Two Congregations in the Middle of Major Transitions Draw Closer to One Another Through a Strengthened Sister Church Partnership.
By Claudia Lee
CORVALLIS, OREGON – On Wednesday, July 8th, four women from Suburban Christian Church in Corvallis, Oregon set out on a journey to Latvia that really began in 2013. For most of them, five years prior they couldn’t have told you where Latvia sits on the global map. And now Latvia and her people, especially the people of Matthews Church in Riga, have a prominent place in each of these ladies’ hearts.
Before this trip there was a series of back and forth visits between the Pastors and Pastors’ wives of the two churches in 2013 and 2014 as they began a Sister Church relationship. Early in 2014, Chuck Kelley and Bridge Builders International (BBI) invited Steve and Claudia Lee, Pastor and Pastor’s wife from Suburban Christian Church, to visit Riga to get to know Matthews Church and to teach in the Baltic Pastoral Institute (BPI).
In the fall of 2014, Laima Dravniece, a woman in leadership in Matthews Church and Martina Aizupiete, Pastor’s wife of the Sigulda Baptist Church, visited Suburban and attended the Suburban Women’s Ministry Jubilee Women’s Conference. Out of this connection came the opportunity for the four women from Suburban to visit Matthews Church.
Liz Myers, Claudia Lee, Kim Simmons and Linda Conniff are the female component of Suburban’s Latvia Link Team which also includes Bill Zipp and Loren Kohler. The trip to Latvia was a stretch for them because the expected outcome was an intangible ‘building of relationship’ with Matthews Church. There would not be numbers from a VBS to report or a house built or an English class taught. Instead success is determined by connections made and kept over time – by friendships established and links forged for the future.
Over the months prior to the trip much communication passed between Claudia of the Latvia Link Team and Laima of Matthews Church. A ‘Corvallis Link Team’ was formed at Matthews and Laima was appointed one of three members of that team. Matthews Church leadership invited the Latvia Link women to Matthews Church and gave Laima the assignment of preparing for the visit, no small task.
Laima did a masterful job of putting together an itinerary for the group from Suburban that blended seeing the incredibly beautiful sights of Latvia with getting to know several from Matthews Church; touching base with Vesma Sandburg, our friend through BPI; and reconnecting with Martina Līvena Aizupiete whose husband pastors the Sigulda Baptist Church.
We were blessed to be in several homes where we enjoyed the sweetest hospitality and wonderful meals. We participated in Sunday services at Matthews Church including the afternoon service for “The Least of These” a group of about 100 people struggling with various challenges including addictions and homelessness. We heard the hearts of the people we met for Latvia, for Matthews Church and for those yet to hear the gospel. And we got to spend time in prayer with those that we met in nearly every situation. Such a gift from God!
As we saw the country and visited believers in varied situations, every story we heard referenced ‘Soviet times.’ Latvia has been free only 46 of the years of its existence and only since 1991 in recent times (22 years between World War I and World War II and 24 years since the Soviet Union imploded in 1991). Every family has been touched by oppression and often by the deportation of a parent or grandparent to Siberia. Family lands and homes were taken and destroyed; new homes have been built and are lived in, but often don’t really feel like home even almost 25 years later. This recent history plays out in a deep and heartfelt love of Latvia and Latvia’s freedom. But also with a sometimes palpable distrust that can make communication and cooperation difficult.
In a Sister Church relationship that spans several thousand miles it is hard to keep communication going. Before we left for Latvia we were asking the honest question – is this type of relationship really workable? After spending two weeks with our friends from Matthews Church, we feel more committed than ever to this relationship. Matthews Church is in the midst of seeking a new lead Pastor … so is Suburban Church. Both churches have mercy ministries and people who are passionate about being the hands and feet of Jesus, but who are tired and discouraged.
We believe that now, today, we can pray for one another with knowledge and seek the encouragement of the Spirit. Our hope is that sometime in the next year a couple of families from Matthews Church can come and visit us with the only goal being growth in relationship. As we come to know one another better, understanding the fields within which we work and the hearts that compel us, God will use our relationship for His purposes. Perhaps that purpose will be a mutually considered and planned project either in Latvia or here. Perhaps it will be simply praying for one another with knowledge.
Only God knows the fullness of what He has for us as we continue in our Sister Church relationship. But for now it is enough to grow in our knowledge of one another and the work God has set before us in our individual places.