For some, this story is not new. For 6 of the last 7 years I have had the privilege to lead a short-term summer missions team to the Eastern European country of Latvia. We head over each summer to support our missionaries, Joe & Anna Brooks, and specifically to assist Josiah Venture Missions Organization with their summer camps. Each year, we have helped in a Fusion Music camp, teaching students various instruments and vocals to open the door to share the love of Christ with them.
For 4 of the 6 years we have helped at a camp in the small village of Vainode, in the southwest region of the country. Over the years we have seen those students grow physically, relationally and most importantly spiritually. Students who were shy, reserved and not very open years ago, are now some of the closest ones to our teams and are leaders of the small band of youth. The steady flow of tears by Latvians and Americans as camp and our time together ends, is the river that connects each side of the Atlantic. During the Olympics, Americans were posting “go Latvia” and Latvians were posting “go USA” – the bond is so much deeper than 6 days of music, games and camp. A steady exchange of Snapchats and FaceTime calls glue each heart together.
Each year, God teaches me something specifically on these trips. Whether those lessons are personal or professional, each one been extremely influential on me and have changed me in very significant and profound ways. Some years those lessons are very evident at camp and other years, it has become clear after I’ve gotten home and had time to reflect. This past year at camp, as I was preparing to speak in one of the evening session, I was looking out of an open 3rd story window while the rain was falling. Looking at the green trees and grass, hearing the rain, feeling the breeze and talking to God, I got a very peaceful and content feeling. While I didn’t audibly hear the Lord speak, I felt His Spirit give the sense of pride, contentment and a job “well done.” For the rest of the week, I watched our team with pride and kept hearing “well done.” At the end of camp, watching the concert that the students and our team put on for the parents, I stood watched knowing that it was “well done.” As we pulled away from camp on Sunday afternoon, after a very emotional morning at church, I stood and talked to our team as I do each year. With tears in my eyes (just like they are as I write this) and a cracking voice, I told the team “well done.” We were good and faithful servants. We were open and we were used. Students were changed. We were changed. God answered our prayers and worked in and through us. The church in Vainode is in transition with their adult leadership, so if we are finished there, we finished well and fought the good fight with honor. If we return, we will continue to build on the solid foundation that God has established and allowed us to play a part of.
Upon returning home, I am reading the book of I Thessalonians. As Paul had great pride in the church of Thessalonica, I have that same pride in the church, and specifically in the students of Vainode, Latvia. Paul longed to return to them, as I long to return to Vainode. Paul looked to Thessalonica as his hope, crown, boasting, glory and joy; Vainode will always be that to me.