Estonia mission team cleans up

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Short Term Missions Make Big Impact

TOP: THE TEAM paints the outside of the “House of Hope” building in Tallinn, Estonia. Top right: The result of the team’s work can be seen in the fresh coat of paint and new fence.

BOTTOM: Bill Mayfield and Major Barry Lucas build a metal frame for the picket fence.


Hope found its way into a country where, up to late August, there were few agencies to help the poor.

This hope is attributed to 16 people from the USA Western Territory who volunteered three straight weeks, transforming an old, run down drug-building into a neighborhood shelter that will soon house homeless men and provide free meals to the elderly and poor.

The decision to build the shelter was determined one year ago when Western Territory officers Majors Wesley and Ruth Sundin were assigned to Estonia, a small country on the Gulf of Finland, where they serve in Tallinn; there, they saw a desperate need to help the poor. The Army’s International Headquarters then granted funds to purchase the dingy building that is now called “Lootusemaja” or “The House of Hope.”

“A lot of work to be done”

Lt. Colonel Mervyn Morelock and his team arrived in Estonia in late August. After visiting the project site, the group agreed a lot work needed to be done.

“The building was a big challenge with lots of overgrown trees and high grass, and the renovation was not nearly as far along as we had hoped.”

Morelock, a determined leader, adds “After two days, we mowed the grass, trees were trimmed and cut, the moldy building was pressure washed, and over 50 post-holes out of a 100-post fence had been dug.”

The group did more than labor throughout their stay–they worked on making connections with people. Ministry and worship helped bridge two cultures, a tea party turned into a place for women to discuss childcare issues, youth leadership skills were taught, and English classes brought in up to 23 students to each class. “Folks who were quiet and reserved came alive after their first real English sentence was blurted out,” replies Major Trish Froderberg, who conducted the class.

Culture gap

Despite the closeness they shared with people, a definite disconnection in culture made itself known.

Team member Larry Estes describes the culture gap. “Often, it would take about two hours to find someone who spoke English to interpret. It took one of our volunteers an entire day to find a post-hole digger to break up the cement out in the back. I guess this is because culture is slower there…a few spoke English and tools we needed weren’t as advanced or available as they are in America.”

But the challenge didn’t take away from the group’s dedication. “We were determined to make this old building into a house of hope for the homeless and poor of Tallinn. We felt great satisfaction to have inherited the eyesore of the neighborhood and have turned it into the nicest building there.”

Morelock comments on how the team worked hard to make their three-week deadline. “We painted with a vengeance…everyone took a brush roller and started around the building. Bill Mayfield, our jolly giant at 6’7″ painted the highest points. Inside the house, two team members painted the walls. At the end of the day, the building was three-quarters painted on the exterior…and what a difference it made! The colors of the building are dark green and very pale green…it makes the place look beautiful.”

Three teams were also assigned to the fence, cutting boards and screwing the wood-slats to the rails. Then, realizing the fence was cutting off access to a trail made by neighbors leading into the shelter property, Morelock recalls the team’s reaction, “We felt bad, so we made a new bridge, just a few feet from the old one. We used spare, treated boards from our fence rails to make a fine, strong, new bridge. The new bridge would help others know we wished to be good neighbors!

“The end of our tasks came on Saturday before the dedication. The building looked completely different from when we arrived three busy weeks ago.

“It had a new roof, a cleaned and painted exterior, a yard trimmed and cleared, every room painted, new fence and gates, a driveway and parking lot, a new attic-storage area and floor coverings, stairs, plumbing and electric fixtures, and kitchen and clean windows; the place was really transformed.”

Thinking back, Morelock adds, “When many of us heard about the mission trip, some of us asked, ‘Where’s Estonia?’ Well, we know now and our hearts and understanding of the people here have been immeasurably changed.

“The poor of Estonia have a lot in store for their future. The Army plans to use ‘The House of Hope’ as a self-supporting, social service model facility. Our organization plans to buy more land to put in a thrift store in the future. Money brought in will house new services and help run the shelter.”

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