At the end of May the other major musical event which took place was the visit of a Salvation Army choir from Staines in the UK. 51 (or 52, I lost count!) of them made the journey over to Latvia. It was a visit which was a long time in the planning, but it went off pretty much without a hitch. The weather was kind to us and showed Latvia off in a really good light.
We worked them really hard! They arrived in time for lunch on Friday, after which they were whisked off to conduct an open-air concert in the middle of Riga. Everyone was then hastily loaded onto the coach and we travelled west to a town called Saldus where the Army has only recently started to work. The concert was held in a beautiful new auditorium at the Music College in Saldus with fantastic acoustics. The Director of the School was brilliant, so enthusiastic, and it was he that made the customary presentation of flowers to the Leader, Samantha, at the end of the concert. A special chair had been decorated for one of the songsters who had a birthday, and after the concert the birthday was celebrated in Latvian style with cake and flowers. It was a long day!
Saturday there were a few brief minutes to do a bit of sightseeing before going to the corps (church) we call Riga 2 where the songsters presented a concert and joined in the worship with the people there, many of whom have fallen on hard times. On Saturday evening a concert was held in St Peter’s Church, now a cultural centre. It is a medieval church and first mention of it can be found from documents dating from the 13th century. You can well imagine how atmospheric such a building is! This is also a tourist destination, and, completely unplanned and unexpected, during the concert people came in and out at the back of the church and listened to the music. One of the highlights of the evening was the songsters singing in Latvian along with two young Latvian salvationist soloists, a hauntingly beautiful song about the various regions of this beautiful country.
On Sunday half the group went to Liepa in the east of Latvia and half went to Bauska, situated to the south of Riga near the border with Lithuania. This enabled the songsters to get to know more personally some of the Latvian salvationists. New friendships were made. I notice, for example that one of the Staines’ songsters still sports as his Facebook picture, a picture of himself and Jānis, who, with his wife, run the corps (church) at Liepa!
I’ve given a broad brush stroke of the visit partly because the visit has already been widely reported elsewhere on social media, and partly because there are other impressions from the visit I want to share.
In a different way from the investment described in ‘May Music 1’, investment would still be a word that I’d use to describe this event.
There was obviously an investment financially. The visit was only possible because the members of Staines songsters were willing to pay personally for the costs involved in the visit. This was such a lovely gift to us here in Latvia. Their visit gave us the opportunity to publicise the work of the Army here and, more importantly, share the Gospel message with people we would not otherwise reach.
There was an investment of energy and time. Simon, the organiser of the event, made a special trip to Latvia early in the year to meet the team here and to size up the place! Sharing a meal with him and the team here, and discussing the possibilities for the programme, will remain for me a lovely memory, as will witnessing how moved Simon was by some of the things he saw and people he met on that visit. As arrangements progressed the meticulous work of the team here, twinned with their counterparts in Staines, was impressive.
There was an investment of good will. I think this was the thing that impressed me most about the visit. I loved the attitude that the songsters had. They came determined to gain as much as they could from the experience, to make the most of what they saw, to receive everything provided with grace and good humour, even when some things did not turn out quite as planned. And they came determined to give the very best that they could – and that best was exceedingly good. They sang their little hearts out, and excelled in a land where good choral singing is highly prized.
I’m not quite sure how to describe this next investment, but maybe it can best be described as an investment in the family of God. There is a very specific fellowship shared by Salvationists around the world, which comes from the experience they share of the grace and forgiveness of God made possible through Jesus. In other words, it arises from the knowledge that they belong to the family of God. It means that, however different life experience and the cultural expression of the Army might be, there is a common cause and sense of belonging which binds people together. I can’t really speak for them, but I think that the part of the visit that touched Staines songsters more than anything else, was the visits they made on the Sunday, sharing with Latvian salvationists, hearing their stories, getting to know them, and joining in worship with them – experiencing the sense of belonging to the family of God in a very special way.
It was a huge investment – and both at Staines and in Latvia we are looking seriously now at what the return on that investment will be. We both hope that the special relationship that has been formed will find expression in future mutual cooperation.
Well, belatedly Staines songsters, thank you for coming – and to God be the glory!