The past year has been one of many remarkable events and accomplishments in Estonia, the northernmost of the Baltic nations. In this nation of approximately 1.5 million people, approximately two-thirds of the residents are ethnic Estonians, while one-third are Russian. The Estonian language belongs to the Finno-Ugric group. It is related to Finnish and distantly to Hungarian, but is unrelated to any other European language.
The first Estonians to join the Church in Estonia since the fall of the communist regime were baptized on Dec. 17, 1989. By May 1991, the Estonian and Russian branches, both in the capital city of Tallinn, had 130 members.
While Estonian members waited more than a decade for the translation of the Book of Mormon, they say that the translation released in January 2000 is excellent. Missionaries, who previously taught investigators with only a few scriptural selections, are pleased with the Estonian translation, saying that the added scriptures are opening many new doors. The Estonian international magazine, the Liahoona, was first published in March 1999. Estonian translations of the Doctrine and Covenants are now underway. General Conference talks have been translated into Estonian since 1996.
The LDS Chapel in was dedicated on Nov. 7, 1999. Local members invited journalists to the chapel open house and received favorable publicity, including prime-time coverage on three local television stations and a feature article on the Church and its beliefs in the country's largest newspaper.
The work is expanding within the borders of Estonia. Narva, a city located on the northeastern border with Russia, recently became the first opened for missionary work in nearly a decade. At present, there is an Estonian and a Russian-language branch in Tallinn, an Estonian branch in the university city of Tartu, and a Russian-language group in Narva.
There are currently about 500 members in Estonia. Retention of new converts has been a major challenge in Estonia, as well as in other newly-opened nations in Europe. While not all converts have remained active, more than 80 percent of converts baptized in Tallinn last year remained active because of a focus on adequate pre-baptismal teaching and warm fellowshipping.
Former Stroomi Branch President Almar Pihelgas noted, "The Church is as strong as are its members. Members are those who bring spirit, charity and warmth to the Church. Estonians have been throughout the history endurable and firm. This is how they perceive the Church. I think that the Church will stay and grow mostly because of its strong members. David Stewart