RIGA, Latvia—Latvians are beginning to see a lot of Oklahoma Baptists these days. Since the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma (BGCO) and the Latvian Baptist Union forged a three-year missions partnership in the fall of 2015, several trips to Latvia have been in the works.
Just days before the Singing ChurchWomen of Oklahoma arrived in Latvia, a group of Oklahoma Baptist pastors and other leaders took a week-long vision trip to Latvia. The group, led by the BGCO executive director-treasurer Anthony Jordan and BGCO partnership missions strategist Mike Hand, departed from Oklahoma on May 18.
“This partnership with Latvia is very important for numerous strategic reasons,” said Jordan. “Latvia has no Southern Baptist IMB missionaries, and Latvian Baptists, who are strong but small in number, long for help as they seek to reach their country of 2.2 million people.”
Latvia suffered under Nazi and Soviet Communist rule for 50 years (1940-1990), and Jordan believes Latvia Baptists will be emboldened to see beyond their walls to the fields that are ripe for harvest, through the partnership.
Hand, who previously served with the International Mission Board before coming to the BGCO, witnessed firsthand the ministry opportunities in Latvia.
“The leadership there is visionary, young and creative. With nearly 90 churches already, they are ready to plant churches to advance the Gospel,” he said.
On the vision trip, the Oklahoma pastors and leaders connected with Latvian Baptist leaders through various meetings, including the annual convention meeting of the Latvian Baptist Union on Saturday May 21, where Jordan preached.
The following day, a Sunday, the group connected at various churches and church plants in Riga and surrounding areas for worship and fellowship.
Will Wilson was one of eight Oklahoma Baptist pastors and directors of missions who joined Jordan and Hand on this vision trip.
“It was a brief trip, but we were able to experience a lot,” said Wilson who is pastor of Tecumseh, New Hope. “There is a great need for churches to partner with the work going on in Latvia. To their credit, whether we partner with them or not, Latvian Baptists will accomplish the work.”
Wilson said the Sunday time of worship was particularly powerful. “I felt an instant connection with the church planter and the people. There is a real opportunity to take the Gospel to this place, which is still suffering from the aftermath of Soviet occupation. God is at work here, and I was reminded how good we have it in America.”
Wilson has plans to go back to Latvia in the fall, to help with the Latvian Baptist encampment ministry.
Also on the vision trip were Kevin Baker, pastor of Altus, Martha Road; Harry Black, director of missions in Capital Association; Michael Butler, pastor of Chickasha, First; Steven Earp, pastor of Moore, Elevate Church; Mike Keahbone, pastor of Oklahoma City, Cherokee Hills; Patrick Latham, pastor of Lawton, First; and Doug Melton, pastor of Oklahoma City, Southern Hills.
Earp said, “I knew almost nothing about Latvia before hearing about it from Dr. Jordan and then spending time with some of the Latvian Baptist leaders. Latvia is such a beautiful country, from the landscape to the hearts of the people who live there. On our vision trip, we got a crash course in Latvian history, culture, scenery, and food, but most importantly, we saw up close the spiritual climate there. Latvia is ripe for Oklahoma churches to partner with Latvian churches in spreading the Gospel.”
Black said, “I was impressed by the leaders of the Latvian Baptist Union. They are all young and passionate about the Lord and His calling on their lives. God is at work in Latvia through these young leaders and He is inviting Oklahoma Baptists and Capital Baptist churches and members to join Him in this work.”
The BGCO has outlined several areas in which churches can connect with Latvia, including youth ministry, missional outreach events, camps, pastoral mentoring and church planting.
For more information about the Oklahoma-Latvia partnership, contact Mike Hand at firstname.lastname@example.org or 405/942-3800, Ext. 4337 or visit www.bgco.org/latvia.
Look for more Latvia missions updates, including stories from the Singing ChurchWomen mission trip, in future issues of the Baptist Messenger.