Charles David Kelley
President of Bridge Builders International
I grew up in a Latvian-American home in Los Angeles, California. My grandfather, Rev. Charles W. Singer, was a refugee pastor from Latvia and mission founder. He led his family out of Latvia in 1944.
Though I attended church regularly, I didn’t seriously commit my life to the Lord Jesus until I was in high school in 1969. I then attended the Church of the Open Door in Los Angeles. The pastor was Dr. J. Vernon McGee, an outstanding Bible teacher and visionary.
I traveled with my grandfather on numerous ministry trips through the U.S. and Europe. I was especially fascinated with Texas. During my high school and college years, I participated in many international ministry trips to destinations such as Mexico, Canada, France, Italy, Austria, Belgium, and Great Britain. I learned about international ministry with Campus Crusade for Christ, Operation Mobilization, Unevangelized Fields Mission and the Italian Gospel Mission.
I studied at BIOLA University in La Mirada, California for four years. The late Dr. Clyde Cook was my advisor and mentor. I completed my BA degree at BIOLA in 1977 with a major in intercultural studies with concentrations in cultural anthropology, linguistics, and European history. During college, I loved working on my 1970 Chevy Nova, one of the hottest cars on campus.
Also at BIOLA, I met Nancy Heidebrecht, a wonderful girl and excellent nursing student. For our first date, I took her to a black gospel concert featuring Andre’ Crouch and the Disciples. Little did I know at the time that I would learn, play and sing several of Andre’s songs for many years. Three years later, Nancy and I were married in her home church in Fremont, California. Her father, Rev. Harry Heidebrecht officiated.
I studied pastoral ministry at Southwestern Seminary in Ft. Worth, TX. I then earned an MA in Biblical Studies from Dallas Theological Seminary, writing my thesis on my grandfather’s life and ministry with WWII refugees and immigrants. The professors who influenced me most were Elliott Johnson, Haddon Robinson, Howard Hendricks, Don Regier, and Charles Ryrie. I have also studied at Oregon State University and the University of Latvia.
After serving in several music, youth and associate pastor positions in Paramount, California (Paramount Baptist Church), Arlington, Texas (Pantego Bible Church) and Oregon, I became Pastor of Kingwood Bible Church in Salem in 1984. In 1988, I became Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church in Corvallis, where I served until 1995. In all, I have worked in pastoral ministry for 21 years.
At the urging of my grandfather, I first visited Soviet Latvia in 1985. I was shocked at the conditions the people lived in and, as a result, the course of my life changed. Since 1985, I have made more than 150 trips to the Republic of Latvia, during where I have engaged in extensive preaching, networking, pastor training, and citywide evangelism.
In 1991, right before Latvia was freed from the Soviet Union, I organized Hope ’91, a major evangelistic and training campaign in Riga featuring evangelist Steve Russo. More than 2,000 people took steps toward Christ, and more than 400 leaders were trained in a ten-course Mini-School of Christian Leadership. In 1992 and 1994, I organized and directed successful Hope festivals and mini-schools in Riga and Ventspils.
In 1993, I went on a multi-national expedition to a Russian-speaking Muslim republic to investigate strategies for future ministry by Latvians. As a result of later visits from Latvians based on that first scouting trip, several hundred Muslims took steps toward Christ and have formed a national church which today experiences significant persecution. In fact, the government has now bulldozed that church.
In 1994, with the help of my wife, Nancy, and Mike and Stephanie Parker, I founded Bridge Builders International. In 1996, my grandfather’s organization, International Refugee Mission merged with BBI. He passed away the next year.
In 1999, BBI helped launch a new Latvian affiliate, Partners Association Latvia. My Latvian partner was Almers Ludviks, a respected pastor. I currently serve as Chairman of the Partners Board of Directors.
In 1999, I organized Hope ’99, a nationwide saturation evangelism effort in Latvia with evangelist Luis Palau and a team of 150 churches and ministries from 14 countries. During Hope ’99, the message of Christ was presented more than 200 times in multiple settings to more than 50,000 people in 33 cities around Latvia, as well as on national television and radio.
Former President of Latvia, Guntis Ulmanis, served as honorary patron of the festival and publicly stood to underscore his commitment to Christ at the closing service. In all, some 5,000 people took public steps toward Christ during Hope ’99.
In 2002, BBI and Partners helped establish the Latvian Evangelical Alliance. I served on its Board of Directors for many years.
In 2005, our ministry came alongside the brand new Latvian National Prayer Breakfast Committee to build a Prayer Breakfast Movement in Latvia.
In 2007, at the request of Baptist Bishop Peteris Sprogis, I helped establish Baltic Pastoral Institute. I serve as Dean of International Affairs and teach theology and missiology.
I enjoy networking with international leaders. I have benefited from numerous major conferences and special events in the Canada, Philippines, South Africa, South Korea, Cyprus, Italy, Sweden, Russia, England, Germany, Hungary, Greece, Poland, Estonia, Ukraine, Lithuania and Latvia. I absolutely love meeting new people and being exposed to new ideas and models of leadership and ministry.
Over the years I have been a guest lecturer at numerous colleges and universities, and I have written many articles for a variety of magazines. I am the author of “Church-to-Church: Building Ministry Partnerships Worldwide”, a basic handbook used by Bridge Builders. My book, Surprised by the Father’s Plan, tells the story of my family and me, and BBI. It was released in English in 2005 and in Latvian in 2006. It is also available on audio CDs.
I enjoy reading and have an extensive library. I am a lover of art, especially painting. For many years, whenever I had a day off and was close to a museum or gallery I could be found soaking in as much beauty as possible. I started to paint myself in 2004 and have benefited from the expert instruction of Latvian masters. Aleksejs Naumovs was my first teacher and Kaspars Zarins has been my main mentor the last few years. My art website is www.charlesdavidkelley.com. Read more about my journey as a painter.
I was a good friend of the American artist, Thomas Kinkade. He and his family experienced a BBI mission trip in 2004 which opened many cultural doors in Latvia to BBI. I currently serve on the Board of Directors of the new Thomas Kinkade Museum.
In 2014, I started a significant new ministry to artists and musicians, Imago Dei Latvia. It touches all three Baltic nations. It involves monthly gatherings, creative events for artists, popular summer festivals/camps and hugely popularly exhibitions that speak to the soul of secular society with the message of hope and help.
I am also the leader of the European Artist Network, a gathering of artists from more than 20 European nations that meets annually in Poland in conjunction with the European Leadership Forum. This has served as a springboard for my speaking on topics related to art, artists, faith, the church, and society in Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, England, Poland, Ukraine, Finland and the US.
In 2003, President Vaira Vike-Freiberga humbled and awarded me with one of Latvia’s highest honors, the Gold Medal of the Order of the Three Stars. Read more about this award.
Nancy and I have been married 41 years. We live in Philomath, Oregon, a small timber town near Corvallis. We also keep a small apartment in Riga’s Old Town where I live when I am in Latvia. We have four grown children, all of whom are married, and nine grandchildren.
Last revised 28 November 2018