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
"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
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."