The International Evangelical Church in Finland (IEC) is an inter-denominational, multicultural Christian community. It was started in 1978 by Rev. Lloyd Swantz from Lutheran Church in America. By 1999, IEC continuously employed 4 pastors from Lutheran Evangelical Church in America (ELCA). The fourth pastor Donald Schultz chaired the Advisory Board of the Finnish Chinese Christian Fellowship. The Board was consisted of several senior Finnish and Overseas Chinese pastors to ensure of sound doctrine of the Fellowship. Pastor Don, as we called him, was a fatherly image to me. His farewell, with kind encouragement and the vision of a future Chinese congregation, almost moved me to tear. At that farewell party I was introduced to the fifth candidate pastor Timo Keskitalo, a Finnish Lutheran pastor. Pastor Timo looked young, handsome and suave. He speaks fluent English with soft voice. Unmistakably, he had already taken on the central role in the events of IEC.
Several months later, when I was greeted by a bearded man in our shared church facility with IEC, I failed to recognize the old, lion-head man being the same young, handsome pastor. “Are you the same Timo I knew in summer?” I could not help but asked him stupidly. “Yes, yes, I am,” the same soft voice answered. I mused,
“Why on earth he wears such a big beard? Is it lack of confidence in his work status?”
Once, I told him that a certain man thought woman should not be a church leader. The suave gentleman curtly answered me, the female chairman of the Chinese Fellowship for nearly 6 years and who was much older than he, that he had the same opinion. Later, in a debate on the choosing of a pastor for our fellowship, I lost my temper and directly affronted him. As a branch of IEC, we needed to deal with Pastor Timo. I did not detect any strain from his part after that conflict. Neither had I felt an iota of contempt from him.
I listened to many of his sermons. He was different with the stereotype in my mind of a Finnish Lutheran pastor at Sunday preaching. His sermons were lively, well prepared. His image (when his chin was shaved) may be young, but the sermons were certainly not made by an inexperienced pastor. In a dozen times I attended the Wednesday evening Bible Study led by Timo. I liked the way he led. The discussion was vivid but never went wild; the contents of discussion were extended but always Bible centered. The pastor was a good discussing partner on one hand and firmly in charge on the other. It was a seasoned pastor who was leading the Bible study. On the first page of IEC newsletters there is a column of Pastor’s Words. I love to read Timo’s short articles that were nicely written and sent out the messages from the Bible explicitly.Naturally, as a writer fond of personal biography, I started to take interest in Pastor Timo. Recently, we had a couple of frank talks. I congratulate myself that my interest was justified.
The son of 70s revival
Timo was born in 1958 and grew up in a town of Naantali. There was a youth revival in the town in early 70s. As a teenager, Timo devoted himself to the revival events, in which street evangelism, charismatic phenomena and endless Bible study meetings were its hallmark. He was so zealous to paste posters for the church that once he was seized by the police because of no license. Timo learned that he needed permission for sticking posters in the town. Then he wrote a letter to the town counsel and got the license. He took many responsibilities in the youth groups until he left the town at the age of 18.
His leadership ability was molded there. His staunch stance in defending the faith and his enthusiasm for the evangelism were also rooted in there. Life is harsh. What idea one acquired at 18 may entirely lose at 45. The key to cherish the belief is to keep zeal in Jesus.
Once, a career adviser came to test kids in Timo’s school. One of the tests was measuring the ability to understand shape and space in three dimensions. Timo got the highest mark the adviser had ever seen on his job. Based on the test, the adviser recommended Timo to study architecture. Timo liked drawing and painting, and had artistic disposition. Architecture seemed quite suitable to him. Later, Timo applied both for architecture and theology in the University of Helsinki; at the same time, for Mission College in the Finnish Lutheran Mission. After examinations he was enrolled in theology and the Mission College, but one score below the entry line of architecture. He had thought to take the exam again next year but later quitted the idea. However, his talent discovered by the career adviser may not be wasted. He is highly perceptive. People who are close to him can tell his ability to see patterns and trends in society, communities and individuals. It may somehow, I think, relate to that see-through-three-dimensional ability.