When you say the name Lilia Carasciuc, you are speaking of two people: a mother and her daughter. Both Lilias are from the Republic of Moldova, a small country next to Romania. And both Lilias are pioneers. They can both claim to be the first Moldovan members of the Church.
Lilia, the mother, was baptized in the United States while she was visiting on a grant from the U.S. government, making her the first Moldovan baptized. That was in May 1997.
Then just six months later in November, her daughter, Lilia, became the first person baptized actually in Moldova. Since she was the first of several to be baptized that day, she treasures the honor of being allowed to be the first to join the Church in her country. Today both Lilias have been members for more than six years.
At first the only Church members in Moldova were three Latter-day Saint Americans: John Nielson and Paul and Betty Morris. They met in the Morrises’ home for sacrament meeting. Two elders from the România Bucharest Mission were sent to Moldova, and then the sheep began to recognize the voice of the Shepherd. Lilia and her mother began attending meetings after Lilia’s mother returned from the United States.
The younger Lilia tells the story of her conversion: “I started attending Church meetings six months before my baptism. I had my mother’s example this entire time. She introduced me to the Church by giving me a hymnbook. I came to love the first hymn I looked at, ‘Love One Another.’ I knew then that God wanted me to feel special and loved.”
In the six years since Lilia’s baptism, the branch has grown to 180 members, with many of the members being youth or young adults. Five young people from Moldova have already served as full-time missionaries and returned. Four more are serving missions now.
These young people love to talk about how the Church has changed their lives. “It makes me want to shout for joy,” says Alin Constantinescu, “when I realize that I belong to the only true Church. A deep feeling of thankfulness pierces my soul every time I think of the love the Lord has for us and the trust He has put in us as pioneers here in Moldova.” Alin is now serving a mission in Manchester, England.
“It shows in our countenances that we are a happy people,” says Mariana Turcanu, “and it is because of the gospel. It has changed my whole existence here in Moldova.”
The small country of Moldova looks like a slice of melon squished between Romania and Ukraine. The nation has about four and a half million people; they speak Russian and Moldovan, a language closely related to Romanian. The people who live in the capital city of Chisinau live in concrete high-rise apartment buildings. But in the country and villages, people still live in small self-constructed homes without running water, and many travel by wooden horse-drawn wagons or on foot. The countryside has fertile black soil that produces beautiful fruits and vegetables. The hills, though not high enough to be known as mountains, are covered with meadows of trees and grass with patches of bright yellow sunflowers.
The largest branch of the Church in Moldova is in Chisinau. President Ion Virlan is the first Moldovan to serve as branch president. His teenage daughter, Natalia, was among the first five to be baptized in November 1997. And a few months later the rest of her family joined the Church. There is also a smaller branch in the town of Orhei.
A lot of the youth activities organized by the Church have been firsts as well. The branch in Chisinau has had its first seminary and institute classes. The youth have held their first Super Saturday. And best of all, the branch has its first brand-new meetinghouse. The building was dedicated in December 2002 and is a monument to the pioneering efforts in Moldova.
It may sound a little strange to call such young members of the Church pioneers, but these youth understand they are leading the way for many more from their country. Juliana Musteata says, “Being a modern pioneer in Moldova brings joy and happiness into my heart and soul. I believe that if we work hard, we can influence the growth of the Church. I know that the Lord has blessed each one of us with the opportunity to set an example for others and share the gospel.”
“Yes, we are pioneers!” says Gheorghe Zugravu. “It is amazing to be the pioneers of our Lord Jesus Christ. We feel closer to our Savior as we share the gospel here in this country. We are the first, but after us will come many others who will love Jesus Christ as we do. We believe this with the whole power of our hearts.”
Part of their love for the Savior is shown in the ways the young people have chosen to serve. Just like others around the world, the young women in the Chisinau Branch have organized service projects. They made one project a yearly event. For the past several summers, they have helped care for children at orphanages in the city.
“We young women try our best to make these children’s lives more pleasant,” says Natalia Gligor. “We try with all our hearts to offer them love and comfort, to play with them, and to make them understand that there is somebody who loves them. We have a special program that can develop certain abilities. We try to inspire them to be attentive and curious. They lack many things, both material and spiritual. The spiritual things that are lacking are more painful, and the wounds are much deeper.”
Irina Vizitiv also helps with the orphaned children. She says, “Families are the biggest blessings of our Heavenly Father. I think through this service project, we have brought some light into the children’s lives. And I know this is very important to my Heavenly Father.” Irina, like many of the youth, is the only member of the Church in her family. She hopes her family will someday accept the restored gospel.
Coming to know their Savior is one of the best experiences these young people have. Katerina Bejan was the first seminary teacher in the branch and is currently serving a mission in England. She says, “I know that Jesus Christ is always with us and that He is the cornerstone of this Church.”
“I love to hear people say, ‘Jesus Christ lives!’” says Mariana Turcanu. “It feels so wonderful to know it for myself. And as sure as He lives, I know that my Redeemer loves me.”
Slava Schiopul knows many Moldovans are waiting to hear about the gospel. He says, “We must concentrate our lives in obedience to the commandments of Heavenly Father, yet there are only a few of us here in this country to help each other. However, by this obedience, we grow closer and closer to our Savior Jesus Christ, and He helps us to live in the light.”
Vasile Botan, now serving a mission in Paris, France, sees the Church coming to his country as one step in fulfillment of prophecy: “I know that before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ here on earth, His restored gospel has to be known by every nation, kindred, tongue, and people. I am very happy that this message has arrived for the people of Moldova. In this tiny country, we know God remembers us too.”
Like most pioneers, members of the Church here are struggling economically. The Republic of Moldova is a young country with few jobs or opportunities available. But Moldovans’ acceptance of the gospel of Jesus Christ and their determination to live righteously are their hope for the future.