There are certainly lots of readers who did not have any personal contact with nor remembrance of Harta 87 (Charter 87), and this foremost among the younger generation, who were not touched by the slander campaign that the authorities and press of that time directed against us during the Soviet period. As there is no such thing as universal history nor universal memory about the events that took place, I’m going to offer you the opportunity to read what my senses, as one of the participants, recorded, not pretending to give you more than just personal memories.
If not to count childhood experiences then my journey with God got its start in 1981. I was an young intellectual, who had just been expelled from the department of language and literature of the Tartu State University with the verdict of ‘activity not suitable for a Soviet student’. I had been publishing an underground newspaper of political and religious content, called “Poolpäevaleht”, as well as self-published publications “Tõle” and “Keel”. As I was reluctant to give in to the pressure of the authorities, my future career in the Soviet society was already totally ruled out at that point. I was immediately dismissed from my duty as the leader of the organization for young writers and the publishing of my book of poetry, which was already at the printing house, was stopped. When serving in the Soviet army I had, due to various factors, committed another fatal mistake where my future in the secular society was concerned – I had let myself being tethered by the elements of internal security. In connection with the scandal that broke out around the paper “Poolpäevaleht” I decided, listening to my friend’s advice, to make everything public and wrote the story “Asja käik” (“The Course of the Events”), that was later published in several publications. This was my first step on my road to repentance. I had been sincere and was the more hurt, as many of those who were trying to lead an honest life in a society full of lies now turned their backs to me. I did not have any vision for my life. Once, as I was talking with my mentor of that time, Jaan (Johnny B.) Isotamm, he suggested studies at the theological seminary as being almost the only way out of my predicament besides emigration, which was out of the question. When I asked him about whether one then has to believe in God, he answered that this was not the most important factor. It may be that this conversation was a starting point on my path towards God, because as I remember, I decided that once I took the step toward theology, I would also have to put things straight with God.
Having returned from Tartu back to my hometown Tallinn, I started to study the philosophy of the Middle Ages and was totally taken by how much they were discussing God and by the fact that His existence was taken as something totally natural. During this period I very much liked to listen to the cantatas of Bach that I recorded from the radio, which were all glorifying the Creator. Somehow my heart joined them. There was one day in March of 1981, when I was trying to listen to the foreign Estonian radio broadcasts as was my tradition. Because these were so jammed, I could not find any station. I started to listen to an English speaking station instead, where they spoke about God. It did not impress me at all, but when they started to play a song, something extraordinary happened (later I found out that this was the song “Praise Him”, sung by Janny Grein): the whole room filled up with a presence that you could not explain. It was as if somebody had all of a sudden stepped into my room from somewhere, whom I could not see, but who was radiating an enormous power of love – in one instant I knew in my heart that there is a God, that there is heaven and that there is hell and that I am a sinner and like this, on my way to hell. But the presence of this person did not condemn me at all, I just saw myself and my situation in the light of His love and He offered a way out for me. I started to cry as a little child and muttered something like this: “God, forgive me, my life has been a mess…” Soon after that this presence disappeared and life went on as it used to be. Yet no, suddenly I found that I had been changed in many areas: there was no more hatred in my heart, no pride. I found suddenly that I loved people. At my workplace, where there were several believers, all of a sudden I wanted to be close to them and wanted to hear and speak about God. A Christian woman invited me to come to a youth meeting in the Oleviste church and of course I went. It was in May of 1981. When at the end of the service there was an invitation for those who would like to give their lives to God, I was one of those. This was the start of my conscious walk with God.
I joined the Oleviste church and soon started to actively take part in the youth work of the church, led by brother Rein Uuemõis. It was a real school and a place for spiritual growth. After receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit I started to go out to preach the gospel on the streets with great enthusiasm, where I was often accompanied by my friend Jaanus Meriküll. This went on for several years and lots of young believers joined us in this activity. We went to different places in Estonia and to different churches. God was extraordinarily good to me from my conversion on and my heart was filled with love for Him. I had grown up without a father, but now I had found the real Father. This inspired me to spend hours in His presence, talking to Him about everything and listening to what He had on His heart. Holy Spirit prompted me to read and study the Bible and to my amazement I started to see things there I had never heard anything about before – about the righteousness and authority of the believer, about our position in Christ, etc. Some of it contradicted what was preached in the Baptist church. I was perplexed: how was it possible that I as a young believer would see things in the Word of God that nobody else was talking about and which often contradicted that which was being preached at church? I was almost ready to give up these revelations from the Bible when I got a phone call from brother Priit Kaljapulk from the Oleviste church one day. As our families had close relationships, he invited me to come to see him. As it turned out, a Norwegian liberal theologian had smuggled in religious literature via Leningrad – mainly theological handbooks, Bible commentaries, etc. But there was also a little book from someone named Kenneth E. Hagin, called “The Authority of the Believer”. Priit gave it to me and as I went home and started reading it, everything was jubilating inside of me – there was a systematic way much of what God had shown me in the Bible and what I had started to have doubts about. I wanted to share this exciting book with everybody. In this way my ministry of translating books got its start (although I had earlier translated some books by T. L. Osborn on evangelism into Estonian). During the next couple of years following this incident, I got hold of and translated into Estonian twenty books on various topics of the Bible from authors like Kenneth E. Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, John Osteen, Jerry Savelle etc. Although these books were duplicated through carbon paper on mechanical typewriters, this revolutionary teaching started to spread all over our country. For me it meant an end to my membership in the Oleviste church, as I was left without a right to preach or teach in this church for doctrinal reasons.
I had come into good contact with the pastor of the Methodist church in Tallinn, Heigo Ritsbek, and he offered me an opportunity to work in their church. I joined the Methodist church and started to hold weekly services, which were called the Victory Seminar, in their house at Apteegi Street. As I was very much interested in the worldwide missions, several teachers from the Youth With a Mission missionary organization started to visit us. I translated into Estonian the course on spiritual warfare by their teacher Dean Sherman. There were also other guests, one of whom was the young anointed teacher from the Swedish Word of Life Church in Uppsala, Johnny Carlsson (now Foglander). His seminar was also on spiritual warfare and it was clear that his visit changed the spiritual atmosphere of the occupied Estonia in a big way. By this time a fiery evangelist by the name of Rein Mets, who had had a time-off spiritually for a couple of years, had joined the Methodist church in Tallinn. We immediately found a common language and quickly became close brothers. Together we held blessed meetings in this church and it was quite obvious that God wanted to start doing something big through these meetings, but thanks to various situations and conflicts the Methodist church decided to expel us in December of 1986. As a sign of protest a whole group of young people left together with us, including a member of the popular rock band Vitamiin, Mart Metsala.
Parallel to our work in the Methodist church, a youth movement, which got its start in a homegroup, had grown bigger and bigger. This youth movement was led by my brother Raimond, who had gotten saved some time after me and was also taking part in the work of the Oleviste church. More and more young boys and girls, being invited by their friends, started to come to our house at Hiie Street, and they all wanted God into their lives. This fellowship grew with a snowball effect. Being expelled from the Methodist church, Rein Mets and I were left without a spiritual home; thus the sole right thing to do was to get together with this group of young people, who were shepherded by Raimond. During the summer of 1987 we mainly gathered on the mount of the Iru citadel, where we were not bothered by the authorities. Beginning in the fall we started to meet twice a week: once in Rein Mets apartment of five rooms in Lasnamäe and once in our home at Hiie Street. We were totally disappointed by the official religious organizations, which were largely controlled by the government. We called ourselves a religious-political movement, but in the end of September 1987 all of a sudden there came a knowing, that God wanted us to announce the birth of a new church. We were not to start a new church recognized by the authorities, but just to declare it in the spirit realm and after that to function as a spiritual body, outside the official registration. In this way the Word of Life church was born. I had the honor to declare this church in the spirit realm and to be its first pastor.
We had already been actively involved in the political issues that were important to our country before the church was born, but from now on we got a fresh wind in our sails. The terrible state of our country and people had been a burden on our hearts for years – whole generations left without independence, freedom, human dignity and God. This had to change. Personally for me God used two factors to mobilize me and to make me stand bold against this atheistic monster. One of these was the aforementioned book by Kenneth E. Hagin, “The Authority of the Believer”. I had meditated much on it and came to the conclusion that if we really have authority in the spirit realm, authority over the devil and all the demons and the situations created and controlled by them, then why shouldn’t this authority be as real in the so-called political sphere? Don’t we have the authority to liberate our land from the curse that was brought to our people by the Soviet occupation? Something inside me told me that this was possible. The other important factor was the aforementioned seminar on spiritual warfare by Johnny Carlsson. Thanks to it our faith was strengthened and we understood how to use our authority in the political sphere in a practical way, in order to break that yoke in Jesus’ name.
The Charter 87 document, which was initially signed by 139 persons and which was dated October 19, 1987, was actually God’s way of responding to our actions and prayers. I remember those times of fasting and standing before God with lots of tears being shed, asking Him to liberate and save our country. I remember that I told Him: “God, we are ready to do whatever is needed, we are ready to put our lives on Your altar and die if needed, only set our country free.” This may sound like big words now, but obviously God needed a group of people who were ready to bring such a sacrifice and who at the same time were aware of their spiritual authority and dared to use it. I got the text of what now is known as Charter 87 while praying in tongues and then putting the interpretation of it on paper; it came straight from God’s heart. This really set things into motion. Once we had given this text the form of a document and signed it, we took it to the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet in Kadriorg in Tallinn, to the consulate of the U.S. in Leningrad, and to the Central Committee of the Communist Party in Moscow. The reaction came almost immediately. A huge campaign of slander and persecution started against those who signed Charter 87 and against the Word of Life as a church. But it did not stop us. To the each step the enemy took, God responded with something more powerful, whether it was a new document, a demonstration or a spiritual act. The bigger the repressions grew, the more people wanted to join Charter 87, so that altogether the document was signed by 412 people, in spite of the fact that this step, for all practical purposes, meant for each one of them the end of their whole future in the Soviet Union, not to speak of their careers.
As we had tried to save our young people from having to go to serve in the occupation army, the authorities used this as the pretense to start a criminal case against me and Rein Mets. We are not going to go into details here, but those who understand Estonian can read more about it in the section where we have all the Charter 87 documents, under the title Information. In this section we have the texts of all of the important Charter 87 documents that speak for themselves and give you an understanding of our stand back then. Using the criminal case as an excuse, the authorities questioned hundreds of people and many were forced by threats to take back their signatures to the Charter document. But it was too late already – the Word of Life church had spread itself to Tartu, where it was led by Albert Türnpu, to Pärnu, where Toivo Treima was the main man and to elsewhere in Estonia. God was also raising up new leaders. Mart Metsala had given up his career as a musician and decided to start serving God instead. He became the new Word of Life pastor in Tallinn, after the family of Rein Mets and myself were exiled in February/March 1988 to Sweden. And although there were no signs of the Word of Life church becoming less active, revolutionary processes had started to take place in the Estonian society which couldn’t be turned. The enemy had lost in the spiritual world and it was only a matter of time before the victory also became a reality in the physical world. This did not happen overnight nor without hardships, but it still happened…
After we as leaders left Estonia, the Word of Life church soon split into several churches – Albert Türnpu continued to lead the Word of Life church in Tartu, which was now independent, people who were gathered around Mart Metsala started to call themselves Valguse Tee Vabakogudus, and the bigger part of the group that Raimond Jakobs shepherded left through Austria and the refugee camps in Italy to the United States. With Estonia regaining its independence, a diametrically opposite process has begun to take place – those who have literally been scattered all over the world for years have started to return home, and hopefully they’ll return to their spiritual home as well. Isn’t this like the analogy about the scattering of the Jews and gathering them all together again? God is faithful!