After a meeting that one pastor called “a God thing,” Toledo’s largest nondenominational Christian church is getting involved in fighting human trafficking in one of the least-known European nations.
CedarCreek Church, which draws more than 10,000 people to its four campuses each weekend, will be turning the spotlight on Moldova, a former Soviet republic that has become one of the most impoverished nations in Europe.
“It was known for its wine, great agriculture and a fairly strategic location, but when the Soviet Union fell everything in Moldova fell apart,” said Ben Snyder, CedarCreek’s regional director.
Snyder has just returned from Moldova and Istanbul, which he visited with Steve Hutmacher, CedarCreek’s executive pastor; Bill Trout, the executive pastor of operations, and videographer Ryan Lynch.
It was “a God thing,” Snyder said, that Hutmacher had been invited to train European ministers last spring and met Oleg Reutki, head of New Hope Moldova.
This weekend, Snyder and Hutmacher will be speaking about their trip and interviewing Reutki and Moldovan trafficking victims during CedarCreekβs five weekend services (5:15 and 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 24; 9 a.m., 10:45 a.m., and 12:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 25).
“It is said that the No. 1 export of Moldova is women,” Snyder said. “Oleg said there are around 7,000 girls in Amsterdam’s red light district and an estimated 6,000 of them are from Moldova and [neighboring] Ukraine.”
It is Moldova’s extreme poverty that drives the trafficking problem. Snyder noted that the roads and infrastucture in Chisinau, the capital city of 1.5 million, were abysmal. “The roads are about 400 times worse than Toledo. The potholes and bumps — it’s crazy. And about one in every three buildings in Chisinau is half-built.
“It is so impoverished that many parents have to decide whether to watch their child starve to death or send them to a government-run orphanage, where they will at least get meals, medical attention and an education,” he said.
The orphans are cared for until they reach the age of 15 or 16, then are given $30 and “kicked to the curb,” Snyder said, β”with no skills, no support structure, no sense of value or worth.”
The landlocked nation, bordered by Romania on the west and Ukraine on the east, has a population of 3.6 million and is slightly bigger than Maryland. It has one of the lowest per-capita incomes ($300 a month) and highest emigration rates in Europe, with nearly 10 of every 1,000 people leaving Moldova each year, according to the CIA World Factbook.
Snyder said many teenage boys leave the orphanages and head to Moscow seeking work, only to become forced into slave labor.
“It’s not just a girl problem,” he said.
Many of the girls who leave the orphanages are lured by a “friend” who promises them jobs in Istanbul, Turkey, a major hub for international human trafficking.
The girls are met in Istanbul by sex traffickers who shred the girls’ passports and hold them captive.
“They specialize in transition homes — providing housing, basic life skills and job training for the teenagers who are discharged from the orphanages,” Snyder said. “They train them to be a mom or a father, they try to get them to be part of society, they get them enrolled in school,” Snyder said. “Some key businesses are employing these boys and girls, training them to run their own businesses someday.”
For example, he said, the children are taught sewing and other tailoring skills, or get an opportunity to run a coffee stand, which can be started in any metropolitan city for $5,000.
The success of Stella’s House and New Hope Moldova ultimately can be helpful in Toledo, which has the unfortunate status of being one of the top human-trafficking sites in the United States.
“Part of the reason we’re going for Moldova is that we want to learn what they’re doing there [to stop the trafficking] because maybe we can begin to do the same things here,” Snyder said.
More information is available at cedarcreek.tv or by calling 419-661-8661.