Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Fish Out of Water

Fish Out of Water
(Women in Ministry)

by Lorna Koskela

Women in ministry, a youth at an 8 am communion service, Jesus-lovers in a non-God fearing nation; they all have (at least) one thing in common: they feel – and are often treated - like a fish out of water, even if they are – from God’s perspective – in the right place at the right time.

The Bible is full of examples of fish out of water; women like Priscilla and men like Daniel to name but two. They were godly people, who for reasons beyond their control (the situation in Rome, the exile respectively) had to uproot and go live in a strange environment outside of their comfort zone, learn a new language, and take on new customs. Just like any fish out of water – it was not easy – but they survived the ordeal and brought glory to God.

Today in the C21st, women – and men – of God, young and old, are challenged by the environment in which they find themselves.

Behind the now rapidly rusting iron curtain, in Estonia, the most secular country in the EU1, and its neighbouring Baltic states of Latvia and Lithuania, Christians are learning that being a fish out of water is part of their calling – and this particularly applies to women in ministry.

We all know the early church survived and indeed thrived in times of extreme persecution, and, it seems that even in the era in which we now live, the church does the same today. In the Baltic States there is living proof that God will build His church, and He uses women – and men –who step out in obedience to do it. For 50 long years the occupying Soviet powers kept the doors of the so-called free churches in Latvia and Lithuania locked and barred, while in Estonia the UMC were given less than 24 hours to find a new home when their church premises in Tallinn were taken over by the KGB no less! Today, after having suffered years of Soviet occupation, Latvia is free- but in an impoverished state. It is the country with the lowest per-capita income and highest inflation in the European Union, while as already mentioned Estonia is the most secular country within the EU. Communism has had it toll –both materially and spiritually it seems – and yet God is building up His church in this part of the world like never before. What’s more He’s using women as labourers to equip the saints for ministry. In Latvia today more than 50% of the pastors in the UMC are female, and just last year the UMC in Estonia ordained their first female elder-in-full connection, finally moving them from the no-man’s land (pun intended!) of being ‘merely’ a local pastor.

Being a pastor –whatever the denomination and whatever your gender- is never easy, and rebuilding a church after 50 years of decimation is not a mission for the feint-hearted. Rev Inese Budnika is one of the pastors in Latvia called to do precisely that. One example of how she –and women like her – are trying to bring the Gospel to people of all ages and from all backgrounds is an inclusive worship service to teach people that they can trust the Resurrection. Poignantly it is asked – whose footsteps are you following? Are you following the trail of the disciples, who scattered and broken after Jesus’ death were in hiding or running around in circles unsure of what to do for fear of being crucified too, or are you treading in the footsteps of those of the women whose steps led straight to Jesus, because they were not afraid to accept the truth of the situation? It’s an interesting question!

In these former Warsaw pact nations, where it was taught for so long that religion was only for losers; where, if there are still church buildings today they are often in bad shape and there is little or no money for their maintenance; where the pastor’s salary (even when it can be paid) is not even nearly enough to live on, let alone raise a family on, and for these reasons many pastors/church workers are bi-vocational, holding down another full time job in order to make ends meet, it would not be strange if Christians, particularly those in ministry, were discouraged. But they are not.

God is calling people into the ministry, the Gospel is being spread and the church is growing. EMKTS, the Baltic Methodist Theological Seminary, otherwise known as the Baltic Mission Center, founded in 1994 “to provide evangelical theological training for church leaders” stands in the heart of Tallinn (the capital of Estonia). Its website states:

“… to date, 60% of our graduates are in full time ministry across the former Soviet world and an additional 30% are actively involved in part time or volunteer work for the cause of Christ! Our graduates serve as pastors, teachers of religion, church planters, evangelists, youth workers, social workers, prison chaplains, military chaplains, Bible translators, etc. God is doing great things! Lives are being changed! The former communist world will never be the same!”2

What is significant is that not only does the seminary in Tallinn recognize that both men and women are future leaders of the church, but it offers a theologically conservative, yet ecumenical education to people from different nations (mostly the Nordic countries and the former Warsaw pact nations) and from several denominational backgrounds. Estonia it seems, may be the most secular nation in Europe, but there is a real sense of one faith, one baptism and one Lord – manifested in one calling: to make disciples and send them (male and female) to the ends of the earth.

Ilse Paukse a candidate for ordination is one such future leader. Alongside her distance learning studies at the seminary in Tallinn, she is working for the Kingdom of God back home in Latvia. She’s already planted a church and is pastoring it part time. For many she might appear to be an enigma, a young woman taking on a role that was traditionally male-only, but if she is a fish out of water, then she’s one who’s learnt to drink deep from the well of living water, and breathe in the spirit of God, and I for one, am convinced that not only is she the right person in the right place at the right time, but that she has been commissioned by God to preach, teach and lead men, women and children in a world that has been turned upside down by the love and grace of Jesus Christ.

1 In a recent survey in Tallinn, Estonia only 17% of the population said that they believed in a god (and not necessarily even the God of the Old and New Testaments)

2 last accessed May 2007, figures refer to graduates up until 2005

Lorna Koskela, who currently lives in a nation that is not her own ( Finland), embracing a language and culture that are not her own and loving it. Lorna , who is 47, is a final year student at EMKTS and blogs about her journey with God at See-Through Faith.


wilsonian said...

Thank you for this piece, Lorna. After reading your blog for all this time, I hadn't put the picture together like this before. It is good to know how things are in your part of the world... and good to know that you are making an impact there too!

Lorna (see through faith) said...

Thanks Erin.

I guess I hadn't really put the pieces together either until I started to write about real women in ministry - i.e. those out there who are already doing God's business in a mission-shaped church.

Funny this came up just as I decided to take a blogbreak though :) God's timing is strange ...

Template Designed by Douglas Bowman - Updated to New Blogger by: Blogger Team
Modified for 3-Column Layout by Hoctro