A Special Graduation in Latvia
27 Latvian Children Complete The Greatest Journey
March 7, 2011 - Through the eyes of one teacher, learn how The Greatest Journey, an amazing program that is touching young lives around the world, has impacted Latvia.
by Janet Chismar
As Juliana Sokolova pushes open her door and steps into the damp November air, her growing excitement warms the chill coursing through her body.
The children will be so happy to meet Franklin Graham, Juliana thinks as she crosses the bridge spanning the misty Daugava River. Although this is the end of our Greatest Journey class, it is really the beginning for my students.
Soon, the Latvian native crosses into Old Town Riga, and after stopping at one of the popular bakery and tea houses for a sweet roll, she heads to Riga New Evangelical Baptist Church. Bounding up three narrow flights of polished hardwood steps, the 19-year-old teacher bursts through the classroom door where three beaming girls dressed in their Sunday best embrace her.
The sound of excited chatter and laughter fills the tiny classroom. “We must be quiet when our visitor arrives,” Juliana reminds her young charges. The children busy themselves drawing pictures of airplanes to give to the American evangelist known for his love of flight. Two boys with bright blue eyes pore over a colorful book full of stories from the Bible.
Vitya, an 11-year old, voices his delight that "Sharing God’s Gift" is printed in his native Russian language. It is the third book in a set—along with "God’s Great Gift" and "Walking with God"—that comprise The Greatest Journey discipleship curriculum.
Latvia is the first country in Europe to launch The Greatest Journey, a discipleship program developed by the BGEA and Samaritan's Purse for kids who receive an Operation Christmas Child shoe box gift. Juliana’s class of 27 was the very first to complete the course in Europe and the former Soviet Union.
“I like these books for the children because they sparkle and are very interesting to them,” says Juliana, who has learned a fair share of English. “The pictures help the children to memorize the verses.” She finds that children pay more attention to these books than those used in a Sunday School class she also leads every week.
When the room fills with a number of visitors from America, Juliana knows the big moment has arrived. “Children, this is Mr. Franklin Graham!” she exclaims as he walks through the door. Most of the children look up shyly, but one brave girl named Anya stands up, walks over to Franklin, and with a big smile, hands him her artwork.
The ice is broken.
Franklin walks around the classroom, sitting with 7-year-old Madara for a moment, before moving over to inspect the airplane that 12-year-old Pavel has drawn with considerable skill.
Following the classroom visit, Franklin proceeds down the stately stairs to an auditorium dotted with Christmas décor and buzzing with the voices of proud mamas and papas. Although some of the parents never have heard of Jesus Christ, they are there to watch their young ones receive a Bible and a graduation certificate from Franklin Graham who proclaimed the Gospel in their nation November 5-7, 2010.
Moments after the ceremony concluded, Franklin shares his thoughts: “For me to be able to give them a Bible and a certificate, this was an exciting day.”
Take a Child on The Greatest Journey
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This story is featured as part of the March TV Special »