Church News - The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Country information: Estonia

Published: Friday, Jan. 29, 2010

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Jan. 1, 2009: Est. population, 1,299,000; Members, 969; Districts, 1; Branches, 5;Percent LDS, .07, or one in 1,341; Europe East Area; Baltic Mission.

Estonia, located on the Baltic Sea, is a parliamentary republic made up of various ethnic groups: Estonian 65.3 percent, Russian 28.1 percent, Ukrainian 2.5 percent, Belarusian 1.5 percent, Finn 1 percent, other 1.6 percent (1998). Major religions in Estonia include Evangelical Lutheran, Russian Orthodox, Estonian Orthodox, Baptist, Methodist, Seventh-Day Adventist, Roman Catholic, Pentecostal, Word of Life, and Jewish. The official language is Estonian, but Russian, Ukrainian, and Finnish are also spoken.

In the late 1980s missionaries serving in the Finland Helsinki Mission began to contact Soviet citizens who were visiting Finland. Also, Finnish Latter-day Saints started traveling to Estonia, then part of the Soviet Union, where they began to spread the gospel. Tallinn, Estonia's capital, was one of these initial contact points.

Valttari Rs a native of Tallinn, was baptized in Finland on 16 July 1989 by Wade Ashworth. On 8 December 1989 Finland Helsinki Mission president Steven R. Mecham, his wife Donna, and missionaries Kevin Dexter and David Reagan visited R?s?in Tallinn. He introduced the missionaries to a group of his family and friends, one of whom, Jaanus Silla, would become one of the first missionaries to be called from the Soviet Union.

The first branch organized in the former Soviet Union was in Tallinn on 28 January 1990, presided over by a Finnish missionary, Hari Aho. Peep Kivit later became the first native branch president. In September 1991, two more branches in Tallinn were organized, one Estonian speaking, the other Russian speaking. The two Estonian branches were combined in the summer of 1997.

To nurture the first Soviet converts, President Mecham organized the Baltic District in January 1990 and called Finnish couples to serve as missionaries to visit Church members in Leningrad and Vyborg, Soviet Union and Tallinn, Estonia, which was still part of the Soviet Union at the time. Jussi Kemppainen, a Finn, served as Baltic District president.

Later that year on 1 July the Finland Helsinki East Mission was officially established with Gary L. Browning as president. This mission was given specific responsibility for missionary work in the USSR, which included Estonia. After September 1991, once Estonia had gained its independence, the Church experienced an increase in growth. That month the city of Tartu was opened for missionary work and two more branches in Tallinn were organized, one was Estonian speaking, the other was Russian. Later, in 1997, the two Estonian branches were combined to consolidate strength.

On 2 February 1992 the Russia St. Petersburg Mission was organized with Charles H. Creel as president. This mission was responsible for Estonia, as well as the other Baltic nations until the Latvia Riga Mission was created on 1 July 1993 encompassing Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, under mission president Robert W. Blair. On 16 April 1996 mission headquarters were transferred and the name changed to the Lithuania Vilnius Mission, then changed back to the Latvia Riga Mission on 13 December 2001, and finally it was changed to the Baltic Mission on 1 July 2002.

The Church received government recognition in Estonia on 2 July 1990. However, new Estonian laws passed in 1993 required that the Church be re-registered. In 1994, through the efforts of Jussi Kemppainen and senior missionary James Ames, the Church fulfilled its registration requirements. A few years later, on 21 December 1997 the Tallinn Estonia District was organized.

The first meetinghouse in the Baltic nations was dedicated in Tallinn on 7 November 1999 by Area Authority Seventy Johann A. Wondra. The Book of Mormon in Estonian was published in January 2000.

In 2003, membership reached 625.

Sources: Jaanus Silla Oral History, Church Archives; Kahlile Mehr, Mormon Missionaries Enter Eastern Europe, 2002; "Eight new missions announced," Church News, March 6, 1993; "Focusing on LDS pioneers in Russia," Church News, 8 November 1997; "Seven new missions created," Church News, March 9, 2002; Gary L. Browning, Russia and the Restored Gospel, 1997; Baltic Mission annual history, Church Archives.