I’m now beginning my second round of visits to the Salvation Army corps in Latvia and so I’ve recently been back to Riga 2. They meet for worship on a Saturday, partly because Andrejs and Irina, the officers there, are involved in prison ministry and that is best done on a Sunday.
When you arrive at ‘Betania’, as the building is called where they meet, you will find the hall full of people. The worship begins with high-tec recorded music and Powerpoint and Andrejs always thoughtfully makes sure there is an English translation of the Russian-language songs so I can sing along. I really do enjoy worshiping with this group of people and a visit there is always inspiring and encouraging.
Inspiring it may be, but it ain’t easy! Often the people who come have been living rough and have chaotic lifestyles. They often have to be taught the most basic life-skills which are second-nature to most people, including personal cleanliness. Some are addicted to alcohol and need to regain a sense of self-respect. Some find new meaning and purpose for their lives through the Gospel too. However, it’s a roller-coaster ride for Andrejs and Irina. The first time I visited the corps they were lamenting the fact that one young man in whom they had invested a great deal of time and energy and who had made such good progress had disappeared and taken to the bottle again. The good news is that he’s now back again and is a Salvation Army Soldier, but not all the stories have such a happy ending.
The picture above shows all the soldiers and recruits in the corps getting ready for a soldiers’ meeting. The worship meeting had finished, we had all eaten, they had helped to make sure everyone got fed, and were now able to change from their uniforms and relax a bit. Becoming a Soldier at Riga 2 is a big achievement. Firstly, a person is invited to become a Recruit, having received Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. Being a Recruit gives the opportunity to see if a person can live up to the high standards required of a Soldier of Jesus Christ in the Salvation Army. You can well imagine that not smoking and drinking, which is a condition of Soldiership is very, very difficult for some of them, and sometimes it is necessary to strip a person of their status as a Recruit if they have fallen below this standard. Therefore, actually becoming a Soldier is a cause for great joy because it means that a person has successfully completed their apprenticeship as a Recruit. Andrejs and Irina were very pleased to tell me that there are two Recruits who are going to be made Soldiers very soon – one of whom has been a Recruit three or four times, but has finally come through!
The day I was there I listened to the testimony of the latest Recruit, Vladimir, who had been a Recruit just ten days! He had had a stroke and had been very ill, but even though his speech had been affected by the stroke, he was glad to give testimony of the way that his life had been changed because of his encounter with Jesus.
The title of this piece is a line from a very old Christian hymn which always comes to mind when I think of the pain-staking work that Andrejs and Irina are doing at Riga 2. It goes like this…
Come ye yourselves apart and rest a while;
Weary, I know it, of the press and throng,
Wipe from your brow the sweat and dust of toil,
And in My quiet strength again be strong.
Come, tell me all that you have said and done,
Your victories and your failures, hopes and fears.
I know how hardly souls are wooed and won:
My choicest wreaths are always wet with tears.
PS Irina is the short-haired blonde lady on the front row, and if you are a regular reader of this blog you may recognise the ‘bridegroom’. Artūrs, third in on the second row! He is at Riga 2 as part of his training as a Salvation Army officer