Elizabeth Charlotte Graves
“It’s hard to condense my summer trip into any specific lesson or event but I think there were certain moments along the way that showed God was working,” says University of Maryland graduate Chris Barrow. While still a student, Chris signed up for the Norway-Latvia 2008 summer mission trip, knowing it incorporated both training and service into a packed six-week program. What he didn’t know is that his life would be changed, one “mental snapshot” at a time.
Chris joined students from eastern and western Europe and the United States for discipleship and outreach training while living in the mountains of Norway, where the view rivals that of the Rockies. They received challenging Bible teaching and spent time alone with God. They hiked, worked, and worshiped together, learning about the Kingdom of God.
The last part of their training put their new knowledge to good use as Chris and his fellow students ministered at a week-long evangelistic summer camp in Latvia.
“I have snapshots burned into my brain from that summer, images that won’t ever leave,” Chris says.
Most of these snapshots come from Chris’ time at a wilderness retreat, housed in an abandoned Latvian school. About half of the kids were from the local town, but the other half were from an orphanage. They ate together family style, played sports, and swam in the cold lake water. More than that, though, they shared the Bible with students, going through the basics of the Gospel.
“There is a highly religious and ritualistic tradition of Christianity in Latvia, very similar to Orthodox Catholicism in other parts of Europe,” Chris says. Most of the campers perceived God as someone to placate rather than love. They had a works-centered mentality and a “good-person” theology.
To counter this, the team shared testimonies, sang, taught lessons, and performed skits by the campfire, showing the children that they were loved by God. They also sat around the campfire talking until the early morning hours with some of the older campers about anything and everything. “We did a lot of heart-to-heart relating then,” Chris says.
Chris remembers seeing a teammate silently rock a ten-year-old orphan in her arms beside a campfire while the little girl slept in her arms. “Nothing was said. My teammate did not give a Gospel presentation at that moment, but it was a communication of love. That’s a picture of what a missionary needs to do—a missionary doesn’t need to put together an articulate speech about who Jesus is. Instead, silently and sincerely, a missionary must allow her heart to be tied to the broken, messed up people in this world and to love them like God has loved us. And yet the message of the Gospel is simple and true enough that it can make sense to a little child.”
In addition to the actual camp, Chris and his team spent time in a Latvian city meeting young folks in that area and playing with the kids in another orphanage.
Chris remembers the difficulty of saying goodbye to these children. “One of the guys fell to his knees and placed both of his hands on the shoulders of a little Latvian boy to tell him goodbye and that he wouldn’t forget him. Both of them had tears in their eyes.”
He also remembers a group of Latvian students saying goodbye to him and his team members, running alongside the train, all the while, “waving and smiling, like something out of Hollywood,” showing Chris that he and his team had left a mark on people in just a week’s time. “These images will always stay with me.”
Chris also learned a profound spiritual lesson as part of a cleaning crew. “One of the projects that we took care of while we were in Norway was to wash the outside of the hostel where we were staying, which meant getting up on ladders and scrubbing away at the sides of the house. I would get up on the ladder and scrub for fifteen minutes, making sure that I did my best to get out every spot of mold in reach. Then I would go down and rinse it off with the hose and a ton of junk would wash off. The spot would look a whole lot better. But as soon as I got back up on the ladder, I realized that there were still little spots that I had missed, and that even though the side of the house looked whiter, there was still a lot of work that needed to be done before it was perfectly clean. It seemed to illustrate the process of sanctification. Like it says in Philippians 1:6, ‘Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.’ ”
“During those six weeks,” Chris says, “I saw God for myself and in other people like I hadn’t before.” Snapshots of God at work that he’ll carry with him the rest of his life.