Moldovan Churches Rise to Aid Ukrainian Refugees

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Moldovan Churches, Despite Their Own Need, Unite to Offer Aid to Ukrainian Refugees

Story by Kathy Symborski
Photos courtesy of Steven Yeats

Christians in Moldova, including Calvary Chapel believers, are actively sharing material aid and the hope of Jesus Christ with Ukrainian refugees.

“You guys are like angels from God. We were so scared coming into the country; we didn’t know anything. You embraced us, gave us hope, calmed our minds, took us in,” a Ukrainian Jewish man at the border of Ukraine and Moldova exclaimed to Calvary Chapel missionary Steven Yeats.

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Steven Yeats (standing, in the green vest) encourages a group of Ukrainian refugees as they wait to board a bus for a safer country. He and his wife Teresa are Calvary Chapel missionaries serving in Chisinau, Moldova. As they minister by providing practical aid to the refugees, they also share spiritual truth and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Believers from Chisinau often drive 2 ½ hours one way—100 miles—to get to Moldova’s border with Ukraine.

Steven, who serves at Metanoia Chisinau Church in Chisinau, Moldova, sat for about an hour with this gentleman, describing the motives of those serving at the border. “We are all Christians, and the reason we serve them is because we have a God who serves, gives, and sacrifices Himself for the good of others. We believe that is the kind of God He is, but we are convinced He did more than that. He didn‘t just give us food and bring us into safety—He gave His Son.”

Jesus is the Messiah that Jews are still waiting for, Steven explained. “Of course, he said he didn’t know about that but thought that Jesus’ teachings were good. In the end, we agreed to disagree about Jesus. These opportunities are presenting themselves all over the place. And this is just me—multiply that by several thousand!”

                  

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Steven and his wife Teresa have been missionaries in Eastern Europe since 2000, helping to plant two churches in the northern Chernihiv region of Ukraine. They moved to Moldova in 2005 to pastor a small church for six years and then moved to the capital, Chisinau, in 2011, to help plant Metanoia Church, where they’ve served for the last 10 years. Steven is an ordained CC pastor; their home church is Calvary Chapel Thousand Oaks, CA.

Even in Poverty, Reaching Out
Moldova is one of the poorest countries in Europe. The average monthly wage is $300, and the country’s infrastructure is incapable of supporting the number of refugees flooding into the country, Steven said. “The needs coming into Moldova are legion. We’ve had about 300,000 to 350,000 people cross the border, so we have a significantly higher number of refugees per capita compared to, say, Poland. Our population has increased by 4%; one out of eight children in the country is a refugee. If it weren’t for the Christian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and churches, this would be a nightmare,” Steven noted. “We have a refugee crisis.”

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Steven says goodbye to Ukrainians Natalia and Liza before they board the bus for Denmark in Moldova. The mother and daughter, cousins of a young lady from the Calvary Chapel the Yeats’ helped start in Pryluky, Ukraine, stayed with the Yeats family for 10 days before leaving. “It was our honor to have them in our home,” Steven fondly shared. “Denmark, remember that we did not send you two refugees—we sent you two princesses.”

In this war, there is the potential for danger, he added. “The likelihood of a Russian occupation is high if the Russians manage to take Odessa, Ukraine, but I don’t expect it to happen violently. Moldova doesn’t have any defense. The Russians would just walk in.”

Chisinau is 100 miles northwest of Odessa. Because of daily shelling, many Odessans have fled 25 miles west to nearby Palanca, Moldova, where Steven, his church, and many others have been feeding people, handing out blankets, organizing transportation, arranging temporary housing, and helping get them to their next destination. “It’s a 2½-hour drive one way to the border and many of us are driving our own vehicles there; it’s not very efficient, but our church does not have a van.”

One of the first aid groups to arrive in Palanca was Operation Mobilization (OM), a U.S.- based Christian organization with international outposts. “In God’s sovereign wisdom and grace, He made the biggest OM outpost in Europe in Moldova. We have about eight families from OM that attend our church, so we are very connected to them,” Steven explained.

OM set up a large revival-type tent on the Ukrainian side, so people waiting in long passport control lines could have respite from the freezing temperatures. “We have teams of Moldovans and expats (expatriates) every day in that tent, serving tea and sandwiches. On the other side (in Moldova), tents are set up where local churches, working in shifts, are providing hot meals. I’ve never seen the Church shine so brightly. I never allowed myself to even imagine the churches could be so unified in purpose. Seriously, they threw the ball, and the Church is knocking it out of the park!”

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In Polanca, Moldova, believers from many different churches generously feed refugees when they arrive from Ukraine and before they leave for other countries. Polanca is just 25 miles west of Odessa, Ukraine. These believers also hand out blankets, organize temporary housing, and help evacuees get to their next destination. Steven exclaimed, “I’ve never seen the Church shine so brightly. I never allowed myself to even imagine that the churches could be so unified in purpose.

Organizing Aid Efforts
Steven remarked, “I’ve been in this part of the world for a while, working under many different circumstances. Out of necessity, I’ve met a lot of people and have connections with other organizations that provide aid, and they are coming out of the woodwork to help.” He works with individuals and teams from local and international churches. “Pastors have spent countless hours on their phones chasing down thousands of leads through their social networks,” he explained. “But we are still in crisis mode, so while working on the longer-term solutions, the short term is screaming at us, and it can’t be neglected. Now is the time to move people, so that is what I’m going to do.”

The urgency to establish a location to transit large groups of people came out of a chance meeting with a missionary who pastored an Albanian church during the Serbia–Kosovo crisis. His advice to Steven was to have a plan for how to help the refugees. “He said that soon we would see caravans of white land rovers coming in from the UN. They will set up tent cities around the capital and there will be thousands of thousands of people in those places indefinitely. And I’m seeing that now!” Steven observed. “There are more than 100,000 people in government centers that have sprung up over the last few weeks—you can only imagine what those condition are like.”

Beginning with connections in Cluj, Romania, Steven has mobilized churches in the western part of Romania as a staging ground to quickly transport people out of Moldova. After offering a good night’s rest, food, and showers, they transport refugees further west.

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During a recent nighttime trip, Ukrainians fleeing the war with Russia warm up with hot drinks and warm fellowship at the border of Moldova.

A network of Danish believers Steven has known for years recently sent a 72-seat bus that he prays will be filled. “Denmark has room for about 20,000 people, offering full integration into Danish society, language, housing, getting jobs, education. It isn’t like they just show up and have to figure it out. Most of them will be helped by churches.”

Casting Gospel Seeds
And He [Jesus] said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” Mark 16:15

In the whirlwind of meeting so many needs quickly, sharing the Gospel on a grand scale is difficult, but not impossible. Opportunities present themselves through serving. “Pray that in all the service being done in the name of Jesus, people would see and hear the Gospel; that hearts and eyes would be opened to see their need for Him and His love for them,” Steven urged.

In the long drive from Palanca to Chisinau, “I was able to share the Good News with an Armenian family during the ride. Their son, maybe about 15 years old, keeps calling me on social media. He is very open to the Gospel.”

In providing shelter, “We had an Iraqi family come to our home. Only the husband spoke English. He kept saying, ‘You really good people, I never forget your kindness,’ but we were able to communicate that we do this because we love Jesus and Jesus loves you.”

God’s Sovereignty
One of Steven’s concerns is that, to end the war, Ukraine would be divided up with Russia taking Kyiv, Kharkov, Odessa, and the entire coastal Black Sea area. “If they take Odessa, which has a population of about 1 million, we would have 250,000-400,000 people overnight at the border wanting to get into Moldova, so we’d have an instant humanitarian crisis”—and the very real possibility of an imminent Russian occupation of Moldova itself, Steven predicted.

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These little girls fleeing their home in Ukraine are welcomed in Moldova. The serious expressions on their faces reflect the reality of the war with Russia, which has entered into its second month.

"If you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you." Matthew 17:20b

“The Lord has encouraged my heart. He is going to move mountains, big ones. I’ve watched churches who were once doing their own thing now set aside little debatable issues and putting their doctrine to work. It is one of the best things that has ever happened to the church in this part of the world,” Steven elaborated. Amidst the chaos, the churches in Moldova have united. “I’ve wept many times recently at the sheer goodness of God; it’s tragedy and beauty all in the same thing.” He added that the Moldovan government has publicly recognized that more than 90% of refugees are being cared for by Christian churches and NGOs.

Steven recognizes that while the world’s eyes are now on the Ukrainian crisis, that will eventually change. Financial assistance will wane. Western European countries will eventually close or severely restrict entrance, which will result in an enormous number of refugees left long term in countries nearer to Ukraine, such as Moldova. “It is a sobering reality, but it doesn’t scare or incapacitate me. Instead, we are looking at long-term solutions and determining sustainable models for doing things, while trusting in God’s promises.”

Financial Support
Following are several ways that the worldwide Calvary Chapel family can support efforts in Ukraine:
• To support this work, donate to Steven & Teresa Yeats with Shepherd's Staff
• Donate to the Ukrainian Refugee Fund with Shepherd's Staff
• Give through CC San Diego, click here
• You can also give through Calvary Chapel of Philadelphia at app.securegive.com

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Steven and Teresa Yeats, Calvary Chapel missionaries in Moldova, with their three boys in pre-war days. Before moving to Moldova in 2005, they were instrumental in planting two churches in Ukraine. Steven is part of a group of believers in Moldova planning strategies to best help the Ukrainian refugees. Although one of the poorest countries in Europe, Moldovans are assisting large numbers of those fleeing the war-torn country. Up to 350,000 people have crossed the border, he said, which is creating a refugee crisis. In addition, the country faces a very real threat of invasion if Russia is successful in taking Odessa, Ukraine.

                  

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All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version, unless otherwise noted.

© 2022 Calvary Chapel Magazine (CCM). All rights reserved. Articles or photographs may not be reproduced without the written permission of CCM. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.® Used by permission.

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