Trip to Estonia
On Thursday, April 16, I had made plans to make an exploratory trip to Estonia to investigate the possibility of SAC doing mission trips to this country. It’s been on my heart for about a year that SAC needs to expand to other areas and other areas within the former Soviet Union. A few months ago I looked into going to the Ukraine. However, the doors to possible contacts never seemed to materialize. In contrast, the doors seemed to be wide open for possibilities in Estonia. This trip seemed to come together easily and we were able to visit seven potential ministry sites in several cities. It seemed easy to arrange transportation, translation, and people to connect with. We were also offered a place to stay at a church in Johvi, Estonia (pronounced “Ick-vey”), east of Tallinn, Estonia.
Milan, a long time friend and translator for SAC, and I took a bus from St. Petersburg to Estonia. It was a couple of hours before we began the process of crossing the border. Our passports and visas were checked on the Russian side before we passed to the Estonian side where our documents were checked again. The whole process for our bus took about an hour or more. The border crossing is right at a river where there are two opposing medieval castles on each side of the river. They were built in the early part of the 14th century. It had been a border for a long time.
Once we were across the border, it was a short drive to the town of Narva, Estonia. At the bus station a Salvation Army Captain met us. Daniel Henderson was happy to pick us up despite his busy schedule. We were fast friends and he took us to the first orphanage that was expecting us.
We arrived at the Narva Orphanage within 10 minutes. Daniel, our driver and escort, knew the director of this orphanage. He introduced us to the director and we talked about the orphanage and the special challenges they have.
These orphanages are a little different that the ones in Russia. The first thing I noticed is that all the orphanages are arranged in a family setting. So, one wing or portion of a floor is set up more like an apartment with a room as a family dining room and kitchen, a living room, and each child has a room of their own. Depending on the orphanage and their capacity, they may share a room, but I didn’t see that happen too often. About 50% of the 31 kids in this orphanage are teens. About 80% of them have parents, but have been turned over to the orphanage due to alcoholism or drug addicted parents.
Narva, Estonia is about 80% Russian and the rest Estonian. 96% of the city speaks Russian, but more of the city government is employed by Estonians. The officials want them to speak Estonian, as there is political tension between Russia and Estonia. The orphans in the facility are all Russian and so there is additional stigma attached to these kids as they are living in Estonia where the preference is given to Estonian speakers. They are trying to integrate by trying to get funding for Estonian language teachers, but the motivation for speaking Estonian among Russians is low.
The current economic crisis and the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990’s have made living in Narva difficult. Main industries have dried up and funding for orphanages is minimal. The orphanage only gets about $110-$120 per child per year for their needs beyond food and shelter. Nevertheless, they are all friendly, and open to us coming and sharing the Gospel freely.
After visiting the Narva Orphanage and driving by a Shelter in Narva that we didn’t have time to see, we drove westward to Sillamae, about a twenty-five minute drive from Narva. There, Milan and I were going to be passed off to Pastor Artur who would drive us back to Johvi. There was a Children’s home in Sillamae we were hoping to see, but Pastor Artur needed to get back to town as he had a meeting. Pastor Artur is very influential in Johvi with his outreach to the community. He is a member of the City Council and that was the meeting he had to attend.
Artur took us to his church and gave us a brief tour. Then he showed us where we were staying. It was a very comfortable room that has a separate bathroom and even Internet access. That gave us some time to rest from the trip as both of us had to wake up at 5am to get to the bus that left for Estonia at 7:15am. So, the two hours did us some good.
Artur returned at about 6pm and members of his church had fixed us dinner. We spoke for a while and then went to a service that begun at 7pm. Artur asked me to share a little about the SAC ministry and what we were doing. In his sermon, Pastor Artur talked about seed planting. I spoke about the same things with regards to our seed planting among the orphans we minster to.
After the service we made plans to visit several places in the surrounding area of places that their church was directly involved in or where they visited often. On the schedule for Friday was to visit two orphanages, a camp, and a Day Center for Disabled Children that is due to open in September. All this was planned before heading back to St. Petersburg on Friday afternoon!
The orphanage at Kohtla-Nomme is a twenty-minute drive from the town of Johvi, and Pastor Artur’s church. His daughter Liana and church volunteer Andre escorted us for the day to these places we needed to see.
After driving through a row of cottage homes, we turned and there nested in a forest of tall pine trees was this small orphanage for about 36 kids. Although the building is older the orphanage itself was begun in 2002. All the kids are Russian’s and range in age from 6-20 years old. Older children in Estonia are allowed to stay longer if they continue their education.
We saw a very large pile of cut wood near the orphanage and we were told they used the wood for heating the whole orphanage. I’m sure there is a lot of wood chopping that goes on there! They are also in walking distance of a small hill that they use for downhill skiing. There is no lift, so I’m sure one would walk up the small incline and then ski down. There was still snow on this slope!
I met with the second director of the orphanage, whose name was Mait (pronounced “Mite”) as the first director was on vacation. They were very open to us coming and sharing the Gospel and doing activities with the kids. They would be willing to do a cultural performance as they have a dance instructor. They even offered for us to stay at the orphanage for the week with our team.
I was very impressed and felt a connection to this orphanage. I could see a team of four trip participants making a great impact here during a week of ministry. I had been concerned about where we could stay, but we were offered to stay there. In addition, I was concerned about transportation. Pastor Artur offered us the van we were riding in!
Accommodations, transportation, even meals were offered to us for our week of ministry to an orphanage. I felt the Lord was in this and all the doors were opened to us to come. SAC will have a mission trip to Estonia in April of 2010 and we will follow through what God has opened before us!