Currently in the UK there is a World Centenary Jamboree to celebrate 100 years of Salvation Army scouting and guiding. It brings back memories. Not good ones. Camping outdoors in Scotland in May is not my idea of fun, and making breakfast for a tent full of Guides in the pouring rain wearing a black plastic dustbin bag to try to keep me – and the food – dry, is the stuff of nightmares. I have never quite been able to see the point of washing out a baked bean tin and heating water in it over a fire which has been produced by rubbing together two Cub Scouts! I jest, of course, but it really isn’t my thing at all.
So it was then with considerable trepidation, and a sense of pious martyrdom that I volunteered to go along to the family camp which is organised in Latvia every year at our very own campsite, Ģirti, near Bernāti on the west coast. You’ve possibly guessed the rest….yep, I had a really lovely time.
About 90 people from around the Region gathered for this annual event. Lieutenant Tim Lennox came over from Bo’ness, Scotland, to be the speaker and, using examples from the life of Peter, the disciple of Jesus, followed the theme of our being ‘Living Stones’. We listened to the Word of God together, we prayed together and we worshipped together. There was great Latvian food, all freshly prepared and cooked, there were games, there was a talent evening, there was orienteering, bonfires, and there was glorious weather and a beach with white sand and warm sea for as far as the eye can see. There were good conversations and lovely fellowship and so many ways for everyone to experience the presence of God. The place itself seems to be what the Celtic Christians call ‘a thin place’ where Heaven and earth almost touch each other!
One of the things that struck me most was the mix of people in the group. They literally did come in all shapes and sizes and from all walks of life. Some of them have ‘stories’ to tell of how the Gospel really has, as the old song says, ‘lifted them from the miry clay’, whilst some of the young people have attended the Salvation Army since they were children.
It’s funny how things come together, isn’t it? I’d been trying to process just exactly what the camp had meant to me when I listened to a BBC Radio programme called ‘The Moral Maze’. Each week it discusses a particular moral topic and this week it was called ‘The Pursuit of Happiness’ and was exploring whether happiness was a legitimate moral goal. It came on the back of astounding research that last year over 50 million doctor’s prescriptions were given out in the UK for anti-depressants. There was a Christian minister on the panel who pointed out that at the centre of the Christian faith there is the symbol of suffering, the cross. If I understood him correctly he was suggesting that the pursuit of meaning and purpose which characterises the Christian walk is, at least for the Christian, far more meaningful than the pursuit of happiness.
Now, you could legitimately ask why I went on that little excursion. It’s because I realised as I listened to the programme that my abiding memory of the camp will be of simplicity and happiness. In the final meeting together at the camp, people were asked to share what the camp had meant to them. One man came forward. It was clear from his physical appearance that he had experienced hardship in his life. He’d suffered alright, that much was clear, but as he spoke his face shone with joy! He shared how much he’d enjoyed the camp, how it had lifted his loneliness and how he had found a family. It very much seemed as if the purpose and meaning that Jesus was beginning to give to his life had resulted in the delightful by-product of happiness, just like the erudite Christian on my radio programme had suggested it would. Seeing his face, and listening to him talk was a special ‘God’ moment for me.
PS if you’ve got an odd $1 million dollars hanging around that you don’t need – send it our way. We need to spend that much on Ģirti to bring it up to 21st century standards!