I write this post a couple of weeks ago but never got around to posting it, so here goes!
Just over a year ago it was decided that we would look at running a course for lay people in The Salvation Army in Latvia who want to develop themselves and show signs that they might be able to take on local leadership roles in the corps (churches) here in Latvia, something that is badly needed.
The idea that emerged was that we would hold three weekends a year, each as stand alone units, which would highlight various aspects of Christian discipleship and also give an understanding of The Salvation Army historically and internationally. Thanks to Majors Isabel and Norm Beckett, who were in charge of training at the time, no sooner had the idea been mooted than they had come up with a training programme and within a very short time the first course took place.
Since then it’s been a bit like the proverbial stone gathering moss. The first group was quite a small one, but each weekend the numbers of those attending have increased so that, as you can see from the photograph, this last weekend Dace who now runs the course, had managed to gather around 20 people from different parts of Latvia to attend.
This weekend saw the start of the second cycle of the ‘Equipping’ course – as it has come to be known. There are already 3 graduates from those who started the course right at the beginning, and this weekend there were a further 8 who graduated as you can see from the picture. Yes, I can count, and do know there are only 7 people in the picture. Regrettably one person was not around when the photo was being taken!
For one reason or another I’d never been around to attend any of the previous courses, but this time I was able, not only to be present, but to engage in some of the teaching. On Friday evening the weather stayed kind enough for us to have a barbecue outside, then there was some worship, and introduction to the weekend, and then some of the delegates rested whilst others went off to find the venue of a Christian rally that was being held in Riga last weekend.
On Saturday morning the lectures began and Karina and Artūrs taught about Army history and those things which make the Army distinctive. A visit to the worship meeting at Riga 2 corps in the afternoon preceded a visit by Captain Ārija Bergmane whose mother had been an SA officer in Latvia when the Army had a presence here before the Second World War. Ārija and her mother had had a large part to play facilitating the Army returning to Latvia in the early 1990’s and the stories she had to tell were both exciting and clearly showed how God had worked through people and circumstances to make the return possible.
It was my turn next to speak about the International Salvation Army. It would be unseemly for me to blow the trumpet for the Army, but I’m going to anyway! It does still amaze me that expressions of the Army around the world do reflect the local culture, whilst at the same time being instantly recognisable as The Salvation Army. At the end of the lecture I played a video of a Salvation Army choir in the Eastern India territory singing a song written by William Booth and known all over the world, ‘O Boundless Salvation’. The choir sang in their own language and as they sang I saw some of the delegates joining in the song in Latvian and Russian.
Sunday was the last day and included worship, celebrating those who had completed the course, and lectures on The Salvation Army’s standpoint on the Sacraments. There were lots of questions – good ones, and lively interaction with this important topic. One little moment I shall remember for a long time. You never really know the back story to the people you are talking to here in the Army in Latvia. Some have had very chequered histories and some come from a background of alcohol abuse, in particular. As I was doing my bit and saying that one of the reasons Booth did not practice the Eucharist was because there were alcoholics who had found Jesus and whose lives had changed, I saw one gentleman wryly smile, and realised that some of the folk in the room shared the problems that many of Booth’s early converts had so many years before. It reminded me again how close to the heart of William Booth the Army in Latvia really is.
As I looked at the graduates posing for their picture I wondered what this moment might mean to some of them. Maybe a few years ago they might never have dreamed that such an achievement would be possible. It reminded me of the King James’ translation of John 1:12
‘But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become….’