This post is, as the title suggests, a ‘catch up’ on what’s being going on for me here in Latvia over the past couple of weeks. For those of you who like the descriptive stuff this is for you, but if you want something more reflective you might want to skip this post or just look at the pictures in the Gallery (not particularly brilliant either) and just call it a day.
A member of the Salvation Army Advisory Council here in Riga kindly introduced us to the British Chamber of Commerce in Latvia and that resulted in an invitation to attend their midsummer ‘do’ a couple of weeks ago. It was an interesting and helpful experience and the entertainment was provided by a group of singers singing, not in Latvian, but in Livonian the ancient language of the Livs who occupied the Baltic region. ‘The Times’ reported recently that the last speaker of the language had died, whether or not that is true is open to question, but I heard several people singing in Livonian the other day!
The following Sunday I was in Liepa, a small town in the east of Latvia and one of the oldest of the corps in the Region. Inga and her husband, Janis, work and minister to the people there, Inga actually working in the place where she was born and grew up. Despite attempts over the years this corps still does not have a building to call its own and has recently suffered another disappointment when hopes were raised that at last we might have found a permanent home for them. If you are a praying person, please pray that they will find a place they can call their own. What is fascinating is that the place where they worship, part of the public library, used to be a kindergarten in Soviet times which Inga attended when she was a small girl. She was telling me on this visit how she innocently put a frog in a cupboard in the classroom to keep it safe, only to be surprised at the near heart attack her teacher had when she opened the cupboard door! Janis does a great job with some of the teenage boys in the town. He teaches them wood-working skills and this opens up opportunities for him to talk to them and support them.
Monday and Tuesday of the following week found me in Bauska and Valmiera for the public performances of the Musical that Darta and her team have been working on for some month’s now. Thanks to a generous legacy from Australia specifically for work with children in Latvia, an imaginative three-year project was put in place which brings together children from all over the Region to produce a musical. About 60 children took part in the final performance this year. It was based on the stories in Luke 15 ‘The Land of the Lost and Found’. It was very good indeed and there were good audiences to watch it in both venues. The Gallery shows pictures of an open-air meeting which was held in Bauska just prior to the production to try to advertise the fact that the Musical was being shown in the town. You’ll see in one of the pictures my invaluable PA and translator, Iveta, who will be very cross when she sees her picture on this blog!! Leone you’ve been introduced to before. If you have been following the blog for any length of time you met her when I reported on my Easter visit to Iecava.
A surprise treat was being invited to go up the tower of St Peter’s church in the centre of town where the views of the city were pretty spectacular. Rather than describe the views you are welcome to view them on the Gallery. One thing I will mention. On one of the photos, you can just make out a crane, and what looks like a boat in the water. In actual fact, it is a restaurant suspended from the crane high in the air. Quite amazing. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.
Then the Big One – Ligo Diena. Evidently this celebration of midsummer is by far the most significant festival in the Latvian year. Before I came I’d read that women wore flower crowns and men wore crowns of oak leaves, but cynically thought it would be a ‘put up’ job to entertain the tourists. The photo of the guy taken in a shopping mall with his oak crown on shows how popular this festival still is with Latvians. It is a real celebration of Latvian culture, and the outdoor stage and hundreds of people who thronged down by the river Daugava to celebrate put me in mind of Princes Street in Edinburgh on Hogmanay – there were even bagpipes!
Last week saw me in Stockholm touching base with my ‘boss’ and our Headquarters there. I travelled back by ferry, which was very beautiful, taking me through the thousands of islands around the coast of Stockholm. I sat on deck marvelling at the fact that, when I retired in 2011 I had no idea that the God of surprises had all this in store for me.
Then, finally, this Sunday…..and it was a ‘finally’ too, for this Sunday saw me complete my visits to all the Salvation Army centres in Latvia. Ilmaja is really just a stop on the railway line. There are just two houses on the spot where people meet fortnightly on a Sunday for worship. Arija, the retired Major who leads this little group of people, is one of the most sprightly-looking 80 year olds I have ever seen. Her mother was an officer when the Salvation Army was in Latvia before the Second World War, and it is in no small part due to them both that the Army was able to become re-established in Latvia in the early 1990’s. She is a true pioneer. So much love and care had gone into the preparation for our visit, which concluded with food and, of course, cake. A nice touch was a little posy of wild flowers and a hand-written Bible text which was at each place setting at the table. I conclude this marathon edition with my verse:
‘But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.’ Matthew 6:33 (NIV)