Minister takes Bibles to the poor of Estonia


The minister's stories sound like tales from the Cold War - church members pleading for Bibles and being forced to register to attend church, KGB agents at the door, abysmal poverty.

The Rev. Joyce Perdue, 46, returned last month from her second trip to the Soviet republic of Estonia, and it wasn't paradise in any earthly sense.

But throughout he travels, the Hanover minister found a spiritual vineyard ready to harvest.

"They clap as I preach; they don't want you to stop preaching," she says. "They'll put in your hand a little coin, worth about a fourth of a cent to us. They have nothing, absolutely nothing. They'll love you and hug you and cry. That's what drives me to go back.

She'll return with her husband Donald, and their 12-year-old son for a third three-week trip later this month.

She's returning to preach, to conduct Bible studies, to take medicine. But mostly, she's going to takes Bibles, Perdue says.

According to the minister; Bibles sent over by many large American churches and organizations often never reach the people for whom they're intended. "They get stored in warehouses, or some pastors sell them because they need the money, but the average church member can't afford one because the inflation is so high. It's awful, but (the minister's) families are starving, and they can make money by selling the," she says.

On her most recent trip, Perdue would go into churches of several hundred people, asking those without Bibles to raise their hands.

She had 40 Bibles to hand out at each church, but there would be 200 hands.

"It makes you cry," says Perdue. "If you give them a Bible, it's like worth $5 million to them. They would almost starve to death for a Bible."

On her trip later this month, Perdue hopes to take 4,000 Bibles back with her. She says she'll fly into Sweden or Finland and take a four-hour boat trip in Estonia.

"The (boat) trip is pretty miserable, but we don't want to fly into Estonia, because they're stricter at the airports, and we might not get the Bibles through," she explains.

Perdue's call to communist countries began on the invitation of a missionary couple from her church, the Word of Faith Victory Center in Hanover. The couple, Ben and Rita Grace, serve as missionaries in Estonia six months out of every year.

Dozens of churches - long repressed under the Soviet system - have invited her to return to speak, Perdue says.

In Estonia, one of the three Baltic states, with a population of over 1.5 million on 17,400 square miles, people live in extreme poverty with no health care and renewed fear of their government, Perdue says.

The country is one of the Eastern European countries that fell under Moscow's domination after World War II. Because the communists saw religion as a barrier to their revolutionary goals. Tens of thousands of priests and ministers were killed or jailed and the teaching of religion was barred. Churches were closed and church property was confiscated.

Perestroika and a new decree have promoted religion of choice, but people are still frightened, Perdue says.

People are required to register to attend one of the many new churches springing up and, they are frightened by the unpredictability of Soviet political change. If the system reverts to pre-glasnost conditions, church members fear they'll be carted off, Perdue says.

In the Ukraine, which she also visited on last month's trip, Perdue sensed even less freedom than in the Baltic republics.

Religious hunger is great in cities like Kiev, the minister says. Only 13 official churches exist for a population of 3 million to 4 million.

But in Russia they still seem very afraid, she says. "You could feel the fear, like you can't breathe."

This month, on her third trip, Perdue hopes to visit Lithuania and Latvia as well as Estonia.

She also hopes to take more medicine. As a charismatic church, Perdue's assembly believes in faith healings, but they also believe that medicine comes from God, she says.

The people need basics like aspirin to combat the severe arthritis many suffer and they need antibiotics to fight infections.

"We're a small church, so what we can do is limited, but we're checking to see if a pharmaceutical company might donate medicine," Perdue says.

The spunky minister - who shrugs at sleeping on floors and harassment from Soviet police - also plans to bring some Estonians back to the United States to stay with the minister and her family.

"We're trying to bring one family to visit, to start, but the wheels turn so slowly," she admits.

When she returned from her February trip, after many tense moments and days of sleeping on floors, Perdue wanted to "Get off the plane and kiss the ground," she says.

But she also wanted to cry over the plight of the Christians she had met.

"They are so needy, and so grateful for any help. The trips are frightening, but they make it all worth it."

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