Estonia: Then and Now
Amy Nickerson | October 2014
100 young leaders.
The phrase was on Dave Cupery’s heart and mind as he and his wife, Jen, started thinking about moving to Estonia. It was 1998 at the time and clearly God had placed the specific vision of 100 Estonian leaders being trained for disciple-making ministry in Dave’s soul. He couldn’t stop dreaming about it and praying for it. On his knees, he asked God repeatedly to make it a reality within the next ten years.
But 100 Christian leaders were hard to come by in a country that was predominantly atheistic and ten years wasn’t actually that far away. In 2000, during Dave’s first survey trip to the country, it was challenge enough to find 15 young leaders willing to meet with him.
Yet Dave and Jen were committed to stepping boldly on in faith.
In January of 2002, the Cupery family moved to Estonia to begin Josiah Venture’s team there, excited about the possibilities of what God could do in the lives of young people.
Dave says it was relationship that brought the missionaries to Estonia, as they were able to form strategic partnerships with national members of the body of Christ. He describes the time, “When we arrived in Estonia, God was already stirring.” They had developed a relationship with a pastor named Meego, even before they moved over, and Dave says, “God was laying the same thing on our hearts.” The missionary couple also met a young leader named Peep Saar, who attended Meego’s church and had a vision “to reach the youth of his city for Christ.”
One of the greatest challenges in ministry also had to do with relationships: figuring out how to connect students with the local church. “English camps and an event called Going Up drew large numbers of students who had never heard the good news of Christ. At these events there was a lot of energy and excitement, but local churches were a very different experience. To these students who were seeking to learn more about Christ, the local church seemed irrelevant, out of touch, and boring.”
However, Dave says, “God really worked in unique ways, as he put people into place.” In 2006, Ristee (Crossroads) Church was officially launched by Peep. Not only was it a new church plant, but it was also a huge answer to prayer; a living example for the people of Tartu that church could be relevant for young people.
The Cuperys saw a lot of answers to prayer like this one during their time with JV until they were called back to North America in 2008. When they left, Peep’s brother, Mart Saar stepped up as team leader for JV Estonia.
Today the JV team has grown to 17 members, with 15 of them being nationals.
Mart says that two key concepts that were brought by Josiah Venture, disciple-making and church planting, have now been implemented in Estonia. “After a few years of practicing them, they’ve become more like a lifestyle. Not only in my life, but also many of my peers’ lives.”
Mart continues, “Right now, we have more than seven church plant initiatives going on at the same time in Estonia.” When asked why he and the JV team is committed to this type of work he explains beautifully, “Bill Hybels would say that the local church is the hope of the world. I believe that the more pockets of hope we have in a country, the more hope a country has. I do believe that the primary way that God wants to revitalize Estonia and Europe is through new ministries and churches that are being planted. Surveys and statistics say church planting is the most healthy and quickest way to make disciples and revitalize traditional and dying churches. That’s why I believe in it.”
Besides helping with these church plants, Mart and the team are feeling freedom to do other ministry these days. “Young people have more resources, opportunities, and maybe even dreams than ever before, and I see that God has given us opportunity to step into different kinds of callings more easily. You don’t have to be a 40 or 50 year old, theologically educated, or a minister to feel fruitful in his church. You can be a teenager who just has faith and the willingness to do whatever it takes in his mission field.”
This summer, that meant running 12 camps, partnering with 16 Estonian churches, and serving 373 students. This fall, one Fusion choir with 60 people involved has been started and football clubs are taking place in five different areas. JV is also working to build up 16 youth teams to help serve in Estonian churches this year.
When Dave prayed for 100 young leaders to train, he never imagined how God would faithfully work so that in 2009, ten years later, JV would be training 120 people at the national youth conference in Estonia.
There has been plenty of growth since then, and now, Mart is praying for even more young people, “My hope is that in less than 20 years we could reach all of the youth, this generation, and that they would hear the gospel from their peers. That not only would they be saved, but that they would be sent out as missionaries to Western Europe and other parts of the world.”
Please pray along with us for Mart and the team that they would be able to maximize opportunities they have to be involved in disciple-making and church planting in Estonia. And pray for the many national leaders God is raising up to bring light and energy to their country and beyond.