In the Academy Award Winning movie The Sound of Music, Frauline Maria taught children to sing, “Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start. When you read, you begin with A, B, C; when you sing, you begin with Do, Re, Mi.”
I’ve been thinking about our very beginning. Of course, the story is as long as it is exciting and I can’t go into detail, but I’m reflecting about something as basic as A, B, C.
I’m thinking about why.
In 1989, I returned from my second trip to Latvia and boldly shared this with my church deacon board: “I believe that, even though Latvia is under Soviet rule, God wants to use us to help change a nation.”
This wasn’t just a bold thing to say; it was risky. Some smirked while most recognized the surprising hand of God at work. He had used us, even us, profoundly. We determined to not miss what the Holy Spirit was doing; we understood why and decided to keep going. The results were literally unbelievable as numerous bridges were built from Oregon to Latvia resulting in thousands of changed lives. Could it be that my statement was not so crazy? After all, is not a nation transformed as its people are transformed?
In September 1994, during an early morning quiet time the Holy Spirit shook me to my core. It was time for me to step down from my pastorate and start BBI. Why? God was calling us to help change a nation. Latvia had been free for three years, the needs were overwhelming and opportunities to build bridges to Latvia from all over the US were abundant. BBI was born and thousands more lives were changed by the Lord’s love and power.
Now, 25 years after freedom, Latvia is a remarkably different country. This includes its leaders, churches, economy, political context and mind-sets. In fact, the whole of Europe is radically different. Strategies have also changed; many of our original bridges have served their purposes, yet the same why remains. We are still committed to changing the nation by helping as many in Latvia come to know, love and follow the Lord Jesus with all of their hearts.
Here’s what’s happening NOW. I just returned from an amazing five weeks in Latvia. I spent time with the following wonderful folks.
- Almers Ludviks is my original partner in starting BBI and our Latvian branch, Partners. After twelve years of service in politics, national bureaus and business, Almers is back as our Executive Director in Riga. As such Almers will also take up the mantle to coordinate Celebrate Recovery for Latvia, a huge answer to prayer. He and I worked together for 15 years and were excited when the Lord used our partnership to lead many important initiatives resulting in thousands of transformed lives. When leaders work together, not caring who gets the glory, countless Latvian lives are changed, and so is the nation.
- Diks Bortnikovs faithfully leads Eagles Wings Camp. The camp brings the Gospel to hundreds every year and provides life and ministry training for dozens. As Latvia’s youth are changed, so is the nation.
- Jaycee Jensen is Director of New Hope Latvia. The Lord has used her to bring powerful change to countless orphans across the land. As Latvia’s orphans are changed, so is the nation.
- Katie Leatherwood is Director of Designed to Live. I marvel at her creative ways to minister the love of Christ to those with disabilities. As she individually helps them by crafting custom prosthetics and orthotics, they are literally given new life. As Latvia’s disabled are changed, so is the nation.
- Katie Roth is one of our most versatile missionaries. Having just finished her MA in Music Therapy from a Latvian University, Katie works as a music therapist and music teacher in a local state school, helping children with emotional, social and behavioral difficulties. Ministry opportunities abound. This connects with the ministry of Eagle’s Wings Camp, as a “bridge” between the local community (children, parents and teachers) and the work of the camp. As these children and their parents are changed, so is Latvia.
- Dan Roth, together with Diks, leads the Sheep Farm at Eagle’s Wings. Even though the farm was devastated in the March fire, losing 564 sheep and its huge barn, it was with great joy that I witnessed 44 from Oregon brave frigid conditions to replace it. Enough funds were given and out of the ashes, a wonderful new facility has been raised. And dozens of new sheep from Germany have been added to the flock. The farm is on the path toward growth and profit This farm is unique in that a portion of its profits fund the camp making possible its existence and programs. I am truly amazed to say as a sheep farm is changed, so is the nation.
- Madara Molnika is BBI’s new Director of Mission Days, our major annual event designed to inform and inspire Latvians to give their lives to missions. She is creatively designing an amazing February conference that will relevantly and seriously call the next generation to truly count the cost of following the Lord Jesus…all over the world. As hearts are changed to embrace the Great Commission, so is the nation.
- Madara Lazdina is BBI’s new Director of Imago Dei, our Ministry to Artists and Musicians. She leads creative strategies designed to help artists come to know, love and follow the Lord Jesus. Since artists are considered to be the most influential people in society, as they change, so does Latvia.
- Vineta Zale has now served as our Office Manager for 15 years. As such she is integral to many of our events and projects. In November she coordinated the registration for two major nationwide events: The Latvian National Prayer Breakfast and GLSLatvia, the annual training conference from the Willow Creek Association.
- It is important to note that Paula Hewitt, after three years of service to the Latvian community in Ireland, has returned to Corvallis, Oregon for home assignment. She is serving BBI locally in the areas of prayer, care and communication.
My friend, everything we do is designed to bring change to the nation of Latvia. As you can see, some of our strategies have changed but not our why. By God’s grace we continue to see new bridges that touch many sectors of society. Our ministry year in Latvia has been breathtaking. Your every gift to BBI has helped change a nation. Thank you.
I hope reading this letter encourages you as much as writing it inspires me. Whenever I take time to reflect on our original purpose, I am blessed. I thank God for the great things He has done…is doing…and will continue to do.
So, at the end of this year of challenge and remarkable progress, I want to invite you to put aside a special gift to help us continue to be used of the Lord to help change a nation.
I pray you will have a great advent season. And, I hope you will support Bridge Builders International, your partner in bringing about real change in Latvia and beyond.
Thank you and God bless you!
Building Bridges for the King,
Charles D. Kelley
Founder and President
P.S. As you make your end of year giving plans, please remember BBI and give generously — and please know of our great appreciation for you and your support.