One of the interesting documents I have read since being here is a brief history of the Army in Latvia, written for their 20th anniversary celebrations a couple of years ago. It records the fact that when the Army re-started in Latvia in the early 1990’s a man gave a donation to buy a drum because, he said, ‘The Army must have a drum’. For some reason, the phrase connected with me, and I have it written on a little post-it note and stuck to my desk. The bass drum in the picture here is one of the iconic images of the Army historically. I recall that, as a child in the Sunday School, we sang such ditties as:
‘In the church they play the organ, in the Army beat the drum’
…and there was another ditty, the words of which I can’t recall, which said that the drum said ‘come, come, come.’ I suppose that did summarise the purpose of the drum. You could hear the beat of the drum keeping folk in step as they marched to the meeting, long before you saw it. In worship it called people to come to Jesus and encouraged the saints by keeping time with the rousing marching songs. In the open-air meetings it was often used as a make-shift Mercy Seat (place of prayer) to which people could be invited to come to Jesus and find restoration and healing. The message of the drum was strong and clear, it said, ‘we are waging war against sin and its terrible consequences.’
But is that kind of drum relevant for the Army today, especially here in Latvia? Is the brash, loud, war-like image it conveys helpful? I must admit that, if the donated drum was bought in those early years, I have not yet seen it here in Latvia, but I have heard the phrase, ‘we must have a drum’. The drum in question is not the traditional bass drum, it’s an African bongo drum which features in worship. Its sound is softer, subtler. It is played with the hand, wrapped into the body of the player, caressed almost. It is more understated, discreet, gentler.
When I first read this phrase the challenge to me was to discover what the message of the drum was today. What is the clarion call that the drum needs to beat out in Latvia? I’ve decided that the call has not changed. As much today as in 19th century jingoistic England, the message that the drum conveys is the same – the battle against sin and its consequences – it’s just that the way of conveying the message is different, more Latvian, gentler, more discreet, more modest……just like the bongo drum. Yes, Mr unknown donor – the Army in Latvia does have a drum!