I was at the airport awaiting the arrival of some friends from the UK who were coming to lead a conference. The waiting area was full of people with their eyes fixed on the exit ready to greet friends and relatives. I love to play the speculative game of trying to work out and imagine the ‘back story’ to each of the people who are waiting with me. It is a game that is made a bit more interesting and maybe even easier here in Latvia because of the tradition of welcoming people with flowers. A huge bunch of red roses, for example, seems to indicate that some kind of romantic tryst is about to take place. On this occasion, my attention was drawn to a gentleman carrying a bunch of iris, and a small boy who was with him, carrying a smaller bunch of gerbera. The imaginary story I wove around these two was that the man was father of the little boy and that they were waiting for wife and mummy to return. The little boy, about two years’ old, fascinated and amused me. He was clearly impatient for his mother to arrive, was running here and there, waving his flowers around, stabbing the air with them, and at some point even sweeping the floor with them! He was captivating, and I found myself hoping that my friends would not come through until I had discovered whether my imaginary story was at all accurate. Then they arrived. Mother and small daughter (I hadn’t guessed the daughter bit!) who, it seemed, had been visiting in the UK during the half-term holidays. The little boy rushed into his Mummy’s arms offering his rather bedraggled bunch of flowers, and Daddy scooped up his little girl and gave her a huge hug…..then they faded off into the crowds still chattering and cuddling each other.
As I watched the father and little son, I thought about the power of example and influence. That little boy was learning early, that the done thing (even if you are a man!!) when you meet someone in Latvia is to greet them with flowers. Like father, like son – even though the father’s flowers possibly reached their destination in slightly better shape than the son’s! What a lovely custom to be passing on to the next generation.
My friends, Ann and Richard Borrett, then came through and my attention turned to showing them hospitality English style, without flowers, I’m afraid.
Later on, after my friends had gone home, I realised that the father and son had, inadvertently, provided a metaphor for what Ann and Richard spoke about at the day they spent with the leaders of The Salvation Army in Latvia. They spoke about the power of influence, and challenged this group of Christian leaders about the importance of their influence. Words from the Bible came to me as I watched the father and son at the airport, words from the Apostle Paul. In a way they link these two experiences, for they indicate how essential Paul felt his influence was in his ministry.
‘Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me–put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.’ Philippians 4:9 (NIV)