Reaching the Nations

Moldova

By David Stewart and Matt Martinich

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MoldovaGeography
Area:33,851 square km.  Landlocked in Eastern Europe, Moldova borders Ukraine and Romania.  Two large rivers, the Dneister and Prut, run along or near the borders.  The narrow stretch of land between the Ukrainian border and the Dneister River is named Transnistria.  The majority of the land is arable and is low-laying plains or small hills.  The temperate climate receives influence from the nearby Black Sea which helps moderate temperatures despite its continental location.  Uncultivated land consists of forest or forest interspersed with grassland.  The legacy of heavy fertilizer and pesticide use from the Soviet Union is the greatest environmental concern.  Moldova is divided into 32 raions, three municipalities, one autonomous territorial unit, and one territorial unit.
Population: 4,320,748 (July 2009)
Annual Growth Rate: -0.079% (2009)
Fertility Rate: 1.27 children born per woman (2009)
Life Expectancy: male 67.1, female 74.71 (2009)
 
Peoples
Moldovan/Romanian: 78.2%
Ukrainian: 8.4%
Russian: 5.8%
Gagauz: 4.4%
Bulgarian: 1.9%
Other: 1.3%
 
Controversy continues on whether Moldovans and Romanians are two separate or the same ethnic group.  Many Ukrainians and Russians reside in Transnistria.  The Gaguaz are a Turkic people who mainly reside in the southern autonomous territory of Gagauzia.  Bulgarians mainly live in southern Moldova.  Over 500,000 populate the disputed Transnistria region. 
 
Languages: Romanian (77%), Russian (11%), Ukrainian (6%), Gagauz (4%), Bulgarian (2%).  Romanian is the official language.  There are also a small number of Romani speakers.  Only Romanian has over one million native speakers (3.4 million). 
Literacy: 99.1% (2005)
 
History
The Dacians were the first powerful force to occupy Moldova before the birth of Christ.  The territory partially fell into Roman control in the first century.  The Roman Empire and later Byzantine Empire maintained portions of Moldova until the 7th century.  Several different groups ruled the area for the following centuries including the Goths, Tatars, Mongols, and Huns.  Moldova was absorbed into the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century as Moldavia and maintained some autonomy.  The Ottoman and Russian Empires exchanged several regions of Moldova during the 19th century with the majority of Moldova included in the Kingdom of Romania in the late 19th century.  Russia regained Moldova following World War II and sought to sever ties to Romania through rewriting the Romanian language in the Cyrillic alphabet and claiming that Moldovan was a separate language.  In the late 1980s, an independence movement began taking shape and resulted in independence from the USSR in August 1991.  The narrow strip of land between the Dneister River and the Ukrainian border named Transnistria broke away from Moldova due to demographic differences with the rest of Moldova and resulted in a civil war in 1992.  Transnistria has maintained de facto control of the territory since a cease fire in 1992 and has an established independent government, military, and civil institutions. 
 
Following the end of civil war, Moldova experienced economic catastrophe until the 2000s from inflation and transitioning to a free-market economy.  During the 1990s, most Moldovans lived below the poverty line.  The Communist Party continues to have strong control.  Moldova became the first former Soviet republic to vote a communist as president in 2001.  Economic growth began in the early 2000s and has continued.  Civil disorder and weak government have continued since independence.  In 2009, riots occurred following demonstrations supporting ties with Romania.  Non-communist political parties joined together in 2009 to try to strengthen ties with Western Europe and overpower the communist influence on politics.
 
No nations recognize Transnistria as a sovereign state and its ultimate relationship with Moldova and the international community has yet to be determined.
 
Culture 
Moldovan culture draws upon Soviet and Romanian influences.  The Soviets vigorously attempted to eradicate Romanian culture and develop a sense of Moldovan culture.  The Moldovan Orthodox Church strongly influences culture and society.  A rich literary history has continued for the past couple hundred years.  Suppressed Romanian folk culture reemerged following independence.  Relations continue to grow closer to Romania and Central Europe and have been strained with Russia.  Moldova experiences one of the highest cigarette and alcohol consumption rates worldwide.  There are also a large number of orphaned children.
 
Economy
GDP per capita: $2,400 (2009) [5.2% of US]
Human Development Index: 0.708
Corruption Index: 2.9
Moldova has experienced little economic growth and remains one of the poorest nations in Europe.  Inflation crippled the economy in the 1990s and growth did not occur until the past decade.  Moldova’s landlocked location, poor economic infrastructure, and the uncertainty of the destined state of Transnistria limit foreign investment and trade.  Almost a third of Moldovans live below the poverty line.  The large amount of productive agricultural land provides great strength for the small economy.  Agriculture employs 41% of the workforce and produces 22% of the GDP.  Services constitute 61% of the GDP and account for 43% of the workforce.  Primary agricultural products include vegetables, fruits and wines.  Almost all industry relates to the processing and storing of food products.  No significant mineral resources besides gypsum and limestone challenge economic growth and diversification.  Primary export partners include Morocco, Russia and Romania whereas primary import partners include Ukraine, Russia and Romania.  Moldova experiences competing influences from Russia and Western Europe, with the former punishing Moldova with higher fuel and power prices if not complying with their demands.  Integration into the EU is the eventual goal of many Moldovans. 
 
Corruption ranks among the worst in Europe.  Only Russia and Belarus were ranked as more corrupt by Transparency International in 2009.  Corruption is most widespread for obtaining visas and in law enforcement.  Transnistria has continued to distance itself from Moldova due to its predominant Russian and Ukrainian-speaking population. Drug trafficking and other illegal activity often enter Central Europe through Moldova or Transnistria. 
 
Faiths
Christian: 98.5%
Jewish: 1.5%
 
Christians
Denominations  Members  Congregations
Eastern Orthodox  4,234,333
Jehovah’s Witnesses  20,055  236
Catholic  20,000
Seventh-Day Adventists  11,036  154
Latter-Day Saints  285  2
 
Religion
Over 90% of the population actively or nominally adheres to the Bessarabian or Moldovan Orthodox Churches.[1]  The Jewish population has dropped in the past century due to war, the holocaust and immigration to Israel.    Remaining Jews primary reside in northern Moldova.  Protestant churches have seen limited growth.
 
Religious Freedom
Persecution Index:
The constitution allows religious freedom which is typically upheld by the government.  The Moldovan Orthodox Church is viewed as a cultural legacy to Moldova and its citizens.  A new constitution went into effect in 2007 and was designed to simplify the registration process and provide greater flexibility in holding public events.  Muslim groups were denied registration.  Registration provides religious groups the right to hold property and have bank accounts.  Legislation requires foreign missionaries to report their salary on their contracts with their sponsored religious group to obtain work permits.  The government is secular but shows favoritism toward the Moldovan Orthodox Church.  Religious classes may be taught in schools but depend on parents’ approval and school budgets.  Jehovah’s Witnesses receive the greatest persecution among the more recently arrived religious groups, much of which comes from Orthodox churches. 
 
Transnistria enjoys religious freedom but can place restrictions on religious groups’ activities to maintain peace and stability.  Registration is not required for religious groups to meet and operate in the country, but in order to receive legal registration religious groups must have at least 10 members over the age of 18, have existed in Transnistria for 10 years and provide documentation indicating that both these terms have been met.  Registration is required for foreign missionaries to openly proselyte.[2] 
 
Largest Cities
Urban: 42%
Chisinau, Tiraspol', Balti, Tighina, Rabnita, Cahul, Soroca, Ungheni, Dubasari, Orhei.
 
Three of the 10 largest cities have a congregation.  34% of the national population lives in the 10 largest cities.
 
LDS History
The first Moldovans joined the Church in the mid-1990s in Russia, Ukraine, and the United States.  Four American members arrived in Moldova for work in the mid-1990s and held meetings on Sundays.  Elder Charles A. Didier and the Romania Bucharest Mission president visited in September 1997 with American and Moldovan members.[3]  In the fall of 1997, it was announced that a branch would soon be organized and missionaries from the Romania Bucharest Mission would began serving in the country.  The Church assigned missionaries to Chisinau.  Missionary work was conducted through member referrals.  Missionaries did not wear name tags and were not permitted to openly proselyte.  The Chisinau Branch was created in November 1997.[4]  The institute and seminary programs began in 1998.[5] 
 
Membership Growth
LDS Membership: 285 (2008)
At the end of 2000 there were 75 members.  In January 2001, Moldovans were among those who attended a young single adult conference for members in the Romania Bucharest Mission.  A special fast was held for government recognition of the Church in Moldova.[6]  Elder M. Russell Ballard dedicated Moldova for missionary work in May 2001.[7]  Government recognition did not occur until the end of 2006.
 
The greatest membership growth occurred between 2000 and 2005.  Membership increased to 137 in 2001 and to 200 in 2002.  In 2004, membership reached 254.  Growth slowed dramatically during the years missionaries did not serve in Moldova as membership only increased by two between the end of 2004 and the end of 2006.   Membership has experienced greater increases recently, numbering 264 in 2007 and 285 in 2008.  The majority of Moldovan members belong to the Chisinau Branch.
 
Congregational Growth
Branches: 2  Groups: 1
In 2000, Moldova belonged to the Europe Central Area.  The following year one branch and two groups functioned and 14 missionaries were serving.[8]  Groups were likely located in Orhei and Balti.  Missionaries briefly served in Balti.  Senior missionary couples have served since at least the late 1990s.  The Church created a second branch in Orhei in 2002. 
 
Missionaries were withdrawn from Moldova in late 2004 due to Church unable to receive recognition from government and opposition from other religious groups.   Missionaries returned to Moldova in early 2007 following official recognition. 
 
The mission created the first district in Moldova in January 2009.  The Chisinau Moldova District included three branches in Chisinau, Orhei and across the Romanian border in Iasi.  The city of Balti was reopened to missionary work in August 2009.  The few members and missionaries likely meet as a group.
 
Activity and Retention
At the end of 2008 there were 80 active members in Chisinau.  Although the bulk of total and active membership resides in Chisinau, missionaries reported in late 2008 that the Chisinau Branch was not strong enough to divide into two branches for Romanian and Russian speakers.  The Orhei Branch had likely 20 or fewer active members.  A few active members reside in Balti.  40 were enrolled in seminary or institute during the 2007-2008 school year.  Active members total likely around 100, or 35% of total membership. 
 
Language Materials
Languages with LDS Scripture: Romanian, Russian, Ukrainian, Bulgarian
All LDS scriptures are available in Romanian, Russian, Ukrainian, and Bulgarian.  Romanian translations of some family history, missionary, primary, young men, priesthood, relief society, Sunday School, unit, and temple materials are available.  A greater number of materials for these organizations are available in Russian and Ukrainian.  The Liahona has four issues a year in Romanian and Bulgarian and 12 in Russian and Ukrainian.  Bulgarian, Russian and Ukrainian have several audio/visual materials and CES student manuals translated. 
 
Meetinghouses
The Chisinau and Orhei Branches likely meet in rented spaces or renovated buildings.  Meetings for the group in Balti likely occur in a rented space. 
 
Humanitarian and Development Work
In 2002, Church members donated 1,000 quilts to the needy in Moldova and Albania.[9]  In July 2004, the Church donated 500 wheelchairs.[10]  The Church sponsored clean water projects in 2008.  In the late 2000s, the Church continued to donate wheelchairs and also participated in hygiene kit assembly and distribution, refurbish public schools, and providing service in orphanages.  Humanitarian missionary couples were serving in the late 2000s.  Local members have assisted at orphanages for service projects. 
 
Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects
 
Religious Freedom
The Church has faced many setbacks obtaining official recognition, assigning missionaries, and establishing congregations over the past two decades due to government legislation and persecution from other religious sects.  In early 2010, these challenges had been overcome but the intolerant religious and political atmosphere of foreign missionaries and churches may threaten continued Church outreach with full-time missionaries. 
 
Cultural Issues
Cultural differences between primarily American missionaries and Eastern Orthodox culture may have contributed to the slow growth experienced over the past decade.  The prominence of the Moldovan Orthodox Church in native culture has delayed the Church’s establishment and foreign missionary outreach.  High cigarette and alcohol consumption challenge the Church’s teachings and likely pose challenges for investigators to consider baptisms.  Investigators involved in corruption may face challenges in changing professions and lifestyle in order to join the Church.  Addiction outreach groups and supportive local members and missionaries are vital to overcoming these cultural obstacles. 
 
National Outreach
Moldova has suffered many setbacks over the years for national outreach resulting in the nation ranking among the least reached by the Church in Eastern Europe.  When missionaries returned to Moldova in early 2007, there were 17 missionaries destined to the Romania Bucharest Mission receiving training in the Missionary Training Center.  Half of the missionaries were receiving Russian language training, which was excitedly received by the mission in anticipation of missionary outreach in Moldova.  All the missionaries called during this time returned from their missions in 2009 yet membership only increased by 29 during the two year period.
 
Due to postponed government recognition and a delayed Church establishment, Moldova continues to have little mission outreach.  Outreach centers in Chisinau, Orhei and Balti at most reach only 21% of the nation population.  Missionary work efforts in areas without outreach centers, such as Gagauzia, are difficult as mission headquarters are in Romania, most have no members and intolerance towards foreign religions is high.  The greatest opportunity for outreach in the near future are lesser reached areas of Chisinau and surrounding communities as these areas have both active and less active members. 
 
Transnistria has had no mission outreach, very few if any members and has several obstacles preventing the establishment of the Church.  Transnistrian law requires at least 10 members over age 18 and a presence for at least 10 years.  Once there are at least 10 members who meet for Church services, the Church must await 10 years to receive government recognition required for active proselytism.  The greatest opportunity for the Church to reach Transnistria will be through the Russian and Ukrainian converts in Moldova and Ukraine sharing the Church’s teachings with their family and friends who reside in Transnistria.
 
Member Activity and Convert Retention
Moldova experiences some of the highest member activity rates in Eastern Europe.  No other European country has a higher percentage of members enrolled in seminary or institute (14%).  The isolation from foreign missionaries has likely contributed to the resilience of local membership as they have been forced to become self-sustaining in leadership.  The strength of local leadership is manifest with the creation of the first district in 2009 despite membership in Moldova totaling fewer than 300.  Some full member families belong to the Chisinau Branch and provide a valuable resource for long-term growth. 
 
Ethnic Issues and Integration
A great challenge the Church experiences is with accommodating both Romanian and Russian speakers within the same congregation, although the number of Russian speakers is relatively few and has declined since independence.  Tension exists between Romanians and Russians/Ukrainians appear to have not stunted membership growth and activity in Chisinau.  The Gagauz are localized in Gagauzia and have yet to be reached by mission efforts. 
 
Language Issues
All commonly spoken languages already have all LDS scriptures and many materials available with the exception of Gagauz and Romani.  Members use both Romanian and Russian in Church settings.  In Chisinau, half of worship services are held in Romanian and half are in Russian.  Outreach to the Gagauz will be challenging as no Church materials are available in Gagauz and the group is isolated from the rest of the country in their own autonomous region. 
 
Leadership
Leadership has been limited due to the small Church membership but has seen positive development.  One individual served as the president of the Chisinau Branch for over 10 years.  Both branches were led by local members in early 2010.  The strength of local leadership is indicated by the organization of the first district in early 2009 despite fewer than 300 members in Moldova.  The Church has a foundation of seasoned leaders who can assist in leading the Church and maintaining doctrinal integrity.  Most leaders likely joined the Church a decade ago and like other Eastern European nations, leaders in Moldova may struggle to bring more converts into the Church.  Unlike many Eastern European countries, Moldova also does not appear to struggle with retaining native Church leaders after they are released from their callings. 
 
Temple
Moldova belongs to the Freiburg Germany Temple district.  Temple excursions have occurred with members from other nearby nations.  Several Moldovan members attended the temple when 59 members from Romania, Bulgaria and Moldova participated in temple work for five days in October 2007.[11]
 
Comparative Growth
Moldova is one of the most recently opened countries for missionary work in Europe and also enjoys one of the higher member activity rates in Eastern Europe.  Among nations with an official Church presence, only Serbia has a smaller Church membership.
 
Other Christian denominations have experienced a much more reaching and rapid growth than the LDS Church.  Jehovah’s Witnesses have been especially successful with over 20,000 active members in over 200 congregations.  Both Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh-Day Adventists have a presence in Transnistria.  Pentecostals have also seen increasing success.  These denominations have opened congregations in most cities and utilized members in proselytism.  Protestant groups report challenges for growth due to opposition from Orthodox churches.  The success of other Christian groups suggests significant opportunities for LDS growth; the relatively little attention and resources Moldova has received as only a small zone in the Romanian mission appears to be a limiting factor.
 
Future Prospects
The Church appears to be entering a time for expanding outreach and greater membership growth.  Legal challenges have been overcome, local leadership developed, and retention has remained higher than most of Eastern Europe.  At the time of the country's dedication, Elder Ballard stated:“some of you will live to see the Church expand and grow into districts and stakes.  We probably will not, but you young missionaries may.”[12]



[1] “Moldova,” International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009. http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127325.htm
[2] “Moldova,” International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009. http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127325.htm
[3]  “Moldova,” LDS Newsroom, retrieved 11 February 2010. http://newsroom.lds.org/ldsnewsroom/eng/contact-us/moldova
[4] “Moldova,” LDS Newsroom, retrieved 11 February 2010. http://newsroom.lds.org/ldsnewsroom/eng/contact-us/moldova
[5] Weaver, Sarah Jane. “Finding hope in gospel message,” LDS Church News, 16 January 1999. http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/35078/Finding-hope-in-gospel-message.html
[6] “Conference is ‘ray of light’ in Bucharest,” LDS Church News, 10 February 2001. http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/39310/Conference-is-ray-of-light-in-Bucharest.html
[7] “Moldova is dedicated in picturesque setting,” LDS Church News, 9 June 2001. http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/40019/Moldova-is-dedicated-in-picturesque-setting.html
[8] “Moldova is dedicated in picturesque setting,” LDS Church News, 9 June 2001. http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/40019/Moldova-is-dedicated-in-picturesque-setting.html
[9] Mary Ellen W. Smoot, “Developing Inner Strength,” Ensign, May 2002, 13
[10] “Church donates 500 wheelchairs,” LDS Church News, 17 July 2004. http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/45846/Church-donates-500-wheelchairs.html
[11] “Attended Freiberg temple,” LDS Church News, 13 January 2007. http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/50016/Attend-Freiberg-temple.html
[12] “Moldova is dedicated in picturesque setting,” LDS Church News, 9 June 2001. http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/40019/Moldova-is-dedicated-in-picturesque-setting.html