A Revival of Hope in Latvia
November 1, 2010 - Bishop Peteris Sprogis, the executive chair of the Ceribas Festival with Franklin Graham, recently talked to Decision Magazine about the past and present challenges of the church in Latvia, and why he believes that God is doing great things in this Baltic nation of some 2.2 million people.
We wish to see a miracle—that this Festival would be a part of revival breaking out in Latvia.
A conversation with Peteris Sprogis
Q: Could you briefly explain the recent history of the church in Latvia and the obstacles it has overcome?
A: It’s a complicated history. The hardship of 50 years of Soviet occupation protected churches in Eastern Europe from the humanism and secularism that affected the West. However, the church in Latvia became ingrown because it had no dialogue with the outside world. It was unable to reach out because it was focused on protecting itself. So the castle has now become a prison, and the door is locked from the inside.
But the church is not called to operate in a perfect world. We are called to bring the Kingdom of God to a hurting world. Today, we have new challenges and opportunities. We are facing the same problems that weakened the Western church—post-modernism and materialism.
But I am optimistic because this creates a kind of desperation to look for genuine Christianity. The world is looking for a church that has answers.
Q: What are the strengths of the church in Latvia today?
A: Many say we have a very unique cooperation among churches. Denominations are not competing and fighting and blaming one another. On moral issues and the spiritual health of the nation, we are able to sit around the same table and agree on certain things.
But the biggest strength is a building momentum and expectation for revival. I don’t think it will happen the way we read in history books. In Latvia, more and more Christians understand that we have to reach out; we have to look for new ways. There is a thirst for change.
I’m leading the Baptist Union of Latvia, and our priority is church planting. We believe there is a movement emerging in Latvia where churches are starting new churches and sending some of their best people to form church-planting teams. Good things will come out of that.
Q: Moving to the nation as a whole, what issues does Latvia face, and how is the church helping to address them?
A: One of the big issues is the demographic crisis. The birth rate is about 1.4 percent. For a nation to survive, you need at least 2.1. It has been said that whenever a society loses its spiritual foundation, people lose the motivation to have children. In other words, if my life is meaningless, why would I have kids who will have meaningless lives,right? According to some statistics, Latvia is among the worst places in the world in the number of suicides.
The demographic crisis is also a social crisis. Schools have been closed because not enough children are attending. In the future, pensions will not be available because not enough people are working and so on.
Another issue is that before the global financial crisis our economy was growing like crazy. Over the past six or seven years, Western money was channeled into Latvia.People were borrowing a lot of money and spending it all.
Of course, that’s all stopped now. When this happened, we started to see people who used to be proud and self-sufficient slowing down and realizing they were not so smart and powerful after all. They realized that they should look for deeper answers. May God help us to give those answers!
In the 1990s, when we got back our freedom, there was a spiritual awakening and a lot of Latvians came to the church. But then many left after several years because the church was not ready. Now, as God gives us this special time to preach and to reach out, may He help us to be ready for the challenge.
Society can look for political answers, but as the church,we need to address the issue of hopelessness. It’s very good that we’re having a Festival of Hope, because these issues are connected to a lack of hope. And that creates a platform for evangelism, for discipleship. It shows that what Christ said is still true. The fields are white for harvest, but the harvesters are few.
I really believe that the church-planting movement is starting. In our denomination, we helped 12 church-planting teams where there had been no churches planted for many years. We have young people taking places of leadership,reaching out and starting new churches.
Q: How does the Festival fit into this movement?
Q: How does the Festival fit into this movement?
A: Many of our churches need to be awakened to reach out and evangelize. That is where the Festival is very helpful.Churches are reminded that we already have Good News to bring and that we should look for ways to communicate it. It’s not about us. It’s not, “How do we feel? And how do we like the service?” There is a much bigger world out there that needs our attention. I hope that the churches will respond and use this possibility. This Festival is one way to do evangelism, and we should use it.
Q: How can our readers pray for the Festival?
A: Pray that a lot of people will hear the Gospel and respond to it. Pray that new churches will be planted as a result. Also, pray that this Festival is portrayed well in Latvian media, which is often very skeptical and secular and sometimes aggressively atheistic.
And, finally, we wish to see a miracle—that this Festival would be a part of revival breaking out in Latvia.