Matthew and Helen Skirton, from the UK, pioneered OM’s involvement in Moldova, and for the last 20 years they have led and developed the ever-growing team and ministry. At the end of March 2015, Matthew steps down as leader of OM Moldova, passing on the responsibility to Eugen Ciumac, one of the many Moldovans on the team. In this interview, Matthew and Helen share some of their experiences and take a look at the future.
OM: Looking back at 20 years of ministry, what do you consider to be the most important development in OM Moldova?
Matthew: After three years of church planting in a local setting, the decision was made to start a national ministry, focusing on mobilising others rather than just doing things ourselves. This decision has very much affected what OM Moldova is today. Since then, around 600 people have gone through the Challenge into Missions training, and this programme has become the heart of OM Moldova: mobilising Moldovans into mission, and equipping and enabling them to do ministry.
OM: What has been OM Moldova’s contribution in the country?
Matthew: I think our ministry has been exciting and cutting edge. Maybe we have helped the Church to dream and grow in reaching out to their communities. Something else God has used OM Moldova for, though it has not been our express purpose, was helping to build bridges between denominations, opening believers’ eyes to see that they have brothers and sisters in other branches of evangelical faith
OM: Was there anything you wanted to do that failed?
Matthew: Five years ago we had the vision to start a ministry in the northeast of Moldova, an area that has no churches or believers. We still see that there is a harvest; we want to see churches planted there, but we find nobody ready to go, so this is still an unreached area. We hope that in five years it will not be the same.
OM: What changes have you observed in Moldova over 20 years?
Matthew & Helen: When we first came there were only locally produced and seasonal products in the shops or marketplace. We could only buy meat on Sundays; there were few Western cars on the streets—but lots of police checkpoints on the roads where everybody got stopped. All this has changed. There has been some economic development, especially in Chisinau, but many villages stayed the same or have become further run down. We’ve also seen so many people leave the country!
As for the churches, in the 90s there was a very explosive growth and real spiritual hunger. This has eased off, and now there is even a slight decline in the number of evangelicals. Today, materialism is a huge obstacle that churches and believers learn to confront.
OM: How have you personally changed?
Matthew & Helen: There are, of course, a number of traits and habits we took on; for example, we had to adapt our driving style—and I am afraid not all of them are positive.
We probably also grew more conservative in our worship and understanding of church. Through the orthodox and conservative tradition here, we have learnt more about the holiness of God and about reverence. We have appreciated being able to learn from the West about God as a loving Father and from the culture here about God the Holy Judge. As we embrace both, maybe we have a more accurate understanding of God. We have certainly grown in our understanding of God by living in this culture.
OM: Helen, how was it to change from being a pioneer missionary to a full-time mother?
Helen: After the birth of our first child I was still involved quite a lot, but then the change came very quickly.
Sometimes it is hard; you don’t always feel like you’re a missionary, and I think nothing can really prepare you for home schooling! But I know this is also for a season and that God has called me to this now. I still try to take opportunities to be involved in outreaches and other team activities.
OM: Matthew, what gave you the most joy or satisfaction in your role as field leader?
Matthew: My biggest joy has been seeing Moldovans take senior leadership positions in OM and now take over the field leadership. From the time we moved to Chisinau and started a national team, the goal was to see Moldovans discipled, coached, equipped and grow as leaders—and that’s what has increasingly happened. It was also great to see so many Moldovans go through the Challenge into Missions course and go on to serve with their churches or with OM, in and outside of Moldova.
OM: Matthew, what will be your responsibilities in the future?
Matthew: I will continue my role as a regional leader in OM Europe, overseeing the area of Eastern Europe and helping these fields—especially Russia, Ukraine, Romania and Moldova—continue to mobilise and equip Eastern European Christians for local and world missions.
OM: What do you think will be the biggest challenge for you personally in the near future?
Matthew: Thinking of OM Moldova, there is a sense of sadness and loss, as well as satisfaction and fulfilment. It feels like we have conceived, given birth to and raised a child that needed much care and attention. But now there is a sense that OM Moldova is no longer a child; it has reached maturity and is becoming independent. We feel at peace that this is the right time for OM Moldova and for us. By God’s grace, something has been established that we believe will continue to make a difference in Moldova.
OM: What do you foresee as one of the next big challenges OM Moldova will face?
Matthew: The building of the Doulos sports and outreach centre is a huge project that’s on the horizon. We believe it will be a strategic tool for churches to reach the next generation, but we are still awaiting building permission, followed by the construction phase, and then recruiting for and running it.
Another challenge will be to ensure that the training programmes continue to develop and remain relevant to the youth of the 21st century. The new mission-discipleship programme MDTe³, that is planned to be launched in 2015, could be a cutting-edge, relevant programme.
OM: Anything you’d like to add?
Matthew & Helen: Whatever we might be called to in the future, we’ll always consider it an enormous privilege to have been involved in the ministry in Moldova from the very beginning. We consider ourselves blessed to have had gifted, capable people whom God sent to work with us. It has been exciting and rewarding to be involved and encouraging to see how the ministry developed.
June 26, 2016
Tower of Babel
by Matthew Skirton
by Matthew Skirton