On Sunday, November 22, 2020, I had the pleasure of visiting the village of Poroskovo in Zakarpatia together with Pastor Timofei Dimchenko of Mukachevo, who at the same time coordinates the evangelism and mission department of the Baptist churches in this region.
In this village there are approximately 2,000 Romanians, who are knows as “Vlachs” here. A group of 400 Roma also live here, and another 2,500 inhabitants are Ukrainians. The village is divided into parts and the Vlachs live with the Roma in the part called “The Camp.” There are many mixed marriages between them and, obviously, common customs. Vlachs have large families with an average of 10 children in the family. One of the church preachers told me that at the age of 63 he has 13 children, 44 grandchildren and 4 great-grandchildren. And this is not unusual in Poroskovo.
When I arrived at the church, I was very impressed by the size of the “Nehemiah” center building and the church building, which make up a single building.
In the worship hall there had already gathered an impressive number of people for any church in the city, but especially in a village with a population of 5,000 inhabitants.
We were greeted by Pastor Ion Patras, who, together with his wife, Gabi, have served for 10 years in this village. After graduating from the Emanuel Theological University in Oradea, they came to Barhinești from the Chernivtsi region, Ion’s native village, and pastored the church there. Then, hearing of the need in the village of Poroskovo, they responded to God’s call and came to work in difficult and completely unusual conditions. But, God has beautifully blessed the work here and now there is a church, which gathers 100 believers and does mission work in the surrounding localities.
The mission work in Poroskovo involves the “Nehemiah” mission, the pastors and the Baptist churches in the Chernivtsi region and the churches in Romania. I was also curious to find out if Christians or churches in the Republic of Moldova have visited Romanians in Zakarpatia, but it seems that so far no collaboration contacts have been established. In Zakarpatia there are 9 Romanian Baptist churches, with a number of about 400 believers. The church in Poroskovo is the most numerous. Approximately 70,000 Romanians live in the entire Zakarpatia region and work is constantly being done on planting new churches.
During the church service, Pastor Timofei had a message about Zacchaeus’ repentance and I preached about the future events that Christians await and that will come upon this world. Eight local women responded to the call and received the Lord Jesus as their Savior, making the decision to become His disciples and follow the path of faith for the rest of their lives.
At the end of the service, I had fellowship with the men involved in church leadership, preaching, and mission. I told them about the Precept mission, about the “Good News” Church, about how we use inductive Bible study in mission, evangelism, and discipleship. I also left them a set of materials in Romanian.
The brothers wanted to know more about the Precept International Mission School. When I wondered how we could help with the work in Poroskovo and the other Romanian churches in Zakarpatia, I understood that there is a great need for teachers for children. Pastor Ion told me that now they have an “after school” program, where 40 children are involved. They are working on literacy and want to reach as many children as possible. Mission work through sports will be able to make a good contribution to the evangelization of children, adolescents and young people in this locality. One possibility is to send someone from the church youth to the Mission School or for school graduates to come and help now.
Another need is for a music teacher who can teach children God’s Word in this way. The church in Poroskovo already has a good set of musical instruments that could be used for this purpose.
Before we left, Pastor Ion took us to see what the Vlach camp looks like. Their language is Romanian, but they use many words from Ukrainian and Russian, more than they used in the Republic of Moldova during the Soviet Union or as some still do. Romanians (Vlachs) from here also have words with a completely different meaning. Thus, for them “hardworking” means obese. If someone who is more obese comes to them, they will feel appreciated that they are diligent until they understand the true meaning of the word. The word “heart” for the Vlachs from Poroskovo means belly. So when some preachers said about the need to receive Jesus into their hearts, it created confusion among the Vlachs. But what we call the heart in Poroskovo is called the “soul.” You may hear someone ask for “soul powders” in the sense of heart medications.
There are many superstitions in the village, such as not allowing a woman to enter the house on Monday or tying red threads, so as not to be attacked by evil or evil spirits. Even a red coat was tied to a gate pillar.
You can tell about the large number of children by the many clothes that are lined up to dry in front of each house. I thought about the sacrifice and effort of the mothers of these children, who are waiting to be taught by someone the Way of Salvation.
Passing a house, I found out that at 22 years old, the woman who lives there has already given birth to 7 children. Many marriages are not officially registered. The usury is a sin that enslaves many, because if someone borrows money from the villagers, he will have to return the money with an interest rate of 30% per month and if someone ends up borrowing money he will sink into debt for the rest of his life. Another sin that makes people suffer is witchcraft and magic. To curse those they want to harm, some wizards in the village may pay people to fast. It’s the first time I’ve heard of someone fasting to curse.
At the end of this article, I invite you to pray for the work of the Gospel in Poroskovo, for the missionaries Ion and Gabi Patrascu, for all the ministers of the Gospel there. Pray that God will raise up young, well-trained missionaries who will want to go to the Romanians in Zakarpatia and, especially, for the need for sports and music teachers, who will now go to Poroskovo. If the Lord moves your heart and directs your spirit toward missionary work, know that this involves first and foremost serious preparation and a life totally dedicated to God.
Translated by Aliona Soltan