The Poriers arrived with their two-year-old daughter 10 years ago, just in time for Estonia’s coldest January since before the Beatles broke up. Having grown up in northern Wisconsin ― also known for harsh winters ― the thought of s’mores around the campfire naturally came to their minds.
“They didn’t even have marshmallows (in 2012),” Crick said of Tartu. “Now we go to camps and kids are roasting marshmallows like it’s normal. We’re 95% sure we introduced s’mores and marshmallows.”
There’s more they want to share
Along the way, the Poriers have served Estonians for nearly 15 years to achieve more significant goals.
They moved to Tartu after several trips in the mid-2000s. They are passionate about working with young people ― the next generation of gospel champions, the Poriers believe ― to create a gospel movement through church planting, Bible distribution and youth ministry.
Crick’s first trip there happened in 2001 as he was discovering how to live out his heart for young people to know Jesus. Crick met an Estonian pastor who studied at Crick’s university in Colorado before returning home.
The pastor wanted to reach more youth in Tartu, a town with 5000 people but only one church. So Crick began partneringwith the pastor. The two led an outreach by sharing in schools, setting up hikes and organizing trips to the Baltic Sea or sporting events.
“We did everything and anything we could to develop relationships with young people and present the gospel to them,” Crick said.
Some youth shocked Crick by asking him who Jesus was.
“We’re in northeast Europe in the 21st century, and there are people who don’t know Jesus,” Crick realized. “I was instantly connected and burdened for this culture.”
Crick would return to the region multiple times. He and Mindy married in 2003 and joined the launch team of a Converge church plant in Colorado in 2006. Crick kept an Estonian flag on his office wall, but the couple didn’t know if or when they’d serve there full time.
However, early in 2007, the Poriers believed God was nudging them toward the mission field. They liked their jobs and enjoyed discipling youth at the church plant. At the same time, they sensed another door opening.
Still, what seemed like possible doors into global work kept closing on them. The Poriers looked in Latin America, where they had separately served before marriage. But, they ran into multiple dead ends after applying to different missions organizations in the region.
Ask, seek and knock
Feeling confused and frustrated, the Poriers prayed with their pastor one weekend later that year and left feeling very encouraged.
The same weekend, an Estonian pastor from Tartu traveled to California for a Converge conference. He met for a time of prayer with the Converge mobilization leader and Bill Ankerberg, the leader of the Nordic/Baltic initiative that includes Estonia.
Before coming to America, that Estonian pastor talked with his youth pastor about how a couple might come from the United States to partner with them in youth ministry outreach.
After praying, the mobilization leader shared the need with some Converge missionary appointees who knew the Poriers and of Crick’s past work in Estonia.
Not knowing Mindy and Crick’s desire for full-time missions, those friends mentioned the Poriers to Converge staff. But what seemed like a match made in heaven became another closed door: the Estonian church desired a younger couple for their youth ministry.
Just when they thought it was over
By this time, the Poriers believed the door for ministry in the country of 1.3 million would remain shut. The short-term trips had stopped. Crick had lost contact with the ministry leaders he knew there.
Nevertheless, he and Mindy reconnected that fall with the Estonian leaders of the recently-launched Converge church. Eager for a way to serve, in 2008, the year-old church plant sent 13 people to help with youth outreach in Tartu, considered Estonia’s intellectual center.
The mission team worked together with 23 Estonians to start a youth camp. Now ― 14 years later ― Estonians, particularly young adults, lead the camp ministry.
“This has created a beginning movement of camp ministry,” Mindy said.
Moreover, there are so many youth camps that the Poriers can’t even attend all of them.
A month after the 2008 trip, the Estonians asked the Poriers to serve full-time.
“God had this figured out, and we need to trust him,” Mindy said. “He brought Estonia to us.”
Proclaiming the gospel in the ‘City of Good Thoughts’
A pillar of the Poriers’ ministry is their location: Estonia’s central university is in Tartu, known as the “City of Good Thoughts.” With nearly one in five people in the city of 100,000 college students, the slogan reflects the city’s impact on the rest of the country.
Tartu is also known as “The City with a Head,” having distinguished itself from the capital city of Tallinn as the country’s cultural and intellectual center.
Most churches and ministries in Tartu serve young people, especially college students. There’s a recognition of how students coming to the City of Good Thoughts for education could have an eternal impact around the country.
Einike Lemats was one of those college students. She met the Poriers at a youth night at Kolgata church around five years ago.
“They want to invest their time in people’s lives, bless them, encourage them and support them,” Lemats said. “The best way to guide people to God’s kingdom is to love them by God’s love. This is the way the Poriers have contributed to the mission in Estonia.”
The church’s youth group grew to around 100 people by 2012. God was doing something so significant the Poriers’ had to reevaluate why they were there. After prayer and dialogue with Estonians, they joined a church planting team to help young people start a new congregation.
“Our main focus was going to be working with the local church and their youth ministry in Tartu,” Crick said of their plan upon arrival. “We just could not anticipate what God had in store.”
Mindy added, “What God had in store was so much bigger than that.”
They served in that church plant for five years. Then, in 2017, Crick became the Converge Estonia team leader overseeing five projects. Three projects focus on north Estonia, south Estonia and the islands of Estonia.
The other two projects focus on Russian-speaking people and the Deaf community in Estonia, respectively. Doctors diagnosed Crick with profound hearing loss; he can hear and speak verbally but also knows American Sign Language. Once, he ended up on a bus full of deaf Estonian people. That experience sparked some interactions and strategic thinking about gospel ministry.
Estonia’s deaf citizens now have the Gospel of Mark in their language, with more translations to come in the next three years. Crick is just starting to build relationships among the Deaf to see how this new ministry may develop.
“This is a separate people group, and there’s only a handful of Christians,” including two pastors, Crick has learned. “Maybe God is an opening door so we can be an encouragement and support to these people.”
More servants in Estonia will bring much more than campfire confections
Converge’s ministry so far is a little more connected and active in south Estonia. But Crick said he sees more relationships built in the north now. Those relationships can become foundations for more expansive ministry.
For example, a Converge intern will serve this summer with an Estonian pastor Crick has known for a long time. In addition, Mindy oversees the Converge [IM]PACT global service internship program for short-term servants coming to Estonia.
Estonians welcome help and long for more people to know Jesus through local churches. For example, a recent youth camp motivated 10 people to attend a church. Its pastor told the Poriers there was no gospel movement for young people in his community.
“He’s so desperate for workers to serve in outreach in the schools,” Crick said. “This is something we see on a regular basis.”
Seeing the gospel fuel a disciple-making movement in a country the BBC once called the least religious in the world further depends on a separate reality: trusting relationships developing over a long time.
Several countries occupied Estonia in recent centuries, eroding the people’s openness to influence. But, the people there have had autonomy since the Soviet Union’s fall three decades ago.
Since then, Estonian churches and Converge leaders have built trust-based partnerships. Now, more people can do what Crick did 21 years ago.
“There are opportunities all over the country,” he said. “We know God’s going to send people,” Crick added.
Christian youth are going to home villages and starting gospel ministries
That’s why the Poriers know their work will ultimately bring more to Estonia than campfire confections.
They’ve been talking with youth who are Christians or became disciples after moving to Tartu. For many of these individuals, though, home does not include a church or any other believers.
“We’ve identified several of these young adults,” Crick explained. “They feel isolated or they don’t have encouragement or support they need to start a ministry they feel called to. Even though they may be the only Christian in their village, they know there are other people who can support them and pray with them.”
Crick said he is helping these young adults do outreach because the Poriers and Converge can engage mission teams or interns and find resources to help mentor and coach local believers for ministry.
For example, two women built a relationship with the leader of a youth center in a 2000-person village. Then, they hosted a winter party for local children. Now, the youth center wants the women to organize other events.
Crick said they might be able to start a youth ministry, Bible study or even a church in the youth center. God gave them favor with the youth center; the director once told the woman, “I like you Christians and want to work with you more.”
The Poriers are confident that a gospel expressed by loving people will continue to open hearts and minds in Estonia. Earning trust remains the key, especially among young people, and equipping these individuals for service among the regions and the country’s least-reached peoples.
“We’re trying to support the young people called into the role God has given them, and be a team and encourage and equip them and send them out to these areas to serve,” Crick said.
You could say God is using the Poriers to make s’more disciples among Estonia’s next generation of leaders.
Converge is asking God for a gospel movement among every least-reached people group ― in our generation. Learn how we are playing a role in accomplishing the Great Commission and how you can be involved.
Ben Greene, Pastor & writer
Ben Greene is a freelance writer and pastor currently living in Massachusetts. Along with his ministry experience, he has served as a full-time writer for the Associated Press and in the newspaper industry.