July 14, 2018
“An occupation is not a change of ideologies or power. An occupation is not a marking of new boundaries on the maps. An occupation is an armed mob of people who break into your home in the dead of night. They sit down in your chair, eat from your dishes, and drink from your glasses… They open your cupboards, they take what they want, and they denounce you because you’re not happy about it… They tell you your language is the tongue of the dogs, they make you speak their language… You sing their songs and start to think their thoughts. May God protect you from what we have suffered.” --Dzintra Geka and Andris Kolbergs
IT HAS BEEN 27 YEARS since Latvia regained independence. The country turns 100 this year, but just over half of that century was spent being occupied by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.
After 27 years, scars remain. Those scars can be seen in the buildings that dot the landscape. Scars can be seen on the faces of people who don’t smile, a fact noticed by 12-year-old Zoe Rudesill, who was on the recent Smoky Mountain District mission trip in June 2018.
The Smoky Mountain District has been partners with Latvia since 2008. The Holston Conference, well known for its camping ministries, also gave support to fund the renovation of the staff quarters at Wesley Camp, which serves campers from Lithuania and Latvia each season. Only a 10-minute walk from the Baltic Sea, Wesley Camp provides a rare chance for Latvian United Methodists to rebuild a church that was ravaged for 51 years by state sponsored atheism. Just two miles away stands a Holocaust memorial in the town of Skede, where at least 3,000 Jews were killed as the Nazis invaded Latvia in July of 1941. In contrast to the despair of the years of occupation, Wesley Camp offers the light of Jesus Christ to two countries. It is a special place where young people find Christ and develop into leaders for the young, yet struggling church.
The Rev. Richard Rudesill and the Rev. Susana Lopez led a recent trip with four other members of their churches representing the Smoky Mountain District in June. They discovered how important this mission can be for Latvia and Lithuania.
Rudesill, who first helped Wesley Camp get ready for a summer season in 2009, has seen the camp come a long way. He found the property to be more inviting than ever and the camp seems to have developed a strong program. The camp is a glimmer of hope in a place where smiles can be hard to come by and Soviet-era structures remind people of their former occupation. In 2009-2010, the camp renovated the upstairs of Holston House and turned it into a place for staff to sleep. But recently, the roof began to leak, creating a problem for the staff members who lead the children and youth during the day. The leak also threatens their recent renovations. It is also currently beyond their ability to meet the need.
You can make a difference in the lives of young people you have never even met. You can provide a place where staff can get rested and prepare for another day of life-changing ministry. Many kids in Latvia and Lithuania discover Christ for the first time at camp. Others have become leaders in their churches, which have become a place of hope for the Latvian people.
Would you support their churches in making this difference? Would your Sunday School class, United Methodist Men’s group, United Methodist Women’s group, mission team, or church consider making a gift to meet the needs of the church in Latvia?
Send checks made out to “Holston Conference” with “Attn: Mike Sluder” on the outside envelope and “Wesley Camp (Latvia)” on the subject line of each check. Mail to: Holston Conference, P.O. Box 850, Alcoa, TN 37701. Your gift will help a country to overcome a brutal occupation and bring the light and hope of Christ to another part of the world. The latest estimate to fix the roof is $5,900. The need is real. But so is the hope. Thank you in advance for being hope.