VIM team takes joy of puppets to Latvia
BY BOB KELLS
“Now Remember: arms up, hands down, don’t lean on the stage, and be sure to move your fingers in sync with the words.”
What’s this, a new way to worship? Actually—yes! These were the final directions I gave to a group of children just before their first performance as puppeteers at Wesley Camp in Latvia this summer.
From July 5-11, our three-member team from Good Shepherd UMC in Waldorf taught some Latvian children how to use puppets in worship. This was my third visit to the UMC in Latvia; the second for my daughter, Sarah; and the first for Shannon Suban, one of the senior puppeteers from the Good Shepherd puppet ministry team—The Carpenter’s Crew—who accompanied us on the trip.
Each year, the Latvian UMC runs several camps for children and youth at an old farm, now christened Wesley Camp, located in western Latvia near the coast of the Baltic Sea about 12 miles north of Liepaja. The Camp provides children, some of whom come from broken and abusive family environments, a safe place where they experience the love of Christ through the dedicated staff from the Latvian UMC. Older teens act as “shepherds” who guide the children through the camp’s many activities. Mission teams like ours help by bringing special activities to the Camp.
Over the course of the week, our team taught puppetry to several groups of children using puppets we brought with us to the camp. The three of us imparted enough basic skills so the puppeteers could put on a show for the rest of the campers. We did a few shows ourselves in English during the evening worship services. But our greatest joy was seeing the satisfaction the children got from hearing stories about God’s love told by puppeteers who spoke their own language.
That was a God moment.
So was every worship experience during the camp. “The worship services were very emotional, even if we couldn’t understand the words,” Sarah observed. Shannon, who was on the leadership team for CCYM for several years, agreed: “Every day at the end of the services, they would have six year olds crying about Jesus and all the miracles…It was like the youth conference at Rock—the Saturday night session where everyone’s crying and hugging each other—every night!”
This mission experience was a tremendous blessing for all of us. “It was the funnest [sic] and most spiritual thing I’ve ever done in my life,” Shannon told our home congregation after we returned. “I really liked meeting new people and seeing some of the friends we met three years ago,” added Sarah. “I would love to go back some day.” That is something we all hope and pray for.
Shannon probably summed up our experience the best: “Even though I wish I could have stayed longer, I will always remember the people I met, the songs I sang, and the lessons I learned about God and myself.” Amen.