Seminarian from Estonia learns during Destin visit

Timo Svedko is shown here with his group doing crafts at the Grace Vacation Bible School.

In the five weeks he's been in Destin, Timo Svedko has corralled children at Grace Lutheran Church’s Vacation Bible School, attended numerous church meetings and even given a sermon in English — his third language.

All of those activities were learning experiences said the 27-year-old seminarian from Estonia, a country in the Baltic region of Northern Europe.

The one thing that has caused him the most discomfort during his stay? The weather.

“It was like a sauna, like a jungle,” Svedko said, recalling his initial reaction to a Florida summer.

Svedka ended his stay this week.

His trip was organized by Churches Alive International, an organization that helps local and international churches develop discipleship, small group ministry, and leadership.

Members felt called to work with Eastern Europe in particular after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

“We helped them catch up what the Soviets had taken from them,” said Doug Anderson, chairman of the board for Churches Alive and president of Grace Lutheran Church's Parish Planning Council.

Under the Soviet Union, Bible studies, small groups, and other extra church activities were forbidden, Anderson said.

The goal is not to set up these services for the churches, but to get them involved in creating them. They hold a number of training opportunities, including seminars and “cultural exchanges” such as bringing Svedko to the area.

Svedko has been involved in church life, and he’s seen church teachings practiced in the home through the seven families he’s stayed with in his time here.

The experience has helped him reflect on Estonia church life.

“(I've seen) Estonia from the outside,” Svedko said. “You can see the problems in the church and what we can improve.”

In Estonia, the small congregations are not as open to the community, Svedko said. Most of the church services and activities fall on the pastor instead of being doled out to congregants equipped to take them on.

“We can improve with the help of God,” Svedko said.

It’s been difficult to be without his wife and 9-month-old daughter for the last few weeks, but it’s been worth it, Svedko said.

“There are some things you have to do like this,” he said. “They’re hard, but they’re important things.”