2017 Overview...A Year of Change
A lot has happened and a lot has changed over the last year. It's beautiful to step back and take a look at all that has happened and to see God's faithfulness, grace and love in the midst of all if it. So here is an overview of the journey of 2017.
We knew that this year was going to be quite different for Freedom 61 and while it did take some time to adapt to the changes, it’s amazing to see how everyone contributed so well and the work continues. For a long time we have talked, dreamed and planned to have the local volunteers in Riga take over more of the work. This past year, this transition unfolded as it was the first time that we didn’t have any fulltime staff members working in Riga. We have an amazing group of dedicated volunteers though who are working hard and passionately continuing the work in the café reaching out to the women working in street prostitution.
We also renovated the café this year. We are so blessed to have this amazing space from the local Lutheran Church, but after five years of intensive use, it needed a fresh coat of paint, some new furniture, and art work. We love the final result as even more than before, it’s truly a place you want to be. It’s clean, it’s bright, it’s home-home for so many women working on the streets of Riga who don’t have a safe home. As in previous years, we continued to serve many women week after week offering soup, fresh coffee, amazing baked goods, and most importantly, love. Many conversations about life, about dreams, about changing lives and the future happened amidst many tears, but also many smiles.
We love that the café is still a place where so many women come every week. Of course, we hope that at some point it will not be needed anymore because there are no women working in prostitution on the streets of Riga, but until that time we will continue our work.
Looking back at this last year, it is actually hard to put down in a few sentences what God has done. So many conversations, prayers and hugs! One night was very special for Lola (I actually haven’t met her after that night). We prayed for her and God really touched her heart. One of the other volunteers shared with her a picture about stepping from darkness into light. Tears kept running down her face. We continue praying for her. Last week, one of the girls came shortly before closing the café. Since she missed the Christmas party, we gave her one of the gifts and a cup of coffee. Her friend wanted to leave and left, but she stayed and started to cry, because it was so hard for her to believe that God loves her and He has a special plan for her life.
– Story from Freedom61 volunteer
I have never felt the Holy Spirit’s presence so strong in any other place that I have been. The girls come in and there is so much warmth between us all, we are like a family and they can be exactly who they are, no pretending. As God’s daughters, being together, sharing life for a short moment with honesty, tears and laughter. The café is a sanctuary, and I see the ladies looking for a way to improve themselves. The love that pours out of that café both from the women who are coming from the street and the volunteers is often more than I see in everyday life. Being an English speaker with limited Latvian and Russian skills, I was still able to manage to connect to some of the women. One night I prayed for a women’s sickness and the Holy Spirit definitely touched her. We were both amazed and I could see so much joy and hope in her eyes. There was another girl who spoke very good English and I learned in the space of a very short time that her life is shadowed with so much darkness and what she is seeking – hope, a better life! The life that she has is fueled by circumstances that are unimaginable. I really hope she is continuing to seek God and His Love. But I love that I can be part of this ministry- through listening, serving and praying, I can be therefor the women.
– Story from one of the volunteers.
Old Town Outreach
Freedom 61 organized nine men's outreaches in 2017, with at least 4 of the evenings conducted with visiting mission teams or other visitors who were in Riga for a short time. Outreach participants also included Freedom61 staff, interns, YWAM missionaries, and local church members. An emphasis for several outreaches was praying for economic changes that would dramatically reduce the prevalence of sex tourism in Riga. Most contact was made with small groups of men and we were able to hand out 30 to 40 of our booklets per evening. We spoke with men from a number of different countries, but most were from the UK, Germany, and Scandinavia. In 2017, we noticed what seemed to be declining numbers of stag party groups. Talking with individuals connected with sex tourism in Old Town, we learned that the average price of trips had increased significantly from the UK
and Germany due to rising airfare. Prices had not changed for travel from the Scandinavian countries, and there was somewhat of an increase in men from Sweden and Norway.
In 2017, we had 7 different women and one child living at the center for a variety of lengths of time. After all the prayers, dreams, plans, and many days walking alongside women in the last years at the center, we were excited to celebrate our first graduation as 3 of these women completed the full year-long program in September!
It was a sweet day of celebration as we worshipped together and saw the women share in front of so many whom have loved and invested in them all that the Lord had done in their lives. Here is a glimpse of one of the testimonies shared at graduation:
For the first 36 years, my life was a dreadful nightmare- violence, betrayal, drugs and jail were all the things I have lived through. Finally, when I lost all of my possessions and all of my hope, I ended up on the streets. One night, I was just walking down the street with the intention to end my life. But the Lord had different plans for me. By His grace, I ended up in Freedom 61’s café. That night at the café, I was served some warm food and with that a glimpse of hope that later grew into a strong faith in God. I moved into the Freedom 61 Women’s Center and accepted Jesus as my personal Savior. Now I have a rich relationship with Him. I have realized the depth of his mercy, love, grace and abundance for my life. There is not a day that goes by without His sweet presence and love as the Holy Spirit fills me up daily. My son has been returned to me. I have learned to appreciate, love, and forgive. On a daily basis, I feel like God has something new to teach me in my walk with Him.
Last year, we also continued to develop partnerships and business opportunities for the women we are working with. Through the local social workers, women were able to attend courses to write their CV, learn about searching for a job after their time at the center, and attend parenting classes. Some women living at the center were employed by a local thrift store (www.skandinavs.lv) to sort donations as part of employment training. Another woman was able to partner with the Simple Kind (www.thesimplekindclothing.org) to sew two beautiful lines of children’s dresses. In 2018, we will continue these partnerships and research more ways to sustainably employ women in Latvia.
In 2017, we were able to finish paying off the roof repairs from the previous year and also built a wonderful patio area for the women to enjoy during the summer with the help of a team from Holland. With the help of some American visitors, we also built another greenhouse as we continued to expand our garden and ability to grow our own food. As the center building provides a lovely and safe place for the women to call home as they grow and heal, we are planning to continue to make improvements in this coming year, starting with necessary repairs to the sewage system.
It’s truly an incredible privilege to walk alongside each woman we meet in Latvia, whether in Riga or at the center. We are grateful for so many who join alongside to make this work possible and are so thankful to witness God’s work year after year. As the past years have been busy starting the café, doing prevention and awareness work, beginning the center, developing new partnerships, and stepping into the realm of men’s outreach, we have decided to spend this year focused on strengthening our existing projects and continuing to take steps towards long-term sustainability as a ministry.
This last year we had a small team of 3 fulltime staff along with our local volunteers, so we are also continuing to pray for more staff to join this next year to allow the work here to continue to grow and impact more women with the love of God. A couple of new staff and interns are already planning on joining our team and we continue to trust God’s provision for more as the year unfolds.
2017 Financial Overview
Grocery expensesCenter meals 3256.94
Household Expenses 937.49
General Expenses 1462.26
TransportationVehicle & fuel 2184.05
Office Expenses 414.37
UtilitiesElectricity bills & Sewage expenses 1651.42
Heating expensesWood pellets 3864
Maintenance & furnishings 647.55
Tax, insurance, & bank fees, tax, insurance 436.77
Professional feesCounseling 1032.86
Total expenses 25889.7
TransportationFuel, vehicle repairs 355.91
Grocery expensesGroceries for soup, desserts, coffee, tea, etc. in café 1217.6
PrintingFreedom 61 promotional materials 138.71
Ministry expensesCafé and apartment supplies, ministry meetings with women, helping with practical needs for women in café 262.42
Total expenses 1974.64
pray with us
For continued provision of new staff that would join alongside what is happening in Riga and at the Women’s Center.
For continued preparations and good transitions for new staff and interns that will be joining us soon.
For our volunteers who continue to pour out so much each week as they invest in women.