This article is a testimony originally appearing in Koduteel (Estonian Methodist Church Magazine) and is part of a series, in 2021, of Christian re-birth. This article, about Ardi Leerima, the pastor of Pärnu Agape Church, has been translated by Carmen Karabelnik.
My journey to God has been a rather lengthy process. I grew up in a non-Christian home, where I spent my early childhood and teenage years. No one talked about God and church matters in our family. At that time, we lived in Pärnu County, in a village called Seliste. Soviet authorities had probably banned the activities of the local Orthodox church and so the wooden church building stood there and was decaying. Sometimes we went together with my parents to visit someone’s grave at the graveyard nearby, but there was nothing I knew what to ask about the church. I must have thought that church was not talked about in our family – and what could it have been that a 10-year old boy who knew nothing about church might ask about a decaying wooden church building? Today the local church has been restored again and it is open for worship services during church holidays, but my life is not connected with that village anymore.
My secure and happy childhood came to an unexpected end when I was 12 years old. Relationship problems had arisen in our family and my father committed suicide. By that time, my two brothers were married and led their own lives. I soon entered vocational school in Pärnu and lived most of my time in the city. I made new friends while going to the school in Pärnu. Besides that, the beginning of the 90s was a wild era of possibilities. For me, it meant entering a downward spiral and a rapid downfall. After finishing vocational school, I worked only for a couple of years in Pärnu as a furniture carpenter, but soon succumbed to various temptations. Eventually, I lost my job and my place to live, I had no income or friends. The only place I could stay overnight was a homeless shelter in Pärnu. I was 24-years old at that time and a question kept running through my head: is it all over in my life now?
In retrospect, I could say, yes, this (kind of) life was over indeed because I was guided to Pärnu Agape Methodist Church. Everything in the church was new and strange for me. Besides that, I needed to learn again how to trust other people. Pastor Tõnu Kuusemaa invited me to join confirmation classes in autumn 2002 and so my journey began to get to know about God. On Christmas Day the same year, I got baptized and became a full member of this congregation. I believe now, that God’s Spirit truly touched my heart some years later at an alpha course weekend. It was a powerful experience, although I didn’t change externally and I even didn’t understand at first what this experience was about.
By that time, I once again had a supporting and trusting family – this time it was the family of God’s people. I liked to be together with congregation members and I always wanted to be part of different activities. Some years later, I realized that God is calling me to ministry. 2010 I completed secondary education that I had earlier left uncompleted. In 2011, I entered the Baltic Methodist Theological Seminary with a clear conviction to become clergy in the Estonian Methodist Church. In 2013 I was appointed by superintendent Taavi Hollman to serve Pärnu Agape Methodist Church as an assistant pastor. In 2019, after years of study and learning, I graduated from Baltic Methodist Theological Seminary and was ordained as an elder. Since then, I have been serving Pärnu Agape Methodist Church as a senior pastor.
Thinking back on my conversion story, I feel that it is indeed possible to start as a newspaper boy and become a millionaire. I gave God an opportunity to change my life, that I myself had messed up and led it the wrong way, to a completely new one. I am also sure that this changing process and creating a new life in me has not finished yet and God has still some more plans on how to change my life.
He has also planned to change your life, dear reader! Are you ready for that He would change your life to a completely new one? Based on my own experience I encourage you: trust God and give Him a chance to help you.