Kennan Neuman, a senior mass communication/journalism major at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, spent nine days with two other students in Transniestria, volunteering with CERI Ministries to hand out scarves, socks and boots and to share the love of Christ with hundreds of orphans. Here’s what Kennan had to say about the experience.
After more than nine hours of flying above the Atlantic Ocean, our plane landed in Moscow, Russia. Passengers clapped. Leslie, my fellow team member, and I looked at each other and smiled. It was good to get our feet on the ground.
The CERI orphan boot mission team changed for the third time to complete the last leg of travel before reaching Chisinau, Moldova. I knew I was experiencing a different culture already.
Our destination was to Transniestria, a region between the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine. An area many people don’t even know exists.
While there, we delivered boots, socks, scarves and hats to hundreds of orphans for five days.
I’m a true Texan girl, and when it’s 60 degrees, I’m wearing a jacket. But the below freezing temperatures of Transniestria didn’t deter me from my ministry during this trip at all. I asked God, “Why did you send me to the coldest place possible?” I froze to the bone. Somehow He puts us where we are least comfortable, places where we have to rely on Him the most for strength.
On the second day of the trip, I wrote the following:
My eyes filled full [of tears] to the edges of my lashes. It could have been me there. I don’t deserve any more, and they deserve so much more. They soak in attention like a sponge … (I felt Your presence) when the girl in the yellow sweater grabbed my hand and patted the seat next to her, then talked to me in Russian.
Later we laughed at seeing the review of her picture on the screen of a digital camera, then she motioned, held both my hands.We jumped up and down laughing. ‘Thank you’ they say in Russian – ‘Spasiba.’ ‘Pazhaista,’ I say. ‘Dasvidania,’ as I wave my hand goodbye….
Having toes that were frozen all day from being out in the snow and only getting about six hours of sleep the past few nights is starting to affect me physically, but my spirit has never been stronger.
Instead of being a barrier to the treasure, the cold actually became the prize. The foot-and-half of snow that fell during our stay was the backdrop to a God-moment.
Early Thursday morning wearing three layers of clothes, I met Borus, our bus driver-translator extraordinaire, outside. It was just after 6am. We had to shovel the driveway to make a path to the road for the van.
At one point, the only sound was the cracking of our two shovels digging deep into the freshly fallen snow. The only constancy was the heat I blew from my mouth into the scarf covering my runny nose. Crack. Push. Breathe. Shovel. Exhale.
It was my first time to shovel snow. The muscles in my back ached already. Borus went inside to retrieve his gloves. Later, David, another team member joined me and then left to find keys to the open the gate. I stopped shoveling.
Looking up, I saw the dark sky. Ahead of me, an apartment building several stories high. On the ground around me, snow twinkling, sparkling like millions of tiny diamonds. I had “skipped” my regular, planned morning devotion and found Jesus while shoveling snow before the sun came up.
“You will seek Me, and you will find Me when you seek Me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13 says.
I found that seeking Him with all my heart doesn’t always mean singing praises in church. It means singing praises in a cold shower that you share with 15 other people. Seeking Him doesn’t always mean reading the Bible alone. It means talking with teammates after dinner about where you saw God working. It meant traveling to a place not many have heard of and being thousands of miles from home for a few days. Seeking Him with all my heart meant, at least that morning, “putting my back into it.”