Turn Back the Clock … to 1989
By Charles Kelley
PHILOMATH, Oregon – During my second trip to Latvia, my Oregon church began its partnership with Agenskalns Baptist Church in Riga, then pastored by Almers Ludviks. At the time the congregation was trying to get its church building back from the Soviet government. I wrote about this visit in chapter 5 of my book, Surprised by the Father’s Plan. Here’s a modified excerpt:
We (Almers Ludviks, Mike Parker, John Henderer and I) met with the vice mayor of Riga, presenting him with an official letter of greeting from our mayor in Corvallis and inviting him to our meetings. After we had given him our symbolic gifts, we formally asked, on behalf of the Agenskalns Baptist Church, for the return of their church building. In 1961, at the height of the oppressive Khrushchev regime, this church that Almers was now pastoring had been forced out of its building, which was taken over by a television studio. Since then the 400-member congregation had shared space in a building with Matthew’s Baptist Church in Riga.
“I cannot do everything,” the cordial vice-mayor said, “but I will do something.”
Years later I learned that a few months before our visit, Almers and a Lutheran pastor, Juris Rubenis, had written a letter to Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev that was hand-delivered by a Latvian delegate, Pastor Modris Plate, during one of their famous summits. The letter commended the “glasnost” (openness) process and informed the two leaders of the need for the state-controlled TV station to return the church to the congregation. Within a few days the KGB summoned Almers to their Riga headquarters. They informed him that for some mysterious reasons, people in very high positions in Moscow had told them to begin the process of moving the TV station and that the congregation was going to get the building back. It was to be the first church building in the Soviet Union to be returned by the state to the people.
The transfer had been hindered by one delay after another, but within three months of our visit, Agenskalns Baptist Church was officially notified of the pending return of its building, nearly 30 years after its seizure.
In the next few weeks, Agenskalns Church will celebrate 25 years of the freedom to worship in its own place.
The above is an excerpt from Surprised by the Father’s Plan.