Over the past 12 months I’ve had the privilege of travelling to several cities in Northern Europe. All of them in significant need of more gospel-centred churches. (In the series: Copenhagen)
Take the overnight ferry from Stockholm and you can wake up in the beautiful old city of Tallinn, the capital of the small Baltic nation of Estonia. With a population of just 1.3 million, Estonia is one of Europe’s smallest countries. Around a third (450,000) of them live in the capital.
It has a relatively short history as an independent country (between 1918-1940 and since 1991) having spent most of the last thousand years swapping between Denmark, Sweden, Poland, Germany and finally Russia.
Today Estonia is a member of NATO and the EU and has become a relatively prosperous nation with a robust democracy. It has invested heavily in digital technology and is the home to Skype and is a hub for tech start-ups.
The Estonian language is closely related to Finnish (making it extremely difficult to learn!) but there is a sizeable minority that speak Russian which is a cause of some tension and anxiety towards it’s powerful eastern neighbour.
Christianity officially came to Estonia in the 13th century but it’s arguable whether faith ever really took root. Certainly Estonia has become known for being one of the most atheistic nations in the world. According to this article in The Guardian
A Eurobarometer poll in 2005 found that only 16% of the Estonian population believed in God. With this number, Estonia hit the bottom of the list. However, at the same time more than half the population (54%) believed in some sort of spirit or life force. Thus it could be claimed that 70% of the Estonian population are believers, at least in some sense of the word. Professor Grace Davie’s description of the British religiosity as “believing without belonging” seems to fit to the Estonian context as well.
The largest Christian denominations are the Lutheran & Russian Orthodox church but according to Operation World, it is the Mormons who have the most missionaries in Estonia.
The Moravians were a notable missionary movement to Estonia but other than that I couldn’t find any and if you can tell me where to look, I’ll edit this article.
Praying for Tallinn
Moving to Tallinn we were made aware that Estonia is the second most atheistic nation on the planet, behind only North Korea. Having lived here nearly four years now, we feel what that stat means. Spiritual life is tough. Culturally it’s almost laughed at. There are a few churches and even some that have been planted within our time here. Aside from one all are small…like ours, maybe struggling too.
Encouragement is hard to find, if I’m honest. Any farmer turning the soil, with endless rocks, weeds and very dry solid ground is at some point going to question the effort of their hands. It’s not for want of trying, but surely there has to be something to show for the sweet and tears.
Personally, the isolation and loneliness are big challenges. What Tallinn needs, what Hope:Tallinn needs and what we personally need as a family, is bodies. Willing, able folks to come plough with us. Friends to carry the load. If that were to happen, I know everything else would become a lot more bearable, and dare I say, enjoyable.