March 1, 2006 Riga, Latvia …. [Wendi Rogers/ANN]
The 21-year-old, blue-eyed, blonde from Latvia has a passion for working with youth: “I really breathe it. I just live with it and wake up with it and that’s really what I love to do,” Aira Arina quips.
The young Arina has already served as the youth director for the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s Baltic region, which includes Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, for nearly one year. She attends school full-time, studying economics and accounting. And, did we mention that she leads a youth/young adult church with about 50 attendees each week?
“It has been an amazing journey ever since I got involved with the youth ministry, both personally and professionally. There is no greater joy for me when I see how the skills God has given me can help others to grow spiritually and expand the Kingdom,” she says.
Not one to take much credit, Arina quickly adds that she is “just a small piece of a puzzle, cause it’s all about teamwork and complementing each other with our spiritual gifts.”
Arina has been involved in the church “since I was born.” With a minister for a father, she learned about ministry at a young age. Perhaps this is where her passion for youth work began. As a teenager, she served as a director of a local Pathfinder club, a worldwide organization of Adventist young people. Then came along a “group of young people who decided to start their own worship services and events like that for the local church, so I involved myself there. Then step-by-step I just involved myself in more serious things and time-consuming things.
“That came kind of naturally,” she says, almost without a thought.
“I personally believe that the local church is the hope of the world and youth group meetings — small groups, friends’ evenings, camps … whatever shape it adopts — is the place where young peoples’ lives are changed, which is why I find excellent local church youth leadership so crucial.”
Before she came to this position, there was no youth leader for the Baltic region. In this former communist area, youth ministry is only now evolving. A challenge Arina faces is a lack of youth leaders “who would be excited about the youth work in their home countries. People who did not have a long list of other responsibilities they have in the church, who had a clear calling from God and would be excited and willing to give everything to this fantastic, but challenging thing called youth work.”
As a result, her current focus is leadership training, she explains. “Working with church youth I have decided to follow the inside-out approach, meaning that local church leaders would work with the folks from their circles of impact, when I would put my effort to train and motivate those leaders. At the moment I am working with the core leaders, who would share the training responsibility of local church leaders with me. We are developing plans, working on materials and training ourselves.”
Does Arina feel that youth ministry is beginning to work in her region? “I think it’s starting to work in some parts where people are really eager to start doing something, because there are other parts where people just say, ‘Hey, we didn’t get any help and we can’t do anything. Why should we bother and try to do it now?’”
But, she adds, “Once they see that something is going on in other parts, they are coming and asking, ‘How did you get that working?’”
Her experience with the church she leads, called “Corinth,” gives her knowledge to pass along. There are no paid pastors, and young people are the sole operators of the church. “I just see how it works with our church. When we established the youth church, there were very skeptical people around. Once they saw how it’s working, they just came and said, ‘Hey, can you give me some training and leadership? Can you show us how to do this and that?’ And the same thing is happening elsewhere in the local churches. I guess it just takes time for them to say, ‘Yeah we can do it.’
“But I’ve seen some great changes. I just look forward to seeing what’s going to happen.”
Arina says people are sometimes “very surprised” and “a bit worried” when they learn her age. “At first you see in their eyes. They’re like, ‘What? What are the union officers thinking when they asked you to be a director? Can you really do that?’” she explains. She has a few laughs over reactions as well. People sometimes assume she’s in her upper twenties, at least.
Arina’s position also took her to St. Louis, Missouri, United States in July 2005 to represent those under age 30 who came as delegates to the world church’s business session. There were only about 35 people 30-years-old and under — out of nearly 2,000 delegates.
Is this 21-year-old discouraged when she sees, in some areas, a lack of emphasis on youth leadership? No. Quite the opposite, in fact. She is excited, and forges ahead with a zeal for life and a passion for youth.