Our intention for some time now has been to send you quarterly prayer letters and this no doubt would have made it much easier for us to communicate our experiences in depth. But we have been so incessantly busy this year that writing and publishing a prayer letter has been relegated to the bottom of the pile. So, we figured that if we’re going to try to pack in the details on a longer letter, we ought to at least include some good pictures.
Our final “project summer” commenced in late June when Matt and I arrived in Estonia together with Matt’s youngest brother Sam, who was bold enough to join us for the entire two months. We touched down knowing we had an incredible schedule ahead of us: two weeks to prepare for three different week long camps in two rural Estonian towns, partnering with two short-term mission teams.
Avispea Kid’s Camp
The first of these projects was a 3-day children’s camp in partnership with Eerek and Pilvi Preisfreund in Avispea (North-central Estonia). Initially, we had planned on organizing only two projects. The idea for this camp originated with Pilvi early in the year. She envisioned a cooperative effort between the Avispea Church and another congregation in the same area with a focus on drawing in the kids of both communities. So when we got the invitation to lend support for their effort, we eagerly hopped aboard. My older sister Anne, her daughter Kadri (15), my nephew Andres (17)and Matt’s brother Sam (15) all took on major leadership roles. Andres, Sam and Kadri all stepped far outside their comfort zones to help make the camp run smoothly. But even with such a great team, life has a way of throwing curve balls.
When we awoke on the second morning, we were greeted with news that the well had run dry during the night. We scratched our heads for an hour or so then got to work improvising. For the remainder of the camp, Eerek supplied water for our ~40 camp kids by filling a 50 gallon barrel three times a day at a neighbor’s well and transporting it back to camp by van. This accounted for drinking, cooking and hand washing but unfortunately not for bathing, a reality that became unavoidably clear when Sam and Matt offered a “wrestling clinic” for the boys. As our collective camp stench slowly increased, we decided to organize a daily outing to a local lake for a “swim”. While our leadership team juggled crises and shuffled details, the kids no doubt read all this as an “adventure”. When day three rolled to a close, we held a final camp meeting to ask what the kids had enjoyed. The answers given by three brothers were especially sweet and sobering: “you played with us,” and “we got to eat.”
Avispea/Helena Work Project
When the last kids had been sent home, we packed up our things and headed back to Tallinn. Within a few days, we welcomed a mission team from the Evangelical Covenant Church in Helena, Montana. EVC has been supporting us for a long time and was largely responsible for making our Youth Mission Exchange in 2003 a reality. This intergenerational team of 9 arrived by bus from a week of intensive evangelistic work in Poland. Having exhausted their creativity, we broke the good news: we would head out to Avispea for a week of manual labor – 40 cords of it! Eerek had cleared his boss’ property of extra trees during the spring and had an immense pile of wood to be cut, hauled and stacked. We spent the week working side by side during the days and sharing meals and stories over dinner. Meanwhile, Eerek kept up his daily water runs and each evening we trekked out to the lake for a wash.
One afternoon, a local farmer who had studied agro-economics in Tacoma, Washington on a study exchange came by and took some of the team on a tour of the area. Another afternoon, the entire team was welcomed into the home of a parishioner for their first authentic Estonian sauna – a rare treat! Matt and I were amazed by the team’s adventurous spirit, their willingness to be stretched and challenged, their commitment to serving in the mundane and their desire to learn about the daily realities of ministering in rural Estonia. This team was a real pleasure to work with. And together, we demolished the majority of the Preisfreund’s wood pile, setting them up for at least two years of heating.
Antsla Kid’s Camp
Back in Tallinn, the Helena team shared their notes and handed on the torch to Jenny Hulse and Micah Friddle, two fresh recruits from the Alongside Discovery Conference who came to help us with our final camp in Antsla. After a brief switcheroo, we bid the Helena folk adieu, packed up our cars and headed south with Jenny, Micah, Kadri, Sam and our Andres. The evening we arrived in Antsla, we sat down almost immediately with the rest of the camp leadership team: Triin and Karoliina (two dedicated and talented teen sisters from the church) and a gaggle of willing mothers and grandmothers helping us cook meals. In order to cut down on costs, the church members had contributed vegetables and jam, which significantly reduced our food budget.
We knew that Antsla has had foreign help with big budget summer camps in the past and their expectations were high. Our goal was to show them that team work, ownership and creative use of available materials could exceed the promise of a tidy, imported “package deal”. As per our previous camps, we delegated the bulk of the leadership responsibilities to our youth leadership team. Sam and Kadri brainstormed the curriculum in June and the entire team fleshed out the details on location in Antlsa. Pairs of youth headed up small groups in order to give the kids even more specific attention. Throughout the camp, we met regularly to check in on progress, change our tactics and prepare for what was to come. Language barriers of course proved a difficulty for our Americans but they found ways to serve without their strongest tools and learned to let their Estonian counterparts take the lead. The kids who knew some English were especially empowered to make the most of their skills.
The turn out was more than we could have asked for and almost more than we could handle. Every day for 7 days we had around 60-70 kids gather at the church’s parking lot, ready to do sports, listen to Bible studies and have fun. The camp was a mix of great excitement and great exhaustion. This was most definitely the best of our summer camps to date. The team was healthy and cooperative, the church was highly involved, and the details ran like a well oiled machine. All of this for about 500 dollars! It was a wonderful way to end our season of summer projects and a good note to leave on as we headed into Matt’s final year of studies.
Summing up the Summers
Our summer camps have never been the point of our ministry. They have simply been a vehicle that seems to fit the needs of rural churches particularly well. Our goal over the course of these summers has been to take a familiar ministry format and use it to exhibit the fact that the Holy Spirit works through communities of the redeemed first and foremost, and only thereafter through their resources. We believe that the future of the Estonian church, both urban and rural is secure not because of foreign help or a rising GDP but because God transforms and works through ordinary people in order to do extra-ordinary things. The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed; like a group of friends who went to split wood for a small, rural church in the boondocks of Estonia. The young people and congregations we’ve worked with over these last three summers have all exhibited incredible potential to be God’s redeemed community exactly as they are, where they are because the Spirit is in them. Whether in kids camps or other ministry expressions, we will continue to work alongside these people in order to help them move deeper into the fullness of all God has in store for them in a way that leaves no doubt that He alone deserves the glory.
Noses to the Grindstone
Throughout the summer, Matt kept disappearing in the evenings to poor over his books. He was scheduled to take a series of 3-hour ordination examinations two weeks after our return to Canada. The topics included Biblical Exegesis, Theology, Church Polity, and Worship & Sacraments. We’re glad to report that he passed all of these examinations on his first try. That was one of the more formidable hurdles in the ordination process, so we gave a big sigh of relief and then got back to work. Because this is Matt’s last year of studies, he’s been taking two courses on campus and one by audio each semester in order to complete all of his requirements and graduate in April. He has also been involved in a chaplaincy internship at Vancouver General Hospital. This has been a major time commitment every week but he says it has been one of the most useful experiences in these last four years of study.
Lea has been holding down the fort at home and putting bread on the table. She’s been working part-time on Alongside’s recruitment staff for the last year and has also been working as an office manager for an upscale coffee wholesaler. After four years of grinding out menial jobs, I’m glad to see her getting some recognition for her hard work and dependability. I’m looking forward to the day when she can resume the teaching work she so enjoys. Lea has also continued her work with the youth ministry at our church. As the senior member of the team, she has been instrumental with organization and has continued to nurture the teens at youth meetings. The two of us have also been trained as “marriage mentors” and have been mentoring a couple who is exploring the possibility of marriage. This is a ministry resource we’d like to take back with us to Estonia to teach and employ in the churches there.
Two Weddings and a Funeral
This year has also been a year of life passages. Matt and I extended our time in Estonia by a day in order to celebrate the marriage of two young people some of you are likely to recognize. Margus Laurik and Triin Mägi joined us in 2003 for our “Youth Mission Exchange”. Both were members of our youth group in Viimsi and both have grown into wonderful Christian adults. We swelled with pride as Max and Triin exchanged their vows. “Our kids” are growing up in godly stature and favor. We’re thrilled to be able to walk alongside Max and Triin in this new chapter of their lives and we look forward to seeing how God leads them.
A week after Matt’s ordination exams, we sped over to Spokane to celebrate the wedding of Matt’s brother Joel to his beautiful bride Angie Kovash. The wedding took place in the beautiful and intimate setting of a vineyard overlooking the Spokane River Valley. It was good to see our “Joely” get hitched to such a kind gal. Joel and Angie are now living in Cleveland while Joel completes his Emergency Medicine Residency at the Cleveland Clinic.
Sadly, after welcoming these two couples into a new chapter in their lives, we said goodbye to my father Kunnar in January. My dad’s health has been slowly deteriorating over the last 5 years from a series of strokes. Each summer that we returned to Estonia, he was further disabled. In early January we heard from my mother that Dad had quit eating and drinking. A week later, we got the news that he had died. Matt and I quickly arranged for tickets to Estonia to attend his funeral. It was a sad occasion for a visit, but we were all at peace that his suffering was over and he was finally at rest with His Lord.
On the Horizon
After Matt’s convocation in April, we will take a short vacation then hit the road to visit our supporters in the Southwest. After we return from this trip, we’ll begin a 3-month internship at the Presbyterian Church in Reardon, WA (just outside of Spokane). Matt will also be working on the final details of his ordination process during this time. If all goes well, he’ll be received by the Presbytery as a Minister of Word and Sacrament in September. Between September and our departure for Estonia in late October, we’ll visit our supporters in the Northwest and Montana. If you would like for us to include your church in our itinerating schedule, please contact us by email at matt”at”edminsters”dot”com. Our schedule between now and our departure for Estonia is packed with little room to breath so please lend your support by praying us through. We’re looking forward to completing these last few stages of preparation here in North America and heading back to Estonia to resume our work there.
Thank you for your support, your friendship and especially for your patience as we’ve struggled to get this letter out to you. We so grateful to have been given this time for study and preparation for service and it would not have been possible if not for the loyalty and support of people like you.
Blessings to you and yours,
Matt and Lea