They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations (Isaiah 61:4).
Rich history abounds in Estonia, a tiny country on the Gulf of Finland at the far end of the Baltic Sea. Through tragedy and in spite of unspeakable horrors, Estonia thrives today. But this should not be.
Invaded, controlled and persecuted by many of Estonia’s neighbors, the people there continue to live, work, play, and thrive. Beyond the native Estonian culture and its distinctive language (one of the few in the world related to Finnish and Hungarian), Danish, Swedish, Teutonic/German and especially Russian influences run deep.
Tallinn, the capital and principle city of Estonia, was rocked by significant changes and negative forces before, during and after World War II. The Nazis created all sorts of chaos during their brutal occupation, followed immediately by Soviet occupation and forced integration into the Soviet Union of Socialists Republics (USSR). With a large influx of Russian speakers during the forty-five years from 1945 to 1990 Estonia was threatened with losing its sense of self, of language, culture and history. Russian/Soviet influences were huge during those years since one of Moscow’s goals was to create a more homogenous union based on Russian language and culture along with communist ideology and all that entailed.
What a group I led there recently experienced recently in Tallinn is what appeared to be a remarkable revival of native Estonian culture. The resurgence of the complex, intellectually rigorous Estonian language adds deep pride in the beauty and historic, multicultural influences that have shaped this amazing land over the centuries.
The Estonian people likely preferred a history that was less challenging and not so fraught with invasion and foreign control. But their history exists. They as a people are who they are because of what they have endured. The loveliness of their capital city, the richness of their past, the uniqueness of their language evoke a land and a people with depth and character – because of their history.
When life is hard, when times are tough, when our history still scars the way we experience life and those around us, know that like the land of Estonia and the people of Tallinn, difficulties need not destroy us. Today Tallinn is recognized as a city on a hill, a shining example of a wounded population rising from their battered past to face a new and positive future.
They still have fears. Russia looms as the dangerous and unpredictable big brother next door. There is a significant Russian-speaking minority in Estonia who could be used as a pretext for invasion by Russia. Vladamir Putin did this very thing in Crimea – and appears to be still attempting in Ukraine. So for Estonians, it would be hard not to have some paranoia regarding the vast army and resources at Putin’s disposal.
Yet the vibrant colors of the old town, the energy and resiliency of the people, the positive signs throughout Tallinn of building, expanding, renovating, innovating … all of this signals a people turning a new page in their history and writing a new chapter for their future.
Hope springs eternal, and so it appears among this new generation of sophisticated, cultured and well-educated young people rising into the ranks of leaders for tomorrow.
And so it can be for you and me. Whatever lingers in our past, whatever stands in our future, it is living with faith in our time that offers good and positive contributions to life and to our world. So for you this week – in spite, and perhaps in the face of threats and danger – may you be awake and ready to all that God has in store for you and for those around you. You can be resilient, strong and ready for this new day. So move out in faith, work hard, and make the best of what you have right now.