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Moldovan, American Christians side by side in earthquake relief

IZMIT, Turkey (BP)–Miskakit Ozpolat looks down through a hole in what had been the second floor of his home. He stares at a spot of his wife’s blood on a bed.
No tears, no anger, no emotion.
Ozpolat scratches a scraggly, untrimmed beard. He grabs a piece of what used to be the frame of his house and, in a flurry of short swings, he hits the plaster around the hole.
“Bad construction,” he says with a quiver in his voice.
The massive earthquake that shook his hometown of Izmit, Turkey, Aug. 17 knocked loose a piece of his bedroom ceiling that hit his wife in the head and killed her. His son and sister died in the next room. Now Ozpolat, his mother and his month-old daughter live in a small tent near his home.
Ozpolat, a Turkish Muslim, gathered outside with three American Christians and a Moldovan Baptist, who had been on a ministry trip in Turkey, organized by International Interns, when the earthquake hit. They join hands, bow their heads and pray.
This wasn’t supposed to be a disaster relief trip for the group of Moldovan Baptists and evangelicals from California praying with Ozpolat. Originally they were planning to help a Turkish pastor. But the massive earthquake changed a lot of plans.
“My Turkish friend woke up first, then he woke me up,” said Vladimir Rictor, a teacher at Moldova College of Theology and Education. “At that moment, I wasn’t really afraid. We went outside and spent the rest of the night there.”
From that moment on, they became a disaster relief team.
The Moldovans and the Californians joined Southern Baptists and Christians from all over the world in meeting the massive needs of the Turkish community.
The day following the earthquake, they handed out packets of food, supplies and offered New Testaments to those who wanted them.
Then they took on the project of making and distributing tents for the hundreds of thousands of people left homeless by the earthquake. By the end of the second week following the earthquake, they had helped other Protestants in Turkey produce and distribute nearly 1,000 tents.
International Interns, the organization that coordinated the joint trip between the Californians and Moldovans, is an evangelical ministry based in California that focuses on connecting American churches with overseas congregations.
In coordination with Southern Baptists, International Interns helped put together a joint ministry trip between several California evangelical churches and a group of Moldovan Baptist pastors and students.
International Interns has been working with Moldovan Baptists since the late 1980s to help start churches in their own country. Recently, International Interns has begun trying to mobilize the country’s Baptists to reach out into new directions.
The Gagauz, an ethnic group in Moldova, are the only Turkic people group not predominantly Muslim. Their language is an older version of Turkish, like Old English compared to contemporary English. But as the only non-Muslim, ethnically Turkish group, the 15,000 ethnic Gagauz Baptists provide an important link within the Turkish people.
“There are 200 million Turkish speakers in the world,” said Walt Shearer, president of International Interns. “Moldova is a very strategic country.”
Most Moldavian Baptist work has been focused internally or in Russia, but the recent trip to Turkey was one of the first steps to reaching into the wider world.
The love of Jesus Christ should be known everywhere, said Richter. “It is the commandment of Jesus Christ.”
One of the major purposes of the trip was to introduce the evangelicals from California to the Moldovan Baptists so the churches could better support each other. Working together to help the devastated communities in Turkey provided opportunities for both groups to learn about the other.
“[The Moldovans] are such hard workers,” said Leah Ringgold of Emmanuel Evangelical Free Church in Burbank, Calif. “I’ve been amazed.”
As Stephan Stauchan, general secretary of the Moldovan Baptist Convention, prays for Ozpolat, the recently widowed father stiffens and stares at the rubble that a week and a half earlier was his home.
There’s a long road ahead for both Ozpolat and the Turkish people, but for a time they didn’t have to walk it alone.

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  • Tobin Perry