Devotees Credit Chakra.org with Temple in Eastern Europe
Posted June 10, 2003
The Story of Moldova's New Temple
Moldova - Former Republic of the U.S.S.R. Population - 6 million. Located between Romania and Ukraine very close to the coast of the black sea. Hardly any devotee could point the location out on a world map. Nor could the average citizen in the United States. I know that I couldn't find it at first, now I have been involved for over a year with helping the devotees in Moldova. It all started almost a year ago when I received an invitation to visit this small country from a friend at the Moldovan Embassy located in Washington D.C. I had done some research on Moldova and by fate or by the divine will of Krishna, I don't know which, I found myself standing at an airport in Kishinev, with 2 suitcases full of food (for my friends mother) and a phone number to call when I arrive. Before I left for this trip I had researched through ISKCON.com and Back to Godhead magazine for the emails of the temple president and/or a devotee run restaurant. I found neither.
I realized that I was going someplace quite different once I landed at Frankfurt International airport. I was instructed to go to Terminal 3 to catch my flight to Kishinev. As I walked from the ultra modern corridors of Terminal 1 and Terminal 2, filled with smartly dressed Germans and other Westerners, I noticed that as I came closer and closer to Terminal 3 the travellers began to look more and more Bedouin. 3 piece suits gave way to morrocan robes and Sinbad pointy shoes. Weary passengers were sleeping all over the floor and along window areas. Shady looking, unshaven characters heading to Kosovo and Croatia glared at me with unbridled contempt. Muslims in groups, loudly arguing. Indians, Pakistanis, Serbians, Hungarians, Libyans and basically any travelers from any country not on the "A" list of the German Airport Authority gathered into this terminal. There I found the waiting area for the flight to Moldova. And what a flight it was. The airplane I can only describe as a relic of the 1950's. Something you train firefighters with. You park it in some remote corner of an airport and set it on fire. Again and again.
When I sat down the seat actually moved. The bolts were loose. I thought of Svaurpa Damodara Maharaja. I had travelled with him on airplanes several times. He always without fail yells "NRISHINGA BHAGAVAN KI JAYA" just before take off. Loud and clear. Loud enough for everyone on the airplane to hear him. A blessing for all within earshot. But I didn't have Svarupa Damodara Maharaja next to me, in fact, I had a very rotund Russian matron who insisted I try her homemade Bockwurst and cheese sandwich. I'm not even sure what bockwurst is but I knew it was something horrible. I put my seat back, closed my eyes and thought "Krishna, what am I doing here?"
Because my friend worked at the Embassy in Washington D.C. I was met at the airport by a senior immigration official. He pulled me from the que and escorted me through customs and out to a driver. I was the only American to arrive. The only one. It is a country simply not visited by tourists. It's very, very dangerous. My driver wore a black leather jacket, had a bit of beard scrubble and wore dark sunglasses. He looked dangerous. He carried a glock 9mm under his jacket. He looked like mafia to me. But, I was later told, he was a driver for the mayor of Kishinev. I guess you can surmise who runs Kishinev.
I was taken to my friends office complex. I entered his office and stared at a HUGE portrait of Vladimir Lenin. I was suddenly reminded that Moldova was in fact still communist. The last holdout from the former Soviet Union. Amazing, I thought, people still believed in communism. In the portrait, Lenin was standing beside a mountain of grain. Next to him were many beautiful, young, happy girls smiling at Lenin and carrying large baskets of grain to the nearby mill. Everyone looked happy. Everyone was smiling. Everyone looked well fed and joyous. For a moment, I too wanted to live in that painting. What a wonderful piece of communist propaganda, still captivating after all these years. Needless to say, on this trip, I didn't see anyone like the happy people in that painting.
After some time, and the normal exchange of pleasantries between business associates, I went off to a room and got onto a computer and began my search for the devotees in Kishinev. I had already tried email, now I began using the search engines to find a contact. Nothing. I had just one phone number from an old BTG. I asked my friend to help me and do some translating which he did. We basically tried for 3 days making cold calls to locate any devotees in the country. My trip thus far was filled with touring the city, hearing the history of Kishinev, meeting with Bank Officers and some government people yet I kept thinking "am I going to leave this city without finding a single devotee?" On the very last day of my visit we got someone on the phone who knew someone who knew a devotee. After some animated discussion on the phone my friend hung up and said "they live 2 miles from here." At 5pm or so I was dropped off at what looked like what we in the west call "the projects". I was greeted by a few devotees who were elated to have me visit. I met Yashoda, Temple President, Srisha, his assitant, and about 6 or so very nice, inspired devotees. They prepared some prasadam for me and we had a little kirtan. After which we all sat down and I asked about the status of ISKCON in Moldova. I didn't know anything. I found out they had no temple. They met in each others homes and rented a library now and then for gatherings. They were struggling to keep together. Many devotees had left the country for more prosperity in neighboring countries. Householders barely made ends meet. The average income was thirty dollars per month. I had to verify what I had just heard. Thirty dollars per month! As I sat there, I looked at these devotees and I felt Srila Prabhupada had brought me there. I couldn't imagine devotees struggling to maintain at this level. Maybe I am jaded being a westerner and have become soft with comfort and ease. Once upon a time I too struggled to spread Krishna consciousness, rising early, running barefoot in a gumcha from the Bramacari ashram through the snow to the showers to attend Mangala-Arati. Going out all day on Sankirtana to collect sometimes nothing. But those days were twenty-something years ago. These devotees were back in time. It was as though I was visiting early Satsvarupa and Brahmananda in 26 Second ave. The Krishna conscious zeal was there but the rest was not. They were all young devotees. Yashoda I believe was in his early twenties as were most of the others I met. They were operating on faith alone, faith that Krishna would help them. Their faith actually inspired me. I became determined to do something. Simply from 4 hours with these devotees, hearing of their plight I committed to help. I looked at each devotee in the room, I looked into their eyes, I could see their hope, yet their doubt. Had ISKCON forgotten them? Where was the international community when they were needed most? What had happened here? After the fall and departure of Harikesh they lost their temple in Moldova. Maybe their faith was tested as well. They were only hanging on by a thread. Krishna consciousness in this entire country was in jeopardy. Krishna revealed this to me through their eyes. No one spoke of this plight openly. Matter of fact, no one spoke english. A little english, just enough to understand.
It became late, I stood to leave. As I rose I embraced each devotee. I was given a plate of Samosa's to take. Isn't that amazing? They have so little yet they are offering to me. I felt deeply indebted. I wanted to help these prabhu's. They deserved it. The ISKCON world should help them, I should help them. And so I left. Walking to my waiting car, carrying a plate of samosa's I turned to look back. There in the doorway of this run down, old derelict of a building stood the shining hope for this entire country. Krishna's devotees. What could I possibly do to help them? I am just one devotee.
I returned to the United States. I began to consider what to do. How could I get some help for these devotees in Moldova. I had already pledged $2000.00 myself. But that was not enough. This was an emergency situation. I need to reach out fast and sound the conch on a worldwide scale. I turned to this website, Chakra.org and posted a plea for assistance on behalf of the devotees in Moldova. I also purchased a web address www.harekrishnamoldova.com. And so it began. After one week of ardous HTML learning the website was up. Chakra published my story. The response was amazing. Immediately I was receiving pledges of $5, $10 and $15 dollars from all over the world. Then a few larger ones from wealthier donors. Then the maha donation from none other then Ambarish prabhu himself. All in all, within a two week period, the funds for a new temple were collected and sent to Yashoda in Kishinev. This to me was a miracle. From a website a temple was built! This was the first time in ISKCON history that such a thing has occured. A new temple for Srila Prabhupada being built from an internet website plea for help. As I look back, to almost a year ago, to me standing in that far-away airport wondering "Krishna, why am I here" I can only say that the Supreme Lord had a plan. I didn't see it at the time, who could. He allowed me, this old bag-of-bones, who spends too much time on the internet, to help in His great sankirtana movement. He made me his messenger. And for one brief, shining moment, I was that messenger and I carried that message to all parts of the world.
Since the website was built we have received approximately twelve thousand dollars. This may not be a large sum of money however it's a great sum in Moldova. Since my visit to Moldova I have received emails from Niranjana Maharaja (co-GBC of Moldova) thanking me for helping in his yatra. He described to me that he has been trying for years to get a temple built. It has been a great struggle there and any outside help is most appreciated. Niranjana Swami was very, very appreciative and had only the very best words of encouragement and enlivenment to continue this project. I also personally shook hands with the President of Moldova in another unusual event. Somehow or other I found myself at an Embassy Gala in Washington D.C. where Vladimir Vronin, current President of Moldova, was attending. I was brought forward by my associate from the Embassy to meet the President. I was introduced to the President as "A friend of Moldova" Pictures were being taken. The Moldovan government officials all surrounded myself and the President. He asked me through an interpreter "what are you doing in Moldova" I replied "I am helping to build a building in Kishinev" his eyes lit up. That was news to him. An american helping to do that? He said, "what is the purpose of this building" I said "to help young people get off drugs and alcohol" He smiled. This was a good answer. He said "Excellent, make sure when you next come to Moldova you call me" I said, "Thank you Mr. President." I think he meant it. I met the Minister of Finance, (she) I met the Minister of Defense (state security) I met the head of all news and television (remember it's communist, there are no free views on radio and TV) I met the Ambassador to Moldova from the United States, Pamela Hyde-Smith (I actually gave her a ride home after the event). These people where all very nice to me. After some time, I went to find a salad at a nearby restaurant. When I returned I was surprised to find someone was looking for me. "The President is looking for you" I said "me?" He had asked for me to come to the dinner! An entire restaurant had been rented for the event. Oh, well. I missed that. I guess Krishna spared me the experience. However the thought lingered that I really liked the people of Moldova. They are unique. They have a quality of respecting others I had not seen in many of my dealings with Embassies throughout Washington D.C.
All in all I am bound up now with the devotees in Moldova. Somehow or other Krishna has allowed me to be of some service. Chakra.org was the springboard for that service and I thank you, the editors and providers, for facilitating the devotees with this wonderful messaging service. Because of you, Chakra.org, a temple is almost finished in the capital city of Moldova.