God moving with power in Russian-controlled Transnistria

CBN News screenshot

Originally published in CBN News

 A remarkable Christian revival is underway in a Russian-controlled part of Moldova, despite Moscow’s heavy hand. Very few foreign journalists are allowed in, but CBN News gained rare access to the Transnistria region.
Getting here is no easy feat. We began the 8 000 km journey from the US East Coast, stopping first in the tiny former Soviet republic of Moldova’s capital Chisinau. From there, we drove north along Ukraine’s southwestern border, where Moscow has recently stirred up political turmoil.

We made our way through several Russian checkpoints to Transnistria’s capital Tiraspol where a huge statue of Lenin still adorns the town square.

The Lord put a burden on Yuriy Semenyuk’s heart to move his family to this volatile region.

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“In my heart, I really love people, that is my passion to serve people. I love God and I wanted to do something for Him all my life. And after a while, God told me, ‘Yuriy, I need you in one place that name is Transnistria’,” the pastor of Church of Christ Savior tells us.

In 2000, Pastor Yuriy, his wife, and three children decided to move from their home country in neighbouring Ukraine to Transnistria. The first seven years of ministry as a missionary family were not easy.

“I was targeted by some people from the government, policemen, KGB, and gangsters. The worst of course was from the gangsters because they tried to kill me, they tried to kidnap my children. Once I was kidnapped, but praise God, God let me escape,” he recalls.

A home video from May 2000 shows Semenyuk’s first foray into preaching. Despite ongoing threats, he continued to openly share the Gospel, often taking his message to areas controlled by gangs.  

“Some of the gangsters became Christian, they became evangelical, their wives became evangelical, so they hated this, so that’s why they tried to stop us,” Semenyuk says.

In 1990, Transnistria broke away from Moldova to establish its own government, currency, and statehood. And while it’s not recognised by the international community, the breakaway territory became economically, politically, and militarily dependent on the Kremlin. Russia has about 2 000 troops stationed here.

Moscow’s agents soon began harassing Pastor Semenyuk. But he was undeterred.

“Each morning, I wake up I say to myself: ‘Yuriy, you are still alive, and you have one more day to preach the Gospel, one more day to do something for God’s Kingdom’,” he says.

From those humble, and at times nerve-wracking beginnings, Church of Christ Saviuor today is the largest congregation in Transnistria.

“We have an unbelievable revival,” he says. “We are still alive 24 years later on the mission field, we are still alive!”

Each Sunday, hundreds pack the church with many hearing the Gospel message for the very first time. Semenyuk says the secret to the church’s growth is simple: “We love God, we try to be very obedient to His Word and to His Spirit, and because we love people, we do whatever is possible to help people.”

Church of Christ Savior in Tiraspol, Transnistria (PHOTO: CBN News screenshot)

Baptisms are a regular occurrence, and during the week, Church of Christ Savior holds several youth programmes for different age groups. 

Parents also get their ministry time. And when people can’t get to church, members often hit the streets of Tiraspol and neighbouring cities, holding evangelistic rallies. 

Semenyuk says the church often reports signs, wonders, and miracles following the preaching of the Gospel.

“For example, it can be cancer, and the cancer disappears. Or somebody has a problem with their vision and God fixes their vision. Deaf people can hear,” he describes. “I believe all this power is in the Gospel and all these miracles happen because people preach the Gospel and God equips us for the Gospel, to preach the Gospel and make disciples.”

Meanwhile, CBN’s Orphan’s Promise partners with Church of Christ Savior to run their School of Life project here in Transnistria. 

Each week, young people attend various classes including computer skills, sewing, photography, English, maths, and discipleship classes through CBN’s Superbook

Some of the mothers take dance, singing, and cooking classes run by Orphan’s Promise volunteers.

Many who attend cannot afford to pay, so Orphan’s Promise holds the classes for free in Semenyuk’s church.

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