At the risk of sounding too poetic, the last couple of weeks have been the stuff that ‘top of the mountain’ experiences are made of. Even I as a relative couch potato know the joy, satisfaction and relief there is when, having strenuously climbed a steep hill you can stand at the top, see a spectacular view, and feel that it has all been worth the effort. That’s how it’s been here.
They do tell me that a new hall at Bauska, a town to the south of Riga where we have a thriving Salvation Army presence has been planned for over 15 years. At that time Major David Young, who was the Regional Leader in Latvia at the time, and Major Ruth Hansen bought a character-ful old building close to the existing Army hall. The boarded up building has patiently stood there waiting for its ‘makeover’ for a very long time. Those who know the history of the place tell me that there have been a couple of attempts at renovating the building which have come to nothing, but soon after I arrived here the building contract went out to tender and work on the building began. For me it was very much a case of following the Biblical principle that we sometimes ‘reap what we have not sown’. Others before me had done the hard work of getting to the point where the building could be started, but I was the privileged leader who celebrated the completion of the work, and what a work it has been. Anyone who has been involved in such an undertaking will know just what hard work it all is. I want to especially mention Edgars Krūmiņš, the accountant-cum-general-factotum here at the Regional Headquarters who, in addition to the builders and architect, has put hours into the project, sourcing materials, keeping people on their toes regarding the building materials, ordering furniture and helping to design and source other Salvation Army-specific fittings like the Mercy Seat and Crest. The result is stunning, really beautiful. It has been worth the wait.
When the day arrived Commissioner Marie Willermark and Lt Colonel JP Ramos, the Salvation Army leaders in Sweden, came over for the opening ceremony. I had the easy job of looking after them, trying hard not to show too much anxiety as to whether everything would be finished when we eventually arrived at the new hall. I did have some cause to be anxious because Edgars had almost casually remarked a couple of days before the Big Day that he needed to go to buy some sinks for the kitchen in the new hall! I tried not to let my imagination run riot, although I have discovered since the event that the builders still had tins of paint in the main worship area on the morning of the opening. When we did get to Bauska a few hours prior to the ceremony, I could hardly believe my eyes. The whole place looked perfect – and the last of the builders’ vehicle was moving off the site as we arrived. It was a very, very close shave!
We started the event by praying in the old hall, thanking God for what the place had meant to many people. For a lot of people it was the place where they had first made a decision to follow Jesus Christ and met with God. So these moments gave time to acknowledge what the old hall had meant to many people. We then walked behind the Salvation Army flag and the Latvian National flag to the new hall, where we held a very short service before Commissioner Willermark cut the ribbon and we officially entered the hall for the first time. It was fitting that Major Ruth Hansen, now retired, who had been so instrumental in getting the project started should have pride of place as one of the first people to enter the hall. I could imagine that it must have been quite an emotional moment for her.
The service inside the hall involved young and old alike; a group of children sang, an adult singing group made a contribution, the leader of the corps (church), Lieutenant Vineta Vanaga shared her vision for the future and the Commissioner had the privilege of opening the Word of God for the first time in the new hall.
The hall was full, people having come from near and far to share in this historic occasion, historic in more than one way, because the building also happens to be the first purpose-built building that the Salvation Army has built since it returned to Latvia in the 1990’s. Afterwards, refreshments were enjoyed, and everyone was able to look round the new facility.
The celebrations continued on Sunday when Salvationists gathered from all around the Region to worship together and to benefit from the ministry of Commissioner Willermark.
Writing this has given me opportunity to return to the top of the mountain to reflect on the experience and take in the view again. It’s a couple of weeks since all this happened, and I perhaps have a clearer perspective on it all. The dominant impression that remains with me is the fact that it did not seem like a sterile new building, there was a warmth, an atmosphere of welcome, a sense of the familiar in the place, a feeling that love already permeated the place…..
‘Surely the LORD is in this place; and I knew it not.‘Genesis 28:16 (King James)
….well he should be there anyway. It is his house, after all.