(Update from Patrick Dow, CEO of Nicky Cruz Outreach, while traveling with Nicky…)
The Ramada Inn
70 Gertrudes iela
Day One of the Slavic Conference – our plane was delayed out of New York City, so we arrived just one hour before Nicky was scheduled to speak to the hundreds of pastors gathered at the conference. Nicky and I hurried to the hotel, showered, and put on our wrinkled suits. We were whisked back to the venue–Blagaya Vyest–where the pastors awaited us.
Nicky Spoke strongly to the ministers, their wives, youth pastors, and church lay people about the need to be broken before the Lord. He passionately implored them to ask God to break their hearts for the lost and hurting and to go to the streets. Several hundred came forward to the altar call–all kneeling–and wept for a long time in God’s presence.
Day Two - I am sitting in the small lobby of the hotel listening to the front desk personnel speak alternatively in Latvian, Russian, and English.
(The AM radio is playing, oddly enough, 1940s-era American Christmas music. Go Tell it on the Mountain has just finished, and Bing Crosby has just started crooning I Heard the Bells.)
This nation, the middle of the three Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, is still shaking off the shackles and shadows of its most recent oppressor, the Soviets, and is decidedly looking westward. An ancient race, the Latvians have been ruled at various times by the Swedes, the Germans, and most recently, the Russians. Riga, the capital, is more than 50% ethnic Russian. Decaying buildings stand side by side with modern construction. Hideous Stalinist-era cement block apartments–monolithic and devoid of personality–stand barely a mile from Old Riga, a UNESCO-protected world heritage site, the largest such site on the planet.
Alexei, the Latvian-born Russian who manages the Ramada, seems to be everywhere. Today in the black suit of a manager, he was our waiter yesterday at the hotel’s new restaurant, Vintage, a nearly world-class eatery located in the building next door. He works seven days a week and speaks English with an accent that betrays eight years spent in Limerick, Ireland.
(Frank Sinatra has just started singing Jingle Bells in his unforgettable style.)
Sergei, our Belorussian driver and self-appointed security guard, just arrived in the church mini-bus to pick us up for the second service. Today, Nicky continued admonishing the attendees to have the eyes of Jesus and see the hurting around them. For too long, the church has insulated herself from the outcasts, the lepers of society. Again, altars filled with the remnant that is Christianity in this part of the world – Estonians, Swedes, Latvians, Lithuanians, Russians, Belorussians, and Moldovans. As the East continues to close its doors to Western missionaries, these are the ones who will be able to evangelize and reach the masses. But they are battle weary and overwhelmed. Infighting over doctrine has replaced fighting for souls.
Sunday, 17 May - tonight Nicky preaches at a citywide event. As he prepares to give his testimony once again–he has lost count how many times he has delivered the story of his conversion–we all continue to fight off the jet lag and disorientation that comes from being 9 time zones away from home. In 19 years with Nicky Cruz Outreach, I have seen and heard him tell his life story countless times. In all those years, I have never seen him not cry when he gets to his conversion. Tonight, as has happened miraculously for nearly 50 years, people will repent of sins and find hope in Christ. Christians will be heartened and encouraged to carry on the fight. The redeemed will receive a fresh vision and calling to advance His Kingdom.
Next Tuesday – After a day of rest, we will fly to Kiev, Ukraine, where a 12-hour overnight train ride awaits us. We will be traveling from the capital to a mining town near the Russian border, called Donetsk. Where Latvia and the Baltic States have a distinctly modern tendency, Eastern Ukraine stills slumbers under the thrall of Russian communism. I wonder what lingering effect this will have on the Christians there?
Final Thoughts - As these nations and these churches continue to shake off the grave clothes of their past, what will they find? Will it be the emptiness of capitalism with its fleeting, transietn hope for a better life? Will these people grab onto man’s dream–a dream that is just exchanging one form of slavery (collectivism) for another form (materialism)? I pray that we/they will give up our petty dreams and become bathed in God’s dream of freedom and hope, that we will bear fruit for His Kingdom, for we are receiving a Kingdom that cannot be shaken (Heberews 12:28).