The Rev. Joyce Perdue didn't know what to expect from her trip last month to the Soviet republic of Estonia.
She knew glasnost had taken hold, but she didn't know how strongly. She was worried that her street-corner preaching would be given a cool reception and that authorities would put up obstacles blocking her message.
But what she and her husband found was a land of contradictions. The food was, for the most part, poor and, in many cases, rotten. The water was undrinkable and living accommodations deplorable.
The Soviet secret police, or the KGB, still followed her around and searched through her belongings. Traveling from one city to another was a bureaucratic hassle.
But people, including police, flocked to her street-corner ministry and followed her inside to hear more. "They are extremely open to religion," Perdue said, adding it was easier to preach on the streets of Estonia than in Baltimore, where a permit is required.
Perdue's four-week excursion began on the invitation of a parish couple who serve as missionaries in Estonia six months out of every year. Perdue, who preaches at the Word of Faith Victory Center on Ridge Road in Hanover, jumped at the chance.
In a few months, she and her husband, Donald, plan to go back and try to get some of their new Estonian friends permission to move to the United States.
Perdue said Estonia, one of the three Baltic states, with a population of over 1.5 million on 17,400 square miles, has not yet seen the effects of perestroika. Besides the long lines and empty shelves at grocery stores, she said the people live in extreme poverty with no health care, polluted water and a cynical view of their government.
Even with the new openness and a new decree allowing religion of choice, people are still scared. "They are giving the church back to the people," Perdue said, "but they are requiring that everyone register. Every Christian and Jewish name will be known. People are scared that if the Iron Curtain closes again, all those registered will be carted off."
Donald Perdue said Americans are soaking up Soviet propaganda and missing how severe the domestic crisis really is.
"Americans believe everything that Gorbachev says. But behind the scenes, glasnost is not on the streets yet."
Perdue said she was particularly dismayed at how the Estonian people are treated by the Russians. She brought Bibles printed in Russian and Estonian over, but could not give a Bible printed in Estonian to a Russian and vice versa. "They would grab my hand and push it away."
"We went to a restaurant," Perdue said, "and they said, 'You can't come in, you can't come in.' We finally got to our table and there were no people inside the place. They just didn't want to let the Estonian people in."
Estonia, along with Lithuania and Latvia, were provinces of imperial Russia before World War I and independent nations between World War I and II, but were conquered by Russia in 1940. The United States has never formally recognized the takeover.
If she can get some of the people she met to the United States, Perdue said, she and her husband will house them near their home in Hanover. And, despite the problems, the couple said they are looking forward to her return trip in February.
They said it was enjoyable and worth the hardship of traveling there, because so many people were eager to listen to the word of God, as opposed to some attitudes fostered in the United States.
"When you're affluent, what do you need God for? That's the attitude here," Donald Perdue said.