A good combination
“Why did you learn theology in the University and the Bible in the Mission College at the same time in your first two years? The two schools are 100 km apart and the University can offer higher degree than the College can. Why did you take such a trouble?” I asked Timo.
“Because theology study was not Bible centered in the University.”
I have heard that in theology classes (in the University of Helsinki) students seldom using the Bible. Only in two kinds of occasions the Bible is needed. That is when they study original languages, Hebrew and Greek, and when they practise services, such as baptism, wedding, Sunday service. Theology in the University is academic centered; some teaching is aiming to discredit the Bible. However, I do not know what was like in 70s. “Yes, it was already like this,” Timo confirmed. “To defend my faith the Mission College was very important for me. I learned my Bible there. I believe that they were a good combination (for a future clergyman.) He told me that he had been reluctant to make theology as his career, out of fear to mix faith with salary.
“Do you still hold this fear?”
“Oh yes,” he answered firmly. “I explain to myself, sometimes to others as well, that I am paid to be a volunteer. I study Bible and practise faith in the sense that I’m free from work.”
His working time is usually much longer than 8 hours, routinely working to late evenings. Take an example of the day when I interviewed him. From 10am to 2pm he conducted a confirmation class for children, and then talked to a deacon about some legal affairs. I caught him around 3pm. At 4pm he would baptize someone. There would be a confirmation class for adults from 5:15 to 7pm. From 7 to 9pm he would talk with a couple who planned to marry in the near future.
“Why do you arrange meetings in the evenings?” I asked. I know he lives far away from Helsinki.
“Because most of people only have time in the evenings.” He continued, “My wife is not happy with the situation. But I have to work late.”
“Do you accrue the extra working time to your yearly vacation?”
“No. I have 30 days of vacation per year as everyone else.”
Working among Muslims
“Why do you wear beard sometimes?” I finally had chance to satisfy my curiosity.
“It’s my working image among Muslims in London during 1985-1992. Since then, I used to have beard in winters and shave clean in summers.”
“Why did you decide to evangelize Muslims and why in London?” I felt perplexed how London came to be a place to find Muslims.
“It’s a simple logic.” Timo smiled. “Any missionary work is for those who are not Christians. Then, which religion is the greatest challenge to Christianity? It is Islam, the 2nd largest after Christianity. Naturally, I put working among Muslims as top priority for the mission. in Muslim countries, mission work is forbidden. Missionaries have to work secretly under covers. I’m a pastor and I have no many other professional skills to make a cover. Therefore, I decided to go to a country where the mission was open.”
He told me a Muslim mission conference in late 70s or early 80s. It proclaimed that London was a strategically pivot for world’s conversion to Islam. Once London was converted, England would be a matter of time. When England was converted the whole Europe and America would follow the cue. I thought if London was their focus why not as mine as well,” Timo said.
Before going to London he had been ordained for 3 years, working among local congregations. He spent one year in the Mission College to learn how to work among people of other faiths. He was sent to London in 1985, mainly working among Muslims.
“How did you find people who would be ready to listen?” I asked. “Mainly from students. We organized information meetings for new students. We set book tables at universities for students to borrow Christian books and we talked to them. We went to student dormitories to knock on doors. We also preached at streets and invited people to church to have a cup of tea. We were trying to find those who had interest in Christianity.”
“Did you study Koran?” “I’ve studied Koran and I’m still doing this now. When talking with Muslims I don’t refer Koran. I only speak what the Bible says but keep in mind what Koran says. I have good terms with many Muslims, both in England and in Finland.”
Actually, Timo has kept contact with Muslim community in Finland and taught Christians how to approach Muslims, just as he said, as a paid volunteer.
I asked him about the conflict between Islam and Christianity. “When Muslims tried to convert London they aimed to bring whole world under Islamic power. I realized that their way of thinking religion and conversion were different from ours. Christianity thinks of individuals whereas Islam whole society. They think about power and we think about individuals to be saved. These two religions in advancing could avoid collision, because they are working at different levels. It could be Muslims trying to bring Europe under Islam while Christian mission successful at the same time. For instance, in Middle East there are still Christian churches. I talked with many couples whose husband was a Muslim and wife was a Christian. The wife was not forced to be a Muslim.”
Timo stressed that Islam wants power in society and they have no interest in individuals. Wives are under the power of husbands, they think. It is essential the husband is a Muslim.
“What will happen if a husband believes in Jesus?” I asked. Timo gave me an example. One man became a Christian in London. He tried to teach his wife about Christian. In Muslim world that meant his wielding power over his wife and children. The time his wife started to believe Jesus was the time the man lost his family—the wife’s family took away his wife and children. “Islam is so strong with power issue that it is impossible for whole family becoming Christians,” Timo said. “I never see a group of Muslims become Christians. I only see individual conversion.”
Mainly because of his children’s schooling Timo and his family returned to Finland in 1992. He found work with the Evangelical Lutheran Student Mission (OPKO in Finnish).
Shaping future leaders
OPKO is a part of worldwide International Fellowship of Evangelical Student (IFES). It functions in 140 counties. Timo was involved in their activities when being a student. He was called to be assistant director of OPKO. The director of that time went to London to interview him. The interview started in the evening when Irene showed signs of laboring. Timo had to interrupt the interview to go with Irene to the hospital. Their 4th child was born in that night.
Timo came back home in the morning to continue the interview. He was grilled by every kind of questions for 3 hours more before he was allowed to sleep for a couple of hours. Then the interview continued.
“The typical thing of student work was seriously studying the Bible,” Timo told me. “Normally, in every university there were weekly meetings, from 7-10pm. First 45 minutes was Bible lecture, then questions, and prayers in the end, drinking tea and so on. Many who came to the meetings learned the Bible well and learned how to lead Bible study. In this way, we would get mature Christians in different walks of the society.”
In Helsinki area there were steadily about 150 students attending the weekly Bible study. I believe it would have profound effect on the Finnish society. One of important task in the student movement is to teach students defending the faith. This task is called apologetics.
“There are three important lines in apologetics.” Timo told me. “Defend the authority of the Bible, defend the creation and defend the free Grace.”
Take a retrospective look at Timo’s work, I found he sought to serve those who were somewhat marginal in the church life: Muslims, students and international minority. Lutheran Church is a big, state-recognized church in Finland. Working among those ‘strategic margins’ did not help much to get power and position in the Church.
However, Timo thinks differently. “Students are the future leaders of the Church. If you want to shape the Church, shape the future leaders. Muslims are outside churches, but Islam is the greatest challenge for Christianity. If Christian mission is able to face Islam, churches can have a future. International people are the future for the Church in Finland. If the Church stays national, it will be marginalized and eventually die.” Timo explained to me. “International Christians are revitalizing and reforming the Church in this country. It may happen in a multitude of ways: the American tele-evangelist model, the extreme liberal European secularized model and the third world’s Bible believing and spiritually alive model.” Then Timo proudly declared, “I want to be one of the gate keepers in this flow of international influence.”
An abundant life
Timo has a hobby to study people’s faces and draw them. Even when he was a teenager he loved drawing faces with wrinkles. He explained to me that the black color in drawing emphasized wrinkles, then through wrinkles you got characters. During the time in OPKO, he was heavily involved with a theological magazine named Perusta (Foundation). He decided to draw authors’ faces to give a touch of life to the serious articles. He drew the faces of authors for about 10 years. Now the magazine still keeps asking for new drawings. From 15 or 16 years old Timo started to write articles to Christian newspapers. He was also quite active in sending letters to secular newspapers in his teens. Nowadays he is not so active in writing, but still writes articles or columns now and then. In September, he will go to the United States. Besides to learn many things from the Lutheran Church of American, his main task is to write a book of introduction of Lutheran catechism for immigrants who have no Christian background. The Lutheran Church in Finland authorizes the writing.
I asked what he usually does in weekly two day-offs. “First of all I shut off my mobile phone and I don’t come to Helsinki. These are supposed to cut myself off from work. But my mind is no way to separate from work. Often I am so tired that I sleep off whole day.”
“What do you do the next day?” “I’m reading. I follow some magazines and I read materials related to the following Sunday sermon.” Through reading Timo follows the theological trends. Among the magazines he follows there are a Christian magazine about social issues from UK and an American one published by the conservative sides both from Reform Churches and Lutheran Churches. When these two sides put views together it makes things interesting, Timo thinks. A weekly email newsletter that monitors religious cults, heresies, and new trends, plus Time, Helsinki Daily and other books he does not have much time left.
“But in summers I am more active outdoors. I like fishing, canoeing. sailing, gardening, forestry, picking berries and mushrooms.” I see a typical Finn beneath the cleric black garb.
“Do you do any home chores?” I asked accusingly. “Oh yes,” he said and got a bit defensive. “I’ve done all laundry in our whole marriage life. I am the main cook in our home. My children always turn to me with all their major decisions. This kind of trust makes me proud.”
One event he is especially proud of. That was when his daughter got confirmed. They had a reception and threw a party at home with many guests. His daughter asked Timo to give a speech. Timo said to me, “I must be the only father in this country whose 15-years old daughter asks for a speech from Daddy.”
Our creative pastor
IEC people called him ‘our creative pastor’. They look up to his leadership. Timo has said, “Pastor should be a leader but with servant heart.” I saw he was living up to this norm. “A pastor should have intimate relationship with the Word of God, so that he is living by ‘eating the bread of life’ for his own spiritual feeding. His teaching and preaching of the Bible, which is one of the main skills of a pastor, should be what he was freshly received for himself.” Timo put this as the foremost quality of a pastor. He emphasized that to a pastor, the Bible ought to be the authority both in matters of doctrine and life.
I refereed to his Sunday sermons different from the Finnish Lutheran stereotype in my mind. He laughed. “You see, I am not good in reading. If I read written texts in sermons I have to entirely concentrate on reading and forget about people. It’s important for me to see people’s faces during preaching. If I see someone not understand I’ll say again in another eligible way. If I see some whispering, I’ll guess what they whispered about. I can communicate with people during preaching because I see them.”
I totally agree what he said. “Pastor should have a vision. The vision should be to edify the church and to reach those who do not yet believe.”
I appreciate his attitude to allow others growing and to encourage them taking responsibilities. Timo’s life is Bible and evangelism centered. I’d like to use Rom.10:14 to end this article.But how can they call to (Jesus) for help if they have not believed? And how can they believe if they have not heard the message? And how can they hear if the message is not proclaimed?