More Than Just #exploringestonia

To all of the wonderful friends and family members,

As many of you know, every trip I’ve been on I keep a travel journal. I use it to reflect and recap the days’ events so as to easily type them up and share them with you when I come home. Well, this trip was a little more difficult. Firstly, I was so exhausted by the end of each day and lived with the students throughout the week, so I did not write in my normal pattern. Also, these people became so closely-laced in my heart that it did not even feel like a mission trip. So, with little to guide me within my travel journal itself, I will be using pictures, memories, and stories to connect you to my family in Estonia.

Our Mission:

Our team traveled through Traders Point Christian Church to work alongside the Josiah Venture Fusion team in Rakvere, Estonia to put on a rocking music camp. Through workshops, students would learn parts for songs on an instrument of their choice, and come together to perform in a concert at the end of the week. Through music, we hoped to reach students spiritually as well through sessions, small groups and giving them the resources needed to follow Jesus.

Our American Team:

Sean – Our fearless leader and our team “dad,” the one we go to with questions but also for a good laugh. He’s also the master cameraman and documenter of camp through the lens.

Autumn – Sean’s wife and our team “mom,” the one who seeks the details and plans for every situation. She helped have coffee and water on hand, helped keep us organized and sang in the choir.

Cassidy – Piano teacher and beautiful inside and out. She taught piano in workshops, played piano in our band, and has a beautiful voice that she blessed the alto section in choir with.

Stephen – Worship pastor who has an incredible classically trained voice. He blessed us with his voice, singing lead in the band and in the concert, and helped teach the guys in our choir.

Devan – Music/choir teacher and singer. I taught voice in the solo workshop and also led four choir songs with Stephen.

Here are some cultural differences to help “set the stage” (all things I was told by the Estonians or learned through conversation):

1. You can drive from one end of Estonia to the other in about 3 hours. And, there are less people in the whole country than there are in Indianapolis. So, when I say that the pace was a breath of fresh air, I mean it in every sense of the phrase. It was so relaxing.

2. Estonians like to take time to think. If you ask them a question, they often reply with “Let me think about it. I will get back to you.”

*Funny story: One time, I asked my friend Allan a simple question: What should I draw? He said to let him think, and so we sat in silence for about 5 minutes (I was trying to be patient and respect the culture). Finally, I broke the silence and he had forgotten all about it!

3. There are so many beautiful and peaceful places so close by. Within a 30 minute drive, there was the Baltic Sea and a beach. Various types of nature parks and forests all over. A castle within 10 minutes of our hotel in Rakvere. 14th Century churches preserved. What I wouldn’t give to have grown up in this mystical world.

4. They are very proud of their black bread (rye bread) and ice cream. And yes, their pre-packaged ice cream was leagues above ours. We ate ice cream EVERY DAY.

5. Coffee. Thank the Lord they served it with every meal, because we needed it. And if you ordered it at a restaurant, it was super adorable and small, but so strong that it was enough.

6. It stays light outside until midnight, and then the sun rises again at 4 am. It was so hard to “go to bed early.” It definitely brought out my inner night owl.

7. Most Estonians speak some English, but I was so impressed with the counselors (around our age) who worked with us. Many of them had gone through English camp, and their conversational skills were so strong!

8. In our training for camp, we were given this example: Americans often have lower outer walls and high inner walls. We are quick to introduce ourselves, ask about our jobs, talk about the weather. But when it comes to our innermost thoughts and sharing our hearts, we don’t show this so easily. In Estonia, people often have high outer walls and low inner walls. This is where the term “stone-faced Estonian” comes in; they don’t show many emotions on the surface. But once you get to know them and become friends, it is so easy to connect. This made developing relationships easy and leaving extremely hard.

From here on is my journal. If words are italicized, they are what was written in my journal at the time.

Mission Trip to Estonia

Rakvere Fusion Music Camp

June 24-July 7 2015

Day 1 (Wednesday evening into Thursday):

We left the Indianapolis airport around 7:30 pm to commence our incredibly long journey to Europe. After 7 hours from Detroit to Paris, we bustled quickly through the maze of the Charles de Gaulle airport. After trams and shuttles and lines, we made it just in time to board. In a daze, we arrived in Tallinn, Estonia, to find that our luggage was not there to greet us. No one had told us to re-check baggage in Paris (and if we had, we most likely would have missed our flight). The man at the airport said they would send the luggage with the next flight from Paris the next day and deliver them to us. So a little weary and very tired, we took a 2 hour train from Tallinn to Tartu, where training for the camp would begin on Saturday. We had a wonderful dinner on the town square and then went to bed drained.

Day 2 (Friday):

Friday we were able to get out and explore the “friendly city,” also known for being a college town. Complete with a beautiful river and an old town square, old churches and ruins, and many parks and gardens, the town was completely whimsical. We were browsing a few shops and parks when we came to the gates of the university botanical gardens. The natural scents, beautiful landscaping and fresh air were perfect. We visited the Tartu Dome Cathedral, with ruins from being built in the 13th century. The preservation and culture of the town were inspirational, along with the slow pace. 

In the afternoon, we met two people who proved to be some of the most hard-working, caring, beautiful people I’ve ever met. Allan came into the elevator awkwardly with Stephen, while Cassidy and I tried to figure if he was a random person or someone we should know. His wall came down pretty quickly after spending the afternoon exploring Tartu with our silly team. We met the camp director, Irina at the bottom of the elevator, and we couldn’t help but love her. Her beautiful smile, positive attitude and zesty personality became a source of strength all week long.

Day 3 (Saturday):

The next day we had team training. It began at the hotel, then we hiked to a church in Tartu for the rest. The training helped us to gain insight of the culture and meet some of the people on mission with us. After training, we travelled for 2 hours to Rakvere, the city in which our camp will take place. Everything feels so beautiful, natural and easy in this quaint little town. 

Stephen and I rode in the car back to Rakvere with Maria driving, Andreas and Noomi. Maria speaks excellent English and has a very exciting and outgoing personality (which I sensed is rare among Estonians). She was the perfect person to drive us though, because she wasn’t afraid to talk or answer our questions. Andreas and Noomi seemed quiet (Ha! Andreas turned out to be one of the funniest guys at camp, and Noomi has a fantastic gollum voice! :P) We were greeted by a beautiful rainbow, after one of a few small rains we experienced while we were there.

Day 4 (Sunday):

Sunday began with set-up at the school (after sleeping in, in an attempt to fight off jet lag). Cassidy, Stephen and I then went to join our band (a camp band that we performed with periodically throughout the week) for rehearsal. Our members included drummer and band leader Rainis, singers Ave (also guitar) and Lisette (also violin), and Alex on electric (also saxophone), then me on vocals, Cassidy on piano and Stephen on vocals and acoustic. It ended up being a very fun and musical rehearsal, because we started brainstorming fun American songs that we could sing. We seemed to mesh really well as a group once we got to know each other. After rehearsal, Alex asked to show us an awesome sushi place (which Stephen, Cassidy and I got REAL excited about). Alex is an incredibly talented musician, and so young and full of loads of potential. And the sushi: AMAZING. We came back in time for church at 5, then went to the school to finish setting up and settle in for the week. We began to have more open conversations with the Estonian girls in our room for the week (thanks Renata for being so talkative to us and breaking the ice!)

Day 5 (Monday):

Finally, today marked our first day at camp. The Lord is wholly present, but undercover; like a church camp disguised by the vessel of music, so that all may come. I’m hoping to warm up to them, slowly and surely. When I come to deeper conversations, I know I will get a better chance when I start working with the soloists for the solo workshop. Choir begins tomorrow, so it will be a much busier day for me. This morning our band performed an Irish folk song (led by Lisette on violin! She’s amazing!) and the students did a dance game. It was so fun to watch this authentic act of community among the teens!

We discovered on this day that we had twins among us. Stephen the American and Allan the Estonian have similar hair styles, similar body structures and wear similar clothing, so multiple people commented on how similar they look. If the were wearing a hat, it was hard to tell who was who from behind! This was a joke through-out the week.

Day 6 (Tuesday):

On Tuesday, the true camp schedule began. I was worried it would be jam packed and overwhelming, but it proved the perfect pace. The day started with our band playing our favorite set of the week, “Chasing You” and “Hallelujah” (Leonard Cohen). It was so fun to watch the students react to hearing Stephen’s voice for the first time; all their jaws dropped. Our whole band fed from their energy; it was so much fun! In the workshop, I worked with the sweetest girl, Keren, on vocals for “Cold Shoulder” by Daniel Levi. She did so well with the tricky English lyrics. Choir was next, in which I definitely felt most comfortable and fueled. The students are incredibly talented, with only the guys needing some extra help. Stephen and I tag-teamed the choir, so it helped that he could help focus on the guys and sing with them. They are fast learners and responded so well to our teaching. It gave me tons of energy and made the rest of the day that much better. In the evening, we did “Survival,” where we were grouped into teams and sent out to perform tasks. We walked for over 12 miles and were out from 7 pm to 1 am. But the Estonian countryside and forests were breathtaking, and I cherish every moment of the adventure. I was lucky enough to have Enely, a genius girl who was an excellent translator, to help me understand what we were doing. I also got to know our other team members, Rainis, Elizabeth, Lizbeth, Noomi, Laura, Kai-Riin, Ardo and Taavi better through the journey. We came back to the school in last place, but it didn’t dampen the excitement and my appreciation for the beautiful walk (even with our wet, aching feet). 

Day 7 (Wednesday):

After getting to bed around 1:30 the night before (the energetic buzz from Survival was still very strong), I woke up to teach the morning lesson for the morning session. The story of Paul’s life and death was very long and deep, and I had to allow Anita to translate after every sentence or so. This proved to be an added difficulty, since the story was already long and it took twice as long with the translation. Also, I felt that the emotional connection was lost, and it was hard to keep them focused. I definitely wouldn’t count it as one of my strongest teaching moments. We had another successful choir rehearsal, and then a band rehearsal. Everyone was a little off in rehearsal due to our exhaustion, but it still went well. Tonight is open mic night, and our team is doing “Party in the U.S.A.” I’m excited to sing and be silly with these guys!

Day 8 (Thursday):

“Our God comes and will not be silent; a fire devours before him, and around him a tempest rages.” – Psalm 50:3

“He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure.” – Isaiah 33:6

*These were the verses I prayed over before the day, because that evening was the “Labyrinth” (a spiritual prayer journey set up for the students)

Last night at open mic, our team did okay. We definitely didn’t do as well as we had in our rehearsal, but our audience still laughed and enjoyed our performance. However, the really exciting part was hearing others sing and express themselves in various ways. Alex’s performance really stuck out to me that evening. He shared poetry that he had written, something from his heart. While I couldn’t understand Estonian, I was transfixed by the passion with which he spoke. I went to him after and asked for a translation, but he couldn’t translate something so deep and aesthetic. I found from others that he was speaking of feeling lost. I pray he finds the key to living fully and freely. 

Thursday night was so fulfilling. I watched in the main hall as student after student came back into the room moved to the core. Our “stone-faced Estonians” were meeting Jesus. Whether they admitted it or not, He was present and speaking. Two girls came back and asked to talk to me that night, which brought me so much joy (I hadn’t expected it, since they would have to speak in their second language). The first was Emili, a beautiful young girl with an incredible voice and a smile that completely lights up the room. She asked to sit and talk, and expressed her complete joy and excitement to be back at camp. She felt so full of life and love, having had Jesus in her heart for a year. I was so fueled and encouraged by her joy and thankfulness. A second girl, Anette, came up and asked to talk, which completely surprised me since the first time I said hi to her she didn’t act like she spoke english. She chose to share the news of her salvation to me, and I was so honored. Five people chose to accept Jesus into their hearts, and many wanted to learn more.

At one point on this day, I was sitting in the lounge when Silja walked in and sat at my table. She cracked a smile and tried not to laugh as she asked “Is that the water bottle?” My water bottle has a filter, given to me by my grandma for America’s water. I’m used to using it, so of course I brought it with me. She asked to see the filter, so when I shower her, she just started laughing hysterically. I had no idea what was so funny, but she explained that most Americans they’ve met have “special” water bottles, but they’d never seen one with a filter. I had two others ask about it after, but I’m positive it was a hot topic in Estonian throughout the week, haha!

Day 9 (Friday):

Friday was full of final rehearsals and run-throughs. My energy was wavering because of how wired and energized I had been the night before, which made it difficult to sleep. But listening to the songs begin to come together was getting everyone excited and energized. 

This was also the day that I began to realize I would have to say goodbye to these people soon. They were no longer just students, just team members, just musicians… they had become friends. Many of them had served me so well, both through physical acts of service and through meaningful talks, that I had grown to love them so much. I fell in love with the country not only for its beautiful scenery and architecture, but mostly for the souls around me. Each of them had impacted me in some way, even through I simple yet radiant smile. We had all experienced Christ together in that school, through the music we studied and taught together. It meant more to me than I ever expected it would. 

We ended the day with clean-up and headed back to our hotel in Rakvere.

Day 10 (Saturday):

Concert day has arrived! We got to sleep in a little (and make up for the 5ish hours I had been getting all week) and headed to the church to practice. We were able to run through everything, and enjoyed a wonderful lunch at an all natural burger place with Irina and Anita. Our concert began at 4, with all 50+ campers, counselors and then our audience in the tiny, quite warm church. And it went so well! The singers sang their best and with so much joy. They gave me so much joy, I was sweating after conducting my choir songs from jumping around so much! I think most of us can agree that “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” was a favorite, with Stephen singing the lead. It was so good to watch all that we had been working on that week come together. We enjoyed performing our camp dance as a whole group for the audience outside, followed by a meet and greet with families and then a cook-out at Irina’s after. I am thankful for the time her and I had together in the kitchen, preparing the meal and reflecting on the week. She was such a joy to work with; I would do it again in a heartbeat. We spent time as a team, everyone enjoying the food and thanking each other and sharing stories of blessings and spiritual conversations from the week. I will forever be thankful for that day and those wonderful conversations.

Day 11 (Sunday):

On Sunday, our wonderful friends took us to the sea. Vainupea Rand, a beach on the Baltic, was the perfect place to enjoy after the long week. Maria taught me how to paddle board, which took a while to get the hang of but was so fun once I did! At one point I was able to stay standing and paddle quite a ways out, but when I turned and tried to go back, I fell off and went completely under water. All the guys (who had so generously swam out to a rock, for support I’m sure) were laughing at me as a flailed and swam back to the paddle board. The rest of the time was spent laying on the beach, enjoying a picnic, failing miserably at building a sand castle, and watching Irina’s beautiful children, Mona Lisa and Joseph, ride on the paddle board. We also visited a few tourist attractions and enjoyed coffee and ice cream (the two foods that quickly become our American team’s signature things) before heading back to Rakvere for church.

At the church, we were so honored by the warmth and love that our team was shown. They thanked us for coming, but we couldn’t thank them enough for blessing us in so many ways. After church came the goodbyes. They happened quickly, had to happen quickly, because my heart was breaking. It had been a country and community that I felt so apart of, that I’d fit in with so well, even though English was their second language and I spoke no Estonian. I had been so blessed, and had felt so at one with Christ through the experience, that I hated leaving them. As we walked away after hugging each friend, we tried not to look back… until they shouted out and we turned to everyone waving and smiling and yelling their last goodbyes. We met Irina, her husband Madis and children, and Maria and Taavi at Sushi Tiger. We enjoyed that time and conversation with these people, having one more set of goodbyes to share.

After dinner, we still had one more thing to do. We had seen the top of a glorious castle multiple times during our stay at Rakvere, but hadn’t been to it yet. We walked up the hill and up to the stone walls in all its glory, right as the sun began to set (around 11 pm). Our team of 5 Americans reminisced on the week, exchanging stories, admiring the stone work, and laughing at our own quirks. It was the perfect ending to our time in Rakvere, and helped take the sting away from leaving the people and country we had come to love.

Day 12 (Monday):

We were able to sleep in a bit before Maria picked us up to head to Tallinn for our last day. On our way, she showed us yet another beautiful aspect of her country; a natural swamp with a trail and watch tower. It felt good to walk through the pines until they opened up to swamp lands. It was our last glimpse at the natural beauty of the country. In Tallinn, we went to explore Old Town. We saw the old buildings, the shops, the stone streets, but it didn’t feel authentic like Rakvere had. It felt empty, full of people and tourists but not our family. It was a bit draining. We went to sleep knowing that tomorrow, we would leave the hotel at 5:30 am and head to the airport.

Day 13 (Tuesday):

Our flight took off from Tallinn (the easiest and quietest airport ever!) at 6:30 am. In Amsterdam, our flight was delayed two hours. We arrived in Detroit (after 7 hours in flight) at 3 pm… our flight for Indy had left at 1:30 pm. So, we were put on the next flight to Indy, but not until 7:50 pm. So when we arrived in Indianapolis 24 hours after we had left Tallinn, we were all a little giddy about being home. Our adventure had ended 6 hours later than we had planned, but it didn’t change the way the trip had impacted us.

Words could never quite describe the conversations, the emotions and the passion that took place throughout the week. But I pray that this gave you a glimpse and that you, too, could love Estonia. It has part of my heart, and I couldn’t let myself truly say goodbye, just “see you soon.” Thank you to all of you in the U.S. who supported us financially and spiritually through your prayers. Thank you, from the depths of my heart, to my Estonian family for being so selfless and for loving us so well this week. God was shining through each of you, and I thank Him for sending me and for placing each of you in my life. I love you all! ❤

Devan Cooney

July 8, 2015

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