NINE DAYS IN ESTONIA

NINE DAYS IN ESTONIA

I was in the middle of my first year of college, trying to find my place in the world and figure out “the rest of my life.” I was wrestling with the future and the future seemed to be winning. 

Although my mission trip experience in Estonia in 2016 was amazing, returning this year wasn’t even on my radar. But things changed when one of the close girlfriends I had made in Estonia messaged me. Her wedding was set for this August.

I quickly realized that the cost of airfare was way beyond my ice-cream-scooping-college- student budget. I began to worry that I’d have to miss the wedding. But in faith I decided to start saving every last penny, and take a closer look in a few months to see if I could make the numbers add up.

A month later, my friend let me know that the wedding had been moved up to the rst of July. For some reason that date sounded familiar. I checked Woodmen’s website and found that the wedding t perfectly with this year’s Woodmen Students Estonia mission trip. I frantically messaged the trip leader and asked if they could use my help and explained about the wedding. A week or two later I was a part of the team!

The Geography of Hopelessness

If you’re like me, you may not remember Estonia from seventh grade geography, so here’s some context: Estonia is a real nation — not to be confused with the country mentioned in The Princess Diaries lms. It’s smaller than the state of Colorado and borders Latvia, Russia and the Baltic Sea.

When you say you’re going on a European mission trip, many people don’t see the need. Estonians may not be experiencing poverty like some other nations, but it is the least religious country in the world. The people’s need for a Savior is great. My eyes were opened on our 2016 trip to the fact that many Estonians have not even heard the name of Jesus.

Estonia’s decades under Soviet occupation, from 1944 to 1991, left an indelible mark on the culture and on people’s perspectives about Christianity. Many Estonians see the world as a depressing and purposeless place, yet they don’t view Christ as a viable solution. 

Woodmen partners with Josiah Venture in Estonia to host English camps for young people. The campers learn English, a valuable skill in Estonia, and we get to share the hope we’ve found in Christ. A highlight of the week-long camps are “English environments.” These group activities create fun ways for the Estonians to practice their English and help us bond. Each day also includes morning and evening sessions with worship and a story from the Bible. After these sessions, we break into small groups and share our thoughts on the story, either positive or negative.

A Promise Kept 
Before we dove into camp, I got to experience my friend’s beautiful wedding on a beach on the Baltic Sea. Although the bride and the setting were breathtaking, Christ was clearly the focus of the day.

When the bride saw me for the rst time, she ran up to me and gave me the biggest hug. She kept asking me, “Is this real life? Are you really at my wedding?” All I said was, “I told you I’d be here. I promised I’d come.” It was one of the sweetest moments I’ve ever experienced and I’ll cherish it for the rest of my life.

After the wedding, I went home with the pastor and his wife, whom I’d met the previous year. The next day I went to church with the pastor and his family and was rejoined there by my Estonian friends. After church, we walked around the small town of Rapla. I felt accepted and at home in this group of friends from a country I barely knew existed a few years before. It was such an unexpected blessing.

Be Still and Know

Then it was time to focus fully on camp. It was a week full of learning and laughter. But I soon began to feel discouraged. Don’t get me wrong; I had fun. But my small group was very quiet. It seemed like I wasn’t connecting with the campers. I began to question why I was on the trip. I was frustrated with the uncertainty: Here I was again, coming from a season of unanswered questions in Colorado, traveling halfway around the world and carrying the same feelings and doubts inside.

My mother writes me a letter every time I go on a trip, usually containing prayers, well wishes and a Bible verse. This year she included Psalm 46:10: “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among all nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” As I reflected on the words of this passage, I felt less disheartened and more encouraged.

I committed to live out the week fully trusting God, even if I wasn’t seeing tangible results. I’d play games with campers, worship with all the breath in my lungs and encourage fellow teammates to share their stories fearlessly. I would remain constant, finding courage in the faith that I hold to as true. I decided to let my worry and my need for control be still, and just let God move through and around me. Peace came over me as I relinquished my hold on that uncertainty. I surrendered my need to know how God was moving. I began to realize that sometimes all we have to do is let go and be held by the Father — to be still and know that He is God and He will fulfill His promises and purposes in His time.

The Tip of the Iceberg

As I write this, I’ve been home for four days now. I’m just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg of what God did over the span of those 10 days in Estonia. The relationships I formed in the summer of 2016 grew deeper. Saying goodbye to the two girls I was closest too was tearful and almost unbearable. One of them jokingly told me, “While you were sleeping you promised that you’d move here.” The other, the new bride, informed me that she and her husband would love to visit me in Colorado.

The pastor encouraged me to come back and said that I would always have a place in his home. These people have become family. They are dear brothers and sisters in Christ.

Since being back home, I’m connecting with campers over Facebook. It’s wonderful to be able to continue mentoring students even though we’re far apart geographically. The faith-conversations we had at camp are still stirring in the hearts of our Estonian friends. The Spirit is moving. I’m praying that God will continue to call them into relationship with Him. I’m praying for transformed lives. I want so much for these Estonian campers and friends to understand that only Jesus can ll the void.

In my struggle to find my “place,” I’m now confident that seeds were planted in Estonia. Yet I’m also committed to surrendering the outcome and the future to Christ — to not always knowing the answer and to trusting a God who moves in ways we cannot fathom.


image