By Meeli Tankler
We called her “Auntie Milda.”
She was always there for us children – and later as we grew into our teenage years, she held us together as a youth group. She seemed quite old in our eyes, and perhaps some of her manners were a bit old-fashioned also. But her heart was overflowing with love and with passion to pass on her faith to us in an age-appropriate manner. She was a born teacher – although she had been fired from her elementary teacher’s job because of her Christian faith in the 1950s. She made her living as an accountant but her heart was in Christian ministry, which she performed as a volunteer.
The time was the 1960s. Estonia was still part of the Soviet Union, and the atheist ideology was strongly emphasized. Although the church officially was allowed to function (under strict limitations), it was not allowed to develop any children’s ministry or youth work. We had to do everything in disguise. But we all had birthdays, so birthday parties were celebrated at homes with invited guests. When we were still small children, Auntie Milda gathered us around her whenever our parents celebrated their birthdays, and she shared numerous Bible stories with us. She had an extraordinary gift for story-telling, and we never got tired of listening to her stories both from Old and New Testament. When we got a bit older, we began to celebrate our own birthday parties – always with a full program, based on some sort of Bible study. No printed Bible study guides were available but Auntie Milda guided us to read the Bible as eager students, looking for deeper meaning. She was very creative – we covered all kinds of fascinating topics under her guidance, from mathematics to geography and natural sciences (just as we did at school!) – connecting it all with the Bible, and with spiritual life. Gradually we learned to love the Bible, and we got into the habit of reading it a lot, trying to find answers to all kinds of questions about life. Auntie Milda was challenging us to use our intellect and independent thinking while discovering the richness of God’s Word. We we also challenged to think about the words of Christian songs we sang together as youth – sometimes our „birthday program“ was built just around one song, taken to pieces, line by line, and we took turns to reflect together upon each line.
In May 2014 we shall celebrate Auntie Milda’s 100th birth anniversary. She is with our Lord now but her legacy is still valued by countless people who encountered her in their childhood or teenage years and found their personal faith or even their call to ministry. We cherish the inquisitive spirit she encouraged in us and the atmosphere she was able to create: approaching the Bible with reverence and awe but also with curiosity and eagerness to find new truths and impulses for further spiritual growth. I am personally very grateful that she taught me the virtue of always looking for deeper meaning and not to be satisfied with shallow and casual interpretation of God’s Word. Now and then, I remember her fascination about the Bible when I prepare my own sermons or Bible study notes.
Auntie Milda never preached – it was not yet time for female preachers in Estonia. Today she would have made an excellent preacher. However, perhaps her role was to prepare the way for female preachers in our country. I have the privilege of being one of them today.
Meeli Tankler is president of Baltic Methodist Theological Seminary in Tallinn, Estonia. She is a member of the Administrative Board of UMC in Estonia, the Nordic and Baltic Central Conference Council, and the European Methodist Council Executive Committee. She served on GCSRW’s board from 2004 to 2012. She is active in her local congregation as a local preacher, children’s Sunday School teacher and adult Bible Study leader.