August 20, 2002
Dear Loved Ones,
Greetings from Tallinn. Today marks the 11th Anniversary of the "Re-establishment of Independence" of Estonia, and all the flags are flying! It is a time of looking back -- to see how far the nation has come -- and looking ahead toward a bright future.
Today is another anniversary for us. It was August 20, 1997 -- five years ago today -- that our family landed at the Tallinn International Airport (much, much different in those days!!) ready to begin our adventure in God's Kingdom in Estonia. Just as this holiday is a time of looking back and looking ahead, so it is with us and the work in Tallinn. This is the time of year when we pause and take a breath... looking back over the past few months and looking ahead to what God has in store.
This was one of the busiest summers ever for the Banks family. It began in May, when Mark and Anya Hughes and little Timmy visited us. Anya (then Kern) was one of our "Omsk Girls", converted and serving in the church in Omsk when we were there. Now she and Mark are living in England, outside London, working to help the church there and raising Timmy in a fine Christian home.
The day after the Hughes left, Geoff arrived home from Harding to be our summer intern. Accompanying him was Duncan Campbell, a senior in the Harding School of Biblical Studies who was in Tallinn last summer with the Harding campaign. This was to be a "survey trip" for Duncan, to see if perhaps Estonia might be a place for him to do missions after he finishes his time at Harding Grad School in 2004. Duncan did special classes with our teens, and spent time encouraging and sharing. At this same time, Sherah Belva (on her way back to the States from 2 years in Novosibirsk, Siberia) arrived to work for almost 6 weeks with us, among other things, spending a lot of time with our teen girls, and having special classes for them. Just recently Duncan and Sherah became engaged, and it is our hope that God will see fit to bring Duncan and Sherah back to Estonia when they finish their schooling. (See the picture of Duncan and Sherah below.)
Even while Duncan was here, preparations for Camp Bal-ChYo-Ca (theme: "Christians Under Construction") were well underway. Twenty-eight of the workers this year were from Estonia (includes missionaries), serving as counselors, co-counselors, Bible teachers, activities directors -- even assistant director -- for a group of about 190. We were so proud of our folks, and so thankful for those who sacrificed to come and help us. We will continue to pray that the seeds planted in the hearts of these young people will reap a harvest in days to come. (See the picture of camp below.)
And there was indeed a harvest time at camp... FIVE of our young people who had been studying about becoming Christians made their decisions to be immersed into Christ in the Baltic Sea while at camp!! Lena Belkina (age 16), Sergei Lugovoi (age 15), Nastya Annikina (age 16), Katya Brecheyeva (age 13), all from Tallinn, and Kaidi Rebane (age 15) from Tartu. There was much rejoicing among the angels in heaven, and also among those of us here on earth who love and have worked with these precious young souls.
To follow up camp, two weeks later we did a Vacation Bible School. Sherrie Bradley, from The Colony, TX, brought with her much expertise (in organization and sign language) and enthusiasm as she helped us put together four of the best days of summer for these children. Besides Sherrie, about 20 of the local teens and adults worked together to put on a 4-Day program, our theme being "The Armor of God". Geoff, our MC, song leader and lead-puppeteer, was dressed each day with the pieces of God's Armor. The Apostle Paul (Mike) visited us each day to tell stories from his life and walk with God. A HUGE BLESSING was the addition of 10 PUPPETS, a gift from Marty Karguth, owner of Tykes Puppets in Edmond, OK. WOW!... our children's ministries will be forever grateful for the hard work and sacrifice of this wonderful lady! (Look out, LTC!) We ended the week with a program for parents where the kids were the stars, showing off what they had learned and done. (See picture of VBS below.)
For five Thursdays after VBS we did a "Thursday School", with the same format as the VBS. We had singing, Bible stories, crafts and fun-time outside games. We continued the study of sign language that Sherrie had begun, and had more puppet skits. Geoff was our MC and song-leader for all weeks except the last one, when Peeter Jakovi filled in. The puppets were indeed a favorite part of the program, and the kids learned to "sign" the first two verses of "Soldiers of Christ Arise" (the song we will do for the LTC Sign Language competition), their signing classes now led by Kari Banks and Stephany Tibbles. (See Stephany's picture below.)
A little about Stephany. She traveled to the Baltics to work teaching English using the Bible in Riga, Latvia. While she was in this part of the world we invited her to visit us (we've known her since she was little), so she did... she ended up being stranded here, as there was trouble with her airline ticket. God is so good, and His plan is perfect. Stephany ended up staying about a month, and helping with Thursday School, LST, Sunday Bible classes, teen classes, fitting in just about everywhere. It was decided by the team to invite Stephany to come back and work with us longer. Right now she is in The Colony, TX, raising her support to come back and help us. If you know of anyone who might be interested in assisting her, please let us know and we will put you in contact with her.
While all this was going on, we had a Let's Start Talking team working, working, working -- teaching English using the Bible. They arrived on July 3rd and stayed until August 11th. This year the team consisted of four young women from Canada and the US: Andrea Muirhead, Crystal Downton, Helen Noyes, and Laurie Ashby, all graduates of Western Christian College. They read with approximately 60 interested people, and had group parties every Thursday night, where they met and had fun with many of our local members. It was a wonderful time of outreach and now we ask you to join us in prayer, that we may find the best ways to follow up with those who are truly seeking God.
God continues to bless us in many, many ways. One of these HUGE blessings was the Pan European Lectures, held in Tallinn this year, from the evening of Sunday, July 28 through the morning of Thursday, August 1st. Everyone (including our team) was amazed by the turnout of the national Christians at these lectures. Approximately 40 attended each of the lectures, morning and evening, and also the banquet on Wednesday night. The program theme was: "Christ, the Power and Wisdom of God", and the lessons were enjoyed by all. Perhaps the most wonderful part of the whole week was the fellowship -- veterans with new Christians, missionaries with other missionaries, students with teachers, brothers with new brothers. God is so very good to us!
These past weeks have been a little more difficult... not because the work is any different, but because we have had to say so many good-byes:
--On Saturday, August 3, we bid farewell to our wonderful co-workers, Ron and Judy Warpole, who will be in the States until they are able to secure a new sponsoring congregation and support. We pray that everything will come together quickly and they can get back to Tallinn to continue the work they've begun.
--On the 9th we said "good-bye" and "come back soon" to Stephany Tibbles who is also in the States raising support to come back.
--The 11th of August was an especially difficult day, as we said our good-byes to Leah Sass and Amy Nelson, our mission interns. Leah has been with us for 27 months, and Amy for 18. These young women were such an integral part of everything we did that it will be impossible to replace them. They have taken with them a big piece of our hearts, and we ask our Lord to bless them both as they start new chapters in their lives back in Canada, continuing their studies. They are sorely missed, and we hope they will come back to see us whenever they can.
--That same day Geoff left to return to Harding to continue his studies. He also is sorely missed. We are so grateful for his willingness to be used wherever he was needed, and to become a friend to little children as he led them toward Jesus this summer. Not only the kids at church will miss him but, even more, his younger brothers and sisters...
--Also on the 11th of August, later in the afternoon, we bid adieu to Andrea, Crystal, Helen and Laurie... our wonderful Let's Start Talking team. It was hard to let them go. Many tears have been shed by those of us who learned to love them so much over the summer. We pray that the Lord will bless their efforts, and use us to plow and water the seeds they planted, so that He can give the increase, and there can be fruit born because of the tireless efforts of these young women.
So, for now, the responsibility falls to us, as we work very closely with Nikolai and Olga Vasjutin, and the other Christians here, to help the church continue to grow and reach out. We do ask for your prayers for strength and wisdom as we head into the fall, and begin the new classes and more follow-up to the summer programs.
Thank you for remembering us before the Father, and for being our life-line. We couldn't be here without you, and we really do appreciate your sacrifice and support that allow us to be here working among people of Estonia. We love and miss you, our family in the Lord, and would appreciate hearing from you. God be with you and keep you close to His heart.
Because of Jesus,
Mike and Debbie Banks