Editor’s Note: Dr. Sergei Ivantchev, an Emergency Room physician at Union Medical Center, is a native of the European nation of Moldova. In late June, Dr. Ivantchev, his wife Lucia, and their daughters Victoria and Nicole, traveled to his hometown of Tarancuta, Moldova, taking with them medical supplies and medicine. During their stay in Tarancuta, Dr. Ivantchev and Victoria provided medical care to local residents, especially those suffering from osteoarthritis, while Lucia ran El-Shaddai, a summer camp for local children. Nicole, a journalism major, helped out at the camp while also chronicling her family’s time in Moldova and the impact it had, not only on those they came to help, but on her as well. This is her chronicle of her family’s Mercy Mission to Molova.
To be completely honest when my father brought up the idea of a family missions trip in the villages of Moldova where he grew up, I was not so fond of the idea. Nestled in between the Ukraine and Romania, Moldova is often ignored by European nations due to it’s corrupt government and high poverty rate. I instantly succumbed to first world fears and my mind focused on the negative aspects of the trip that would await me. Scorching heat and humidity, no indoor plumbing, animal waste covering the ground — and worst of all, no WiFi connection.
Ironically, these problems that were plaguing my mind days before our departure quickly dissolved once our plane left Istanbul’s airport and landed in the capital of Moldova, Chisinau. Once connected to that coveted WiFi, like a firework exploding from the darkness, my black phone screen was bombarded with text messages and received multiple notifications from other social media platforms from my friends back home in America who had the advantage of listening to the news while I was 32,000 feet above air.
The day we arrived in Moldova was June 28, the day of the terrorist bombings in the Ataturk airport in Istanbul that left 41 people dead. The bombings occurred in International Arrivals — where my family and I were sitting, awaiting our connection flight to Moldova 30 minutes before. This is a prime example of God’s protection over his people as we were on our journey to lead the broken in body and spirit to health.
Now the missions trip: Where do I find the words to describe what went on in the El-Shaddai camp?
Picture this, 85 children between the ages of seven to fourteen, running around a clearing in the middle of the forest. There’s a beaten up volley ball net on your right, a small area used for bonfires on your left, and “showers” and “bathrooms” along with tents that the children sleep in straight ahead. I use quotation marks around showers and bathrooms, because they do not quite fit the definition and criteria of American standards.
Remember when I said no indoor plumbing? Yes, a wooden shack encircles a deep hole made in the ground with a dusty curtain on the side that symbolizes the idea of privacy. The showers however are more industrialized: four curtains on either side, covering a small wooden fixture with a generously large plastic tub that at night becomes filled with hot water for the children to use.
The first day of camp involved games that gave children the opportunity to make new friends and reconnect with old ones that they met last summer at camp. There was five separations between the children that clustered them into corresponding age groups that would be competing against alternative groups throughout the week in games. One particular game that left me in awe was when the camp leader called for five boys from the various age groups to participate in a little manly competition.
The rules were simple, whoever did the most amount of pushups in one minute, won 100 points for his fellow team. Of course there is nothing wrong with a little friendly competition, so in my mind I too thought this game would be amusing and exciting for the children and the audience alike. One by one each boy would take their turn to put on a tough face and proceed with the push ups; some reaching 20 push ups with a red, strained face, and others reaching less, and a look of defeat reflected through the eyes.
There was one boy in particular who looked about 11 years old and had black hair, brown eyes, and sported dark bronzed skin that could only be attained from hours of field work in the hot sun. This reasoning soon became a proven fact when the boy shocked the crowd with 67 pushups in one minute. His arms muscles popped out each time his dirt covered blue shirt almost hit the ground but effortlessly picked him right back up, again and again. I remember my mom and I shared a look of pure amazement at his accomplishment while the children behind us who belonged to his group stood up cheering in a congratulatory echo for their strong team mate. This boy was one example of the extraordinary children that I had the privilege to befriend and learn about that week at El- Shaddai camp.
My father and sister were working as the medical part of the missions trip. They used supplies donated from Union Medical Center and donated them to Cantemir District Hospital. The two of them graciously used the medicine to help not only the children in the camp, but also the elderly people in the neighboring villages who were caged into their homes due to pain from osteoarthritis and no access to knee or hip replacements.
On an alternative side, my mom, and my 8th grade science teacher named Angela Ruggeri and I spent our time playing games, leading Bible study, or English lessons with the children. Although my family and I traveled to my parents’ native country on a mission to impact these impoverished but brilliant children, I believe that these bright energetic souls impacted me more. Due to their humble upbringing and days spent at a time doing rough manual labor at home, and in their fields, made them appreciate life’s simple gifts more than the children I know who are so fortunate to have the blessings they do in America.
On the first day of camp July 4, my father surprised the children with fireworks. Don’t worry, they were legally purchased in Moldova (you can get by with a lot in that country), and with the children placed in a large circle in an open field, my father graced the children’s eyes with the symbol of patriotism in lights, what Americans normally see each year. Hearing their cheerful laughter and exclamations of surprise and excitement, seeing the smiles and mouths open wide upon their faces, fingers pointing towards the sky as if they wanted to touch the fireworks, it was in that exact moment that I felt overwhelmed with thankfulness to have had the opportunity to spend time with such promising young individuals, the chance to show them what a firework even is. The last night of camp displayed the same fireworks as a last hurrah, distracting the children of the fact that the next morning their one week vacation would be over.
When the sun rose calling forth a new day, the time came for the 85 children to return to their villages and their homes, the only life they know. As a way to leave one more lasting impression upon the campers, my family prepared close to 100 green backpacks filled with school supplies, and American candy. We handed each child a backpack that read on the back, “Moldovan Baptist Mission of Greenfield, 2016.” Their excitement at seeing notebooks, pencils, a reading book, seemed foreign to me because it is not often that you hear an American child say they want school supplies for Christmas. However, based on the looks of their faces, the backpacks meant the world to them — a Christmas and a birthday present combined. Tears were shed saying goodbye to the children and making promises to see them again one day.
My mindset on the plane ride home from Moldova was absolutely different from the voyage that took place on June 28. I have the tendency to think that at 19 years old, I should have distinct clear-cut plans for my future and if anything disrupts my mental organization of these plans, it is seen as a threat. This missions trip taught me values that cannot be learned through a textbook or through reading the aftermath of someone else’s enlightened experience. Values such as faith — I truly practiced what I preached during our missions trip.
In America I confidently say that I am not afraid or worried about life and it’s trials because I have God who will protect me. I learned that it does not matter how often you might proclaim such faith, because it is easy to do so when in the comfort of living in America, where people are free to be in public places without the fear of being subject to a terrorist attack.
Faith is created when your life was almost taken from you. Faith is born when despite the circumstances, you radiate that faith onto those who need it most, to those who do not have the same opportunities at life and would be immensely pleased from simply receiving a clean shirt or new shoes.
If you would of asked me if I would go back to Moldova again, before June 28, before the start of the missions trip, before I met and grew close with the sweaty and smiling faces of the village kids — I would of laughed and outright said “no.”
Ask me now, and I would say “I am getting the fireworks ready for next summer.”
Nicole Ivantchev is a sophomore journalism student and the daughter of Dr. Sergei Ivantchev. She and her father, her mother Lucia, and sister Victoria spent part of this summer on a mission of mercy in her father’s native land of Moldova.