Everyone is in the right place. The congregation is seated in the main hall, the cameramen are in their places, the reception party is lined up in order and I am waiting on the pavement outside the building, quickly checking again on the prompt cards in my pocket that I have everyone’s names learnt off by heart, checking for the umpteenth time that I know how many countries the Salvation Army works in, how many bowls of soup we gave out in Latvia last year, and other random facts which I think I might need. Then it is all systems go. The police cars appear in the distance, sirens blaring and lights flashing, and the royal car arrives. Her Majesty Queen Silvia of Sweden and her entourage, including the wives of the Latvian Ambassador to Sweden and the Swedish Ambassador to Latvia, alight and in a kind of blur I am introducing them to the reception party. The Queen, whose mother was Brazilian, looked slightly surprised to be addressed in Portuguese by Lt Colonel João- Paulo Ramos, Chief Secretary of the Sweden and Latvia Territory of The Salvation Army. Mr Gunnar Ljundahl, the member of our Advisory Board who had been instrumental in setting up the Royal visit, had, minutes before being presented to the Queen, been singing the praises of the Army in Latvia to the waiting journalists!
On her visit to Latvia in 1992 the Queen had met with Majors Bjorn and Mona Stockman, whom, amazingly, she still remembered, and who re-started the work of The Salvation Army here after the Soviet era. Once the party had arrived in the main hall, and at the request of the Royal household, a presentation was given to show how the work of the Army had expanded in the years since her last visit. You can see part of that presentation by clicking on this link: http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=CT1vfx064lg&feature=youtu.be
Then came the main event and it was the children’s turn. I was able to see the Queen’s face, and she really did light up when she saw them. The leader of the Children’s Centre, ‘Patverums’ (‘Haven’ in English), Ms Ligita Neretniece, introduced the children and one of them, Daniel, welcomed the Queen in a well-rehearsed little speech in English. Each child introduced themselves in Swedish and they sang together. The day before, they’d been to a special Children’s Day which was hosted by Karlsson and Pippi Longstocking, characters from the children’s books by Swedish author, Astrid Lingren, and so they came on to the stage dressed up as one or other of these characters.
After the singing the Queen then went down to the basement to ‘Patverums’ and was able to spend time talking to the children, getting an idea of what they do each day. Before the Queen left she presented the children with tickets for a ballet ‘Karlsson flies…’ to be performed by The Latvian National Opera. The children reciprocated, and the smallest child in the group presented Her Majesty with a bouquet of flowers and an album, embossed with the ‘Patverums” logo, with pictures that the children had drawn to show various aspects of their life together.
Then, sirens sounding, traffic lights ignored, we accompanied the Queen on a rather nerve-wracking ride to the Social Centre at Avotu Street. The Swedish town of Norrköping is twinned with Riga and, by a happy coincidence, one of the Rotary clubs in Norrköping had partnered with The Salvation Corps there in a match-funded project by Rotary International to provide funds to increase the work that is done at Avotu Street. Meals, showers, and clothes-washing facilities are available, and the Centre also specialises in home visits to needy people. Thanks to the Rotary project we will be able to expand our existing services and also provide such ‘life-enhancing’ services as hairdressing, manicure, massage, and, we hope, podiatry. It was great to have the Mayor of Norrköping in the Queen’s party, and also a representative from Latvia Rotary who is overseeing the project on behalf of Rotary International.
Lieutenant Aldona Vaineiķe and Envoy Anita Voznaja greeted the Queen and Aldona showed her around the premises before inviting her to enjoy a cup of coffee with some of the volunteers and staff members, many of whom had come to the Army through the soup kitchen programme.
It seemed appropriate that the Queen should be given a Latvian teapot as a gift! The Army is reknowned around the world for the ‘Army cup of tea (and coffee)’, and the idea was that this would be a reminder of her visit to the Centre, and of the fact that ‘soup, soap and salvation’ are characteristics of the Army all over the world.
It was a great honour and privilege to receive Her Majesty, Queen Silvia of Sweden. In turn, I too felt honoured and proud to present to her the compassionate service that Latvian Salvationists are showing to their countrymen, in the name of Jesus Christ.