News and Articles
24 January 2017
On 4th February, we’ll be loading our life into a van and driving (with the help of a few willing friends!) to Riga, Latvia where we’ll be living for the next few years.
Latvia isn’t your typical European holiday destination so you may be asking, ‘Where are we actually going?’ Latvia is located in the north-east corner of Europe, and it is one of the three countries that make up the Baltic states and borders Russia.
It’s a country that is close to both of our hearts, having first visited as students on short term trips where we experienced God at work, both in the lives of the young people we met and in ourselves. We continued to visit Latvia regularly in the years that followed, and God put a love for the country and its people on our hearts.
Faiths and figures
From the stats, the Latvian church seems to be strong with 60% of the population identifying as Christian – the largest denominations being Lutheran, Russian Orthodox and Catholic. Church attendance, however, is very low, with only 3–4% attending a service regularly and very few of these being evangelicals. Because of the enforcement of atheism under the Soviet rule and Europe’s influence of secularisation, today a growing number of Latvians claim not to follow any religion.
The youth camp that we’ve been involved with since first visiting Latvia takes place in the easternmost part of the country, in Latgale, one of the poorest regions in the EU. The young people who attend the camp have limited opportunities for education, social activities or future employment in the area. Consequently depression, and drug and alcohol abuse are serious problems amongst the younger generations. All of this, combined with their long history of occupation and being walked over by surrounding nations and super-powers have left the nation with a distinct lack of hope and self-worth.
Riga, the capital city, has a population of around 750,000, including over 80,000 students studying at 10 universities and higher education institutions. That’s quite a lot of students! (Southampton’s student population, by comparison, is around 40,000.)
Currently, the Navigators, LKSB (IFES) and Agape are the main Christian organisations that work amongst students in the city, but with only a handful of staff members and volunteers between them, the harvest seems plentiful but the workers are few!
What will we be doing?
One of our main priorities during our time in Latvia will be to build links with, and be involved in, the life of the church in Riga. We hope to use our gifts and abilities to bless and serve the local church, and seek to learn from and partner with them.
We’ve loved being involved with the youth camp ministry in the past, and we’re excited to have the opportunity to continue and build on this work over the coming years. We’ll primarily be involved with running a summer camp for young people (many of whom are from a local orphanage) where we’ll explore the Bible together and share God’s love, as well as having a lot of fun playing games, singing and learning new skills! Building on the summer activities we’ll be helping to develop the camp ministry with outreach into schools and further evangelistic events during the year; connecting and following up with those we meet at the camp.
Many of the young people we meet at the summer camps end up moving to Riga to study or in search of work. It’s our desire to connect with these students once they arrive in the capital and reach out to the thousands of others studying there. Through weekly Bible studies, meeting one-to-one, and weekend conferences we’ll seek to help these students move closer to God, whatever stage in their faith they are at, equipping them to reach out to their friends and grow in being a disciple of Jesus.
We’re excited for this adventure ahead and to see how God will be at work. We are praying that we will ‘see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living’ (Psalm 27:13).