Twenty-five Years of Faithfully Serving the Lord in Latvia
By Charles Kelley, Founder and President
(PHILOMATH, Oregon) – The year was 1994: Life in Latvia was uncertain at best, volatile at worst. Organized crime was highly visible, impacting both the business world and the criminal justice system. I recall the day a police officer’s wife told me that her husband had been instructed to stay out of certain districts in Riga and not to respond to any complaints or criminal reports… because those districts were “owned” by various mafia groups. Back in Oregon, I was serving as Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church in Corvallis.
One rainy, cold February morning just after dawn, my team and I boarded a jetliner bound for Latvia to organize Hope ’94, a major evangelistic campaign in the coastal city of Ventspils. While there, an entire business was blown up by the mafia. In the capital city Riga, judges who had the courage to hand down fair sentences to mafia leaders did so in peril; one prominent judge was assassinated in front of his home.
Soviet troops had not yet fully withdrawn from Latvia and the country’s economy was highly unstable, having shifted from the Russian Ruble to restore the pre-World War II currency of the Latvian Lat, a transition fraught with problems. All business ventures were high risk and investing in Latvia was treacherous. It was in this climate that we organized Hope ’94. Shortly thereafter, Bridge Builders International (BBI) was born.
Fast forward twenty-five years: The Latvia of 2019 is infinitely different.
She is a member of both the European Union and NATO. As a result, the economic situation is much better (at least in the cities), and the presence of international NATO troops deters potential Russian aggression. And, our BBI ministry has continued to adapt alongside of her. We are no longer organizing city-wide evangelistic campaigns. Yet we continue to serve the Lord in creative and unique ways, responding appropriately to the culture and the climate to make His name known and introduce Latvians to a saving relationship with Jesus.
In 1994, the presence of foreigners in Central and Northeastern Europe was very welcome and all things “Western” were idolized, including Evangelical Christianity. That mentality has disappeared. Outreach today must be strategically targeted with a strong emphasis on genuine relationships. In 1994, there were no Christian camps in Latvia. Today, Eagle’s Wings Camp ministers to specific groups of people year-round, reaching children, teens, young men, families, orphans, and men in recovery. Then, ministry was generalized. Now, it is specialized. We are involved in target ministries to national leaders through the National Prayer Breakfast. To men and women struggling with profound life problems through Celebrate Recovery. To artists and musicians as well as the public who come to events that focus on meeting specific needs. To children and orphans.
In 1994, while most Latvian believers considered missions a distant dream, Almers Ludviks began taking bold risks to bring the New Testament and the Gospel to the Russian-speaking republic of Turkmenistan. Since then, Latvians have brought the Gospel to more than 60 nations. Over the years, we have been equipping and mobilizing believers to do so through our Mission Days training and events.
What a joy it is for me to share that today, what was once only a dream is now a reality. Last year, for example, BBI team members ministered in Jordan, the Republic of Georgia, Poland, Estonia, Lithuania, and Ukraine.
Latvia is now twenty-five years older; she has aged since that February morning on the icy tarmac. But her spiritual needs, though they may look different, are no less critical.
And, in our 25thyear of ministry, we at BBI continue responding to God’s calling. We continue working to see this tiny nation transformed by the love of God.
Then, and now – Latvia needs Jesus.