Bible presented at Tartu pastors' conference

  • 2000-02-03
  • By Joseph Enge
At the annual Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church conference in Tartu last month, a reporter listened in on discussions about a new Bible, the future of the church and notable contributors to Estonian religious life. One pastor bore a heavier cross than others, it seemed, as Joseph Enge reports.

Despite the passage of time, war and occupation, 85-year-old Buchard Lieberg continues to make an impact in Estonia, the country of his birth.

A Baltic-German, Lieberg resides in Germany. In 1939 he was ordained as a Lutheran pastor in Estonia, but he and other Baltic-Germans were evacuated to Poland and Germany during the early months of World War II. He began re-establishing ties with Estonia in the mid-1960s, and since then Lieberg has organized the donation and disbursement of funds and materials worth millions of Deutsche marks. Last year alone, he raised over 2 million kroons ($130,000) in aid to Estonia.

Lieberg continued his work as a Lutheran pastor in Germany after the war, then in 1965, he arranged a visit to Estonia and met up with old friends, one of whom was Jaan Kiivit Sr., the archbishop of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church. Kiivit was archbishop from 1949 to 1967. His son of the same name has been archbishop since 1994.

For the past 35 years, Lieberg has been tireless in his efforts to help Estonia and the church. In Germany he speaks regularly at various congregations to raise awareness and funds to meet Estonia's needs. The amount of aid he has raised over the years reflects his energy and dedication.

Initially, during Soviet times, he brought shoes, clothing and Bibles that were hidden among the baggage of the tour groups he organized from Germany. Even if he was not with a tour group of Baltic-Germans, he was able to get them to cooperate in getting the needed items past the Soviet authorities.

Lieberg also traveled to many of the other former Soviet republics to see how he could help the German minorities living there. Whether in Kazakhstan or Turkmenistan, he sometimes used a creative method to discover if there might be some Germans living there with a local parish who needed help. Lieberg would have an accompanying friend call to him from across the market, and he would respond. This German conversation would at times catch the attention of a curious German-speaking resident who could then direct them to a local Lutheran parish and German community.

Lieberg has done much to help the Estonian medical community as well. He would visit with the doctors and hospitals in Estonia to discover how he could be of assistance. In Germany he would find the needed equipment. As German hospitals replaced equipment, he would secure mammogram machines, hospital beds, and other items to be shipped in bulk by truck to Estonia.

After spending time at the rural parishes in Viru County and discovering the pastoral dependence on farming for income, he obtained the necessary donations to purchase a tractor for each of the ten congregations there.

When not raising funds or buying equipment in Germany, he spends a great deal of time visiting and getting to know the people and pastors in his former country. The Archbishop of the Estonian Evangelical Church Jaan Kiivit Jr. has been quoted as saying of Lieberg, "Nobody in the world knows as much about the parishes in Estonia as he."

Lieberg's good friend and fellow Baltic-German pastor, Jorn Schneider, estimates that Lieberg personally knew 80 percent of the pastors in Estonia simultaneously. Schneider believes that this percentage has dropped in recent years though as a number of new young pastors have been ordained.

To get a personal sense of the obstacles and needs in the parishes, Lieberg stays several days with them to see how he can be of help. He gets to know the people of the parishes well and can report in great detail to the German donors how and where the assistance is required.

Lieberg's most recent visit to Estonia was last October. Still in good health, Lieberg shared equally in driving the distance from Germany with Schneider. He has asked Schneider to keep up the work and relationships in Estonia. Schneider has agreed, but admits it is a daunting task.

Schneider attended the annual Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church conference on Jan. 25 and Jan. 26. This allowed him an opportunity to expand and establish his own personal contacts. Lieberg will return to visit Estonia this summer. His dedication and work prove that although the times and governments may change, the efforts of individuals and bonds among people are more lasting.