(You can read this and other great articles in the March-April issue of ‘The Lutheran Layman.’)
How important is building relationships to the spread of the Gospel? Lutheran Hour Ministries’ center in the Republic of Latvia knows. As part of Lutheran Hour Ministries’ international focus of reaching out to children and youth, one of the center’s new initiatives aims to strengthen poor families by responding to their physical needs and fostering a spirit of togetherness. Now doors are opening to the message of salvation.
The impact of the financial crisis that began in 2008 has been felt around the world. In Europe, some nations are wrestling with historic debt; others have suffered but taken steps to survive the crisis. Austerity measures adopted by the Republic of Latvia and the other Baltic states early in the crisis have helped them to stave off national bankruptcy. But unemployment has risen in Latvia, and many Latvians have traveled to other parts of the European Union to find work.
The poor who have remained behind have been especially hard-hit.
Luteranu Stunda, the Lutheran Hour Ministries center in Latvia, has intensified efforts to help the people who are most seriously affected. Over the last few years, Director Artis Purins has been building relationships with Lutheran churches throughout Latvia to reach out to the poor in their communities. He has also stockpiled shipments of new and used clothing, household goods and supplies received from longtime Lutheran Hour Ministries partner Orphan Grain Train. Recently, in cooperation with the churches, Luteranu Stunda began hosting family sports days. Families who are among the registered poor are encouraged to come as children and parents together to participate in sports and games.
To offer a positive witness to Jesus Christ from the outset, the sponsoring church begins the day’s activities with devotions by the pastor or with Christian hymns and special music. Then the ministry center’s events manager, Eriks Laime-Babris, leads the families in sports and in fun community-building activities. After the activities, the participating families enjoy refreshments, and each family is given a gift package from the Orphan Grain Train supplies.
At first, some of the parents feel a little silly playing games they believe are more suited to children—but then the spirit of community draws them in and encourages them to get involved and build relationships with their children. Members of the ministry center staff participate in the activities alongside the families they are serving, so throughout the day they have numerous opportunities to witness about Jesus and connect families to the host congregation.
Each of these family sports days has resulted in referrals to the local congregations for follow-up and church involvement!
Relationships are the key. Neither Luteranu Stunda nor the local Latvian congregations nor Orphan Grain Train could by themselves bring poor families together, help alleviate their poverty and connect them to an ongoing message of power and hope. In partnership—and with support from North American congregational and individual partners—they are seizing new opportunities to minister to people by building relationships with them and encouraging them to build relationships with each other as well.
You can be a part of this outreach effort too. To explore how you can support Lutheran Hour Ministries—Latvia as an International Ministries Partner, visit www.lhm.org/partner.