Harvesting on “concrete fields” in Estonia

Finland and Estonia

Henderson reports on Army’s work in difficult circumstances.

by Daniel Henderson – 

Salvationists march through the streets in Narva, waving the Army flag. Photo by Daniel Henderson

“It’s like plowing concrete!” These were the words of a short-term missionary to a former Soviet Union republic in the early 1990s. She had experienced people’s openness to the gospel message there and had seen many conversions—and the concrete was a reference to her homeland, as she remembered how hard it was to win the lost in the United States.

At the time— inexperienced as I was—I nodded my head in sage agreement. Now, in our fourth year of ministry in Eastern Europe, I have a better understanding of the concrete that exists here! In this region, where communism’s yoke slowed the recovery from the world wars, materialism is now the religion of choice. Among young and old there is a hardness of heart towards the things of God, and people live desperately, without hope and without a future.

I sit in Svieta’s (name changed) kitchen, talking with her about her next steps in life. At 29, she has already attempted suicide several times, abandoned her children, undergone psychiatric therapy, and lived for years under the haze of alcoholism. After her grandmother’s funeral two months ago, Svieta was given a moment of clarity. Something in the words spoken and songs sung at the graveside moved her, and she began attending the Army. A month ago she came to the altar and gave her life to Jesus! A week ago, her mother backslid into alcohol abuse, and vowed that she would continue drinking until Svieta joined her. Now, as I hear her mother yelling in the next room, I listen to Svieta, and pray for her continued sobriety.

There is no advance in the battle for God’s Kingdom without opposition. Our journey of serving the Lord in Narva has been marked with many battles for the souls of men and women. Looking back, I can say that not a single convert was won for God’s Kingdom without personal sacrifice on our part, great effort and patience, and much opposition. What has surprised me the most is how difficult it is for these new believers to stay on the pathway to heaven.

We have worked with Olga for almost three years, struggling through the ups and downs of her addiction to injected drugs. There were dark days, standing in the snow of Narva’s cemetery, laying to rest her second daughter after eight difficult months of life with HIV. There were times when hope seemed lost, when Olga denied God, and rejected all the help that the Army had given her. Yet, God’s love is not denied! Olga has now been drug-free for over a year, has married her live-in boyfriend, and became a soldier in The Salvation Army last October!

God granted her a beautiful baby boy—born healthy, and HIV-free! In a recent Sunday meeting, Olga testified publicly that it was the ministry of the Army that gave her hope, so that she kept the child, and refused the doctor’s offers to abort him. Now, Olga travels with me to visit people living with HIV, helping to redeem those who were trapped as she once was.

When we become exhausted by our people’s needs, or discouraged by their failures, we think that our work is moving three steps forward and two steps back. Then, God opens our eyes to see that the gains he is making through us are lasting miracles in their lives! Thirteen hard-won soldiers fight for the lost in our corps, and five recruits are in training.

Soldier Colleen Smalley, a short-term missionary from USA West, has joined our force. She has made an immediate impact on the life of the corps and we praise God for her spirit of sacrificial service. A second Salvation Army HIV conference for Estonia is coming up at the end of the month. Many have contributed to this advance through faithful prayers. The battle is hard, but the concrete is broken, and new life takes root…one relationship at a time!

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