I think the first time I realized God was doing something special, something unique, in our team was during the National Song Festival in Estonia.
We’d spent the week prior learning about Estonia’s remarkable history as a conquered people. We spent a lot of time digging into the Soviet Era. In the early 90’s Estonia used folk songs and nonviolent protest to break away from Russian rule. We heard first hand testimony from people who’d lived through the independence times. They told stories of God’s deliverance. Not only from political oppression, but more profoundly of a concurrent spiritual revolution taking place in the midst of the atheist Soviet Union. Their stories of courage and faithfulness were deeply inspiring.
So imagine our last night in Estonia. With tens of thousands of Estonians at a special venue designed for this festival that happens once every five years. Right on the Baltic Sea. Where they sing songs about every era in their culture’s history. We could feel the history. But late into the mid summer’s night, the choir of 5,000-7,000 singers started singing songs from the 90’s. Songs of freedom. Songs of revolution.
The crowd morphed from nostalgic to fully present. Grandpas put their grandsons on their shoulders. Friends linked arm-in-arm. Parents made sure their little ones were awake. Our team of Americans, who didn’t know the words to a single song, was fully taken into the scene. It was the first of many transcendent moments of our summer. We took it in with arms wide open.
More than anything, I think what we learned that night in Tallinn is that God is present in our midst, even if we don’t acknowledge him. Just by the numbers, there were likely very few Christians in the crowd that night. As we stood at the top of the slope, though, it was hard to ignore God’s hand in the history of Estonia. In turn, it became impossible to deny God’s direct involvement in the lives of our teammates.
Up to that point we had been making healthy strides from a group of strangers to a community of friends. We became a family listening to Estonian freedom songs.