Latvia (MNN) – Orphan Outreach has served in Latvia for a number of years, and most of the support has come in the way of mission teams and sponsorships working with their in-country NGO.
The ministry efforts have been fruitful–and yet for Program Director Dace Rence and other Latvian nationals, something has been missing.
“We’ve been trying to meet children in their need, to minister to them, to share the Gospel, but most of all, what we’ve always wanted was to get the local church involved,” says Rence.
What is happening now in Latvia is the result of years of dedicated prayer. Rence says, “We appreciate what the United States has done in providing care and doing so much work, but it is also important for the Latvian church to take ownership of caring for needs of the orphans, to stand in the gap for them and to serve them. So a couple of years ago, some of us who shared the same passion for orphans came together with the same idea – and so the Latvian Alliance for Orphans was born.”
The alliance has one goal, one purpose – to serve orphans and vulnerable children.
The first focus of the alliance was Orphan Sunday. Not only were churches involved in the effort, but local media outlets were quick to share stories raising awareness about foster care and adoption.
Seminars were designed to instruct churches on how to start orphan care ministries. Government officials partnered with orphan care organizations to provide instruction on foster care and adoption, and an orphan care conference was conducted.
What started first in the capital city of Riga has now spread across the country with the help of the Latvian Orphan Alliance.
Rence shares, “We’re a small country, and you know sometimes it can be bad, but in an initiative like this, it’s really our privilege and it is just awesome because all the officials – starting from pastors to bishops to even the president are one or two calls away.
“We’ve had their approval and their acceptance and their signatures and blessings – from main church leaders from all denominations. They’ve all joined and signed an agreement saying that ‘yes, we support this initiative,’ and then they’ve informed their churches and their church members that this is something that we all approve.”
Orphan Sunday has been celebrated each November in Latvia for two years. The hope is now to include the special day on official church calendars across denominations.
“The first year we did the main celebration at a Baptist Church. Last year, we approached a Lutheran Church. They took ownership, and did not expect us to tell them how to do it. They came with their own ideas, their own program for the day, and they did more than we could ever imagine,” reflects Rence. “They said, ‘We don’t want this to be just about adults talking about orphans – we want this to be a special day for kids,’ so they opened their church doors and invited children from many orphanages and did a Kids Festival.”
Rence says the hope is that the Catholic Church will be the site of the main celebration in 2016.
Almost everyone on the Latvian Orphan Alliance leadership team has adopted, fostered, or served as legal guardian for a child. Rence sees training as essential for families wanting to become family. “We want to equip them with knowledge and best practices, and we want to walk with them through the journey.
“My dream is that every orphanage would be adopted by a church, with their presence but with prayer support as well – so that every child would have somebody praying for him or her.”
As for how the Church in the United States can continue to support its Latvian sister in the cause of orphans, Rence says the most important thing is prayer. “It is spiritual warfare, and children need that spiritual support.”
Even if you’re far away, you can do so much just by praying for the children, for the staff serving these children daily, and for the people in politics who are making decisions for these children.
“Please pray for the foster parents and adoptive parents who are so often tired and at times ready to give up.” Rence pauses, and then smiles. “And Google us to find out where Latvia is. Be our ambassadors and come visit us. Once you come, you’ll fall in love not only with our country but with our children. Come visit, be their American friend, and provide support for our orphan graduates to help them launch into adulthood.”
Learn about all Orphan Outreach is doing in Latvia here.