It is exactly 100 years since Estonia first gained independence as a nation. While celebrations engulfed this small Baltic nation of just 1.3 million people, the country’s president suggested that citizens might consider what they can give back to their country. Members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church were happy to oblige.
Working in partnership with the Trans-European Division and the General Conference Global Mission fund, the 1,480 members in this Baltic nation have committed to church plants; a center of influence in the capital city of Tallinn, and a variety of outreach programs.
A pastoral team meeting on February 19, 2018, shared how their very first ‘Messy Church’ program attracted 40 children, while recently translated programs such as Creation Health are attracting audiences in two cities – some of whom have had no previous contact with any church.
The most significant project, however, is the center of influence ‘Terve Elu keskus,’ situated at the end of a tram line and by a railway station, in a suburb of Tallinn. The building is still under renovation, but already offers health and lifestyle programs, individual and family counseling, and a drop-in center ‘boutique’ where browsers discover far more than good quality second-hand clothes.
Hanna Onde is an Adventist volunteer from the Philippines, who lives with her husband and daughter in an apartment above the center and spends time in the shop every day. She is not fluent in Estonian, but she sees being Filipino as an advantage, as people ask, “Where do you come from?” or comment on their five-year-old daughter. Their next question is often, “What do you do here?” which gives her an opportunity to share her faith.
“I find this especially true in the store,” she says. “We have young people who now come in just for the company and a chat, even though they do not buy anything.” But a quiet corner at the back with comfy sofas, tea making facilities, and a shelf of free books open the way for witness and invitations to more organized activities.
Allan Randlepp is the center’s manager, splitting his time between developing programmes, renovating the center, and serving as the Children’s, Health and Family Ministries director for the Adventist Church in Estonia. He is excited to see a long-time dream come true.
The Adventist Church has been in Estonia for 121 years, and has a beautiful church near the city center. Randlepp sees ‘Terve Elu keskus,’ however, as a place where it is easier to invite friends outside of a church environment. “I hope this center is just the beginning, and that the idea extends to other cities,” he says.
Estonians are already feeling the ‘influence.’ An older lady who came just to visit is now part of the volunteer team. Mothers are regularly coming to the Thursday morning parent-and-toddler group, and the cooking demonstrations are becoming so popular that at the last event they had to squash 70 people into a room designed for 35.
“We can’t wait for the larger meeting rooms we are working on in the basement,” states church president in Estonia Ivo Käsk. Walking around the basement, he explained how larger meeting rooms, but also better-changing facilities, will allow for improved physiotherapy and massage programs, some sports activities, and greater capacity for their health initiatives.
Two church plants are already in the plans. ‘Compass Church,’ organized by young adults, began to meet formally in early February. With the support of the central Tallinn church, the group had been organizing various outreach and social activities. They decided the time was right to start meeting in the more informal environment of the center of influence, where they are already able to engage with their friends from university or work.
Kevin Pajula can testify to how effective such peer-to-peer witness can be. A university student himself, he saw an Adventist girl reading a book and asked what it was about. Soon after, he found himself reading The Great Controversy and has been a baptized member for the past two years. He is now outreach leader for Compass.
In Compass, those attending will enjoy a vibrant spirit, positive biblical teaching, and lunchtime fellowship. It is a church that is destined to grow, say church leaders. Their move from the mother church gives more incentive for outreach. Presently, the Monday night program ‘Discover Christianity’ is attracting a number of guests. Music is also an important part of their mission.
Meanwhile Del Onde, a trained pastor and, for the past 12 years, part of the volunteer missionary movement, is working towards setting up an international church for the English-speaking immigrants and visitors to the city. A Sabbath school class is already running. Meeting for worship will be the next stage.
Church growth has been a challenge in Estonia over recent years as many citizens, including Adventist members, left the country in search of better opportunities. However, as a country where the economy is booming and industry, particularly in the IT sector, is growing, leaders see the center of influence and similar projects as a way to change the trend.
As Estonia turns 100 this year, it may be exactly the gift the country needs.