I really like the Salvation Army custom of inviting people to ‘give their testimony’. Often this can be the most inspiring part of a meeting for me and I am discovering that testimony is still an important part of worship on Sunday here in Latvia.
I love the immediacy of the experiences which are shared. A lady was in hospital. The officers brought her a Bible to read, ‘I was so happy I had a Bible to read’, she says. ‘I had nowhere to live,’ said another, ‘the officers prayed for me and I have a room’. ‘I was going for a interview for a job and prayed on the way and I got the job’. ‘I was praying and wasn’t sure whether God could hear me, and he gave me a sign that he did hear’. ‘I prayed because I was unwell and God heard my prayer’. ‘Please pray for me and my son’. Nothing complicated, just faith that takes hold of the simple instruction, ‘Ask, and it will be given you;’ (Matthew 7:7 NIV) Obviously, behind many of these stories there’s another intriguing ‘back story’ which there would not be enough time to tell in the average-length Sunday worship service.
Time, however, is what I had plenty of last Sunday on the journey to and from Daugavpils, almost 8 hours of it with someone, Ronalds the interpreter, whom I’d never had a conversation with before. He’s pictured here with the much-loved, and I suspect, very spoilt dog belonging to Marina and Janis at Daugavpils! Yes, we had plenty of time for stories, and Ronalds told me his story, his testimony of how he became a Christian.
Ronalds and his friend Aivis went to Technical school to learn furniture making. This was in Soviet times. There was a boy, Toms, who seemed different from the rest. Word went around that he was a ‘Believer’, and it caused quite a stir that such a young person was a Christian when all his contemporaries were atheists. Ronalds and Aivis gradually got to know Toms, and sometimes, on ‘high days and holidays’ would go along to his church. Eventually the boys went their separate ways and were conscripted into the military. Ronalds found himself in the Ural Mountains. He started to think about his own life and was dissatisfied and unhappy with himself. He compared himself with Toms, who seemed to have so much in his life that Ronalds didn’t have. About this time Ronalds received a newspaper from his mother in which was written the Lord’s Prayer. This was hugely significant to Ronalds, and he describes how he knelt down and prayed to Toms’ God. He didn’t know much about this God, but said that after the prayer he felt an overwhelming sense of peace and knew that something really significant had happened in his life and that God was with him.
Interestingly, Ronalds says that it was not at that point that he became a Christian. On returning to Latvia he looked up Toms and was introduced to the Gospel and the way to salvation. He understood, then, his sin and his need to repent and experience God’s forgiveness through Jesus and, he said, at that point he became a Christian.
….so there I was, on an ordinary journey on a Sunday afternoon, listening to an extraordinary story of God breaking into the life of a young atheist – the power of a story….
There’s a postscript to this story. Ronalds friend, Aivis, also became a Christian and eventually married a Salvation Army officer and is the man behind some of the photos you see on this blog!