Sarmita (Priede) Peterson ‘61
Sarmita was born in Latvia in 1942, when Germany was in control of her country. While her father was off being trained in the military, her mother, who was alone and without any other family, gave birth to her at a local hospital.
A series of miracles
“A series of miracles began in my life, beginning when I was a 9-month old baby. God so clearly had his hand on me. I got measles, pneumonia, and whooping cough, all at the same time. My mother brought me to the hospital and the nurse took me from her and curtly said “Go home; she will be dead by morning.” My mother went home to pray for my life. The next day, she came back and it was a miracle—I was getting better.” Her father died serving in the war.
When she was almost two years old, they got word that the Russian Army had crossed the border into Latvia. Her mother grabbed her and her brother, and with few possessions besides the clothes on their backs, headed for the shore and got on a ship that took them to Germany. There they joined other refugees on slow moving trains that had very little food. As a young toddler with no available nutrition, Sarmita stopped growing and walking. She began to have high fevers and would stop breathing. Her mother again began praying for her life. After a very long journey, they ended up catching the last train out of Eastern Germany that brought them to the outskirts of Lubeck, Germany where they lived in military barracks as refugees.
“One day, we got word that Russians were sending representatives to these refugee camps to repatriate Latvians back to Latvia. Instead, these ‘repatriated’ Latvians got sent to Siberia or were executed.” Different allies oversaw these refugee camps, and their family was in a camp supervised by the British. The British caught on to what the Russian representatives were doing and refused to let them take any Latvians—which again saved their lives. They lived in that camp for five and a half years.
From Latvia to America
Latvia was no longer a country, and Sarmita’s mom dreamt of coming to America so both she and her children could get an education. The Lutheran Welfare Federation (later named Lutheran Social Services) received her request and found a sponsor in Minnesota. At the time, families in America had to sponsor an immigrant family, and immigrant families were required to live with their sponsor for a year. A farmer from the small southern town of Judson said he would take in their family of three. In September of 1950 they arrived in America and came to the farm. Her mother worked very hard on the farm. “The farmer would have loved it if my mother would have married him, but she had other plans and dreams.”
Now in Minneapolis, Sarmita’s family had been attending the Latvian church, but her mother was frustrated with the study of just Latvian language and culture, and not the Bible. Her brother’s junior high art teacher invited them to Bethany Covenant Church in South Minneapolis and picked them up every Sunday for about a year. Eventually, the church asked her mom to be the custodian and the family moved into the half-basement apartment in the church. The people at Bethany Covenant encouraged her mom to send her to Minnehaha Academy. Sarmita enrolled, and worked in the office, which covered half her tuition and made it possible for her to attend.
Sarmita went to Minnehaha her four years of high school. She made life-long friends and loved singing in the choir. “Phil Brunelle entertained us to no end and being in the Singers with Harry Opel was such a delight.” The teacher that made the biggest impact on her was Guido Kauls, with whom she shares a common Latvian birthplace. Her first year at MA was his first year as a teacher. Her class taught him English and he taught them all German. They have stayed connected throughout the years. “We have a delightful relationship and he is a good friend.”
Sarmita met her husband Cal after graduating from Minnehaha, at Covenant Pines Bible Camp. They raised five children and have the added joy of six grandchildren, and much of their married life has been dedicated to volunteering at Covenant Pines, sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ through both speaking opportunities and service. She has spoken to hundreds of groups throughout the Twin Cities about God’s miracles in her life. Her talk is called, “Jesus Christ, Light of My Life” and it is illustrated with candles as she tells her story.
God's plan: All things work together for the good
“I believe that God had a plan for my life. There is a reason God kept me alive. I believe that all things work together for the good of those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28) Every day, I want to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit and His leading. I have an amazing story to share, and it is all worth it if it can be turned around and bring glory to Him.”