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Lawtonian goes on trip to Latvia

Lawtonian Jimmy Alley and 18 other Oklahoma students took a week and a half out of their summer to spend it on a mission trip in Latvia with Skopos GO Students.

Latvia is on the Baltic Sea between Lithuania and Estonia. The country was under Russian rule from 1710 to 1918, when the Republic of Latvia was founded. But the country's independence was interrupted by World War II when it was forced into the Soviet Union; it was occupied by Nazi Germany in 1941 and then reincorporated into the Soviet Union. Latvia regained its de facto independence in 1991.

Alley said they learned a lot about the country's history by touring its capital, Riga, for three days.

"We saw a lot of older buildings around Riga," Alley said. "We had two different districts in Riga. We had the old Riga and one's like a new housing district they made. So it was a lot of fun getting to see all of the old buildings."

While sightseeing in Riga, the students tried to witness to people by talking to them and passing out gospel tracts. According to a 2007 International Religious Freedom Report issued by the U.S. Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Latvia's population is 2.2 million with 22 percent Roman Catholic, 20 percent Lutheran and 15 percent Orthodox Christianity. Religious minorities include Baptists, Pentecostals and evangelical Protestant groups. The report also stated that the country's "Jewish community was virtually destroyed in the Holocaust during the 1941-44 German occupation," but in 2006 "9,743 persons identified themselves as ethnically Jewish."

Alley said a majority of the population doesn't attend church. According to a 2004 Gallup report, even though Latvia has Protestant traditions, it is among the most secularized countries in Europe with 7 percent of residents attending services.

He said the group didn't receive backlash when they struck up conversations about religion.

"We basically just went around, and on our last day there (in Riga), we played Frisbee golf in the park and tried to talk to people that way," Alley said. "But most of the time, we were just talking to people whenever we could. ... We would be handing out, like, gospel tracts, and people would just be like, 'No, I don't want one.' But that was about it. You kind of (got) used to it. It was kind of annoying at first."

For the last five days of their trip in June, the group spent time working at a church camp in Uzava. Alley said they worked various jobs at the camp, but his main task was working the camp gates and welcoming people coming in and directing them where to park. He said there was a bit of language barrier because the country's primary language is Latvian. But he said most of the younger people know English because it's taught in school.

"I learned a little bit, like 'thank you' and 'hello' and stuff, but that's about it," he said.

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