Mo Blackmon, standing, center, and Livija Godina, standing, right, with Latvian Baptist Union leaders, 2013.
Slow and small leads to widely transferable
by Laurie Lind, Entrust staff writer
Livija Godina knew. Mo Blackmon knew. Now Agnese and Karina and many more Latvian women know. Entrust Equipping Women discipleship and ministry training really works. It changes lives. It’s relevant to everyday life, whether in Canada, Russia, Kenya or Brazil. It’s a process that is growing and spreading, slowly and purposefully, around the world.
Livija served as director of the Latvian Baptist Union’s women’s ministry board for many years, primarily during the Soviet era, and in that role, traveled across Europe and the Soviet Union. Along the way, she kept bumping into women who astounded her in how well they knew their Bibles, how capable they were in opening Scripture and leading women in studies, how confident they were in leading. Livija asked questions. She learned these women had been equipped by Entrust (known at that time as Biblical Education by Extension).
Meanwhile, Mo Blackmon, a Canadian serving with GEM in Latvia, traveled to France to take one of Entrust Equipping Women’s modules, Discovery Bible Study, at a retreat center in 2002. It proved to be transformative for Mo.
“I loved the fact that we were living together and that meant we were just spending a lot more life together,” she says.
Mo appreciated aspects of the training which remain meaningful to her today. “I love that we include a very real connection with God and desire to be with God and respond to God. Worshiping him, even in the middle of doing our homework, there are guides to stop and worship, and I love that. I think it makes things very real.”
When Mo took another module, Facilitating Relational Learning, she was impressed by the facilitators’ making themselves available to the participants. “I remember very clearly going for a walk up the mountain with [Entrust Equipping Women facilitator] Sherry Bohn when I took FRL, and we spoke together about the at-that-time leader of the women’s ministry for the Baptist Union for all of Latvia, Livija Godina. I remember the enthusiasm and wisdom and direction that Sherry gave me, which really did help me go back and continue working with Livija and the board of women’s ministry in Latvia in those very beginning years to get this training off the ground.
“So the availability and wisdom and love shared by the facilitators in our training really fill it out for me and make it so much more real in my heart and practical in my life.”
Mo found more and more to appreciate in Entrust Equipping Women.
“I love that we require people to first study on their own, so they get their own brain juices going. They learn to realize what they think and wrestle with things by themselves and with the Lord, and then, only later discuss it all together. I think that’s a brilliant way helping people learn, first on their own and then together with others.
“I also love that we put a high value on creating an atmosphere of trust, because I know that if I’m able to trust the others in a group then I’m going to be a lot more open about my questions or even things maybe I don’t agree with. I dislike conflict. But, if I’m trusting this group and trusting the process that we’re in, I will dare to disagree and at the same time be able to listen and consider other points of view. I’ve found that very valuable.”
In 2009, Mo took another course through Entrust, the basic discipleship course Walking with Christ. This, too, had a profound effect on her life and, eager to share all she’d learned, she teamed up with an American colleague and two Latvian women to form two small groups, one in their village and one in a nearby city.
“We gathered women together from Catholic, Baptist, charismatic churches, and they were all studying a little bit at home but especially as we met together,” Mo says. “They were really impacted by actually getting to know one another and being vulnerable with one another and praying for one another. I remember one woman saying to me, ‘You know, we walk by each other on the streets of our city,’ (and the city is only a few thousand people), ‘but I never would’ve even really stopped to have a conversation. But now I know that this woman is my sister in Christ and now we are connected and now we have had this opportunity to get to know and love one another with Jesus in the middle.’
“I saw that the way Entrust writes the curriculum and produces this discipleship material, like WwC, it’s very biblically based. It’s a way to get people into God’s word. It provides a wonderful structure to be able to think about these things at home. And then, best case scenario, the women are talking about it with their friends or roommates or children or husbands or colleagues at work. And so God’s word and knowledge of him is spreading.
“Also, using the small group dynamic that we have come to know and love and value so highly, it really is the best way for people to be able to think their own thoughts and learn humbly from one another.
“One of my very favorite things,” Mo says, pausing to choke back some tears, “is that this is a way that we can help every woman discover her voice, to know that she is known and seen and loved and accepted by God in Christ. I think maybe that is at the heart of why I chose to cast this vision for training for the Baptist women, because I knew it would be life changing for every woman that would go through this training.”
And so, in 2012, Mo began to cast the vision.
Entrust Equipping Women’s strategy is designed for small groups of, ideally, no more than about 12 people. It’s intended to be done slowly over the course of about four years, providing opportunity to learn and practice ministry and leadership skills, grow in knowledge of Scripture, mature in Christlike character and deepen relationships. Ideally, women take each of the four core modules—Facilitating Relational Learning, Developing a Discerning Heart, Discovery Bible Study and Equipping Women to Serve—one per year.
Slow and small isn’t always what churches are looking for.
“The Latvian board of women’s ministry for the Baptist Union was not quick to say yes to our model of training,” Mo says. “That’s why it took me actually a couple of years before they did say yes, because they felt that they needed something that would be quicker and that would train more women more quickly. When the leadership saw that we would only take up to nine women in one course (along with three facilitators) and that it would occupy almost half a year just to train those nine women, including the pre-course study and then the follow-up, they thought it was too slow and too few people.”
Conversations continued between Mo, Livija and the board, into 2013.
“I talked with Livija about how this has been used for many decades in Eastern Europe and that it was based on Jesus’ model of training a few who would then train others who would train others. And she was listening.”
Livija remembered the women she’d met who’d been equipped in this manner by Entrust, women who “stood out to her amongst all the leaders that she was involved with worldwide as an international Baptist leader.”
Livija “recognized the need for training that is transferable. And that even if it was small and slow at the beginning that it would lead to real implementation and to long-term success,” Mo says.
And so it was that in 2014, seven Latvian women entered into the first FRL in their country. What started then has not stopped.
Multiplication of servant leaders
“The first group of seven women in 2014,” Mo says, “it was their vulnerability and love … (she pauses to wipe away tears) … the love they experienced from God and for each other, and the way the training is offered, created such an unusual atmosphere that these Latvians, who knew each other for only a few days dared to open up and share some of the deepest, most painful things in their lives with each other … I think all of that really blew their minds and opened their hearts to the experience of God in this training. I think that is what compelled them to share with others.
“Within the next year we offered two courses and two years after that, three courses. And we’ve had a training every single year that we’ve had facilitators able to offer courses, which is every year, except they took a short break during COVID.
“But this was the inspiration for it to keep going. It changed their lives from the very beginning. They experienced God in the midst of the training experience. And they found very real skills that enabled them, gave them real confidence, to be able to go into a group of women and lead them in a Bible study, lead them in sharing their thoughts, lead them in working together to do ministry. And that all fueled their commitment to put it into practice.
“The long-term success came from the fact that these women took what they learned and experienced from the Lord and they passed it on to others and they kept passing it on to others.” (Tears)
Since 2014, batons have been passed.
Succeeding Livijia, Agnese Megne, who has completed all four Entrust Equipping Women modules, became director of the Lativan Baptist Union’s women’s ministry. The board she gathered around her was, all but one, equipped by Entrust. In January of 2023, Agnese passed her baton to Karina Liepina, who has had most of the training and whose board also consists of several women taking the modules.
“The fact that leaders for the nationwide women’s ministry have come through our training,” Mo says, “shows their commitment to implementing this type of training for women nationwide and certainly is contributing to its long-term success.”
To date, 57 women have taken at least one Entrust Equipping Women module, and 15 have completed all four. The entire process is now owned and directed by Latvians, under the name they chose for themselves, Sieviete Sievietei, which translates roughly to “Women for Women.” All the training is now done in Latvian. Foreigners like Mo come alongside to assist as requested by the Latvian leadership. Mo has effectively, and intentionally, worked herself out of a job. (Check out her article, The most joyful no, to learn how she dealt with handing everything over to her Latvian sisters.)
As the process and its content is transferred into Latvian hands and hearts, it’s becoming increasingly Latvian.
“Latvians have a high value on beauty,” Mo says, “and I see that they bring the beauty of the Lord into the training, even in the materials they produce.
“They have a logo that represents this training program in Latvia—a bird in a nest. The idea is that we are mother birds, feeding the younger birds and preparing them to leave the nest and to fly on their own, where they will eventually have other birds they are feeding and preparing and sending out. That whole multiplication piece is present in that symbol.”
Sieviete Sievietei’s bird logo appears on everything at a training event, from notepads to nametags to folders. When women complete Module 4, they receive a pin hand-crafted by a young Latvian artist, shaped like that bird logo.
“The women really look forward to receiving this pin in a beautiful graduation ceremony complete with speeches and flowers and a diploma. Everything is very beautifully done.”
Mo describes another special Latvian touch. “They’ve really taken to heart the idea of different personalities. When they are putting together a team of facilitators for any given module, they look at what personalities each one comes with and they put people together with that in mind.”
Naturally, Latvians “know how their own people think and feel about things,” Mo says. “So they do or do not do certain exercises in given modules knowing how those come across to a Latvian. A lot of Latvian women have had traumatic and scarring experiences in school, especially through the Soviet years, and so they really consider, for instance, in FRL, about giving and receiving feedback, how that can be a difficult, very difficult thing. But as they experience the graciousness and love of God, it becomes possible and then a very valued tool in their toolkit.”
Biblical, proven, slow and deep methods and tools for Christian growth and discipleship are transferring from culture to culture, woman to woman, Sieviete Sievietei. Across Latvia and, Lord-willing, across the region.