For almost twenty years two very different congregations have worked together for a common goal – to help as many people as possible come to know, love and follow the Lord Jesus Christ with all of their hearts.
By Katie Leatherwood
RIGA, Latvia – Soon after Latvia gained its independence from the Soviet Union in the early 1990’s, former missionary Bob Tucker helped First Baptist Church in Athens, Texas (FBCA) form a partnership with Cesis Baptist Church (CBC) in Latvia. This partnership has grown for almost twenty years and teams from Texas have traveled to Cesis at least once a year to partner in ministry projects.
In 2007, retired teacher, basketball coach and principal, Mark Wimberley, and his wife, Laura, moved to Latvia from Athens to more directly partner with the Cesis Church. Their dedication and commitment have resulted in deeper relationships and spiritual growth. Mark Wimberley was my high school Economics teacher, a missionary example, a basketball coach and a mentor in how to share the love of Jesus Christ with those in Latvia.
A full week of partnership ministry has just been completed with FBCA and CBC. CBC was the host church for the spectacular Latvian Baptist Song Festival. This is a four-day event that brings together singers and other musicians from Baptist churches nationwide.
I was glad I could join the small team from FBCA that came to assist in the week’s events. We had the opportunity to also use our musical talents in singing and accompanying the prestigious CBC hand bell choir.
In addition to the Song Festival, the first four days were a combination of VBS, musical performances and preaching events. VBS attracted many children who are not affiliated with the church. CBC members led the children in Godly Play sessions while our team reiterated the lessons with games, crafts and music.
Later in the week, the Global Leadership Summit-X was held for business and church leaders. Our pastor from Texas, Kyle Henderson, led this session which prompted deep discussion on leadership practices from a Biblical perspective. All events were very well attended and seemed to have an impact on all involved.
One of the big differences in this trip compared to others is that the people of CBC took primary leadership in all events; FBCA was there for assistance. It was so good to see CBC members at every event around Cesis during the week in leadership positions serving their fellow Latvian believers.
This week, Baptists from all over the country were greeted by city officials, posters promoting the event were all over town and Cesis Baptist Church was seen in a new light. Near the end of the week, CBC members put up a 15 foot cross designating the church facility. This was a huge victory. The church is emerging as a major influence in the town.
“It was a great week,” reflected Mark Wimberly. “I am so proud of both of my churches — Cesis Baptist and First Baptist. The Cesis Church continues to grow, gain strength and find the personality that God wants it to have. I am so humbled and grateful that we have an opportunity to be a part.”
The long-term commitment these churches have with one another has impacted many people. This partnership is two-sided, where each side grows and is impacted by the other. Relationships have grown to the point of feeling like family on each return trip.
My love for Latvia began, in large part, because of this partnership. My first trip was in 2005 on a short-term mission trip when we held basketball and volleyball day camps. I returned on many other short-term trips where I saw relationships grow and new ones made.
As a new missionary to Latvia, I am blessed with the distinct advantage to have an already established Latvian family for support, assistance and love. They have assured me, as well as FBCA, that they will take care of me. This local support system that has been in the making for many years will make my transition into a new culture smoother.
The dedication the Wimberley family and FBCA practices towards the Latvian people and CBC has shown their authenticity in this partnership and the common goal of spreading the Gospel to the Latvian people.