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 GC Global Mission fund, the 1,480 members in this Baltic nation have committed to church plants; a Center of Influence in the capital, Tallinn; and a variety of outreach programs.
A pastoral team meeting on Monday, 19 February shared how their very first Messy church attracted 40 children, half of them from outside the church, 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.
Allan Randlepp is the center manager, splitting his time between developing programs, renovating the center, and serving as the Conference Children’s, Health and Family Ministries director. He is excited to see the reality of what had been a dream for many years. While the Adventist church has been in Estonia for 121 years, and while they have a beautiful, well situated church near the city center, he sees 'Terve Elu keskus' as a place where it is easier to invite friends outside of a church environment. His hope is that this center is just the start, and that the concept will stretch out to other cities.
The ‘influence’ is already being felt. 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 Conference President, 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 programs.
Visit compass and you will enjoy a vibrant spirit, positive biblical teaching, and lunchtime fellowship. It is a church that is destined to grow. Their move from the mother-church gives more incentive for outreach there, where currently a Monday night program, Discover Christianity is attracting a number of contacts. 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 with many citizens leaving the country to seek their fortune elsewhere. This included many Adventists. However, as a country where the economy is booming and industry, particularly in the IT sector, is growing, leaders see the Centre of Influence and similar projects as a way to change the trend. As Estonia turns 100 this may be exactly the gift they need.
However, the most significant project is a Center of Influence, 'Terve Elu keskus', strategically situated at the end of a tram line and by a railway station in a suburb of Tallinn. The building is still in the process of renovation, but already offers health and lifestyle programs, individual and family counselling, and a drop-in center ‘boutique’ where browsers discover far more than good quality second-hand clothes.
Hanna Onde is an AVS volunteer from the Philippines who lives with her husband and daughter in a flat above the center and spends time daily in the shop. Despite not being fluent in Estonian, she actually 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?” This gives opportunity to share their faith. “I find this especially true in the shop,” 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, opens the way for witness and invitations to more organized activities.
Two church plants are already in the plans. ‘Compass church’, organized by young adults, started meeting formally at the beginning of February. With the support of the central Tallinn church, the group had been organizing various outreach and social activities and decided that the time was right to start meeting in the more informal environment of the Centre 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.