Answering the call: Latvian pastor grows through U.S. friendships
By Annette Spence
Kristine Rozefelde returns to Hiwassee
College as a pastor.
In 2007, Kristine Rozefelde was preparing to take a job with the Nashville Theatre, having completed her undergraduate degrees at Maryville College and Hiwassee College.
She was feeling good, attending a three-day church meeting, thinking about her future – when suddenly, it became shockingly clear that her plans were going to change.
“It was the strongest God had ever talked to me,” says Rozefelde, now age 30. “He said, ‘You have to go home to the United Methodist Church in Latvia.’”
It wasn’t a happy revelation. Rozefelde was ready to pursue her lifelong dream of working in the theater. She also wanted to make some money.
“I knew I would go home someday, but I wanted safety and a foundation first,” she said. “I forgot that my foundation is God.”
Today, the former Kristine Vainovska has a new husband, Oskars Rozefelds, who accompanied her when she visited east Tennessee last month. She stopped by Hiwassee College on Nov. 7, and spoke to the student body at Wednesday morning chapel.
“I might not be standing in front of you and testifying today – I might not be married to this wonderful man – if I did not follow the call of God,” she told the students. “Are we able to be radically dependent on God? God made himself 100 percent available to you. Are you available to him?”
Rozefelde did not know it in 2007, but God was sending her back to Latvia to become a pastor.
“That experience in my life showed a lot to me – that God’s plan for you isn’t always the plan that falls into place,” says Rozefelde. “That was a challenge for me.”
In her home country, Rozefelde is a busy woman. She is associate pastor at Second United Methodist Church of Riga as well as Latvia’s youth ministry coordinator. She is studying theology through the Methodist e-Academy, while discovering gifts that could help expand the struggling United Methodist Church in Latvia.
The 13 congregations in Latvia have all been established since 1991, when the nation re-gained its independence from the Soviet Union. Rozefelde is daughter and granddaughter to two of the five Lutheran pastors who helped the United Methodist Church re-birth under its new freedom. Bishop Christian Alsted hopes to start a “second wave” of new churches, but the church faces obstacles including lack of money and experience.
See "UM Church in Latvia struggles"
“They cannot understand Methodism,” Rozefelde says of her fellow Latvians. “They hear the word and they think it’s a sect or cult.”
A group called “Friends of Latvia” is helping the fledgling nation with funding, mentoring, and hands-on mission. The group also played a strong role in bringing Rozefelde to the United States where she began to discover her calling.
Rozefelde was nine years old when the Rev. Jerry Russell, senior pastor at Fairview United Methodist Church, traveled to the Baltics in 1991 and met with the matriarch who wanted to re-open the United Methodist Church in Latvia. Rev. Milda Vainovska (now 87 years old) is Kristine Rozefelde’s grandmother. “Friends of Latvia” was established that year, and the Fairview singing group, “Faithful Men,” began making regular mission trips to Latvia.
In 2000, 18-year-old Rozefelde was invited to work the summer in children’s ministry at Fairview, where members encouraged her to return for study in the U.S. In 2002, she enrolled in Hiwassee College, majoring in theater (“my passion since childhood”) with a business minor.
“I wanted to send God’s message to people in a different way, through the arts, not preaching,” she said. “I wanted people to think about God in ways that matter.” Her studies led her to graduate from Hiwassee, then Maryville College.
Rozefelde actually heard God’s call to return to Latvia as she was attending a Friends of Latvia meeting. Within a month, she had sold her belongings in a garage sale and returned to her country.
With her business studies and U.S. experience, Rozefelde was quickly put to work as Volunteers in Mission coordinator for Latvia and office manager for the Rev. Gita Mednis, district superintendent. She was glad to help her church, but admits it was a struggle to leave her theater dreams behind
“I told Gita, ‘I am not an office mouse,’” she said. “I am created to work with people. I will help because God has given me these talents, but I will not do this for the rest of my life.’”
Rozefelde was even more frustrated when people began to notice her gifts and say she was called to be a pastor.
“At some point I became angry,” she says. “I wanted to say, ‘Stop talking like that. My dad and grandmother became pastors, but not me.’” When a German pastor made the same observation, Rozefelde snapped.
“Who are you to say anything like this?” she asked. “You’re not God. I want to hear God’s voice on this.”
The pastor replied, “How do you think God talks to people?”
When Kristine Vainovska and Oskars Rozefelds began discussing marriage, she warned him about the strong messages God had been sending her way.
Her future husband replied: “You were the one who talked to me about God. You showed me the way to a real God, not a stereotypical God. So I would be the last person to stand in the way of that.”
Today, Pastor Rozefelde seems more at peace with using her gifts and skills in the places where God has placed her: as associate pastor in the church where her father, the Rev. Andris Vainovskis, is senior pastor. She’s discovered a way of speaking to people about God through parables, using her love of the arts to lead worship that seems more “fluent and free” for a new generation of United Methodists in Latvia.
“She will bring in Latvia a new breath for the United Methodist Church,” says her husband.