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    The Upper New York Conference of The United Methodist Church

    news article

    Missionaries share update from Estonia

    November 28, 2017 / By UNY Communications Team

    The Rev. Jeff Childs, pastor at the Penn Yan United Methodist Church, was the chair of the Upper New York Conference Global Ministries team when he was first contacted by the Rev. Doug Childress – who has served as a pastor in the Upper New York Conference and predecessor conference, the Western New York Conference – about his feeling a call into the mission field. And Rev. Childress’ wife, Dr. Kulli Toniste, was born in Estonia and called to go back and teach in the seminary there.

    Those responding to a call to be a missionary in The UMC must meet with the Conference Global Ministries team to be recommended to the General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM).

    “As we interviewed them, it was clear that they had a passion for ministry and for this opportunity to serve God in the world,” said Rev. Childs. “They were approved for recommendation, and I was blessed to be present with them at General Conference last year when they were commissioned as missionaries.” 

    The Rev. Douglas Childress and his wife Dr. Kulli Toniste received a contract from the GBGM in 2015 to do missional work in Estonia. They and their three children have been living there since. The couple has helped at the Baltic Methodist Theological Seminary in Tallinn, Estonia, as well as UMC in Estonia.

    Here are some updates on their work and their time in Estonia.


    In May, members of the Baltic Methodist Theological Seminary and representatives of Asbury Theological Seminary discussed launching a joint Masters in Church Planting degree program, which could be completed by BMTS students. In June, 14 students – including some from Estonia, Ukraine, Nigeria, and Latvia – graduated from BMTS. 

    The seminary began a new session in August with 22 new students, which the couple says is larger than last year’s class size.

    Harnessing some creativity, they crafted new admissions materials and a video in Estonian to introduce seminary to prospective students last spring.


    Kulli participated in the Wesley Summer Seminar and spent a few weeks at Asbury Theological Seminary working on an article related to John Wesley’s eschatology. She also worked on a committee at UMC in Estonia to translate and publish Wesley’s 52 sermons in Estonian language for the first time.

    Estonian Methodists hold a conference each summer. This year, Rev. Childress presented and Kulli translated two sessions there.

    Summer fun

    Kulli was invited to speak to the Evangelical College Students on an island of Saaremaa. The family enjoyed some time getting back to nature as they camped with the students.

    “We enjoyed seeing a variety of plants and picking wild berries, and went swimming in 18C water of the Baltic Sea,” the couple wrote in an update. “Local people were very social and every interaction takes time. … “It is easy to get caught in long conversations at a store over a loaf of bread or varieties of fish!”

    The youth attending the camp “paid their rent in labor.” So, the family pitched in and helped chop some wood.

    “Working together, not much speaking, but we all bonded well,” they wrote. “We are friends forever for we chopped wood together.”

    For more information about Rev. Doug Childress and Dr. Kulli Toniste, contact Rev. Jeff Childs at  

    With more than 168,000 members, the Upper New York Annual (Regional) Conference of The United Methodist Church comprises 865 local churches and 86 new faith communities in 12 districts, covering 48,000 square miles in 49 of the 62 counties in New York state. Our mission is to “live the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to be God’s love with our neighbors in all places."