As I write this the camp is nearing the end of the last English session. Lunch will follow and then a closing ceremony at the local arts center down the street. We have been so blessed to share the Good News of Jesus with our friends here. They have hosted us very well and have also taught us a great deal about living life to the full.
The weekend will be a bit slower as we gear up for travel back to home or to our next destination. Thank you for your prayers and support through this whole journey. There are many months of preparation that goes into making this sort of trip possible. Your financial, emotional and prayer support form the foundation for these trips.
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After a long day Friday that involved a seven mile hike a powerful movie and a campfire we began our final day in the Latvia Teen Life Camp 2019. Our first experience with this in Latvia has been very positive. We were blessed with access to a great facility (St. Gregors) and the best team I could have wished for. Events like this always feature on-the-fly changes. We train our team to be ready for this with a simply phrase: welcome to the mission field. There are inevitably miscommunications, changing circumstances and the ordinary things one encounters when making a plan from far away and then showing up in person to act on that plan.
Our participants have become friends. Our lives and theirs have been impacted. We once again been re-introduced to an amazing country and an amazing God who supplies all out needs and more!
Today is the second day of our Bible Camp for younger students. We have about sixty students ranging from grade 1 through 6. For this camp that works out to seven classes. We start each day at 9:00am and close at 3:00pm. In the afternoon the team debriefs over the day's events, prays for our camp participants and spends some time re-tooling lesson plans for the next day.
This week the team team will get to visit and historic city, Kūldīga, spend some time with a local church youth group and be hosted for an evening at the home of a teacher at Strukí Primary school. With all this going on, we certainly could use prayers for:
We have spent this past week teaching and sharing about friendship, family, dating and marriage. Our camp participants come from a variety of backgrounds. Generally that is much more hostility in European culture to traditional Christian values around these topics.
Many of our campers have never heard adults even teach these ideas. There is little in the the culture to support and teach what healthy relationships look like. Never mind the confusing messages around human sexuality. The Church here is even more besieged than in the U.S. over ideas around dating, abstinence and the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman. It has been a breath of fresh air for many of our participants to hear Christian adults and youth speak openly about a Biblical vision around friendship, family, dating and marriage. Please continue to pray for us as we build trust and learn from our new Latvian friends. God is on the move here!
Thanks for your prayers. Our team member with the cold is better today. Please continue to pray for:
The teen camp ends Saturday at noon. Friday (today) two additional team members will arrive. They will be joining us for the younger camp next week.
Today was day two of camp. We are learning about family, dating, friendship and marriage this week in our teem camp. The day basically works just like a youth camp in the United States. Worship, big group talks, small groups and loads of time for being ridiculous and building relationships.
We ended today with a trip to the beach! The Baltic Sea was warmer than usual. It was a perfect day. Our team is well equipped to serve the students we have with us.
Please continue to pray for our team to stay healthy. One of us has developed a cold. So far the weather has been cooperative, if a little warm.
Thanks for your continued support and prayers. God is good all the time. All the time, God is good!
Finally, the last of the luggage arrived! Thanks for your prayers. The remaining bags were delivered on a major holiday, nonetheless. What holiday you may ask? Jāni Day of course! It's a Summer Solstice celebration that falls on the Eve of the Summer Solstice. For more detail check out this link. To get an idea of its scope, try imagining Christmas, New Year's, and the fourth of July all rolled into one.
The luggage actually being delivered on this day (June 24) is exceptional. There was also a slight mishap as TSA decided to open the craft paints and then not properly put the lids back on (thanks guys!).
Liepaja -pristine beaches, amazing arts center and host of an old school Soviet prison.
As part of our strategy to STAY AWAKE while we recover from jet lag, our hosts arranged a trip on Saturday to scenic Liepāja. This coastal city in the North West of Latvia has a unique history. Recently, during the Soviet Occupation, it was host to the Western-most navel base of the U.S.S.R. The base included a city-within-a-city called Karoska. Karoska was a walled city within Liepaja that contained the military population and separated it from the civilians in Liepaja. While many Soviet officials described Karoska as 'the final line of defense from the Evil West," it was also a way to keep citizens from escaping to Sweden. We briefly toured a soviet prison in Karoska.
Liepāja is known as the musical center of Latvia and boasts its own version of the Walk of Fame. We toured one of its larger churches and had a late lunch near the marketplace. Liepāja is a city of startling contrasts.
Prayer and Worship for Christian Unity in Zvārde.
Saturday afternoon the team was invited to participate in a two-hour worship event in the ruins of a church in nearby Zvārde. There is an encouraging trend in Western Latvia to gather the Church in different municipalities and worship together as one congregation to pray for deeper and more practical unity as believers. Latvian converts to Christianity still face significant pressure and ridicule from friends and family who are still deeply influenced by the Communist Atheism of the former USSR. The church ruins tell their own story about where this inevitably leads.
Summer Solstice 2019
June 23-24 marks the passing of the longest day of light -and consequently the shortest night- and in the Baltic States (Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia) this day is huge in significance. With its powerful pagan roots, some Christians in Latvia gather on their own to worship, eat good food, pray for the next season of life, and simply enjoy the beauty of a Latvian night. The sun set around 11:30pm and rose again at 3:33am.
No, we did not have the fortitude to start the whole night (which is the tradition) but we did get to experience a Christian version of keeping Jāni Day at the farm of a member of a local Luthern Church in Saldus.
Perhaps I was a bit too cavalier in my previous blog post. It was almost as if the baggage-handling-forces-that-be read about my luggage post and decided to have some fun. A flight delay turned into a missed connection for the overseas hop which led to our checked bags being lost. At least temporarily. Bleared-eyed from way too many hours of travel, I filled out the claim forms for the missed luggage (which contains all the camp materials and some personal items) and prayed. Today after arriving in Saldus just before 03:00 and getting a few hours of sleep. We now have news that our luggage will be arriving Saturday. We hope.
While several members of our great team are already in parts of Europe, three of the Wilhelms and Sue Hartfiel have yet to leave. We are busy packing and weighing and running through checklists. Many of you know how this is. The constant checking and rechecking, the repeated list making, list losing and list finding (only after the original lists were found, of course).
We are excited to have the privilege of sharing the hope of Jesus as we serve alongside the local Church in Latvia. East European Missions Network has an excellent process for recruiting and training short-term mission trip members for a week or two of challenging mission work among some amazing people. The mission trip we are going on is unique in many ways; we go there at the invitation of the local Church to lead English Language Bible courses. Our team members aren't going to build something local people could build just as well for themselves. We don't go there to do other things that our dedicated and very capable local partners could also do in their congregations and communities. We go (to Latvia in this case) to teach conversational English as native English speakers.
As we go, we also share the hope that we have within us. Jesus, our Lord. Our curriculum is a series of Bible lessons (think simplified Vacation Bible School) and multiple opportunities to build relationships and go deeper in our discipleship with one another.
Please be in prayer for us in these areas:
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Our hosts in Latvia are actively promoting participation in the upcoming EEMN Life Camp for Teens, as well as the EEMN English Bible Camp for elementary students. Please lift up in prayer our American team, as they finish training, preparation, and packing for their mission to Latvia; the students who will participate and encounter the Gospel at the camps; and for our Latvian ministry partners who are also preparing to serve alongside the EEMN team. Stay tuned for more updates!