These are the words that have been running through my head for the past month. For those of you who do not have English as a native language, this is what a teacher writes in a school report (or at least, used to write when I was at school) when they are either disappointed with a student, don’t want to tell the truth about the student, or just can’t remember who they are writing about! The words apply to me because I come in the ‘disappointed’ category. I started this blog on 1st March 2013 and had aimed to average one blog a week over the year, 52 of course, but regrettably I’ve only managed 44. So you see, I am feeling at the moment that I am a ‘could-do-better-mediocre’ kind of student. When I was at school the punishment for this kind of report would have been to write out 100 times, ‘I will try harder’. Such an exercise is as pointless now as it was then, so I will just make the promise that I will aim at writing 52 posts during this year in the hope of reaching that goal.
Well, enough of this self-deprecation, here’s my account of events in February.
Seda was my first port of call in February. There is always a warm welcome from the children and at least one of them will say ‘can I help you?’ in English and carry my bags into the hall. Sergei and Aizan, the officers there, simply love the children, and the children love them. After the meeting when the hall is cleared of chairs, there are children and teenagers involved in different activities, amusing themselves, all over the building. What especially encouraged me this time was the way that the children who have become Junior Soldiers (junior members of the church) have started to take on small duties in the corps (church). Two of the three junior soldiers featured in this blog on one of my last visits to Seda were present, which was heartening to see, and one of them read the Bible and the other operated the PowerPoint presentation in the meeting. The ‘PowerPoint’ boy, Aizan told me after the meeting, all of 9 years of age, teaches the Bible to some of the younger children. Another slightly older junior soldier who took part in the meeting told the children’s story with Flannelgraph (do you remember flannelgraph?) and yet another took up the collection.
In the middle of February we held our first Regional Day of the year. This is a time when Salvationists from all over Latvia gather in Riga and we worship together. We took our theme from our visitor’s ‘one man show’, ‘The Greatest Adventure’, and Commissioner Keith Banks, our visitor from Scotland led the meeting in the morning talking about the ‘Adventure of Grace’ and then in the afternoon illustrating the ‘Adventure of Faith’ by taking us on a journey through his life. In the morning many people responded to the Bible message, and in the afternoon people were captivated by Keith’s adventures which included time spent in Papua New Guinea and in Japan, and latterly as chaplain at Glasgow Airport, a much-loved ministry he undertakes in retirement. My abiding memory of the afternoon will be of the queue of people waiting to have their photograph taken with Keith in a Papua New Guinea tribal headdress!
Sunday evening saw us on our way to Skangaļi, our ‘muiža’ or manor house, to the east of Riga where Keith was going to lead our annual Retreat for the officers (pastors) and leaders in the Salvation Army in Latvia. This was a lovely time to just sit and take in spiritual refreshment delivered to us so effectively, and to enjoy relaxing together and laughing together too. A good time.
I think Keith enjoyed being here as much as we enjoyed his being here! It has been said that once you visit Latvia you get ‘the bug’, and that certainly seems to have happened to him.
The last part of the month included a visit to Drusti to spend time with Illona, the officer there, and some of her corps members. I’ll write more abut Drusti when I visit in June. Suffice to say that the journey this March was not half as treacherous as the one I made there this time last year and which I recorded in this blog!
I’ve also pushed myself well out of my comfort zone this month by starting a series of ‘birthday parties’. They do say that as you get older you start working on your ‘shadow’ side – well, this is my doing it with a vengeance! I thought, in a moment of madness, that it would be nice to emulate an idea from former colleagues (thank you, Paul and Jenine Main) and invite for a meal all the officers and leaders in the Region over the course of a year. I held the first one for the February birthdays at the end of the month. All of those who came survived the experience, but I was left wondering whether I would survive doing another eleven such occasions. On a good day I am optimistic that by the end of the year I shall be well-practiced in the art of entertaining!
The month ended with a visit to the third and last in the current round of ‘Equipping for Ministry’ courses we have been holding over the past year, the aim of which is to provide training for local leaders around the Region. It was great to witness the first ‘graduates’ from the course, who had completed the three weekend sessions, receiving their certificates. A good note on which to end the month.