The Last Post

Today, Easter Sunday, the day when Christians celebrate new life, seems a good day to write my last post on this blog. I suppose it should have been written long ago, since it is now almost three months since I returned to the UK, but I know I’ve put off writing it because, for me, it will be symbolic of the fact that my life in Latvia is over and a new chapter of my life has begun.

With the perspective and space that time brings, I still reflect on the experience as a gift, and a totally unexpected privilege, giving me the rich opportunity to meet and share with some beautiful people and some vibrant fellow Christians. I have had time to reflect on the things I might have done better and have prayed that my contribution to the work of God through the Army in Latvia will have been, despite any failures in judgement on my part, a positive one.

They do say that Latvia ‘gets’ to you, that you can never escape its charm. At the risk of being slightly cliched, I would say that it has become part of me – there is a Latvia-shaped space now in my life! I am reminded of it in many small ways – not least the fact that I have to consciously remember to drive in the left-hand side of the road! I am evangelical about Latvia and will talk enthusiastically to anyone who wants to listen.  I want people to know about this unsung little gem of a country, and to capture the deep respect I have for the people – their ingenuity, creativity and sensitivity. Odd events will bring individuals to mind whom I have known, and periodically I will sit and do a mental tour around the country recalling with deep affection the people I know who are involved in ministry, sometimes in difficult places. As I bring their faces to mind, I  lift them into God’s presence and ask that He blesses them.

….so that’s it – the end of my Latvia adventure. All that is left is for me  to say ‘goodbye’ and to say thank you to those of you who have followed the blog and shared the adventure with me.

 

 

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….when I was in Latvia…..

All things come to an end, and on 5th January 2016 I arrived back in Edinburgh to have my second (or is it third?) attempt at retirement. This, therefore, is my penultimate post on latviabailey and is dedicated, with deep gratitude for their patience, to my Latvian friends and colleagues. For three years they have had to put up with my prefacing conversations with the words, ‘in the UK……’ as I have tried to process customs and practices in Latvia which are culturally unfamiliar with those that are more familiar to me.   I do want to put on record that in no way have I intended to imply that things are done better in the UK than in Latvia. I’m truly sorry if that has seemed the case. It’s simply that ‘the way we do things around here’ has for me, been the way things are done in the UK which has been my reference point for most of my working life.

However, now that I’m back in Scotland my British compatriots will have to put up with my saying……yes, you’ve guessed…….’in Latvia…..’ This time, however, it will be said with a sense of nostalgia for the things I will miss about Latvia. Here are some of those things, not necessarily written in order of importance…

  • …In Latvia my flat was warm all the time
  • …In Latvia the shops stay open until sensible times in the evening
  • …In Latvia people wear sensible clothes in the winter
  • …In Latvia they eat healthy food
  • …In Latvia you can tell the difference between summer and winter
  • …In Latvia people make time to enjoy the summer months
  • …In Latvia people enjoy strolling in parks and gardens in the evenings
  • …In Latvia they give flowers to greet people
  • …In Latvia men don’t feel silly giving and receiving flowers.
  • …In Latvia most people can speak two and often three, languages fluently
  • …In Latvia people just get on with things and don’t make a fuss
  • …In Latvia people are not demanding, but just accept what life throws at them
  • …In Latvia people still know how to live close to nature
  • …In Latvia people are creative and innovative
  • …In Latvia there is fantastic wifi connectivity
  • …In Latvia people know how to celebrate in simple but effective ways
  • …In Latvia The Salvation Army is an Army its founder, William Booth would be proud of with a real heart for the poor

These are some of the things I know I will miss – indeed, some of them I am missing already – doubtless there will be many, many more!

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Advent

I don’t know whether it is just my imagination, but it seems to me that Christmas is starting earlier here in Latvia than when I first arrived.  A huge Christmas tree was in evidence when I visited one of the large shopping malls on Sunday 22nd November, which seems early by Latvian standards.  Actually, one of the things I’ve liked about living here is that Christmas does not start at the end of September but at a more appropriate time in the season!

Ursula, Vanda and Biruta at the end of a successful evening. Benny is in the foreground!

Advent started early here at the ‘Army’ too.  I had great fun, along with a group of other ladies, on Friday evening. Melissa, one of the American officers here in Riga, holds a monthly women’s fellowship and always has something a bit different for us to do.  I missed the first part of the evening, but by the time I arrived Melissa was busy teaching the group how to make snowmen as Christmas decorations out of white socks and dried beans. How great it was to have an excuse to ‘fiddle’ and do the kind of things I enjoyed doing as a child. For my British readers, it was like ‘Blue Peter’ all over again, complete with Melissa showing us ‘one she had made earlier’. It was great fun. I even gave my snowman a name, so that ‘Benny’ is now sitting on my windowsill along with a stray plastic poinsettia that somehow escaped getting packed away with the Christmas things last year. Yes, I know, I’m sad – or perhaps even worse, already starting my second childhood.  After having a break for coffee and snacks, we then moved on to make hanging snowmen decorations with lolly sticks and sparkle. I even managed a very few words in Latvian which meant I could communicate, if only a little, with the ladies present. They at least had a laugh at my expense when I got the word for ‘pumpkin’ and ‘shoes’ in Latvian muddled up. It was a great opportunity for ladies, to relax, laugh, and maybe forget some of the problems with which they normally have to grapple.

I’ve been introduced to a new Advent tradition already this year. On Saturday 28th November I visited Sarkaņi, a visit I have described in more detail in another post. We had to have the meeting early because the officer and people from nearby Liepa had a special engagement. They were going on the annual ‘Gaismas Gājiens’ or ‘Light Procession’. This is a procession around the town which takes place at the beginning of Advent, in which all the churches take part. It starts at the Library where the corps currently worship, and goes round each of the major buildings in the town, including the school etc. In each place the procession stops to pray for what happens in that building, recites the Lord’s Prayer and lights a candle. It seemed a lovely idea to me to wrap a whole town in light at the beginning of this significant season of the year.

My Latvian Advent 'wreath'

And finally in my early Advent musings, I am actually writing this on the first Sunday in Advent, and have just lit my first Advent candle.   On a recent visit to the corps in Iecava I was given a lovely gift of a plate and four candle holders representing the four regions of Latvia.  This will be the last Christmas I spend in Latvia, so I’ve decided that from now on my Iecava gift  will be my Advent ‘wreath’ so that, each year as I light the candles, I will be able to remember Latvia and the people I have met here.

 

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Būs labi

Following up the movement of officers I wrote about in ‘All Change’, this weekend I have been to two of the places where new leaders needed to be officially welcomed and presented to their congregations.

On Saturday Iveta and I made our way to Sarkaņi where Inga, the officer from the neighbouring corps, Liepa, along with her husband, Jānis, had offered to take responsibility for the work there. We arrived to be greeted by a room full of people, some, of course, from Sarkaņi and others from Liepa who had come along to support. We enjoyed a time of worship together, and then I reminded Inga of her responsibilities as a Salvation Army officer in a little ceremony similar to one used the world over in The Salvation Army on such an occasion. It was a reminder to keep the Bible, the truths of the Christian Gospel and the needs of the poorest in society as her focus, and to aim to introduce people to Jesus.  The congregation also made its own response too, promising to follow Inga’s lead and promising to pray for her and Jānis.

The people came forward with the inevitable gifts of flowers, and then Inga preached, very cleverly combining an Advent message with her manifesto to the people of Sarkaņi. She used the meeting of Mary and Elizabeth in Luke’s Gospel to illustrate the fact that it is important to communicate, not just at a superficial level, but at a deeper level where it is possible to hear people’s real needs and longings.  The proceedings ended with the Sarkaņi folk extending hospitality to us all in the shape of huge buns and tea and coffee! It was a good start.

The next day we went to Saldus to welcome Ilona  and Dmitrijs as the new leaders there. When I walked in everyone seemed very subdued. I’m usually greeted with smiles and hugs but these seemed in much shorter supply  than is usually the case. I realised that this is the first time this very new Salvation Army community had experienced change, so it was obvious that they would be a bit apprehensive about the change of leadership. If they were nervous, so were Ilona and Dmitrijs, particularly as Ilona was to preach for the first time to the assembled company. The pattern followed was similar to that at Sarkaņi the day before, with worship, the ceremony and then the sermon preached by Ilona.  Using Scripture (it was lovely to hear the rustle of pages being turned as she gave the Bible references)  she emphasised the need for the Christian community to worship together, speaking about the fact that we need each other if we are going to be effective in our work for God. Ilona’s style was engaging and sincere and evoked a response from some members of the congregations during the time of prayer at the end of the meeting. Buns, coffee and tea followed, and, I don’t know if it is my imagination, but everyone seemed far more relaxed at the end of the meeting than they were at the beginning.

Reflecting on these two visits, there is one small incident that keeps coming to the forefront of my mind. New beginnings are exciting, but also slightly scary. One lady, on her way out of the meeting at Sarkaņi on Saturday, said good bye to me and added ‘būs labi’, and I agreed, yes, ‘būs labi’ – everything will be OK. Whether she really felt that or whether she was looking for my confirmation that everything would be OK was beyond my knowledge of Latvian to find out. However, the phrase seems to be an appropriate Latvian shorthand for something Julian of Norwich said many centuries ago:

‘ All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well’

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All change!

A key feature of being an officer (minister) in The Salvation Army is that of being available to God through the Army to serve wherever you are needed. In many countries where The Salvation Army is well-established there is a particular time of year, every year, when officers wait with bated breath to see if it is their time to move to another town and another appointment. A traditional  time to move is not established here in Latvia but this week such a move did take place.  It was a small move compared to some countries where the Army is much larger, but relative to the size of the Army here, it did make quite an impact, and was a rare, if not entirely new, phenomenon.

Having experienced these kind of transitions personally all my life, it took me some time to realise that what, for me, has become second nature was entirely new for the officers here. One basic concern was how the whole moving process could take place all on the same day. For me, that’s just the way it’s always been, why would it seem to be a problem? When the penny finally dropped that for my colleagues this was something new, I tried to put myself in their place and tried, along with the team here at Regional Headquarters, to help and reassure them during this time of change.

There were so many things to think of and organise that I had taken for granted. What furniture should be left in the flats officers are leaving? How would Inventories be checked? What information should be left for the replacement officer? What SA equipment stays behind and what does the officer take with them? How is the actual move of peoples’ personal belongings organised and executed? How are all the financial matters relating to the corps (church) handed over? What about new schools and nursery places for the children involved in the move …and so it went on.

Well, in the end the move did not take place all on one day. One cohort moved last Thursday and so this weekend sees the welcome to six officers and candidates as they start their new lives in four different appointments, with the remainder moving into their new homes and appointments by next weekend.

So, it’s ‘all change’. If you do pray, and I know some of you reading this do, you might like to remember Ilona, Inga and her husband Janis, Ilona and Dmitrijs and daughter Diana, Arturs and Erika and baby son Kristers, Gints and Revita and children Daniela and Marks, Velta and husband Ainers, in your prayers.

 

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A milestone

Indulge me, dear reader.  This is my 100th post.  The picture shows members of the staff here in Riga at The Salvation Army headquarters being cajoled into posing for a photo with the celebration cake which was bought to mark this momentous achievement!

The Celebration

The Celebration

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Bībeles Diena – the pictures

This gallery contains 16 photos.

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