LIVERPOOL — Before the Russian army landed in Ukraine just over a week ago, few people would probably have known where to find the country on a map. Probably even less likely was to find – or perhaps even know about – the small independent country of Moldova located on the southwestern border of Ukraine. Now, as Ukrainian refugees flood into Moldova and Russian forces advance, the country has been in the headlines overnight.
But for a ministry based in the central Susquehanna Valley, Moldova has been at the center of a decades-long partnership.
Keys Connections, headquartered in Liverpool, has been present throughout Eurasia for over 20 years. Much of their effort has been to advance education at a Bible college in Moldova, with extension schools in Eurasia. The programs emphasize the training of church planters, missionaries and social workers. According to Keys Connections executive director Don Casteline, when the pandemic shutdowns began in 2020, the ministry also stepped in to help purchase online teaching materials for several Christian colleges in Ukraine.
Casteline said he received updates from these colleges.
“The challenges there are incredible, but the love of God continues to inspire them to serve others,” he said. “A leader was in Moldova when the conflict broke out, but he chose to return to Ukraine knowing he would not be allowed to leave. He wanted to be with his family and the people in his community.
One of the Bible schools in Ukraine had to close quickly when Russian troops took control of their area. Casteline said it moved some of its operations to the western part of Ukraine. With classes suspended, they turned to humanitarian work – evacuating people, providing shelter and offering bread and water.
According to Paul Beech, Keys Connections Partner and Director of Leadership Development, “As Ukrainian Bible College staff were leaving their campus which sits along a river, they could see the Russian army forming a line of battle , take control of the four-lane bridge by setting up snipers and tanks, dividing the city.
Beech said the Ukrainian military continues to protect the side of the river where the Bible college is located, and some of the college workers have stayed behind to establish a “bread factory” in the college kitchen for those who are still safe in the city and for the Ukrainians. soldiers.
Since the start of the invasion, more than 100,000 Ukrainians have fled to Moldova. Casteline said Moldova, a country much smaller than Pennsylvania and home to less than three million people, is the poorest country in Europe. Yet, he said, “their people are showing immense generosity in helping their Ukrainian neighbours.”
Keys Connections Ambassador Peter Cioclea currently lives in the United States but grew up in Moldova, graduated from Christian college there, served as a missionary and pastor there for several years, and stays in touch with his still-living family and friends. . in Moldova. Recently someone told him that although hundreds of Moldovans are at the border day and night helping the refugees, they say they wish they could do more to help.
Cioclea said most of the refugees arrive in droves, mostly women and children. The Ukrainian men were required to stay put.
According to Cioclea, Ukraine and Moldova have a long relationship of support and partnership, with large communities of Ukrainian-speaking people in Moldova and a few Romanian-speaking communities (the main language of Moldova) in Ukraine.
“This feeling of friendship and brotherly love has its roots for a long time,” he said.
Casteline adds that the two countries were once part of the former Soviet Union. Today, they are closely linked by their economies, culture, religion and language.
“The Moldovans see the devastation caused by Russia and they want to help,” he said.
On the day the Russian attack on Ukraine began, Casteline spoke with one of the ministry officials in Moldova.
“I could tell he was stressed, but he said, ‘We’re here to love people. That’s our goal, so that’s what we’ll do,” Casteline said.
Keys Connections ministry partners in Moldova are currently hosting and feeding about 200 refugees, but Casteline said that number is growing every day. They also partner with an association of churches in the country that carries out the same type of ministry for at least 200 others. One leader said it costs about $25 a day to provide three meals and accommodation for each refugee, not including other expenses such as medical supplies and electricity costs.
Casteline said he also learned that some Ukrainian refugees even stepped up to serve.
“The Ukraine crisis is heartbreaking and tragic,” he said, “but it provides an opportunity to show love and share hope and encouragement with those who are hurting. Many Ukrainians had next to nothing with them when they fled and most had a long and tiring journey across the border. Churches and other groups welcome refugees with free coffee, tea and food packets. They help with transportation and other logical needs. Most refugees are still trying to come up with a plan for where to go.
Keys Connections strives to stay in touch with ministries in Moldova and Ukraine, and invites donors to support the work taking place in these regions.
“The need is huge,” Casteline said. “Fortunately, many people have a strong desire to help. Within days, our organization received many generous donations. We are extremely grateful and will continue to do what is necessary to support our partners during this time. »
A pastor, who chose to remain anonymous, helps lead a large association of churches in Moldova. The pastor said, “Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your special encouragement and for your help in the ministry. Your letter made me cry and these are tears of joy and hope.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, Cioclea became one of many missionaries sent by local churches to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ in towns where there was no local church. He was later ordained a church pastor and also played a church planting role. While the Moldovan government supported their work, he said that because it is a poor country, they always counted on “the financial and emotional support of Western partners”.
After World War II, Cioclea said, “Christians were subjected to harsh persecution by the Communist Party. Church leaders were interrogated, fined and thrown in jail for holding church services and teaching the Bible to children. They were marginalized in an effort to prevent Christianity from spreading.
On the contrary, such experiences have only strengthened the Christian mission.
“I believe these past sufferings have helped Christians in Moldova to develop a deep love for the oppressed and an openness to help at all times and in all circumstances,” Cioclea said.
During its more than 2,000 years of history, Moldova has been the center of religious and ethnic invasions, wars and genocides.
“Different empires or powerful military countries have caused deep wounds to Moldovans,” Cioclea said, adding, “The last military conflict dates back to 1992, but its effects are still being felt today.”
The fall of the Soviet Union left the Republic of Moldova in dire straits. Even today, residents rely on the help of foreign support or family members working abroad.
Keys Connections’ partner Bible college in Moldova has nearly 2,000 graduates who now live across Eurasia.
“I hear stories about how God uses them in different ways,” Casteline said.
Additionally, Keys Connections continues to assist ministry partners, including some of these graduates and religious partners in Eurasia, serving refugees from Afghanistan.
“The situation there is very different,” Casteline said, “but we are happy that food, blankets and other help can be offered with the good news of the Gospel.”
Casteline said he recently visited this area and “it was a joy to meet these people”.
For more information, including updates on the situation in Ukraine and how to help, visit www.keysconnections.org.