From the 1940s - 1990s, Soviet communism made conducting biblical or theological training illegal in the European country of Latvia, which lies just west of Russia on the Baltic Sea. Most churches had to meet in secret, and even possessing a Bible was a criminal offense. After Latvia regained its independence in 1991, pastors and Christian workers were desperate for ministerial training.

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In 1997, SAGU alumni Jerry and Terri Roberts decided to become missionaries to Jelgava, Latvia, just 35 miles south of the capital city Riga. Their first eight years overseas were dedicated to the Assemblies of God Latvia Bible Institute.

Jerry shared, "Our primary reason for locating to Jelgava was that the Latvia Bible Institute was in a nearby village called Ozolnieki. We had students from every corner of Latvia, and even some that crossed over from Belarus and Russia. We had over 120 graduates during that time period, many of whom went on to plant churches, pastor, and lead ministries."

Toward the end of the Robertses' second term, God began to change their focus. Under communist law it had been illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to attend a church, even if the church met legally. Few churches had any idea how to reach out to and share the Gospel with youth. The Roberts began planting youth ministries, while also training and preparing other workers to plant youth ministries throughout Latvia.

The Roberts family generally felt well-received by the people of Latvia. Jerry shared, "Even people outside the church were generally accepting of us. I remember a conversation with a guy during a hockey game who asked why I was in Latvia. I told him that I was there to teach pastors and others about the Gospel."

"He took a big swig of his beer and said, 'That’s great! The communists didn’t let us do that.' Even if they were not personally ready to become Christians, they liked the idea that freedom had returned."

While the Jerry and Terri graduated from SAGU in 1989, it wasn't until their eldest son was admitted to SAGU on their third missionary term that they heard about SAGU's Harrison School of Graduate Studies.

Jerry shared, "What most attracted me to SAGU was the fact that I was able to complete my master’s degree without leaving our work in Latvia. I only had to be on campus for the New Student Orientation at the beginning and the next time I came back to Texas was for graduation."

"He took a big swig of his beer and said, 'That’s great! The communists didn’t let us do that.' Even if they were not personally ready to become Christians, they liked the idea that freedom had returned."

In addition to the convenience of being able to study from the field, Jerry already knew several SAGU professors. He shared that the camaraderie and connection to the university through the distance education program was a unique experience at SAGU that he felt he wouldn't have had elsewhere.

Jerry recounted, "Along with the leadership and ministry training that prepared us for life in general, we were always relying on the Bible and theological knowledge that we received at SAGU."

On one occasion, a guest teacher had to cancel his trip to the Bible Institute with only three-days’ notice. Jerry was suddenly called on to teach Old Testament Survey with only the weekend to prepare.

"Luckily, I had taken that class from Dr. Wyckoff back in the 80s and still had all of my notes. I was able to use his great outlines to teach 32 hours over the next two weeks."

Latvia has two distinct ethnic groups: Latvians and Russians who were relocated during communist rule. Communication was a consistent barrier at the Bible school. Even when Jerry taught in Latvian, he had to use a Russian translator for the Russian students.

Because Latvian is a very small language group, with less than 2 million fluent speakers worldwide, there is a substantial lack of theological training materials available.

"Latvia has two distinct ethnic groups: Latvians and Russians who were relocated during communist rule. Communication was a consistent barrier at the Bible school. Even when Jerry taught in Latvian, he had to use a Russian translator for the Russian students."

Jerry continued, "I also had the opportunity to be the primary hermeneutics teacher at the school. I made great use of all that I had learned from Dr. Bartel’s classes at the undergraduate and graduate level. In 2011, I was able to complete a full Latvian translation of the text for that class that is now being used at the Bible school."

Jerry returned to the United States in 2011 and began working at SAGU as an adjunct missions professor and the assistant to the dean of Institutional Effectiveness. Terri is the admissions counselor for SAGU's Harrison School of Graduates Studies. They have three children: Tim (24) (recently married to SAGU graduate Brianna Woodson), Amy (22) (recently married to SAGU student Joshua Madrid), and Kevin (19) (a current SAGU student).

Jerry is continuing his studies at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, working on a Ph.D. in intercultural studies. His long-term vision is to teach and train others to work in cross-cultural environments. Terri is completing her master's degree in history at SAGU. Jerry stated, “I can also see ways that God could use our academic credentials to provide access to creative access locations or situations. We know that God still has a purpose for us in His Mission."

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