For the last four years, Lea and I have been committed to strengthening the youth and children of the Viimsi Free Church, Estonia. In this final year of my formal partnership through Alongside Ministry with the Viimsi Church, we were encouraged to hear people tell us that they wanted us back in ministry and in Estonia for the long term. But rather than renewing our commitment to the Viimsi Church or agreeing to partner with other churches who have expressed interest, we’re taking this opportunity to split our time for the next four years between focused study at Regent College (a seminary in Vancouver BC) during the school year and youth discipleship projects in Estonia in the summers aimed at developing our vision for future ministry.
We hope that the following pages will offer you a glimpse of the Estonian Church we love and long for, along with the vision God has given us for how we can most effectively build it up through the discipleship of Estonian youth.
Objective and Value-Goals
Our overall objective is to continue to work with our partners and friends in Estonia to develop future generations of Estonian Christians who will be disciple-makers “fully equipped for every good work”.
Our part in this cooperative work is to provide discipleship and leadership training experiences for small groups of Estonian youth, to offer discipleship resources to local congregations and to develop discipleship models in partnership with Estonian leadership that reflect a combined dedication to the Estonian culture and the culture of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
As we work toward this purpose, we keep these specific value-goals in front of us:
- We will work in support of local communities of faith: believing that a local community of maturing, equipped, encouraged and active believers is one of God’s most effective tools for transforming the world.
- We will minister in the spirit of “alongside” ministry: by building long term relationships, entering ministry partnerships by invitation and seeking to enable our partners to understand and engage the vision God has given them.
- We will engage in a continual discussion with indigenous leaders and workers and with other missionaries in order to maintain an informed and current understanding of the culture we work in and what God is doing through his Church to transform it.
- For the same reason, we will maintain a similar discourse on an international level as we are able and will make every effort to enable our Estonian counterparts to join the conversation.
The Estonian church pre-1991 responded to the repressive culture of communism by protecting local believers. The church was a place where Christians could find some degree of refuge and a place to exercise their common faith. Evangelism of any kind was forbidden and so the ability to survive and maintain were a lot to be thankful for.
Since 1991, the church has begun to once again engage the culture outside of the Church with the Gospel. This process has included a rediscovery of principles of the ministering church, a search for methods of ministering that reach the Estonian culture effectively, and – not surprisingly – an internal struggle in many churches as the focus widens to include not only maintenance but also ministry.
While the church actively seeks to reach the lost with the gospel, it struggles to integrate and disciple new believers when they receive salvation and come to the church for help. Similarly, many churches long to minister to the youth of their community but struggle to understand how they can do this given their limited resources.
While Estonian leaders most likely agree that discipleship is a necessary step in the life of the believer they sometimes lack the practical knowledge, the resources or the support to make it happen in their own church.
This is where Lea and I would like to focus our attention.
Our Strategic Response
Our desire is to join other ministers in Estonia in recovering a functional understanding of discipleship in the Estonian Church. We will do this primarily by imbibing familiar Estonian ministry formats with new life and intentionality. Some areas of ministry we will be experimenting with in the next few years are:
Discipleship Journeys :”intense, interactive, intentional and applied learning experiences meant for older teens and college students who want to be equipped for ministry in their church and community. Each “Journey” is comprised of no more than 12 individuals in teams of 2 youth and one adult from any given church. The focus of this program is not only to disciple youth but to model mentoring for adults from the same congregation and to enable a relationship between the two along a shared path of learning and experience.
Regional Youth Camps: Estonian churches enjoy attending and organizing summer camps but each church is responsible for organizing its own location, staff and program. Rural churches often are left with little opportunity to provide a camping experience for their children. We believe that the camping ministry model can be used as a shell for intentional discipleship of children and older teens working as camp counselors. We are exploring ways of partnering especially with rural churches in order to provide some of these missing resources, offer them a staff of committed and gifted Estonian youth, and introduce reproducible discipleship methods.
Local Church Partnerships – For churches that demonstrate a commitment to developing their youth discipleship focus and skills and invite us to partner with them, we would like to offer a more focused and ongoing enabling relationship.
Regional Networking – There has been much discussion in the last two years about how to equip and support local churches throughout Estonia no matter what their situation may be. One of our friends in Estonia, Elari Tamm (current Youth Secretary for the EKBL denomination) has suggested that we focus on building up regional networks so that churches that would otherwise be separate can share their resources and experiences and support one another. We are in full support of Elari’s initiative and will be experimenting with ways to enable these regional connections through our ministry.
From Here Forward
These next three to four years of study and exploration will be critical for us as we build foundations for the ministry God has laid on our hearts. During these three years, our major tasks will be:
- During the School Year
- Learning models and methods of discipleship that have been used with good effect in other places and times,
- Gaining skills not only for the ministry we envision but also for future ministries the Lord is preparing us for which are currently unseen (this includes both formal seminary education and the process of ordination),
- Growing personally, as disciples and as a newly married couple in the fellowship of other focused believers.
- Building trust and depth in our relationships with Estonian friends, partners and future partners,
- Experimenting with some of the forms of ministry we feel may form the basis of our ministry in the future,
- Offering support, resources and encouragement to youth and churches we already know,
- Maintaining a current understanding of Estonian youth culture, and
- Maintaining and developing Matt’s language skills
During the Summer
We need your support just as much now as we have in the past! It would be a major mistake for us to allow the misconception that we are leaving the mission field, even if only for a period of study.
Our ministry in Estonia is ongoing. These next three years are an embrace of what we believe God has called us into. We are not retreating, we are raising the bar. When we make a complete return after our studies, we expect that the financial costs of our ministry will reflect a more specific focus and a broader audience.
In order for us to plan responsibly for the future, we are striving to maintain our current yearly budget and level of support. This way there will be no surprises for you our supporters, no hurried fund raising sprints, and hopefully the further development of an ongoing relationship between us and a deeper understanding of what is happening in Estonia.
We have not functioned on our own in Estonia. We have depended upon your prayers, interactions, and financial partnership for our effectiveness. The same will be true not only upon our full time return to Estonia but throughout the entirety of these next few years of focused study and exploration. We welcome you to join us in maintaining a commitment to the ongoing ministry of youth discipleship in Estonia and if you are able, to join us in raising the bar.