The dirt roads leading up to Druvienia feel like a portal transporting you to a different world. Trees lining the road color everything with specs of orange. Nothing moves in Druvienia. Walking through it, you could almost imagine that you were the only person there.
Then the silence is disrupted by a tractor, and you realize that you’re not alone.
I got the privilege of serving in this tiny village in the middle of Latvia this past week, experiencing the culture, the beauty, and their heart to pursue God. About a year ago, another mission from the UK visited this tiny village and thirty people accepted Jesus. Ever since then, the tiny gathering of believers have been carrying themselves on in the pursuit of God, despite not having a pastor and having very few resources. We were there to run a bible study and a children’s program for them, and to encourage them in whatever ways we could.
Sunday was filled with the general get to know people events. My mom and I met up with our team in Riga, the capital of Latvia. From there, we traveled for a couple hours towards Druvienia, stopped to buy food, and continued on. We arrived in Druvienia early evening, and were greet by Andy and Velga.
Andy, a pastor of a church about three hours from Druvienia, was our translator for services. Velga was the general organizer of the village, functioning as social worker, delegator, and general do-all-help-all. She was there to show us around the school we were staying in, Andy was there to translate for her. Velga often forgot that we could not speak Latvian, and expected her wild hand gestures to communicate exactly what she meant to us. As she said of herself “my mind here, my body there, my spirit somewhere else!” It definitely described our experience with her.
There were eight of us on the team, with Nigel heading us up. As the week progressed, I began to appreciate Nigel more and more. He is an excellent leader and is very good at drawing everyone’s ideas out, and organizing them in a way that flows.
After everything was explained, we all went to make dinner, which was made all the more of an adventure since the water was undrinkable and the stove wouldn’t turn on. Sandwiches are a life saver.
Monday began with a time of prayer and devotion. Dan, a church intern from England, and I were supposed to be leading worship for the children’s club and church service that our team was running that afternoon. However, despite having been told that there would be a guitar available, upon further digging it was revealed that “there is a guitar in the village”. It was found just before our service.
My mom and I had been asked to teach a bible study on the practice of biblical prophecy, according to 1 Corinthians 14. While the rest of the team was leading a children’s club, we went with the children’s parents to discuss the bible, with Andy translating and filling in gaps when he saw confusion or questions.
The Latvian people are known for being distant, but even that hadn’t quite prepared us for so little feedback from the adults. As one of the adults said to us, “Latvians are not shy, but cold.” However, as the day progressed and people saw that we were there to serve them, they began to open up. We did a time of prayer for people- asking God what he wanted to say to them- and several people were deeply touched by God’s encouragement to them.
Andy had brought two teen girls from his town to assist with the mission, and while they were with us, they told us something about the culture that we were not aware of. Latvian culture is deeply rooted in pagan worship, and the school we were staying in was covered in symbols relating to it.
On Tuesday morning we gathered and had a time of prayer and declaration over the symbols- breaking off their power and inviting God to move in that place. It was a powerful time for all of us.
During the bible study on Tuesday, we decided to share the gospel with people and equip them to share the gospel with others, using highly visual methods so they could understand it through the language barrier. While people did not say much, it was encouraging to look around and see them all copying it down and taking notes. We also had a time of listening to God’s voice, and asked the Latvians to write down anything they felt they heard from God. Again, while no one was willing to share, as I looked around the room I could see everyone writing something down. I trust that God was moving and speaking to them.
During our prayer time at the end of the bible study, our translator (a man named Andrish), had a word that one of the men attending had neck pain. The man confirmed this, and we prayed for him. Afterwards, he said the pain was gone!
We also had a worship service and teaching afterwards, which the adults and children both participated.
On Wednesday, my mom and I stayed to help with the children’s club, since Andy had gone back to his town and we did not have enough translators to continue the bible study.
Being in the children’s club was such a blessing to me. Watching the kids join in worship songs, dancing, and listening to stories about Jesus almost moved me to tears. It is a reminder to me that we are to be childlike in our faith, to innocently abandon ourselves to Jesus.
At the end of our service on Wednesday, we had a community meal with whoever wanted to join. A local teenager whom we had been trying to get to come to the services finally came, and we were able to start a good conversation with him. Kutie, one of our team members, shared with him about how Jesus had transformed her life. She used to struggle with being very shy, but now she was so filled with joy that her confidence was plain to see. We asked him what he believed, and he shared that he thought there was a god but didn’t think that what Jesus did for us on the cross had an impact today, since it was so long ago. After going through the gospel with him, he realized that it still is extremely relevant and prayed to accept Jesus!
Some of his questions shed some light on Latvian culture for us. He asked about serving other gods, and how one could only serve one power.
In Latvia, the worship of the old pagan gods is very deeply embedded in culture, so much so that it almost defines what it means to be Latvian. In order to accept Jesus, the Latvians must accept that only God can be the power directing our lives. And that’s what we’re praying for him to see.
Thursday consisted of driving through some towns which missions before us had visited. At one, we prayer walked and at the other, we arrived right at the beginning of their local farmer’s market. Some of our team who had been there previously were recognized by the towns folk, and were invited back to do a kids club next summer. God is already providing ways for us to go back and serve.
Thursday evening my mom and I said goodbye to the rest of our team, who were flying back to the UK then. We stayed in Riga and flew out the next day.
My conclusion from visiting Latvia is that while people may present it as a “cold” culture, the people there are bursting with warmth. The hospitality shown to us, the fact that there is a church in a village as small as Druviena, and a generation of children who are growing up hearing about Jesus are all encouraging signs that God is working there. I cannot wait to go back.