“From Estonia With Love” July 2019
“You are a gift from God!” pastor Artur told us, the director of Christian Camp Gideon in Estonia. Artur told us that he had been praying for a volunteer-in-mission team to come and help with much needed reconstruction work at the camp. He said he had been praying and wondered why God wasn’t answering his prayers. And then Russ and I showed up, telling him that we were there to learn about the camp and then return with a VIM team next summer. Artur told us his prayers had finally been answered.
Christian Camp Gideon is located on 75 acres in northeastern Estonia. During communism it was used as a Pioneer Camp which taught children and youth all about communism and atheism. After the fall of communism in 1991 it was purchased by the Asbury United Methodist Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma and gifted to the Methodist churches in Estonia. Artur, a Methodist pastor, has been the camp director for the past 27 years.
Estonia is in northern Europe, and along with Latvia and Lithuania, considered a Baltic state. Latvia is to the south, Russia to the east, the Gulf of Finland to the west and Finland a ferry ride to the north. Estonia was a part of the Russian Empire until it gained its independence in 1918. Then in 1939 Hitler and Stalin agreed on a pact which divided up the countries between them and the Baltic states became a part of the Soviet Union. Except for the occupation of the Nazis during World War II, Estonia was considered the Soviet Union until 1991 when they became an independent republic. Estonia has 1,300,000 residents and is the size of Maryland. Most of the people speak both Russian and Estonian, and many speak English. The major denomination in Estonia is Lutheran as a result of Roman Catholic Churches changing during the Protestant Reformation.
When we first arrived in Tallinn, we spent two nights at the Baltic Methodist Seminary. How wonderful to discover this school where pastors can receive training to lead Christian churches. Then Artur’s wife, Valentina, drove us to camp. There are 27 buildings at Camp Gideon and the one that Artur would like to see renovated is the lodge. The lodge offers simple, comfortable rooms for camp counselors. One side of the lodge has been renovated and is in use – it is where Russ and I stayed. The other side of the lodge is badly in need of repair.
Christian Camp Gideon offers a variety of camping experiences for young Estonians and Russians. While we were there a VIM team came from Athens, Georgia to host an English camp. There will be a sports camp in late July. In previous summers they have hosted a camp for orphans. Nurturing children and youth in the Christian faith is the main purpose of all their camps. They are taught that God created them, loves them and has a purpose for their lives.
A highlight of the trip was attending worship at the United Methodist Church that Artur pastors. He leads one service in Russian and a second in Estonian.
After talking with Artur about what is needed, we came up with the following plan. I will lead a volunteer-in-mission team to Christian Camp Gideon the last week of July 2020. I will need to recruit team members with construction skills to work on the lodge. However, that same week we will also host a camp for orphans, and volunteers will be needed to help with that. Pastor Artur is thrilled with our plans to return.
This was my 26th mission trip to the former Soviet Union. Something that we saw clearly is the way in which God is at work in this part of the world. God redeemed a camp that taught communism and atheism and transformed it into a place of faith and hope. God is doing new and wonderful things at Christian Camp Gideon, and we are excited to be a part of it. Pastor Artur and the camp staff are making a difference in the lives of the campers who visit.