I know I perhaps do refer to it quite a lot, but I do love the rhythm of life and the seasons here in Latvia. The beginning of September seems to herald the move from the childlike carefree freedom of summer to the more serious adult responsibilities of autumn. Everyone and everything feels more focused, the children are back at school after their long summer holidays, and life becomes a more serious business. We mark this transition in the Salvation Army here by having an overnight retreat, so immediately I returned from holiday I was off to a place called Koknese on the banks of the river Daugava with the officers (ministers) and leaders of the various corps (churches) and centres around Latvia. It was a good opportunity to catch up with everyone.
We were blessed with fabulous late summer weather and the setting, as you can see from the photos was wonderful, with our conference space designed to allow maximum enjoyment of the river. We were also blessed by thought-provoking Bible teaching from Dr Ester Vitali of the Latvian Bible Centre, a good friend of the ‘Army’ here in Latvia. She took us on a journey exploring St Paul’s journeys, reflecting on the way that all of our life’s experiences form part of our spiritual formation and life journey.
There was opportunity in the afternoon for some relaxation, with various places of interest to choose from to visit. I went to a place called ‘Likteņdārzs’. I realised it was a special garden, but I wasn’t quite aware how special until, after having been there, I learnt more about it on the Internet. I recommend a visit to its website http://www.liktendarzs.lv if you want to discover more. In short, it is a little island in the middle of the river Daugava which is being developed as a garden specially designed by a Japanese designer. It is funded by the Latvian people as a gift to future generations of Latvians as a kind of living memorial of the traumatic history of the country in the twentieth century. It was a moving experience to walk along a pathway which is constructed of bricks with the names of many people who have donated money to this ‘Garden of Destiny’. In this peaceful setting my favourite spot was a recently built observation terrace where you can lie on wooden ‘sunbeds’ looking over the river to an ancient castle.
The following day we went en masse to Jēkabpils, a town south of Koknese on the way to Daugavpils. We split into groups and prayerfully walked around the town before meeting up in a beautiful Lutheran church to share experiences and to hear from the local Lutheran pastor. The Army in Latvia has had an interest in the town for a long time, indeed, some time ago Salvationists from the UK came and researched the potential and possibility of there being a presence in the town. Our ‘prayer walking’ was a way of trying to listen to God and sense his will and timing as to where the Army should minister most effectively in Latvia in the future.
Our time together over, everyone dispersed and wended their way home to get on with the serious business of ‘saving souls, growing saints, and serving suffering humanity’ all around Latvia.