21–23 September 2018. «Turbas», Latvia
By Guntis Bukalders, BAUC Executive Secretary
Almost 60 department leaders with their teams from Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian conferences and church administrators came together for a departmental weekend in «Turbas», Latvia, to meet each other, share their joys and challenges, listen to and pray for each other. We had several guest speakers invited from the Trans–European Division — Karen Holford, Zlatko Musija and Peter Bo Bohsen.
The seed of an idea to have a weekend-long get-together for the department leaders of Baltic Union Conference was sown in 2017 after the first combined Union-wide Advisory for the Family, Children’s and Women’s Ministries departments. Almost all participants of the Advisory wrote in their feedback that they would have wanted more time for discussions and getting to know each other. They also expressed their desire that such kind of Union-wide gatherings for department leaders and their teams would become a tradition. This need for stronger connections expressed by the department leaders and their teams became a platform from where to start developing a first departmental weekend of our Union, called Connecting for Growth.
Karen Holford was encouraged by the spirit among department leaders. “It was very encouraging to see the departmental leaders from all over the BAUC coming together for training in a beautiful and tranquil place. Just looking out of the window at the forests and lakes was soothing to the heart. I think many leaders experience such a great blessing when we come together. We all feel much less isolated. Many departmental leaders face similar struggles, with a shortage of helpers, translated materials, and limited resources. Although I couldn’t understand the different languages, I enjoyed seeing people coming together to worship, learn, share ideas and even laugh together! That’s when we can feel stronger, closer and more inspired,” said Kaen.
One of the Departmental Weekend organisers Alla Nõmmik who leads Health, Children and Women Ministries departments in the Baltic Union, explains: “Organising an event as such was a team effort. It took countless letters and phone calls, hours o thinking, discussing and praying to prepare for this event. However, all the hard work, occasional tears and some level of frustration paid off when we were finally together and after, when we read the feedback the participants gave. “God was present” wrote one of the participants, and added, “we were like a family”. That we had good spirit and good atmosphere was emphasised by many participants.”
Karen Holford and Zlatko Musija from the TED talked about How to be one church family, how to value and include all the church members (iCor), how to listen to each other, make peace with each other, and connect successfully with each other, while Peter Bo Bohsen led practical team building activities. On Sunday, there was a special discussion time in groups, when department leaders from different conferences could talk about what worked well in their countries, and also share their challenges and needs. That the TED representatives were present, made this sharing time even more valuable and profitable. Just one example: when a leader from the Lithuanian conference said that they would need a felt board set for telling the Bible stories to children, Karen found several people already on the following day, who wanted to help.
When asked the participants, how this event was useful for their ministry, they answered that they got encouragement, new ideas, new contacts, inspiration, new knowledge and skills. And yes, they all wanted to repeat it.
At the end of the conference we asked leaders and participants to share their thoughts and emotions. Here are just a few of them:
Tadas Venčaitis, youth leader from the Kaunas church in Lithuania: “This event was really helpful for me, because I’m a new Christian, I was baptised just three months ago, so everything is still new for me. This event taught me how important it is to be connected to God first, to have roots in God by reading His Word, because only then you can do your Christian ministry. All those How-To things come after that.”
Allan Randlepp, Family, Children and Health Ministries leader in the Estonian Conference: “For me it was important to meet other people who share in the same ministry, to listen to more experienced leaders. I liked the idea about the cooperation of church departments, and also conference departments and local churches. We are responsible for building this church as one strong, large God’s family.”
Inga Vītola–Saliete, NGO “Latvian Health Mission” board member: “I appreciate Karen’s lecture about the listening skills, I think these skills are necessary in all ministries. I have learned how to listen, but I still found some areas which need further improvement. Departments from all three countries could share their successes and challenges, thus everyone could learn and take notes how to improve their ministry. There was a strong emphasis on the cooperation between the various church departments. We have to come together for growth.”
Hele Kulp, a pastor from the Estonian Conference: “We had a good time being here together. We can learn many things from books, but being together is something more. As a pastor I am very interested in the iCor concept. I would like to get more materials about it. Perhaps I could use it in my church.”
Agris Bērziņš, a pastor from the Latvian Conference, Health department leader: “First of all, I appreciate Karen’s lecture about listening skills. This is something we constantly need to pay attention to. Secondly, a lecture how church can be open and welcoming to the youth, and how to involve youth in the church activities and ministries. In one of the churches where I minister we don’t have any children or youth, so this material was very thought–provoking for me. We have to grow in our attitude and relationships, then the church will grow as well.”
Virginius Radžius, the Lithuanian Conference Youth department leader: “For me, it was the first time when the department leaders from all three Baltic countries could meet together. It felt like one big family. There was very nice atmosphere and good spirit among the participants. We have to replicate this family feeling also on local level among churches in Lithuania. I got very interested in the iCor concept.”
Ansis Roderts, a pastor from the Latvian Conference, NGO “Latvian Health Mission” board member: “I am very interested in iCor programme. I see it something that we could implement in Latvia. In my short pastoral ministry I have realised that sometimes our inner culture, our values, our way of thinking and attitude are obstacles to reach other people. This programme deals with all this.”
Karen Holford, the leader of the Family Ministries department of the Trans-European Division: “It was an excellent idea to choose some keynote topics that can benefit every leader, such as conflict resolution and peacemaking, working together to create intergenerational churches that will grow our youth, building community, and learning how to listen in more helpful ways. It was also good for the different departments to have their own meetings where they could share their best ideas, their needs, and even some possible solutions. One team, where everyone had come from the same country, said that coming together, and spending a weekend with each other, had strengthened them as a team. They were going away with closer relationships and some fresh ideas for their ministry.
Thank you to the BAUC leaders for having a vision for such an enriching weekend, and the skills and determination to make it a reality.”