That’s what my mom says when she wishes life would give her a mulligan – a “do-over.” After my first night’s sleep in my own bed since returning from the past few weeks in Europe, I am beginning to process. I am amazed and thankful. Thinking about the wellies I packed in my small suitcase, though, I think, “Snailfrocky!”
Before I started packing, I checked the weather forecast in St.Petersburg and Tallinn, the 2 cities where I’d be. Rain. Chilly temps.That’s just what most expect from that part of the world. And so, it seemed, the expectations would be fulfilled. No surprises. Knowing that much of my time would be spent walking the streets of these beloved cities, I packed in accord with the forecast – cardigans and rain boots.
The 2nd half of my trip was spent in Tallinn, Estonia. Assuming you, like myself, know very little of this little country, I will give you a brief summary – insufficient to fully describe it, but enough to give you a taste. Estonia is one of 3 Baltic countries that was occupied by the Soviet Union. A country of 1.3 million, the Estonian people identify themselves as “Nordic” and are known for being quiet, reserved, private, resilient, and passively stoic. As with most stero types, these descriptions don’t tell why they give these impressions or whether or not the first-impressions are accurate. It is, however, how they appear to outsiders.
When I first heard that my organization was going to hold an event in this little country involving about 1,000 from around the globe, I confess I had some doubts. However welcome they might be, out-of-town guests are always an imposition. That inconvenience increases in proportion to the increase in cultures and numbers of people. In this country that has been occupied by so many forces throughout history, I couldn’t help but think that Estonians might perceive this as an invasion rather than a blessing.
The more you know a place, the more you know what to expect. That’s true with the weather. Texas is hot in the summer. Estonia is…not. Living in the capital, Tallinn, for a year, I knew what to expect from the weather and from the people.
Then the weather changed.
The clothes that served me pretty well in St. Pete were completely ‘out of fashion’ in Tallinn. The entire week was sunny and warm – even hot. It was a pleasant surprise, but I did find myself wishing I was more prepared. I walked the streets of Old Town, sunglasses facing up towards the medieval architecture and the sun, dripping wet and searching for plain chocolate home-made ice cream in the midst of other exotic flavors like basil, black bread and garlic. I loved every minute.
The Estonian people were wonderful hosts. That was not a surprise. They depend on tourism and providing the globe with other brilliant inventions like Skype, so they have an appreciation for international diversity. Even with their smiling hospitality and the charming, lilting accent that they bring to the English, Russian and other foreign languages they speak in order to communicate with visitors, there is a deeper layer that is kept safely locked away and out of reach. That’s where they keep their hearts for safe-keeping. It’s not a criticism. It doesn’t mean they are a cold people. It just means that they are guarded. Maybe that’s how they have survived over the centuries. They might seem passive, but they are amazingly strong.
Just as the sun came out from behind the clouds, followers of Jesus from all around the globe came out from behind the walls of our hotels to love the people of Estonia. We took in their art – their composers, their musicians and dancers. We learned about their history. Then, we went out and loved them. We loved them by going to their prisons, by visiting their elderly, by celebrating what God has done in the Estonian church and by praying with them for their country. We joined them with song and music. We loved them as we followed Jesus – as He would have loved them, I think.
At the end of the week, to my amazement, I began to hear stories of taxi drivers who started conversations with us about what we believe. “Random” conversations which the Estonians themselves began as they asked about why we were there. Prisoners who begged our visitors not to go, but to stay behind bars with them to bring in the warmth of friendship from the outside. We were able to share more than what we believe, we pointed them to who we follow – Jesus.
I was wrong. I didn’t need my wellies. And just as the sun brought warmth to the streets of Old Town, love melted the hearts of those who walked those streets – Estonian hearts as well as the hearts of those of us visiting them.
Back here in Texas, it’s not just warm, it’s hot. Racing from one air conditioned spot to another, are we allowing our own hearts to be melted? The only thing that will change the weather in our own neighborhoods is love and true love is the Jesus-kind of love. I want to be a part of changing the weather here just like it was changed in Estonia.
We don’t have the power to change the weather, but we follow the One who does and He uses us to do it.