Groan! I have been heavily involved this week in one of the less-exciting annual tasks which it falls to my lot to perform – preparing with some members of the Finance Board, Edvins, Edgars and Sarah, all the budgets for the work of the Army in Latvia for 2014-2016. The fact that for the first time we are being required to budget for a three year period, rather than just for one year, and the fact that Latvia goes over to the Euro in January 2014 with all the unseen consequences for prices and wages, makes this a particularly challenging task this year. The quaint English idiom comes to mind as I write – we are trying to put ‘a quart into a pint pot’. Even if you don’t quite understand what a ‘quart’ and a ‘pint’ are, you’ll get the idea that we are trying to make a little go as far as we can so that God’s work through the Army in Latvia will not lack the resources it needs. Regrettably we lack the finance to fund the work locally and so we do not want to make unreasonable demands on those who provide so much of our ‘bread and butter’ funding year on year. At the same time it is not nice being so poor and having to go looking for a ‘hand out’ from kind people outside Latvia to fund our work.
It’s at this point that I must give a big ‘thank-you’ to the Salvation Army in Sweden, our wealthy big sister across the Baltic Sea. How vital their financial support is to us here and how indebted we are to them! A couple of weeks ago I was present at their annual SA leadership team conference and listened in as the leaders discussed their strategy for sharing the Gospel of Jesus in Sweden. My strong impression as I listened to the conversations around the room was that ministering in this very secular society was incredibly hard. Ironically, it seemed that the very wealth which is so generously shared with us in Latvia and makes our ministry possible, means that many people in Sweden feel little need for God in their lives. The conversation and the honesty of the people who shared in it moved me greatly.
Coming back to Latvia after the trip I was immediately caught up in one of our twice yearly ‘gatherings’, where Salvationists from all over the Region come together for worship and fellowship. We had with us special guests from the UK, Captains Dawn and Gary Lacey, who with great passion and inspiration shared with us their conviction that prayer is not only vital to our ministry as Christians – it is our ministry. They may have inspired the Latvians but I know, as so often happens, that they were themselves overwhelmed by the strong faith and effervescent spirituality of the Salvationists here. In short, if Gary’s blog is anything to go by, he and Dawn went back enriched from their time of sharing with fellow Christians and Salvationists here.
You know where I’m going with this, don’t you? When it comes to budgets and finance, we may be as poor as church mice, but I realised, as I sat in that conference room listening to my Swedish colleagues, that the Salvation Army in Latvia is rich in a different way – we can hold out our hands, not just to receive from our brothers and sisters across the Baltic, but we can also hold out our hands and give our prayers, the example of simple trusting faith, the inspiration of the testimonies of transformed lives, to encourage all those who are working in places which are spiritually impoverished.
I couldn’t help thinking of Paul’s letter to the rich church of Corinth as he held up as an example to them the generosity of the church in Macedonia, which, although ‘severely tested by the troubles they went through’ were joyful and generous ‘even though they were very poor’ (2 Corinthians 8)
PS Two footnotes: I am not implying that the Salvation Army in Latvia is perfect. Human nature is, after all a ubiquitous condition and knows no geographical boundaries. Also, to those of you who are regular followers of this blog; have you noticed that there is a lot of ‘we’ in this piece? Hmmmmm, now I wonder what that’s about?