Friday, August 11, 2000

Church aims to aid kids in Latvia

By Walt Schaefer
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        GREENHILLS — Members of the First Baptist Church of Greenhills want to provide care for juvenile offenders after they are released from jail. They also want to build a new church and help an orphanage.

        Not in Greenhills, but in Latvia, a Baltic state that has been independent since the breakup of the Soviet Union.

        “Three of us from the church went to Latvia in July,” said Gregg Anderson, youth minister at First Baptist.

        The group visited a prison for juvenile offenders — ages 15 to 18 — on the outskirts of Riga, the capital city, which has about 800,000 people.

        Now, Mr. Anderson's vision is to create a mission in the northern European country of about 2.5 million. Part of the July trip was funded by the church.

        “We took puppets,” he recalled. “Michaela Murray and Diana Cox use the puppets in our children's ministry, and we wondered if they had ever seen a puppet show.

        “There were about 200 (teens) assembled in the prison auditorium. We had no idea how they'd react,” said Mr. Anderson, who lives in Highland Heights, Ky., and is a counselor at Newport High School.

        “I asked them to have a little fun with us and get silly with the puppets. They started laughing. We had some programs on friendship, love, the salvation message and then we ad-libbed,” said Mr. Anderson. “They loved it.”

        It was during the flight back to Cincinnati that the vision of an after-release prison ministry was born, she said.

        When the juvenile offenders are released, “there's hardly any place for them to go,” said Ms. Cox. “There is no food, no jobs, no clothing no support whatsoever. Our church might be able to start this ministry.”

        The church would like to help the orphanage and start a mission church, Ms. Cox said. They may be able to obtain property near Riga through a donation.

        Mr. Anderson has visited Latvia since 1993, when he first went there with the Coalition of Prison Evangelists (COPE) to train and return chaplains to the prisons.

        Mr. Anderson was chaplain at the Kentucky State Penitentiary in Eddyville for two years and became active in COPE, a multidenominational group.

        For information about the Latvian Mission Project, contact Gregg Anderson, P.O. Box 76151, Highland Heights, KY 41076; call, 441-7097 or e-mail:


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