Maris Dzelzs

From YWAM Latvia memorial page.

YWAM Latvia mourns the loss of our national director, Maris Dzelzs, 48, who passed away unexpectedly of a heart attack in Latvia on December 10, 2007. Maris and his wife Judite founded YWAM Latvia in 1993, along with the help of YWAM Slavic Ministries and the YWAM Salem, Oregon center.

Maris pioneered many new things in Latvia. Prior to joining YWAM, he was involved in the former Soviet Union with underground Christian-literature printing, large-scale evangelism, and helping to pioneer the Latvian Christian Mission. His miraculous conversion following a rough past as a gang leader and prisoner for seven years motivated his heart to reach others. His influence reached into many spheres of society, including government, professional hockey, mass media, church, and especially the lives of youth.

Maris always tried to bring justice into situations of injustice and he would always fight for those who were not strong enough to fight for themselves. Maris was a visionary, always thinking up new ways of doing new things. He loved a challenge and had the heart of an evangelist. He was a father to five children: Kristine (now married, living in USA and just gave birth to a baby girl), Solveiga (working with YWAM in Guatemala), Laura (staffing DTS in Herrnhut, Germany), Arturs (playing Junior-level hockey in the USA) and Viktors (attending Christian School in Latvia). They were the pride of his life.

He will be terribly missed

YWAM Latvia Maris Dzelzs Memorial page

  • G Stephen Goode

    For many more reflections, memories and honoring of Maris and his family and their love for God and joy of living – go to

    G Stephen Goode

  • Larry Hurt

    I Remember Maris in the days of bringing the Anastasis to Latvia and even before that having some fun times learning about Talsi and Latvia and the sauna! He was certainly a person who enjoyed people, a challenge, and watching the Lord move in mighty ways. Though I have not been in touch since the mid 90s I can still remember him pondering how to accomplish one project after another and wondering why people did not take more risks for the Lord. His life’s story will continue to be a challenge to those of us who remain to press on toward the mark of the high calling and keep our eyes on heavenly treasures. May peace and grace cover his family and close friends and may the Lord continue to bring fruit from his life.

  • Jonnie Lee


  • Ingvar Olsen

    Judite and family!
    I am so sorry to hear that Maris past away. I can´t imagine how that is for all of you.
    I just wanted to say thank you so much for the times I, my family and some groups of Norwegians were always so welcomed in your home and base. You guys always inspired us! So good to be around Maris and you, Judite, that had lots of fun, were joking, but at the same time had the courage to go were you felt God were leading.
    We will miss him.
    It is good to see the same fire in you and in your kids! Blessings on you!
    You are in our prayers.

  • Andrejs Majorins

    I believe that Maris was a unique leader raised up by God for a crucial time in the history of Latvija. I first met Maris in 1993 when I traveled to Latvija with my 13 year old son, my younger brother, and my father (who was born in Latvija in 1921). I came on a journey to learn about the spiritual history of my family. I was also very interested in learning about what God was doing in Latvija in the days following the fall of communism. I found that Maris was one of the leaders that God raised up to provide vision for the spiritual future of Latvija. When I first met Maris, the YWAM schools were in their early years, meeting in rented facilities. Maris gave me a tour of a broken down building near Talsi that was to become a training center for scores of Christian young people who would impact the world for Christ. Maris had the ability to see beyond broken windows and crumbling stones to envision a place where many could be trained to bring the gospel to Latvija and the rest of the world. He had the ability to trust God for workers and finances to accomplish the task.

    Over the years that followed my visit to Latvija, I followed the progress as God gave Maris one big vision after another. I saw a big man driven by the desire to mobilize people and resources for the cause of Christ. Perhaps he sensed that his life on this earth would be short. He seemed to push himself beyond human limits to keep God’s work moving forward.

    On one occasion when Maris was visiting our home and church here in the USA, I was scheduled to lead a bible study at our local jail. I invited Maris to come with me and to share his testimony. We sat in a small room with about a dozen inmates. As we chatted with the inmates, they were all voicing petty complaints about how bad it was to be behind bars. Maris let them complain for a bit and then said “Do you think this is bad? – let me tell about what it is like to be in a Soviet jail!” The men were instantly silent and listened with complete attention as Maris told them about how Jesus Christ had rescued him and changed his life. They were deeply moved by the testimony Maris shared.

    This is the kind of man Maris was – intense, to the point, driven to do something for the progress of the gospel. He touched many lives. He motivated many people to serve the Lord. He loved his family and was intensely proud of what each of his children were accomplishing.

    I would like to encourage each of the children to honor the legacy of their earthly father by serving their Heavenly Father with all their heart and strength. Use the gifts that God has given you to bring the glorious gospel of Christ to our lost and dying world.

    Judite, may God give you an overwhelming dose of His comfort and grace as you mourn the loss of your dear husband. Though his time on this earth was short and filled with many troubles and burdens, he is now enjoying the eternal blessings of heaven. Since God has chosen for you to stay behind on this earth for a while longer, He will give you the new mercies that you need every morning. His grace will be sufficient for your every need.

    Lamentations 3:23-25: The LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I have hope in Him.” The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, To the person who seeks Him.

    Pastor Andrejs & Connie Majorins
    Community Bible Church – Lisbon, Iowa, USA

  • Cheryl Harrison

    I had the privilege to first meet Maris and his family 15 years ago….little did I know what the years to follow would bring. The adventure began, and we worked closely in Lativa since then. I became an unofficial part of the family and for many years was Maris’ assistant and also the little sister that he never had. He teased and tormented me, I, in turn, nagged him, but tried to bring the best forth from him. He called me names, like “Babushka”, “Veca Zurka” (old rat), and “old woman”. Maris’ favorite thing to say to me was that he wanted to stretch my borders… My borders definitely got stretched over the years!
    Maris was a man of vision, humor, creativity and drive. He overcame many obstacles and walked through spiritual battles that most people have never experienced. He loved a good fight and was motivated when there was opposition and something that everyone else said was impossible. He loved to do new things in new ways….things that had never been done before…. and that was how he lived his life.
    Maris did not grow up with an earthly father, but when He began a walk with the Lord, he grew in understanding of the revelation of the Father heart of God, and began to live that out, pouring his heart and life into his children. No sacrifice was too great, and his love and commitment to them and delight in them was lived out in a way that I have never seen before. It impacted me. I was blessed to see first hand, his father heart expressed. A nation was impacted by this man, and many individual lives. Following the independance of Latvia from Soviet control in 1991, Maris had great hope and a God-given sense for Latvia and bringing the purposes of God to pass. Maris first hand experienced the lavish grace of God and became an ambassador, sharing his testimony of hope, with thousands of people. He was a driving force towards seeing the work of YWAM pioneered in Latvia. Maris didnt just like to walk through open doors, he liked to push the walls down…
    He was also grieved and disappointed the last few years as a result of some of the not-so-positive changes in the land. He carried the pain of that, and sometimes a heavy heart that some of the God purposes for his nation had not happened.
    He was never the polished, politically correct religious leader….but rough and ready,’take me like I am,’ open for the new thing, as well as a man of passion, determination and insight. He was a man of action, and hated bureaucracy, empty talk, and meetings(unless there was good food).
    I will miss him. It will be different. But, since he always loved new things, and going first or ahead of everyone else, I guess he wanted to go ahead, check things out…..and get the inside scoop… Always a step ahead!
    Wish I could see you now…in Glory with the most Glorious One, seeing things that none of us can even imagine!
    See you later, Mari!

  • Steve Trampe

    I know that Maris is now laughing hard with Jesus, just like he always did with me, getting real and never pretending to be anything more than a sinner saved by the Grace of our Lord. I have never known anyone with the vision of Maris, and the drive to see the vision to fruition. Maris gave me and a team of students from our church, the best trip we ever could have imagined. I fell in love with his family and their toughness in serving Jesus and each other. I don’t remember them spending one minute ever whining about their situation, but always rolled up their sleeves to simply do what they could, no matter the situation. I have a whole new vision for the ministry of evangelism because of Maris. And I am challenged to finish the race well, because that is what I see in Maris, always seeking to serve and develop and love and bring anyone in his reach to the King. I will miss your emails with the funny english and bad spelling and full of the heart of God. Having met your family, I have no doubt that God has given them His strength, just like you, and that they will work to continue towards the vision you had for each of them. If only my family would have half the vision yours has!!! I love you buddy, and love that God took you, just like me, and made something of lives that were lost. Maris glorified His Lord every day I knew him, and no doubt he does the same in His presence!!

  • Jan Denharder

    Dear Dzelt’s Family,

    We were moved with deep sorrow to hear of Maris passing from us to go to Heaven.

    I first met Maris in Ventura California when you were having you Sabbatical year of rest
    there. We talked often about many things. We went to see a Hockey game once together. Nancy and I were able to see the fruit of his ministry both in Latvia and abroad.

    Maris was a pioneer of pioneers. He was rough, tough, enduring, not worried about the opinions of others in the end, and a teddy bear on the inside.

    I remember going to the place he was held in jail for many years and watching his face as we visited.

    Maris knew pain.

    I believe that the deepness of his suffering in childhood, which left him bruised, was the source of a deep and real compassion for the plight of others.

    Maris was certainly my friend.

    My dear family and friends, please stay in contact with us. We will pray for you in this time of grief and change to your lives. I know Maris labored tirelessly for his family and the Lord will do the same for you.

    We love you.

    Jan and Nancy Denharder

  • Gary & Ineta Lansdowne

    Ari mes ar Geriju varam pateikties Dievam, ka pazinam Mari. Vina gimene bija iemesls tam, kapec Gerijs atbrauca uz Latviju, un ka mes satikamies. Par to vien jau paldies.
    Maris un Judite ari bija liels iemesls tam ,kapec pievienojos JAM. Mani aizrava Mara vizija, uzdrikstesanas, izaicinajums, iedrosinajums un nebaidisanas risket. Es vel tadu latvieti nebiju sastapusi, it seviski pec-padomijas laika.
    Protams, no Mara bija ari mazliet bail. Tads liels virs un visu darija ar plasu verienu. Nekad nevareja paredzet, ko vins izdomas. Bija jauzmanas, lai netiktu pamatigi izjokots. Es, protams, vairakas reizes iekritu uz siem jokiem. Domaju, ka Maris ari tagad uzjautrina engelus, un varbut kadu dienu izjokos Pavilu vai Peteri.
    Atminu ir daudz. Viens spilgts piemers bija mana un Gerija kaazu diena, kad Maris sadomaja mani nozagt. Tad gan es parbijos, jo zinaju, ka vins to nopietni var izdarit. Vins bija profesionals JAM ligavu zaglis.
    Maris bija ari loti devigs. Likas, ka vins pret misijas meitenem izturas ka pret savam meitam, Vienmer centas aprupet un pasargat. Nekad neapskaudu Serolu, jo vinai telefons vienmer zvanija bez apstajas. Un ari nakts laika.
    Tapat ka Dzenija atceros Mari stavam zem logiem Valdemarpili un skala balsi saucam kadu no augsas. Neatceros, ka vins kadreiz butu kapis augsa. Vel nevar aizmirst ezermaju un saunas. Un saslikus. Un Maris man asociejas ar specigu odekolonu un savu zelta kedi. Nevaru iedomaties nevienu citu vaditaju, kurs atgadina gangsteri.
    Vienmer atceros Mari ka loti gadigu tevu, kuram berni un gimene bija galvenais dzive. Aizsargaja ka lauva.
    Maris bija mans pirmais vaditajs JAM, un tiesam iemacija sapnot. Par to esmu loti pateiciga.
    Ir gruti noticet tik peksnai aiziesanai. Zinu, ka visiem vins loti pietruks, it seviski Dzelzu gimenei. Bet skumjas mijas ar prieku, ka tiksimies atkal.

  • Aaron Gage

    I had the honor of knowing Maris and the Dzelzs family from 1999-2001, while serving in the US Peace Corps in Latvia. After my initial training in Valmeira, I needed a place to stay in Talsi while getting oriented to my new home for the next two years. At the time, the Dzelzs family was moving to Ventura, California for a year, but they graciously offered to let me stay in their home for as long as I wanted. I remember Maris asking me, “What is this Peace Corps? Don’t waste your time with them, just come work for me.” He even offered to let me use one of the family cars while they were away as they wouldn’t need it. I told him that I couldn’t because it was against Peace Corps policy for me to drive in Latvia. Maris then dropped to a whisper and said, “look, just use it, Aaron. I won’t tell anyone.” Maris was hilarious, and I’ll never forget his contagious smile or his limitless jokes. Maris made me laugh, and think, and always had me on my toes. I had to be careful what I said around him, lest he take me up on my word.

    Like others, I saw Maris as a dreamer, a visionary. He was continuously hatching plans for expanding YWAM to spread his vision of Gods love to the four corners of Latvia. I like to believe he was well on his way to succeeding in his vision.

    My condolences to you, Judite, Kristina, Solveiga, Arturs, Laura and Viktor for your loss.

  • Peeter Vosu

    Dear Judite and family,

    May the Lord grant you peace in your mourning. He gave you wonderful husband and father for a while and called him home now. We can meet him again one day in eternity.

    I had an honour to know him as a man of integrity and good heart. He was also a talented leader and a visionary – the Lord found him suitable to entrust YWAM Latvia under his leadership.

    He will allways be in my heart and in the memory of YWAM Estonia as a hero.