Monday, May 25, 2015

THE FSAOF IN TALLINN, ESTONIA

My introduction to The Salvation Army in Tallinn was; being met off our cruise ship by a radiant Salvation Army Officer, Yulia, whose radiance was much, much more than just an outward appearance.  She really is someone very special which was clearly seen in the way she relates to people and the way they respond to her. 
With Yulia were two residents from The Salvation Army mens’ rehabilitation centre, who very graciously taxied us and took care of our every need, pushing Sven in his wheelchair, lifting it in and out of the mini bus and driving us around to places they thought significant to the FSAOF in assessing potential future mission support: we had a full 6 hours in Tallinn. One of the men had been in the rehab centre for two years, and the other, the driver, for just two months and the progress in their lives was evident. The driver, a man in his early thirties, was well groomed, smartly dressed and appeared proud of the responsibility and freedom this new life offered. However, as the day warmed and sleeves rolled up the tracks on his arm were evidence of his earlier life-style.

Initially they took us to the corps in the centre of the city. Soldiers and volunteers were already working hard in preparation for the distribution of food parcels for people who come for the three-times weekly free parcels.  They also have a feeding programme for the homeless, serving 120 persons three times a week. On the Army’s off days some of the churches take their turn.

We were also able to off-load the gifts donated by FSAOF. We had anticipated problems as we disembarked from the ship suitcase in hand; “Are you leaving us here in Estonia?” Sven mumbled something in Russian and we were waved through… I asked him what he’d said and he told me it was the same line he’d used countless of times before when bringing goods across the borders to Russia, Ukraine and Georgia: I showed them my passport with dozens of Russian visa stamps and said, “I’m Salvation Army soldier S E Ljungholm delivering aid to our corps and humanitarian aid center”! “Very well – carry on straight through, and thank you!”

The suitcase held beautiful, brand new-with-tags red uniform jumpers from Scotland for children, (22.00 Pounds – $33.50  each - The cost to the FSAOF just $7.50!) 10 long length microphone cables, that had been requested for the corps’ P&W group, and a sizeable monetary donation to support the on-going work of both the Corps and the rehab centre, who specifically needed new shoes for 26 men and pillow cases, things we take so easily for granted.
As more needs were shared, Sven’s hand went into his right hand pocket again and again – Sven knew from experience how support sometimes slows to a trickle; tears were shed as God’s love was shared.

Lt.Colonel Arja Laukkenen, a pioneer in re-opening the SA work in Estonia shared that sometime ago the Corps had made some renovation work and a non-Christian architect had a strong influence in the design.  A non-believer who obviously caught hold of the ethos of the ministry of The Salvation Army and what the Corps was setting out to do.  The entrance hall was quite large and on the ground was a labyrinth that encourages people to work and pray through some of their issues; there was no pressure just an opportunity to walk through the maze of their lives.  The end of the labyrinth leads you to a straight path taking you up to the mercy seat (The Salvation Army place of prayer).  At the front of the worship hall is a large white screen, and at the top of it the shape of the cross is cut out and behind it is a cross a sort of three dimensional display, however, wherever you stand in the hall, frustratingly the cross is never in full view, it is always just off centre from the cut out.  However, I soon discovered that if you stood on the straight path you had perfect vision of the cross and the path, through the mercy seat would lead you directly to the cross. 
Arja Laukkenen is assisting from Finland for five
weeks - retired but active beyond words!
What a powerful message and image, walking and praying through the labyrinth, maze of our lives, with God’s help seeking direction and being lead to the straight path that leads us straight to the cross.  I would love to have this imagery in the Lifehouses I minister in.

Having seen something of the life and ministry of the Corps at Tallinn, our friends then drove us to the workshop, area of where they work from the rehab centre, this is helping them to get their lives back on track and also giving them more hope of getting back into the workplace.  Here they chop logs, this is no small task as you can see from the photo, they then take them into the city to sell, or farms that exchange them for potatoes and other vegetables.  On this same sight is the shack they use for Bible Study on the edge of the Baltic Sea.

Following this they took us to the rehab centre where they live and support each other, it seemed to be in the middle of nowhere which I guess could be an advantage to them where alcohol and drugs are not so easily accessible.  Twenty six of them live here, they cook, eat and sleep together.  They pray and support each other daily through a twelve step programme.  It is possible for them to move on to their own accommodation but many of them prefer to live together in community so they still have the support and encouragement of each other. 
Every day they share prayer and Bible Study, this is part of their commitment to the programme that they have signed up for, this is not an optional extra, and every week they attend the church services at the corps.  On Sunday 17 May, 2015 one of the men was enrolled as a Salvation Army soldier and with the help of FSAOF will proudly wear his Salvation Army uniform.   As we shared a meal with a number of the residents others were telling us something of their faith journey and of how one day, they too hope to don an SA uniform.  Many have come to faith or grown in their faith through this programme and have experienced real change in their lives, others too have experienced change but acknowledge they have not got the same heart for the Gospel message as some of their friends, they hear it, believe it but do not feel it … yet.

Yulia, and her husband, the Corps Officers obviously have an important role to play in this life changing process. And it was lovely to see how the men genuinely care for Major Yulia and support her and her family in every way they can.  They seemed very protective of her and it was beautiful to see something of the love she has invested in the men being reflected back in their love for her. 


Taking time out from our holiday and visiting some parts of the work of TSA in Tallinn and meeting some very special people was an important part of God’s restoration and re-energising in Sven and my life as we recharge our batteries during this holiday to continue in our ministry.

GLAD LJUNGHOLM
For the FSAOF

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