Bishop of the Latvia Union of Baptist Churches
When and how did you become a believer?
My story is that I grew up in Soviet times, in Christian family where it was not just nominal Christianity. Starting in my childhood it was in some sense a choice because during my teenage years I realized that I have started living a double life in school and church. I tried to be accepted and on the top in both places. And then in one of the youth reunions that took place in Liepaja after preacher spoke I had a strong conviction that I have to make a choice which road I will choose. It was a conscious choice to choose a faith that was taught to me in my childhood. This process had started as far as my memory goes but it was a moment when I made a conscious choice that I want to serve.
Where have you studied?
After finishing high school in 1991 I came to study to LBCU Theological seminary that had just opened up after Latvia gained its independence. It was a 3.5 year program. While I was studying there, I started ministering in Bauska and Salacgriva church planting groups. When I graduated from Theological seminary, from 1994-1996 I went to study in Eastern Baptist Theological seminary (now it is called Palmer Theological seminary) in Philadelphia. I got my M.Div. there, and I had already received an invitation to go back to Latvia, and to minister in Mateja Baptist church. I started doing that in 1996.
In the beginning I was assistant pastor, mostly in charge of youth work and educational work in church. After some time it all naturally changed, assistant pastors and senior pastor’s relationship changed to co-pastor’s relationship. It happened within 3-4 years. I was never interested in that kind of position, but it happened naturally. After our co-pastor entered into politics, I became senior pastor. For 10 years I was pastor in Mateja church.
And then I was offered to become LBCU Bishop. I am in this position since 2006, already for 10 years.
Where else have you been and are currently involved?
I am also founder and director of BPI. I am on the board of Christian camp and conference center in Uzava and Latvian Christian Alliance for Orphans – CAFO. I have been the chairman of the board of mission „Pakapieni” several years ago. I have been chairman of steering committee Billy Graham „Hope” festival in Latvia as well as chairman of steering committee for Baltic Youth festival.
Tell about your family.
I have been married for 10 years. My wife’s name is Marta Marija. I have 4 daughters and a son; one of our daughters has gone to be with the Lord. Before the children were born, Marta studied psychology for several years in University of Latvia. Afterwards she chose to spend more time with children and stopped her studies. She is a homeschooling, homebirth and healthy lifestyle pioneer in Latvia.
Why should people invest in what you are doing?
I believe that in Latvia we have both vision and strategy, and it is an environment that is ready for change. It will not be money that will be wasted because it is poured into environment where there is no understanding and strategy, where there is only hand stretched out for money. We do not come with outstretched hand—we come with vision and strategy that with God’s help will be fulfilled sooner or later. But if there will be money, it can happen sooner, and the effect can be wider, more rapid and more effective. During these years we have not feared to formulate vision, to experiment, to make mistakes, to look for method that works and is able to multiply. Some things are working, start multiplying, and bringing fruit and are being effective.
What are these things?
We are leading denomination in Latvia in educating and recruiting pastors. We achieved it by starting Baltic Pastoral Institute and BPI DRAFT. We are unique in this: it is able to multiply, and is necessary in other countries and cultures. For example, Estonians and Swiss have come to learn from us, Swedes and Americans have expressed desire to learn from us. Different denominations from different countries, Baptist, Assemblies of God, Lutherans and others understand that it is a real need also in their countries. Among all 3 Baltic countries we have the most thought-out and worked-out church planting strategy, the most systematic thinking.
Lots of things have already been accomplished, but all of this is still very fragile because the existing churches that are basis for all of this are still very weak. In a sense we have begun a big experiment – is it possible to transform dying denomination into a renewed environment and church planting movement. If it will work in Latvia, it will serve as a huge model, source of encouragement and motivation to many other countries. If something proves to work in Texas, it does not excite anybody in Europe, but if something can be proved to work in Latvia, it can be a catalyst to many different countries that it is possible also in other Eastern and Western Europe countries. This is why I think that it is very strategic to invest in Latvia.
It is important that we do it even before having received funds. We have never waited saying that we will do it if there will be money. To make changes is like open heart surgery. We transform entire denomination. We are going against old working models, against the stream; we are breaking unhealthy habits at the same time trying to maintain valuable traditions. Making such massive changes is like a heart surgery, and surgery cannot be unnecessarily delayed; it has to be done within a certain time period. Otherwise, different infections can take place. If organization prolongs making changes too much, then destructive position can say, “We told you so.” Since we have already started this work, we are inviting you to come alongside so that we can finish this work. Otherwise we do not have enough human resources because we encounter the fact that understanding about the church is so deformed that we often do not have healthy point of takeoff that can sustain it or even move forward. We still need support from outside with the idea that the transformed churches will be able to carry these changes further. The churches that will be evaluated will not only be healthy churches but they will be like a support point for all the other strategies like church planting, equipping pastors and leaders and all the rest.
In the project about church evaluation and church development center the objective is healthy churches that reach society for Christ. The side efect is that these churches will be able to support all the other initiatives that we do.