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Moldova’s churches seek to impart hope

CHISINAU, Moldova (BP)–Sprinceana Pamfil has a bright future. The 19-year-old makes good grades in school. A youth leader in his Baptist church, he’s never been in trouble and has a good head on his shoulders. He is interested in politics and has the potential to make big changes for his country.

These changes, however, may never happen. There are not many opportunities in Moldova for young people, so most leave the country -– just as Pamfil plans to do.

Pamfil sits talking about the friends he grew up with just days before he leaves the country. One now lives in Turkey and another in Italy. “I can’t think of one friend that is still in Moldova,” he says. “Everyone has left.”

Moldova is a small country in Eastern Europe facing mass emigration. Confronted with political instability, collapsing incomes and rapidly rising unemployment, people began emigrating from Moldova on a large scale -– and largely illegally — in the first half of the 1990s because hardly any opportunities are available for legal migration.

The mass exodus continues today.

The Moldovan Intelligence and Security Service estimates that 600,000 to 1 million Moldovan citizens (almost 25 percent of the population) are working abroad, most illegally, while the International Organization for Migration places the number at well over a million. Human trafficking is a prominent facet of this enormous outflow. But due to the clandestine nature of Moldovan emigration, no official statistics exist. Interviews with state officials, migration experts and returning Moldovans reveal that Russia, Italy, Ukraine, Romania, Portugal, Spain, Greece, Turkey and Israel are key destinations due to geographic distance, job availability and common languages.

Moldovans working in other countries scrimp and save in their adopted land, sending money back to relatives and thus giving an “unofficial” boost to the economy. The hundreds of money exchange offices in the capital city of Chisinau — in a country with essentially no tourist trade — indicate the importance of these remittances. Because most money sent back to Moldova does not go through “official” channels but is brought in illegally or through couriers, it is hard to estimate an accurate total.

In urban areas, the inflow of remittances makes itself apparent by living standards that appear higher than official statistics. Most of the money is used for the acquisition of apartments or consumption almost exclusively of imports.

For many living in the villages, however, their livelihood largely depends on remittances. Nina Vrabie, for example, takes care of her grandson and depends heavily on her daughter who works in Greece. Vrabie’s government pension is not enough to pay to heat her house or keep them fed.

“The young leave our country because there is no work. If they stay, there is no money,” Vrabie says. “Young people cannot help us [children, parents and elders] if they stay in the country.”

While working abroad answers an immediate need for income, its effects on the future can be devastating. Moldova’s brightest minds and future leaders have left the country and probably will never return.

Valeriu Ghiletchi, president of the Moldovan Baptist Union and a former member of parliament, admits most of the younger generation leaves because they “don’t see hope in Moldova.”

“The young people are especially affected by this,” Ghiletchi says. “[They] try to emigrate to a Western country in hopes of making a better life.”

Consequently, the demographic balance in Moldova has shifted to the older generation. They remember the “good old days” of the Soviet era and generally better standards of living. Thus, the drain of the younger generation has contributed to victories by communist candidates in recent elections.

Emigration likewise is the one of the biggest losses and challenges for churches, Ghiletchi says. Each month, a different leader or rising leader decides to emigrate.

“We baptize around 1,000 people every year, but we lose about 500 each year from our churches due to emigration,” Ghiletchi says. “This issue greatly affects our churches, especially in the villages where there are no longer young people, just children and grandparents.”

Baptists as well as other groups in Moldova are trying to find ways to provide opportunities and hope for the younger generation. Ghiletchi says he has stayed because he has hope in Moldova and God.

“If all the young leave, who will change the country?” Ghiletchi asks.
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.