I’ve decided that, weather-wise, November is one of the least inspiring times of the year. I think I’ve written before about the impact of the seasons here in Latvia, because they are so different from each other. October and the colours of autumn were rich and beautiful and now that the first snow has come the landscape becomes a dramatic monochrome white and grey/black ….but November weather is just, well, ‘blah’, by which I means it is damp, colourless and everso slightly depressing!
The title of this piece is meant to be slightly ironic, because in sharp contrast to the weather, life has been anything but nondescript. The month has included visits to Drusti, Ilmaja, Liepa, Sarkaņi and Daugavpils. Some of the visits have been with the purpose of leading worship on a Sunday and the visit to Daugavpils was the first of a series of visits which Sarah, the Assistant Regional Leader for Latvia, and I are making to meet with the officers and to talk about and discuss with them and representatives of their congregations the meaning of ‘church’ and how to get local people increasingly involved in the life of their ‘corps’, as we call it in the Salvation Army.
Early in the month there was a ‘first’. Eight young (and not so young!) people were commissioned as Salvation Army officers about 18 months ago, and so a residential event was held at ‘Ramava’ (pictures of it in the Gallery from when Sarah and I visited earlier in the year!) to reflect on the first year of officership and set a development plan for each of them for the next few years. We had a special guest, Major Jostein Nielson from Norway, who addressed the group on leadership which helped to make the occasion special. The shared community experience of training as Salvation Army officers is a rich and unique experience, so it was good to see the group come together and share together once again in community, if only for a short time.
The following week saw me at the Salvation Army School for Officer Training talking to the two people who are now reaching the end of their training to be officers. It was good to be able to lead worship at the School, to talk to them individually, and to share with them. I am writing this on the actual day that they will be commissioned as Salvation Army officers!
November in Latvia is also the month when independence is celebrated. Both 11th and 18th form part of the celebration, and the picture at the head of this piece shows the imposing ‘Freedom Monument’ in the centre of Riga stamped with the simple but eloquent words ‘For Fatherland and Freedom’. To mark the celebrations there were light shows all around the town which were ingenious and, in many cases, interactive. To describe them would be a blog on its own. Maybe that’s a project for next year.
There then followed almost a week in Sweden. Apart from the usual reasons for my visits to Stockholm, which this time included a twice-yearly meeting with the leadership in Sweden to update them on Latvia, and a meeting with the Baltic Children’s Fund who support our work in Sarkaņi, I decided to do a bit of a ‘grand tour’ and visit some of the Salvation Army centres in Sweden who support our work. What a great time I had, and how enriching it was! What surprised me most of all was that the places I visited were actually pleased that I had gone to visit them and clearly appreciated it. This seemed strange since part of the purpose of the visits was to thank them for the support they give us. The visit started at Västerås where I met the leader of the Project there, Lars Sjöberg, and his team. They run a huge project collecting and distributing humanitarian aid and thanks to the ‘Equip’ project which they run in partnership with other local agencies, they are able to give work experience to over 40 people. What struck me about this project (and the one in Lidköping which I visited later) was the fact that it had started very small – in this case, it had started years ago in the garage of someone’s home and now it occupies a unit on a Business Park in Västerås.
I was also able to visit Norrköping where I met with the officer, Eva Zatterlund and the Administrator, Kerstin Fridberger, who used to be the officer in charge of the Army’s work in Norrköping but who, since retirement, has taken on her current role. I met with a delightful Rotarian called Roland to discuss a project we are undertaking in partnership with them and the Salvation Army corps there. It was also very humbling to be a shown a room full of handicrafts and beautifully knitted items, the latter made by a knitting club in the corps, which were all ready to be sold the following weekend to raise funds to give to the work in Latvia.
The next day a long train journey took me to Lidköping to be greeted by the local Salvation Army officer, Sven. Incidentally, one of the amazing things about this trip was the fact that in every case I was met by people whom I had never met before. I looked out for the tell-tale red shield and instantly was made to feel at home! After entertaining me to a lovely meal we moved on to the centre run by Inge Lise. Although a fire had set back the programme earlier in the year, the shop is now open, and is a really quite amazing place where the goods are sorted, sold, and some then sent on to us in Latvia. I saw the boxes piled high for the next delivery to Latvia (they arrived earlier this week!) and got some insight into the way that the centre provides work for people who might otherwise not get such an opportunity. No pictures of Lidköping, I’m sorry to say, but it was well worth the long journey to get there. I did have an extra bonus. My return train to Stockholm left rather late in the evening, so Inge Lise took me home with her where I shared a lovely meal in delightful company.
I got back to Latvia a bit tired, but eagerly anticipating the visit of friends from the UK. It was lovely to be able to show them round my new home, and then to eat together, chat together, and just sit and enjoy being together.
One could have wished that November could have remained nondescript, but the events of 21st November could be said to have turned it into ‘nightmare November’. Since the news went around the world, most of you will know now about the terrible accident at the supermarket here in Riga when a roof fell in killing over 50 people. One Facebook page comment summed up the way people felt really well, I thought. It said, ‘maza valsts, liela ģimene’ – ‘small country, big family’. Everyone felt the tragedy keenly and lots of people know someone who had connections with those lost in the tragedy. The Salvation Army here did what it does all over the world – we had the privilege to be the people there serving the firemen, police and soldiers with hot drinks and snacks whilst they worked. As always when such tragedies occur, people are moved to acts of kindness. ‘Maxima’, the supermarket chain whose shop featured in the tragedy provided a constant supply of refreshments for the SA to serve, and others came with flasks of coffee and tea and food, wanting to do something to help. Whilst I was not personally involved being away in Sweden, so many of the Salvationists around Riga helped with little thought for their own comfort. It seems from their accounts that the fact that there was someone there to show the workers this simple act of kindness was appreciated by them.
…And so this ‘bread and butter’ account of life since last I wrote draws November to a close. Hopefully it means that those of you who are regular readers – I flatter myself that there are some – will be able to do ‘catch up’ with the news from Latvia. It also means I can now get back to recording more leisurely, and slightly more reflective accounts as we move into ‘Dazzling December’!
You’ll see that I’ve included the picture gallery to go with this account in a separate post.