My Transnistrian birthday

I celebrated my 26th birthday on June 6 in Transnistria, a “country” that isn’t yet officially recognized by any nation except for partially by Russia. It is tolerated by Moldova but still technically considered to be a part of the country.

We crossed the “border” quite hectically on June 1 and wondered what kind of realm we had entered. We joked with each other, “This feels like we’re in Narnia!” And we kind of, sort of, are.

The KGB is still alive and kicking here. They gave the pastor we’re working with much hassle for many years because they thought he was an American spy. They are suspicious of all Americans.

Picture this. We pull up to our ministry location…and we all sit and stare. We think to ourselves, “No, this can’t be it. This isn’t real. This isn’t where we’ll spend the month…we’re just waiting for someone.”

Waiting, sure. But waiting for someone to come show us to our new home.

From jesseischens.theworldrace.org

From jesseischens.theworldrace.org
Photos ©Annie Heathorn

A construction site for a rehabilitation center and new church building, where we live and work alongside ex-convicts, drug addicts, and alcoholics whose lives have all been radically changed by the love of Jesus Christ.

These men have rough exteriors but their hearts are incredibly soft. We don’t speak the same language—Russian and English are very different—but smiles and phrases like “Thank you, Jesus!” and “Hallelujah!” pass back and forth between us daily. These men look upon us like daughters—it’s perfect timing for Father’s Day in America that we all feel like we’ve gained several new father figures.

Sergei. Andrei. Sasha. Yura. Dmitri. Our Russian/Moldavian/Transnistrian fathers.

From jesseischens.theworldrace.org From jesseischens.theworldrace.org
Sasha                                                                  Yura

From jesseischens.theworldrace.org
Andrei is my favorite – he has the BEST smile! 🙂
Photos ©Annie Heathorn

They desire to protect us and look out for us. They’ve told us they are impressed by us, for traveling the world and for how hard we’ve worked this past week, digging up and hauling bricks for days on end in the hot sun. And while it’s been one of the most exhausting weeks of my life, between hard manual labor during the day and English classes at night, it’s been one of the most rewarding.

It won’t stop, because we’re holding a hard-core English summer camp next week, with yours truly as one of the camp counselors (I’m going to start creating a World Race resume with all of the random jobs I’ve done this year). Don’t expect communication from me for at least the next week, haha! Our lives are crazy. Sometimes it really doesn’t feel real.

But through this crazy mess of an adventure they call the World Race, I’ve felt so loved and cherished. On the morning of my birthday, my teammates woke me up with cake, coffee, and “26” candles, whisper-singing happy birthday to me so they didn’t wake up the rest of the girls. We all sleep together on mattresses in a big cement room. It’s actually a pretty decent setup, one of the better ones we’ve had on the World Race.

I dug up bricks on my birthday, which wasn’t my ideal way to spend my day, but hey, who can say, “I dug up bricks on my 26th birthday in Transnistria?” 🙂 It’s pretty awesome.

From jesseischens.theworldrace.org

After getting to go out for dinner with my team for pizza and ice cream, and watching a silly free American movie at the theater across the street, I reflected on what a good day it was. Plus, I also got the chance to celebrate my birthday a couple weeks earlier in Greece, which definitely isn’t anything to complain about :).

I am so blessed!

From jesseischens.theworldrace.org

From jesseischens.theworldrace.org
Photos ©Amanda Tuten

I got to serve the Lord on my birthday.
I got to enjoy time with my team.
The Lord has blessed me with Morgan, Annie, Amanda, Amber and Jessica.
Later on I got Internet and read all of your sweet birthday wishes on Facebook.

From jesseischens.theworldrace.org     From jesseischens.theworldrace.org
Photos ©Amanda Tuten

Reading your posts made me a little homesick but encouraged me and made me smile like crazy. Having each of you behind me is pretty much the best thing in the world besides Jesus :). I want to finish this Race strong. I’m tired but so excited for what these next weeks have in store here in Transnistria/Moldova and in Ireland!

24 was a fantastic year, 25 was incredible, and 26 is going to be amazing.

From jesseischens.theworldrace.org

Your thoughts would look GOOD here :)