TUKUMS, Latvia (BP)–Down the street from the Cultural Center building in Matkule, a monument stands stone silent, memorializing the hundreds of local Latvians exiled to Siberia by Russian edict. Undeterred by history or local prejudice, Anna and her grandmother, both of Russian descent, walked more than a mile to the center in the rural Latvian village that is barely sustained by fishing and agriculture.
The blonde 9-year-old spoke only Russian and didn’t understand Latvian. But tears traced her tender face as Galina Nikolayev — a member of the volunteer missions team and of First Baptist Church, Daytona Beach, Fla. — spoke about Christ during one of the team-sponsored banquets for women. After the banquet Nikolayev, who is Siberian-born and speaks fluent Russian, knelt to meet Anna and tell her about Jesus.
“‘I want to have faith like you have faith’ Anna told me,” recalled Nikolayev, whose testimonies touched the lives of many women, some of whom met with her after the banquets and prayed, committing their lives to Christ.
Anna later prayed to receive Christ: “Lord, forgive me of my sins, and give me strong faith.”
The young Russian was among more than 20 people of all ages who prayed a prayer of repentance and faith out loud, and then flocked to the front of the center’s auditorium after team member Cliff Smith, who preached the evening’s evangelistic service, offered an invitation to accept Christ.
“It was a phenomenal thing,” Smith said.
“It was a Pentecostal thing,” he said, referring to Acts 2. “I never expected that kind of response.”
The July 2-14 trip to Latvia completed a three-year covenant between First Baptist Church of Daytona and the Tukums Baptist Church in Tukums, Latvia.
“Without a doubt it was our best trip yet because of the team effort and, most important, because of the number of people praying to receive Christ,” said Tom Lynn, First Baptist’s evangelism and missions pastor. “More people came to Christ on this trip than either of the previous two.”
Lynn and the other men on the team slept in church classrooms. The team’s women were guests in church members’ homes. The team gathered each day at the church, and after breakfast and a brief devotional meeting and prayer, the team split into smaller ministry groups, piled themselves and supplies into overcrowded cars and dispersed across the region.
Matkule was but one place the team of 13 ministered using Vacation Bible Schools, evangelistic meetings, beach ministry and banquets for women. Smaller teams traveled to Valdemarpils, Engure and Apcuciems, finding people of all ages ready to hear what the Americans had to say, and to join their activities. Another team remained each day in Tukums at the host church, offering Vacation Bible School which averaged about 40 kids per day.
Sandi Andrews and Mark Davis worked with a couple from the Tukums church, using Vacation Bible School to nurture a house church the couple was planting in Engure, a hamlet about 30 miles from Tukums.
“The kids in Engure kept coming back, day after day; they were waiting on us when we arrived, and they brought their friends,” Andrews said.
“On the final day,” Davis added, “they ran to our car when we arrived and wanted to play baseball immediately. I then realized the Lord was doing a great work there. A few hours later, several of them enthusiastically accepted Christ.”
Matt Martin learned of an orphanage about 20 minutes from Tukums and made arrangements for an evangelistic service there one morning. The home for orphans looked ordinary on the outside. But inside, many of the teens were orphaned from the love and support they needed because of alcoholic or abusive parents. The sleepy teens half-listened as Martin shared the Gospel. But the adult workers outshone the youngsters both in numbers and interest. When Martin led the group in prayer and asked who wanted a relationship with Christ, hands flew up, nine of them from employees.
“Most of these workers have a Lutheran background,” the home’s director told Martin. “And it’s the first time they’ve ever heard such a prayer.” Ugis Pello, pastor of the Tukums church, later said it likely was the first time many of them ever had heard the Gospel.
What the director told Martin made him realize the lack of knowledge about the Gospel among some people in Latvia: “They know of religion and Christianity, but they don’t know where salvation comes from or what Christ’s death really means,” Martin said.
It’s comments like these that make volunteer missions work so important to First Baptist and its members, as well as other churches in the United States, said Lynn, “because such efforts strongly influence their sensitivity to reach lost people on the mission field and especially after they get back home.”
Pello expressed deep gratitude for the team’s efforts, noting that the influence cuts both ways: “I can tell our church people about these ministries, but it has more impact for American Christians to come and show us.”