Latvia 2022

May 25, 2022

Zvarde Green Church

Latvia 2022

Our team is excited to leave the US next week for Riga, Latvia. The team has just wrapped up their online training and has begun final preparations. It has been since 2019 since we have been able to travel to Saldus, Latvia due to Covid-19. Our English Langauge Bible Camp at Striki School begins on Monday, June 6!

Please pray for safe travels for our team. One of our sayings as team leaders is to remind our team that we have to stay flexible and adapt to situations as they change. Today we discovered that the airline has canceled our overseas flight. So, please pray for the travel agency as they work to rebook our itineraries.

There will be posts throughout our trip so you can stay up-to-date on our trip! Thanks to all the people who are sending us prayers, financial support to pay for the trip expenses, and for donating supplies for our camp.

Traveling underway!

BeautIful Chicago Skyline

The team is on our way to Riga! The St Louis contingent is safely in Chicago and our next flight to Germany is on time. Our teammate from Wisconsin will arrive soon. Mike and Nancy Wind have already arrived in Estonia for some meetings and will be meeting us in Saldus on Sunday. Prayers for continued smooth travels.

We Have Arrived!

The team has arrived safely in Latvia and we are settling in this evening. One of our team members had some dental work fall out on our transatlantic flight. Thankfully our host will be connecting him with a dentist. Please pray for those arrangements to go smoothly.

Tomorrow we will be meeting as a team and diving into more preparation for camp.

Over the Weekend…

One of the challenges for our U.S. team is staying awake. The other is knowing when to accept and when to decline an invitation. Our Latvian hosts are very eager to include us an the regular happenings of their daily lives when we arrive, but we don’t want to over-schedule the team.

We spent most of Saturday with final team training (and struggling to stay awake due to the jet lag). Our training starts in early Spring via Zoom. We use a curriculum designed to equip team members to pay attention to their discipleship growth as they prepare for their actual mission work. It’s pretty typical for a new team member to want to get started in preparing for the actual mission work they will be doing, instead of being trained to learn to notice what the Lord is doing in their own discipleship journey first.

We always start our training discipleship first. A team member equipped to notice what God is doing in their own heart throughout the trip will always be more effect than one who simply ready to ‘deliver the goods’ related to their mission work. Our mission work is to come alongside the local church and support its on-going work of recovering the Christian faith and the effectiveness of the Church after over seventy years of forced, atheistic, Communism. The fall of the U.S.S.R. in the early 90s left damage that may take generations to correct. We are mindful of this even more so as we contemplate the spiritual, relational, and material havoc being inflicted on Ukraine, once again.

But, back to our weekend and staying awake…

We spent Saturday in final training and preparations. We got to enjoy some free time in the late afternoon and evening. Our Latvia hosts made sure that we go to enjoy the local cuisine as well! Here are some pics of our free time Saturday. We encouraged each other to stay awake by playing ping pong!

We were invited to participate in two worship services Sunday. It was Pentecost Sunday. At 10:00 am, we joined the faithful at St. Martins Lutheran Church for service where the music was led by guitar and the wonderful voices of the many families of the congregation.

2022 Latvia Team outside of St. Martin Luther Lutheran Church, Saldus

Our second opportunity for a worship service was at 3:00 pm. The same congregation has access to another church facility in the nearby community of Zvarde. This facility is now called the Open Church. It is used for special occasions, Weddings, Baptisms, etc. The Zvarde community used to be a successful farming community just outside of Saldus. In the late 1940’s the community was given notice by the government of the U.S.S.R. that the land in the community was to be used as a proving grounds for the Soviet Air Force. Residents were given a small sum of money and about two weeks notice to relocate before bombing practice began.

The Church in Zvarde partially survived. What remains has been devoted to occasional use as an outdoor worship space. While the remains of this ancient church building are precious to the current community, it is intentionally kept in it’s current condition (along with a a partially demolished cemetery) as a remembrance to a town that no longer exits.

The service was deeply moving. The child baptized was a member of the the St. Martins Church congregation and is now counted among her growing membership.

A Song of Worship at the Baptism.

Day 1 for Latvian English Bible Camp is HERE!!!

Team members from Albuquerque, NM, St. Louis, MO, Destin, FL, Gillett, WI, and of course, Latvia, started our Monday camp experience. This camp works very much like a Vacation Bible School. There is an opening for everyone to attend. Then our campers go to various English language classes, and rotations for music, crafts and sports. There is plenty of good food and so much laughter!

Day 2 is in the books!

The theme for the day was, “Follow Me.” Students explored Bible texts that related to the call of the disciples and, by extension, our own call to follow Jesus in everyday life. The weather was almost perfect. A little rain at the end of the day, but all in all a fantastic day. The team is doing very well! New friendships are being formed and both team members and students alike are having moments of discovery in their faith and in how they view life in Christ.

Quite a few students are far from the life of the Church and are motivated to be in this camp mainly through the desire to learn English or to be with friends. Here are a few pictures and videos from today:

David Michael Carrillo, SON’s Latvian long-term missionary, leads the music rotation.

David Michael Carrillo leading Music rotation.

Concert in downtown Saldus.
Downtown Saldus flying the Ukrainian flag in support of a neighboring country.

Day 3 – Jesus Loves everyone!

Today our campers explored two important texts from the Bible. One was the time that children were prevented from approaching Jesus and Jesus corrected his disciples misjudgment and blessed the children. The other text was that time the hated tax collector, Zacchaeus, wanted to get close to Jesus. Since he was small in stature and the people around him despised him, his access to Jesus was limited. So, he climbed a tree in an effort to see Jesus. To everyone’s surprise, Jesus walks over to Zacchaeus and invites himself over to dinner. To eat with someone in that culture blatantly communicated acceptance and love. Jesus ate with the sinner tax collector and blessed children. In two very different ways, Jesus communicated that he loves everyone.

David Michael Carrillo leads the music rotation.

Today was picture day. The team and all campers will end the week with a memento of their week.

Day 4 – Thursday – The Cross of Jesus

The story form the Bible for Thursday is the crucifixion of Jesus. It’s a heavy topic, but also central to the Christian faith. Today, teachers and rotation leaders all prayerfully reached for opportunities to share the hope that we who are in Christ have within us. Many of our camp attendees are from homes that profess anything but the Christian faith. And yet, many of these same campers comment about how peaceful and fun the camp is. We humbly ask for your prayers to make this day a good one.

Students excited for the music opening!
Penny reading the day’s story to the class.

Prayer Request: This afternoon Pastor Mark, team leader, tripped and fell. He has hurt his left knee and will hopefully be able to be more thoroughly evaluated in Riga soon. Many thanks to our hosts for helping Mark and his wife, Julia, navigate the hospital emergency room and for helping connect them with doctors in Riga.

Friday – last day of Camp.

The day’s activities went on as planned (minus our team leaders) and the students had a great end-of-week celebration. All week, the English students have been enjoying engaging Bible Stories, and event rotations in sports, crafts and music.  

The team have all commented that each one has left a piece of their heart in Latvia. Such deep, relational ties are easy to forge and hard to break. Many new friendships have been forged and old ones re-kindled. Two of the American Team will return stateside on Monday. Six will go on to Estonia for a teen camp. 

The gospel has been shared in words, deeds, and in the context of every-growing friendships. Please pray for tram members who need to travel home and for those who will slightly re-tool and go one to lead a differently formatted youth camp for teens in Estonia. 

Your prayers make things happen. Thank you for your prayers, your practical support and your on-going interest in our mission work. Truly, the work of God and his mission has happened here this week and will continue long after we have left.

Friday morning also started with a tremendous outpouring of concern for Mark and Julia.  SONetwork’s relational ministry was so evident Friday morning as the community came around them both.  Mark and Julia were overwhelmed with compassionate hugs, conversations, and prayers, as well as the practical needs of accessing medical care.   

After camp ended, our hosts treated us to a tour of Jaunpils Pils, a nearby Medieval castle.  We enjoyed a guided tour with our host translating for us.  Our tour ended with a traditional Medieval meal with wonderful Latvian meats, vegetables and fresh breads.  After a long week of camp, it was a wonderful way to end the week and experience the richness of Latvian culture.

An update on Pastor Mark Wilhelm

Thursday afternoon, one of the team leaders, Pastor Mark Wilhelm, experienced a fall and was injured. After a few trips to the regional hospital for x-rays, and ultimately an MRI, it was determined that he had a knee injury that would require surgery to repair. Thankfully, he is in no pain. However, the damage to his left knee  leaves him hobbling around on crutches with a temporary cast that limits his travel options.

Knowing that surgery is a necessity, Pr. Mark and his wife, Julia, are in the midst of arranging the necessary paperwork to certify that he can safely travel. This will allow the Wilhelms to return to their St. Louis area home and begin the process of getting surgery and physical rehabilitation. Latvian medical care is quite capable and modern, but recovery in the familiar environment of home is much preferred, 

Please pray that:

  • A local doctor will sign off on his fitness to fly.
  • That no other complications from his injury would develop.
  • That the team traveling onto Estonia would continue to make a Kingdom impact as the serve youth members in Tallin, Estonia.
  • Safe travels for two of our team members who are returning to the US on Monday.