Our Mission Location: Latvia

 

Welcome to Latvia

 

The History of ITEM in Latvia:

During the Soviet years, Reformed churches disappeared in Latvia and Lithuania along with training institutions. Then in 1997, church planter Alvis Sauka contacted Dr. Gerard Van Groningen to help establish a theological seminary in Riga, Latvia. Responding to this request he visited the Baltic Sea area, met with leaders and saw the great need and potential for a Reformed theological training center in the region. Beginning in 1998 with an inaugural lecture by Dr. Van Groningen and continuing with other visiting instructors, ITEM provided finances for administration and library and formed a local board with a local director, Mr. Artis Celmins. Thus began Baltic Reformed Theological Seminary (BRTS).

 

Many of the professors whom ITEM provided became long-term instructors who continue to provide training. To strengthen the core leaders of the seminary and the newly forming Reformed church, ITEM helped four Latvian leaders from 2003-2009 earn Theological Masters Degrees at Covenant Theological Seminary in St.Louis.

 

While more than a hundred students of various status have attended the seminary lectures over these years, the main strategic goal of BRTS and ITEM remains to train Reformed pastors and be a training center for church-planting. During 2004-2009, the seminary and ITEM developed cooperations with the University of Latvia Faculty of Theology to enhance the significance of its degree for the students in the European Union context. Five students graduated from that program with a Masters of Theology degree. Additional students experienced Reformed theology through this cooperative agreement. A later cooperative agreement with Vilnius Pedagogical University provided a Masters degree with Reformed emphasis for public school teachers.

 

BRTS has developed three programs of theological training: the Pastoral Track (MDiv equivalent), is the original full theological program for training ministers; the Christian Leaders Track (M.A. equivalent) uses the core theological subjects taught by visiting profesors except for the professional pastoral subjects and languages. This level equips Christian leaders in various callings in church and society. The third level - Bible School – provides training for lay leaders such as local teachers. ITEM has always encouraged BRTS to grow local leadership and also local theological teachers.

 

Artis Celmins, BRTS graduate and present director of BRTS, teaching in the Bible School program

 

 

Teaching in Latvia

Traveling to Europe means flying through the night and arriving the following day. Plan your travel dates, flight times, lay-overs, and arrival carefully around the dates you are scheduled to teach. Give sufficient time so you arrive with enough time to adjust, rest, and prepare. As you prepare for the trip, be sure to pack your essentials such as meds, an extra set of clothing, notes, whatever you really need and don’t want to lose, in your carryon luggage. Bring presents for key persons in leadership, such as Artis and Janis. You may also be asked beforehand to purchase certain articles like books which will be reimbursed upon arrival.

 

Upon arriving, you may request a taxi (via your hotel) or make arrangements with either Artis or Janis at the seminary for pickup. You may choose a taxi if arriving late in Riga. If you choose the taxi, the cost, around twenty Euros, will be added to your hotel bill. If church or seminary persons pick you up, then pay them a (generous) compensation. Artis will arrange where you stay. If staying at a hotel you can invite seminary leaders and pastors to breakfast with you at the hotel or for lunch at different venues in the city.

 

For meals, we recommend loading up on breakfast at the hotel where you are staying. In most hotels such as Laina and City Theater, the breakfasts are excellent. Prices for food in restaurants are similar or slightly higher than they are in the U.S. The food tends to be high in calories. You may decide to skip lunch altogether and eat a late afternoon dinner somewhere locally. You may want to purchase some snack foods and drinks from a local grocery store for the week to keep you satisfied between morning and evening meals. You likely won’t eat with the seminary, church, or students because most have worked all day, then rushed to make it to class on time, and then return home.

 

You may feel that all you are doing is to prepare and teach without much social interaction with the students. Latvia students tend to be passive and reserved and will need some encouragement to ask questions or initiate comments. For the course examination, please send the questions to the local leaders before you arrive so they can translate the questions into Latvian. Many students speak English but not all students master it sufficiently to be comfortable in expressing themselves in English, whether for the exam or in other assigned writing projects. Leave the answers to exam questions with the local seminary staff.

 

Dr. Mark Vander Hart teaching in the languages at BRTS

 

The seminary is conveniently located near the old-city of Riga. Make some spare time to enjoy strolling around with a map that your hotel supplies. While Riga is quite safe, it is good not to draw attention to yourself needlessly. Avoid looking like a tourist as all major world cities have issues with theft and pick-pocketing. If Friday is your last day of teaching you can leave the following morning from Riga airport. If you are a pastor you may or may not be asked to preach. If you want to offer to preach just let Artis Celmins (seminary director) know ahead of time so you can include this in your planning.