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Laas Helde: ‘It’s just enough’

The Rev. Laas Helde, 86, and his wife, Maimu, host the Rev. Taavi Hollman, district superintendent, for lunch at their son’s small home in Tallinn, Estonia.
UMNS photos by Kathy Noble.

By the Rev. Kathy Noble*

April 10, 2008 | KOHILA, Estonia (UMNS)

The Rev. Laas Helde, 86, stands up straight in the hallway to welcome visitors to the small house he shares with his wife, Maimu, 83.

Every lock of Helde's halo of curly snow-white hair is in place. He extends his hand as he balances on a cane – and one leg. The other leg was "cut off" while he was a patient in a Russian Army camp in Siberia during World War II. After the war, he was a notary for several years and spent five years in a KGB prison in Narva, having been accused of "things for which I was blameless."

In 1967, he began a 17-year pastorate at the Methodist Church in Parnu. Although he was not jailed again, he was taken to court and fined, he says, after services drew "young people from all the high schools, from the graduate classes. Some of the members of the Youth Communist League turned back their party tickets or the certificates that they are members of the Party."

Helde lost his leg in a Russian Army camp in Siberia during World War II.

Helde retired in 1984.

"This is such a great blessing, a help," he says of the church pension of US$86 he receives each month. Helde and his wife, Maimu, 83, combine it with the pensions both receive from the state for their secular work. Together they receive about 5000 Estonia krooni (US$500). Still, finances are tight.

"We wanted to buy, collect money for the coffin," Maimu says, "but it did not work out, because last winter we had to buy much heat, wood to heat the stove."

"All the other costs we used for medicine," Laas adds, "because the medicine is very expensive. We spend more than EEK1000 (US$100) per month for medicine." Laas has difficulty with balance and frequently suffers from bronchitis. Maimu continues to have problems with her legs, even though she has had surgery. Both have high blood pressure.

"We don't have anything else besides this dog outside because the house where we live belongs to my son," Maimu says. The house has a living room crammed with bookcases, a tiny bedroom and bath, and a kitchen the size of a small walk-in closet. They live in a village about 30 minutes outside Tallinn. Maimu – whom Laas calls "my prime minister of finance" – adds, "It's cheaper to live here than in the flat in town."

They grow "a little bit" of their fresh food and welcome the gifts of food that a Norwegian deacon, a longtime friend, occasionally brings them. Maimu rides a three-wheeled bicycle to the grocery store or rides in a neighbor's car.

The United Methodist Church is beginning to respond to the Heldes and others like them through the Central Conference Pension Initiative. The initiative, mandated by the 2000 and 2004 General Conferences, is developing models for pension systems to serve retired church pastors, lay workers and surviving spouses in Estonia and elsewhere. More information is available at www.ccpi-umc.org.

"We couldn't save anything, and we haven't been starving," Helde says with a shrug. "(With) the money I get from the conference board, I pay for the telephone, electricity and the newspapers. And it's just enough."

*Noble is editor of Interpreter Magazine, a publication of United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy Noble, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5441 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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