Recently, national news was dominated by reports of Russian planes flying within 30 feet of a United States ship in the Baltic Sea. Experts saw it as Vladimir Putin flexing his Russian muscles and signaling a brazen “in-your-face” taunting of the United States. One report suggested that Putin has great interest in the Baltics, and in particular Riga, Latvia, because it has the deepest port on the Baltic.
I listened with interest because Oklahoma has just set in place a partnership with the Latvia Baptist Union. The goal of this partnership is to lead Oklahoma Baptist churches and associations to join forces with the Baptists of Latvia to preach the Gospel, disciple believers, and plant strong evangelistic churches.
The Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma’s (BGCO) partnership with Latvia is very important. With the pull back of International Mission Board missionaries, Latvia has no Southern Baptist missionaries, which makes Oklahoma Baptists’ engagement there even more important. Latvian Baptists long for help as they seek to reach their country of 2.2 million people. There are only 88 Baptist churches in the country, and many of these churches are weak. Yet, the Union leaders are young, focused, creative, and determined to see a significant move of the Gospel in their country while the country remains free from Soviet or other domination.
Latvia was under Nazi and Soviet Communist rule for 50 years (1940-1990). In 1990, the people forced their independence from Russia, and in 1991, Latvia became a sovereign nation. For many years, a large number of the 88 Baptist churches lived under oppression and persecution from the Communists. Latvian churches turned inward and remain so. From 2008 to 2012, there were no baptisms in 33 percent of the churches. Today, Latvia Baptists need encouragement and partnership to see beyond their walls to the fields that are ripe for harvest. There is great opportunity to see major revitalization of Latvian churches.
The Latvia Baptist Union is focused on church planting. While Riga, a city of just under 700,000, presents the greatest opportunities for church planting, there is a need to plant churches throughout the country. Riga, the capital city, is young and vibrant. The open door for Gospel-centered churches is great, and there is a great need for Oklahoma Baptists to come alongside Latvian church planters and assist them. There are presently 26 church planting teams. One of the goals of the Union is to involve at least 80 percent of their current churches in church planting by adopting and praying for at least one city or town in Latvia. Those participating churches will send their best people and resources for church planting in that city or town.
I am so excited to partner with Latvian Baptists because of their strong vision and strategic planning to achieve all that God has set before them. A crucial need of any church planting movement is trained leaders. The Union has developed the Baltic Pastoral Institute to train leaders for the present and future. Last spring, BGCO leadership visited the Institute and had the privilege of hearing from several of the students; all were engaged in ministry and many in church planting. These students were visionary, passionate, and dedicated young leaders. At the same time they are training at the institute, they are pouring out their lives for the sake of the Gospel.
There are multiple ways for churches and associations to be involved in Latvia. The Latvia Baptist Union has already sent a number of project requests to BGCO leadership. These requests can be achieved by a single church or a group of churches. Mike Hand, BGCO partnership coordinator, can help your church, large or small, engage in hands-on missions in Latvia.
I began this article by raising the issue of the Russians’ aggressive move in the Baltic Sea and the strategic importance of Latvia. While none of us can predict the future, I do believe it is of utmost importance that we make every effort to assist our Baptist counterparts in Latvia to take the Gospel to their country while freedom reigns. We can be a part of sowing that country with the Good News of Jesus. Latvia is small enough so that Oklahoma Baptists can put their arms around that nation and join hands with the Baptists of Latvia in planting evangelistic and discipling churches to the glory of God.
Will your church take an Acts 1:8 step to engage in international missions? Will you consider giving a week of your life to serve the cause of Christ in Latvia? The time is now. The door is wide open—now. Call Mike Hand today at 405/202-6004.