attacked in many newspaper articles because he was on the candidate list. Orthodox Church leaders threatened to destroy the DPF campaign if Ghiletchi were not removed.
But the party leaders rallied behind Ghiletchi after he met with them and told them about his life.
It was only after Ghiletchi was elected that one of the party leaders — a signer of Moldova’s declaration of independence in 1991 — told Ghiletchi why he was willing to risk so much in supporting the pastor.
In 1987 the leader’s son was ill, and two men came to visit him. One man was a Moldovan Baptist who had moved to the United States. He asked if he could pray for the son.
After some hesitation, the party leader and his wife agreed. It impressed him that the man wept and prayed fervently for the boy as if he were his own child. The father never saw the man again, but his son recovered in a few days. The incident left the leader respectful of Baptists.
Even some Moldovan believers weren’t sure a minister should be running for public office. Ghiletchi didn’t ask Baptists to campaign for him, but to pray for him instead.
For Ghiletchi, serving in parliament is not just a whim or chance to help his struggling nation. Instead, he sees it as a spiritual quest, much as the Old Testament leader Joshua had to struggle to take and hold the land God promised.
Ghiletchi often speaks to young people about Moldova’s current dark days, which leave many of them despairing of finding decent jobs.
“I believe this generation is like Joshua and Caleb,” he says. “They must lead into a new world order. When I speak to them, I always encourage them to be faithful to the Lord during these difficulties. I understand there are many difficulties, but these young people will be able to change the situation.”
Ghiletchi himself is committed to change.
Early on he was elected to the parliamentary committee on human rights — a topic dear to the hearts of long-repressed Baptists. And he has kept his Christian faith public while trying not to alienate those of Orthodox faith or no faith. But the “special status” of the Orthodox Church keeps religious liberty issues on Ghiletchi’s front burner.
He has argued long and hard against Moldova’s Law of Religious Cults or Denominations. The measure outlaws proselytizing, a broadly defined term to which the Council of Europe objected. After much debate, the government banned proselytizing “by violence or abuse of authority.” Ghiletchi was not fully happy with the revision, but it was better than before.
More recently, he was able to pass budget amendments that will exempt religious educational institutions from property taxes and allow Christian literature to be brought into the country without import duties.
As the year 2000 began, Moldova’s parliament still was struggling to get organized under a new majority. Ghiletchi believes it will take years before pro-communist tendencies are shed.
“Somebody said it took one night for God to take Israel out of Egypt, but it took 40 years for him to get Egypt out of Israel,” he says. He believes Moldova must wander in a sort of economic and social desert before enjoying the promises of real freedom.
“Freedom and democracy are new wines, but the containers of communism are old,” Ghiletchi observes.
Soon after his election, Ghiletchi began twice-a-month prayer meetings and Bible studies with seven other parliament members. He believes it’s the first time a group has met here with such an agenda.
“It is amazing that now we meet to pray where communism once held sway!” he exclaims. “Nobody could dream several years ago it would have been possible to have a believer in parliament. It’s incredible for us to think God has made this possible.”
A (BP) map of Moldova has been posted in the BP Photo Library.