The Lesson of Latvia

The offer came out of the blue. “Would your Missions 101 class be interested in a mission trip to Riga, Latvia, over spring break?” asked Lisa Giebel. Gayle Norton, veteran Bible teacher at Walla Walla Valley Academy (WWVA) in College Place, Washington, had never had an invitation as intriguing as this for his Missions 101 class.

The Giebel family does medical mission work regularly in Latvia, and the Adventist church in Riga was anxious to find help to further work with the youth of their city. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, they have struggled to rebuild the spiritual communities dissolved under communism. A few of the old members remember, but most of the youth are completely secular and skeptical of religion and even the idea of God. This was the perfect project for the missions class — the opportunity to introduce their peers to Jesus.

But the opportunity for WWVA’s Missions 101 class came with enormous challenges. First, students would need to raise more than $25,000 in a little more than six weeks and, second, seven quiet and introverted young ladies would be presenting a youth rally in a country very different from their own. That does not even include all the red tape of international travel. “I have to admit I wondered why this group. Why now?” Norton says. “But I knew that if this was God’s plan, He would find a way.”

The team set down some ground rules. No family would go into debt to send their child on the trip, and the girls would raise money as a team. They kicked into high gear. “We created a breakfast cart to sell food every day before school started, had entertainment nights for grade school kids so their parents could have a night out together with by-donation baby-sitting,” says senior Amy Arnzen. “We wrote letters to our friends and family. It was hard work, but we enjoyed that too.”

With one week to go, the team still needed $3,000 to cover food and transportation. “At that point, we were just headed out on faith,” says Norton. “And God provided. As we boarded the plane, we got word that the final $3,000 had come in.”

Over the course of the next 10 days the team provided direct outreach at schools and universities. They visited kindergarten and community centers and conducted a Friday night and Sabbath youth rally that included music, speaking and activities.

“I want you to know that we all saw this as an answer to prayer because God does truly work in amazing ways,” wrote Madura Daukste, the group's interpreter. “I hope you’ll never forget how He has led all of you in your lives because we ought to stick to that, in case we need a reminder of His love for us. I pray He may give you all a lot of adventures with Him, so one day you can really thank Him for a lot of experience, even though it could have been hard. You are in my prayers.”

“I love the close friends I made on this trip,” says Jenny Reich, WWVA junior. “I know that we will always be in touch and see each other again in heaven if not sooner. God has blessed us all because of this miracle.”

“We know that God works all things together for His purpose. We didn’t know that God was working on both sides of this mission trip to further His work, but we needed each other,” says Norton. “The lesson for all of us is that no mission is too big for God,”

If you would like to read more about the trip, visit WWVA’s Facebook page.