Seeking to be the hands and feet of Jesus in Latvia
By Katie Leatherwood
Times in Latvia have been busy! God continues to bless the Designed to Live ministry beyond measure. Please read some of the highlights from the past 6 months of how God has blessed me, the Designed to Live ministry and the people of Latvia; Project Access, [PAUZE], Project: Kinetic 2016. I am so thankful for each of my prayer and financial supporters. I am able to be a part of God’s work here in Latvia in part because of my team of supporters, and I am so grateful for each of you.
Within the church, faith is formed, shared, and strengthened; relationships are forged; and gifts are discovered and developed. Unfortunately too many people with disabilities do not experience the same opportunities as others to grow spiritually. Many times physical barriers of entering the church building can limit this experience of community and relationships. Designed to Live believes that if churches can become more physically accessible, the Church will become more welcoming to everyone and have a larger impact on the community for Christ.
The aim of Project Access is to help provide resources for Latvian churches to adapt their building to be more physically accessible, so that all can come into God’s house and come to know Him. Everyone in Latvia, regardless of ability or disability, is entitled to be introduced to Jesus Christ.
Adaptations might include ramping, electric lifts, accessible toilets and handrails.
You can help make the Church more accessible!
The church needs people with disabilities as much as they need the church. God told us to not only GO OUT but also BRING IN those who are ‘poor and crippled and blind and lame’ (Luke 14:21). We seek to serve people affected with disability by including them into the fabric of worship, fellowship and outreach. But how can this happen without access?
It started with just an idea: A time of rest for parents of children affected by disability. An outreach opportunity. A setting for families to interact, share and experience God’s love. This idea is now an exciting new ministry of Designed to Live, known as [PAUZE].
In Latvian, the word ‘pauze’ means to pause, to stop and rest. With the involvement of Latvian churches, the [PAUZE] ministry hopes to provide a time and place where parents can come and rest for a short time, while their children are being cared for with love. The aim is to provide events of encouragement, hope and demonstrate the love of Jesus Christ to these families.
The first event took place at Vīlandes Baptist Church in Riga on November 27. Church support and involvement in this ministry has been overwhelming and exciting. The theme for this rest event was ‘Spa Day’. We wanted to create a spa-like atmosphere for parents to come and relax while their children were cared for and entertained. The decorating team transformed the church building into a beautiful spa setting, complete with candles, relaxing scents, flowers and room dividers for 7 private massage stations.
Each station was staffed with a massage professional from local spas and therapy centers. They generously donated their time and expertise to serve the parents for this event. Each guest was able to enjoy a 45 minute massage with a full spa treatment.
While waiting, other parents had the opportunity to relax in a ‘quiet room’ with tea, soothing music and comfortable seating. Around tables, parents enjoyed sharing similar struggles, fears and concerns in raising children with disabilities. While decorating glass Christmas ornaments, they found hope and encouragement from others going through similar struggles.
In another part of the building, children were lovingly cared for and entertained by volunteers. Each helper used their ingenuity and creativity to provide individualized enjoyment and care for each child; playing ball, making crafts, clapping and dancing to music. Each volunteer was genuine and enthusiastic in their care. They took great effort in engaging each child in their abilities, showing no hesitance in dealing with conditions unfamiliar to them. They embraced each child as if they were the most important gift God had created and there were no limitations to the 3 hours of amusement. Parents didn’t worry. They could sense the volunteer’s enthusiasm and authentic care. They enjoyed the evening knowing their children were in a safe environment and were being cared for by loving friends.
This evening was spectacular for all involved! We explained that the evening was provided by Christians who care about those affected by disability and their caregivers and celebrate them for what they do everyday for their children. As our evening came to a close, parents expressed their joy and gratitude through smiles, tears, kind words and some in silence. They expressed how grateful they were for this short time of relaxation and pampering. I am thankful that this first PAUZE event was a success and pray it will be the first of many to come! I pray that the families involved felt the love of Jesus Christ and that His glory will be shown through all future PAUZE events. Spa Day video: https://vimeo.com/193955363
We plan to have a [PAUZE] event every month, but not all to the magnitude of ‘Spa Day’. Also, I have been contacted by a few people in other parts of Latvia that are interested in starting a [PAUZE] ministry in their church!!
PROJECT KINETIC 2016
I had the privilege to help at the Wings for Wheels camp for people with physical disabilities, Challenge 9, in July. It is a camp that brings people with disabilities together to be challenged, have fun, meet new friends and learn about God’s love for them.
Last year I was a personal assistant but this year I would do something different. The idea was to have an Orthodics and Prothestics (O&P) clinic for the participants. Evaluate at the beginning of the week and deliver a completed brace at the end of the week. I knew it would be an intense time, but with God’s help I prayed it would be possible. I asked Dina to be my assistant, as she is an O&P student and knows the basics of evaluations and fabrications, plus can speak Latvian.
The first day of the clinic, we evaluated and casted those that were interested in orthotic intervention and would benefit. A pre-screen was done to determine if the participant was a candidate to receive service from local O&P practices and if denied previously, why? Out of 7 people, 3 had previously received orthotic care. Minor repairs were made to these items to ensure safety and a longer use of the device.
Once we had casts for the custom braces, we spent the next day modifying the molds. All of this was done from the back end of my car using the workstation. 5 molds were modifed and ready for final fabrication.
The following day, Dina and I made a trip to the O&P lab in Sloka with all the molds, about 3 hours from the camp. There we used the big oven and pulled plastic over all the molds.
The next day we continued to make the final touches right up until delivery time. Throughout the day the participants came to receive their new braces, custom made or modifed for them.
It was such a blessing to be able to help these people in this practical way. Their gratefulness and appreciation were so encouraging. Throughout the week, Dina and I were constantly encouraged by the other campers and assistants as we worked hard to complete the tasks. I thank God for orchestrating the entire process, as it went surprisingly smooth! We had all the necessary supplies and tools to complete all the tasks and all braces fit well and functioned as anticipated.
With each delivery, I prayed a blessing over the participant and asked God to use the brace as a tool to make His name known. I give all glory and credit of the success of this O&P clinic to God! He provided all that was necessary before and during the camp. Also, thanks to my support team who provided the necessary equipment and funds to purchase the tools and materials to make the braces.
The final night of camp was a celebration of all things that had happened during the week. Two participants that I had the privilege to work with accepted Christ into their lives that night!!
The simple braces that I provided will help to improve mobility but I pray that those that received them will also be impacted spiritually and know God’s love for them. He blessed this O&P clinic immensely and I am humbled I got to be used by God as a tool to share His love!
Originally from Athens, Texas, Katie has lived in Riga since June 2015. A specialist in prosthetics and orthotics, she is Director of Designed to Live.