I really wouldn’t call myself a Frank Sinatra fan, but when I thought about writing this post, the first line of his famous song seemed appropriate
A few weeks ago I had an urgent email asking if we might be able to take a group of young people and their leaders from the north of England to visit Latvia and do some practical work for us in some of our centres here. I am in the fortunate position that I can be the nice person who says ‘yes’ to such requests and then it is left to folk like the indefatigable Iveta, whom I’ve written about before on this blog, to get the trip organised. I have to confess that I had not quite realised what the logistics would be of moving a group of 14 English people around to various centres in Latvia, but Iveta, with the amazing cooperation of other Salvation Army leaders here in Latvia managed to do it. A huge thank you to you all if you are reading this. You know who you are!
The teenagers and their leaders painted playground equipment, stripped out a soup kitchen and prepared it for painting, and helped in a couple of places with children’s summer programmes and camps. They ended up at the beautiful seaside campsite we have in Latvia, painting and repairing, and in between, toasting sausages and marshmallows on a camp fire, washing their hair in the sea at 10pm at night, and generally having fun.
Iveta and I went to meet them on their last night before they flew home last Saturday. The whole group were effusive in their thanks. The accommodation had been much better than they had expected, and some of them had fallen in love with the freshly-prepared Latvian food they had eaten, much to my surprise, I have to say. They’d also had rich fellowship with some of the Latvians they’d worked with, despite the language, and maybe sometimes because of it! It will, I think, go down in the history of the visit that Inga, trying to explain what a cockerel was in English described it as a ‘chicken’s husband’ – much to everyone’s amused delight! In short, tears had been shed and nobody wanted to go home – a sure sign that the visit had been successful.
The response of the group also illustrates what normally happens when people come to visit us here in Latvia. To continue the quote from the song, people will tell you that Latvia gets ‘deep in the heart of me’, something about the place and the people get visitors hooked. As far as the Salvation Army experience of Latvia is concerned, I think it has something to do with the vibrant, real faith that so many people have, their dependence on God, and their joy at being involved in seeing Him at work. Whatever it is that captivates people does seem to be infectious as well. The young man who made the speech the night before the group left, thanking Iveta and me and presenting us each with a signed card and a gift, spoke simply and sincerely about the way that the trip had changed some of his attitudes and prejudices, and in short, changed his life. When I opened the card and read some of the comments the young people – and leaders – had made, it became apparent that he was not the only one who had been deeply touched and even changed by the experience:
‘Thank you for making this opportunity possible’ ‘Thanks for making the experience so amazing’ ‘Thank you for organising one of the most eye opening trip of my life’ ‘This has been amazing, changed mine and the young people’s lives’
….these were the best ‘thank you’s we could have had and made it all seem worthwhile. After all, personal transformation and changed perspectives are at the very heart of the Gospel and is the message that salvationists, both here in Latvia, and around the world, try to demonstrate in word and deed.