We traveled to Transnistria today. It’s a country within a country which probably isn’t much larger than New Hanover, Columbus and Brunswick Counties combined. It lies on the Nistra River which separates all of Moldova from Ukraine. This tiny little “nation” declared it’s independence in the early 90’s and still holds to it’s belief that it is free and independent. Interestingly the Moldovan Government still recognizes Transnistria as part of Moldova and no other country in the UN acknowledges it. Russia supports the “nation’s” independence, sends financial aid which Moldova does not receive and even helps maintain the borders for its tiny ally.
We have visited some very poor villages and regions this week but I must say, I’ve not felt the oppression I sensed all day today. The people seem happy enough, but something in my spirit simply can’t get beyond the obvious emptiness which exists.
As we pull to the border, everyone in the van has mixed feelings. This is the first time we’ve been met by armed Russian soldiers. Our passports are scrutinized and the purpose of our visit gleaned with a fine tooth comb. We make our way into Transnistria passing dilapidated buildings and abandoned factories. It is clear BenDer was once was a booming town. Now buildings which would have shown much luster in the 1980’s are covered with graffiti and littered with broken windows. My heart, heavy from the moment it caught my eye. Not only are these buildings run down, but they are empty. Parks grown up with trees. A random ferris wheel stands in the middle of what would once have been an amusement park. Cemeteries littered with weeds and trees. The obvious absence of life is heart breaking. I still can’t shake the feeling. My heart is heavy.
Our first stop, Grace Baptist Church – a large facility with a beautiful front facade in the midst of utterly abandoned buildings. This former restaurant now serves as home to a family of believers struggling to reach the oppressed and lonely. We have heard from pastor after pastor, each introducing deacons who serve adjacent villages. All have hopes of reaching their communities, but most serve senior adults and children. The children can’t do more than their elders allow and the seniors have hearts and minds steeped in Communist teaching.
We have learned of opportunities to financially adopt foster children, ministries providing shoes for children, handicapped ministries, food ministries and more. But the largest and most heart breaking statistic lies with children. Of the present 550,000 residents of Transnistria, 60% don’t live here, they work abroad. Many families have left or abandoned their children resulting in 12 state run orphanages with the largest hosting 600 children! Heartbreaking!
We visited a memorial in the heart of the capital city Tiraspol, witnessed bridal party photo shoots and even brides and grooms honoring fallen servicemen with flowers. Very touching, but this overwhelming sense of oppression hovers over me still.
We visited with a church in Tiraspol whose building faces two large construction projects. Both identical apartment buildings towering over the surrounding landscape. Both abandoned since the fall of the union. It seems neither is purchasable, though the pastor jokingly offered them to us for $1. When the Communist government constructed these, no plumbing was provided for. Had they been completed, all residents would have been forced to use buckets for everything imaginable. Now, no one will touch the buildings. They stand as a reminder of what once was, but which so many still long for.
This nation which isn’t, cries out for what it most needs but has not yet found – Freedom. Not from governments, poverty or people, but from something which runs so much deeper. My heart truly breaks tonight for the people of Transnistria. May the pastors and faithful believers who remain truly be the beacon of light which this dark corner of the world so desperately needs.