Latvia (ORO) ― The Day Center in Karosta, Latvia, began as a pastor's dream long before its official opening in 2007. Sergey Garkusa, pastor of Russian Baptist Church "Light of the Gospel," invited children from the church to come during the week for instruction, activities, and one warm meal.
"We started with two teachers and about 15-20 kids from Karosta, or "Naval Port" as we call it," said Dace Rence, new Orphan Outreach director of programs in Latvia. "Right now we are in a process of moving into a separate building given to us for rent by the local municipality. In the new building we will be able to separate children into smaller groups by ages and languages (we have a Russian and a Latvian group of kids)."
Currently about 50 children come to the Day Center, where they receive one hot meal--which is often the only one they eat each day--as well as educational activities, games, mentoring, and a chance to hear the Gospel.
When Orphan Outreach President Mike Douris heard that the Day Center might close because of financial problems, he decided to act. He had been instrumental in establishing an after-school program some years ago in Leiapia, Latvia, where he met and developed a deep admiration for Sergey Garkusa.
"The children in this community are at significant risk, and Sergey has a clear call from the Lord to minister to the children," Douris said. "Our hope is to be a blessing to this ministry and to walk alongside the church to meet the basic needs of the children, as well as assist in their education to provide hope for their future. The church provides spiritual guidance and discipleship so critical to their development. The staff members love the children unconditionally and help them face difficult challenges on a daily basis. Dace is a committed Christian and so passionate about orphan care. The kids love her, and she has such a heart for them."
It costs about $36 a month to give one child all that the Latvia Day Center offers. Twenty children have already been sponsored, and Orphan Outreach is urgently seeking more sponsors to care for the remaining 30 children.
"The staff are prepared to work long hours during the winter," Amy Norton, director of programs, said. "Many of the children end up [at the Latvia Day Center] for large parts of the day because it is so cold outside. We are so thankful that, due to a generous donor, we are able to provide a Christmas party and gifts to all the children and staff."
"The thing I remember most about that mission trip is the laughter of the children in that little room. Their home life was often abusive, hunger was constant, and parents with drug and/or alcohol problems all contributed to their unstable environment. But for these few hours each day they could eat, feel safe, laugh and play. Thirty members of the mission trip left in tears, but we knew Pastor Sergey and his workers cared for the children the best they could," said Joelene Key about her first trip to the Latvia Day Center.
An active member of First Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, Joelene has since rallied her Sunday School Class to support the Latvia Day Center with a monthly contribution for the past four years.
"I have been blessed in so many ways from my Latvian trips," Joelene said, "but a really wonderful blessing is seeing the ladies in my Sunday School Class get involved in missions. At my age, I can now help the Center better by staying home and helping the younger people go and serve Him." (Her 18-year-old granddaughter now is following in her footsteps, regularly traveling to Latvia).
Dace, a 31-year-old wife and mother, welcomes more people such as Joelene to come to the Latvia Day Center. Born and raised in Jelgava, Latvia, Dace graduated from Concordia International University Estonia with a Bachelor of Arts in media and public relations. She is a member of a non-denominational church in Jurmala, Latvia.
"Above all," she said of orphan care, "this is a spiritual battle for their souls and eternity. With God's help and strength we are trying to show the children a different path of life that they can take, radically different to the ones their parents and grandparents have taken-a life without abuse, drugs, and alcohol, but filled with hope, peace, and love."