Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Vanem McGavin meets the President of Estonia

My Encounter With The President of Estonia

I was approaching the end of my mission when I was invited to have dinner at a recent convert's house. She was baptized earlier on in my mission, while I was serving in the southern Estonian city of Tartu. At dinner she asked me how I have enjoyed my time here in Estonia. I told her that I have really come to love this country. I've made some great friendships here and I have great memories from my time spent here. I mentioned that there was one thing that I would like to do before I go home. I looked at her, hoping she wouldn't laugh, and said, „I would like to meet the President of Estonia. I have felt a need to meet him since I got to Estonia. I respect him and you never know what doors this would open for us as missionaries.“ She quickly responded, „If that is what you want, then go home and write the president. Ask him if you could meet him, it's always worth a try!“ Throughout the next couple days, I thought about her advice. I felt prompted to do what she suggested, and write the President of Estonia.
As Christ taught, „Ask and ye shall receive, knock and it shall be opened unto you.“ I went ahead and wrote him a short letter, with a picture included. In my letter, I told him about myself and my family. I mentioned some of the things I have learned from living in Estonia for nearly two years, and I stressed how much I have come to love the Estonian people. I asked him for five minutes of his time, so that I could shake his hand and thank him for his service. I mailed the letter and said a prayer asking God that if it is his will, he will prepare the President and his heart will be touched by my letter.
About a month went by with no response from the President. I didn't lose hope that we could still meet with him. As time passed, the Estonian Independence day was drawing near. As in most countries, independence day is a special day. In Estonia, it is an extra special day, considering that most of the current citizens remember a time when there was no independence. Estonia has been an Independent country now for twenty years. Nearly all of the independence activists, and citizens who personally fought for independence are still alive today. There is a magic feeling in the air as Estonians unite each year to rekindle their memories from August 20, 1991. Thanks to many of these people, Estonia was the first former member of the Soviet Union to welcome the restored gospel and bless the lives of the saints in this corner of Eastern Europe.
A few days before Independence day, we checked the mail and there was a letter addressed to me from the Office of the President of Estonia. I opened it up right away and read the letter. I was told that the President has a busy schedule and we wouldn't be able to have a personal meeting with him. To my surprise, the next line stated in eloquent Estonian, „However, the head of the country would like to invite you to a special reception in the Presidential Castle Rose Garden to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Estonian Independence.“ I was in shock! I didn't know what to think. I turned to my companion and said, „We are meeting the President...at his house!“ I asked and received, I knocked and now the door was open, a much larger door than I had expected.
The day for the reception came and we went to the presidential grounds. I had only wanted to meet the President but now we were going to be able to meet everyone who had a role in Estonia gaining independence. All of the noted activists, former politicians, current politicians, and other influential Estonians were invited to this reception, along with two Mormon missionaries. We knew that we wouldn't be able to do normal missionary work there, but we prayed that our presence at this prestigious event would open up future opportunities for the church. We weren't to wear our name badges so we knew we would just have to work a little bit harder to find ways to talk to people about the gospel. We showed up on time and as people were coming in, we strived to talk to as many people as possible. We were able to personally thank those who made a difference twenty years ago. Although they aren't members of the church, they had a large part in church history for Eastern Europe. This was an extra special opportunity for us to thank them. Without these people, the gospel wouldn't be in Estonia, and we would have never been called to serve in this beautiful land.
As we were mingling with the people coming through the large gate, a man was staring at us. Finally he came over to us and said he works for the president. He said he recognized me as the one who sent the letter. I asked him if the President was actually able to read my letter. He said, „Of course, it was addressed to him! The President opened it himself and was touched by how compassionate you were in your letter and surprised at your courage to write him. He personally wanted to invite you to the reception.“ He told us to stick around and that he would be back soon. A few minutes later he approached us and said, „The President is awaiting you.“ The president had stepped aside to meet us. He had his personal photographer ready to get a picture with us as well. The President was a very polite and friendly man. He asked us where we are from and we told him Utah and Iowa. We were confident that he knew at that moment that we are missionaries. We had a short chat with him before he went on his way to greet the rest of his guests. After meeting him, we continued to talk to as many people as we could. Overall the evening was wonderful. We had met the president and many other familiar faces. I was truly humbled and thankful to God that he had given us this opportunity.
To be completely honest, we didn't have much of an opportunity to talk about our unique message to the president or the other guests. I know one thing though, many people at that party knew we were the LDS missionaries. They knew who we were and were left to wonder why we had been invited there. I had a feeling of comfort knowing that our presence had left an impact. We may never find out what came from us meeting the President of Estonia, but we know that it was God's will that this miracle happened. We were able to see other miracles from being at the reception. We had a great conversation with one young man who recognized us as the missionaries and knew a lot about the church. A few days later we ran into him again on the street. About a week later we spoke with a more prominent guest whom we had met at the party. We are confident that many other missionary opportunities will arise from having met so many influential Estonians.
Sometimes we don't know how the spirit will guide us to do certain things. More often, we aren't able to see a direct outcome. Occasionally, far fetched ideas such as wanting to meet the President of a country turn into reality. For whatever reason, I felt a need to meet the President of Estonia from the beginning of my mission and now it had happened. I am especially grateful to the recent convert who acted as a tool in God's hands to encourage me to write him and simply ask. Less than a year ago, I was teaching her the doctrine of Christ and helping her come closer to baptism, and now she was the one teaching me a lesson on faith. As it states in 1 Nephi 7:12 „the Lord is able to do all things according to his will, for the children of men, if it so be that they exercise faith in him.“ I support this with my personal experience. I know that with faith, and a righteous desire, we can accomplish anything. I testify of this in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Elder Lance Scott McGavin

Elder Mark William Nielson (my companion)