Family gives up everything to preach Bible in Estonia

June 20, 1995|By Shirley Leung | Shirley Leung,Sun Staff Writer

Joyce Perdue was 3 years old when she stood up before a missionary convention and told the world she would go anywhere for God.

Forty-eight years later, she has kept her word. The former Hanover resident and her husband, Donald, sold everything they had three years ago and moved to Estonia, where they have started a Bible school, a business and an adoption service.

"We saw the hunger in the hearts of the people for the Bible," the Rev. Joyce Perdue, 51, said as she sat in her parents' home in Severn, back for a two-month visit. "We're glad we left here. We've never been sorry."

The Perdues had much to give up. Mrs. Perdue left an 80-member congregation at the Word of Faith Victory Center on 7300 Ridge Road, a church she founded in 1978. Mr. Perdue left a full-time job as an insurance adjuster. Their 14-year-old son, Donnie, left school.

"All of us on the [missionary] team have in us a desire for challenge," Mr. Perdue, 55, said of the move. "And it's been challenging."

The Perdues left to live with five other missionaries in a small house, where pollution has made them sick. It was a place where they were strangers and didn't speak the language.

They decided to uproot themselves after visiting the Soviet Union as a family in 1990, shortly after the doors began opening there. A year later, Estonia declared independence, and in 1992, the Baltic country established itself as a parliamentary republic and held elections.

The Perdues chose to minister in Estonia after visiting churches there and meeting an Estonian woman who agreed to be their translator.

The national religion in Estonia is Lutheranism, but the Perdues think that only 10 percent of Estonia's 1.5 million people are Christians. During the Soviet era, churches were forbidden. As a result, there were only 94 pastors to serve 150 congregations in Estonia when that era ended, according to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

The Perdues also wanted to minister to the ethnic Russians living in Estonia. Many of the Estonian churches served only the Estonians because of tensions between the two peoples, said Mrs. Perdue.

So, a year and half ago, the Perdues started the Word of Faith Bible school for Russians in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia.

Classes are free and meet four days a week. The Perdues have about 110 Russian students and are encouraging them to study for two years. This month, two of their students left to preach in Ukraine.

The couple also have registered to start selling Panasonic electronic equipment to the government, and this month they are starting an adoption service through which Americans will be able to adopt Estonian children 5 and older.

The profit from the business and the adoption service will go to help pay for their missionary work, which now relies solely on donations from churches in the United States.

"It's been real difficult," Mrs. Perdue said. "We've almost had to come home."

The Estonian economy is adjusting from a socialist to a capitalist economy, and costs have skyrocketed since the Perdues arrived. Renting their house in Tallinn used to cost a couple of hundred dollars a month. Now the rent is $700 and might rise to $2,000.

"Americans think they can go over two or three times and bring Bibles. They think they've done something. They haven't," said Mrs. Perdue. "You have to live there."

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