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The Baltic Mission is made up of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Belarus. Each country has its own language, but approximately 50 percent of the population in each country speaks Russian as their first language. Missionaries in each country are called to speak either the country’s unique language (e.g., Latvian) or speak Russian. This mission home is located in Riga, Latvia, which is the capital of Latvia and also one of the most central cities in the area. Missionary work in the Baltic countries began in the early 1990s
Snapshot of Estonia
The official language of Estonia is Estonian, though much of the population (particularly older generations) is also able to speak Russian. Estonia is one of the least religious countries in the world, with about 75% of the population not adhering to any religion. Of the 25% that are religious, most belong to either the Lutheran or Eastern Orthodox churches. Despite the low level of religious participation, Christmas is still considered the most popular holiday in the country, with traditions like Christmas trees, special meals, and Advent calendars that are similar to other European countries. Other remnants from Protestant influences are still present as well. Soccer, swimming, and skiing are among the more popular sports in Estonia. The unique swing sport kiiking was invented in Estonia. Typical Estonian meals include rye bread, pork, and potatoes. Soups blended with dairy products are also usually eaten with meals.
Snapshot of Latvia
Latvia’s official language is Latvian, though Russian is also widely spoken. Christianity is the dominant religion in Latvia, mostly split between the Lutheran, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox Church, but it should be noted that some polls indicate that less than 10% of Latvians regularly attend church services. Latvia has an extended history of folklore and folk songs, however, in modern post-Soviet Latvia, theater, choir singing, and classical music are more representative of Latvian culture. Pop and alternative rock music are also quite popular. Ice hockey is the most popular sport in Latvia, though basketball is also popular. Lunch is traditionally the largest meal of the day in Latvia. Potatoes, meat (usually pork or fish), and rye bread are common staples of Latvian meals. Other popular dishes include soups, sauerkraut, and pickled vegetables.
Snapshot of Lithuania
The official language of Lithuania is Lithuanian, but much of the population is also able to speak Russian. About 77% of Lithuania’s population belongs to the Roman Catholic church, with the rest of the population belonging to a mix of other Christian churches or other religions, or not having any religion whatsoever. Choral singing and folk music and dancing are both important in Lithuanian culture, though modern rock and pop music are also popular.. Basketball is by far the most popular sport in Lithuania, though soccer and rugby also have smaller followings. Dark rye bread, potatoes, pork and other meats, and soups are widely eaten in Lithuania. The use of locally-grown mushrooms and berries is another distinctive feature of Lithuanian cuisine. Gathering wild berries and mushrooms continue to be popular activities in Lithuania. Other dishes similar to Polish dumplings, doughnuts, and blintzes (a type of crepe) are also present.
Snapshot of Belarus
The two official languages of Belarus are Belarusian and Russian. Russian is the more dominant language of the two. About 48% of Belarus’s population belongs to the Eastern Orthodox Church, while about 7% belong to the Roman Catholic Church. Another 41% of the population is irreligious. Belarus is home to many cultural festivals throughout the year, celebrating local music, art, dance, and other art forms. Theater is also popular in Belarus. Pop, folk, and rock music are all quite popular in Belarus, though much of the country’s media is subject to government censorship. Modern popular arts are often restricted in favor of traditional art. Ice hockey is the most popular sport in Belarus. Belarusian cuisine, like other Baltic countries, tends to focus on meat (usually pork) and potatoes. Soups usually accompany most meals. Dishes such as Russian pelmeni dumplings and potato babka – a dish combining potatoes, eggs, bacon, and onions – are also quite popular. Carbonated water is more popular than non-carbonated water in Belarus.
The church in the Baltic Mission is divided into 3 Districts, one in Estonia, one in Latvia, and one in Lithuania. Each district has a number of branches located mainly in the larger cities of each country. Particularly in the largest cities, there are two branches, one for Russian speakers, and one for speakers of the countries language. Smaller cities typically have just one branch.
Members typically visit the temple a few times a year on group excursions. Estonia and Lithuania are in the Helsinki temple district, and Latvia is in the Stokholm temple district.
Lithuania: There are about 800 official members, but usually only 30-70 are active in each branch. The country has five branches: one Russian-speaking in Vilnius, and four Lithuanian-speaking in Vilnius, Kaunas, Klaipeda, and Sauliai.
Estonia: Typical Estonian meals include rye bread, pork and potatoes. Soups blended with dairy products are also usually eaten with meals.
Latvia: Lunch is traditionally the largest meal of the day in Latvia. Potatoes, meat (usually pork or fish) and rye bread are common staples of Latvian meals. Other popular dishes include soups, sauerkraut and pickled vegetables. Kefirs and Kvass are also popular drinks. Kefirs is aged milk and Kvass is a soda that tastes like black bread.
Lithuania: Dark rye bread, potatoes, cabbage, beets, pork, other meats and soups are widely eaten. Lithuanians love gretine, which is similar to sour cream but creamier and milder in flavor. Another distinctive feature of their cuisine is the use of locally-grown mushrooms and berries. Gathering wild berries and mushrooms continue to be popular activities. They also eat other dishes similar to Polish dumplings, doughnuts and blintzes (a type of crepe). Lithuanians love all kinds of tea and offer tea and cookies to visitors all the time.
Belarus: Belarusian cuisine, like other Baltic countries, tends to focus on meat (usually pork) and potatoes. Soups usually accompanies most meals. Dishes such as Russian pelmeni dumplings and potato babka – a dish combining potatoes, eggs, bacon and onions – are also quite popular. Carbonated water is more popular than non-carbonated water in Belarus.
Missionaries travel mostly by trolley and bus in the cities. In the cities, the busses have “controllers,” which are people who stop public buses and check to make sure every passenger has paid for a ticket. Those who forgot their pass or who do not have a ticket will be hauled off the bus and charged a fee.
Most people do not own cars. You will do a lot of walking.
Like in any country, each city has areas that require extra caution, especially at night. By using common sense and following the mission rules and safety guidelines, you should be able to remain safe.
People in the Baltic countries are very proud of their native heritage, and there are many traditions and customs that come from this heritage. For instance, in Latvia, the spring equinox is one of the biggest holidays of the year and involves a number of traditions like building a hat out of leaves, eating barbequed meat, and staying up all night.
Each country has its own song festival every few years. People gather from all around the country to participate in or watch the festivities.
Each country-specific language has some Russian mixed in. Some people consider it slang can be offended if you mix Russian into the other languages, so be careful about using these words.
Instead of “How are you?” Lithuanians say, “How is your luck?”
Young kids throw in “tipo” every five words. It is their equivalent to “like” in English.
Unless advised otherwise by the mission president, wait to purchase a coat until you are in the mission to make sure you something warm enough and in the right style.
People in the area also do not typically carry backpacks, so a leather satchel or sidebag will help you to fit in with the culture more.
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Straight from the Baltic Mission:
*What items were hard to get or not available?
“peanut butter, chocolate chips, Campbell’s soups, shortening, vanilla extract, baking powder”
*What did you eat the most of?
“potatoes, beets, cabbage, carrots, fruits”
*What is the craziest thing you ate?
“Polmeini (Latvian potato dish)”
*What was most surprising about the culture?
“High level of alcoholism and unemployment. Lack of faith in God. I had never witnessed the result of a people who had been oppressed for many years. The most charming thing was the flower stands everywhere and the tradition of giving flowers for every occasion.”
*What advice would you give to someone going to the Baltic Mission?
“Bring lots of warm clothing–for layering. Be prepared for a culture that is very different from the U.S. Don’t get sick–the medical care is sub-standard.”
*What do you wish you had known before you served?
“I wish I had understood the culture.”