A Slower Paced Day

Friday, February 28, 2014 — Today Steve and I slept in and were able to enjoy a bit slower pace.  As we left the apartment, we stopped by Chuck’s courtyard and saw the tagging in the alley – so I got a picture! Another one of those ‘people are the same everywhere’ moments!

We were scheduled to meet at 11:00 with Chuck and Peteris Sprogis, Bishop of the Baptist Churches of Latvia. We spent an hour together talking about many things including a strategic direction for the Baptist Churches that includes a ‘check-up’ of sorts. Churches will do a self-evaluation using a tool designed for this purpose. The tool will ultimately reveal areas of weakness that can be enhanced. Then the hope will be to strategically partner the church with another church that has strengths in those areas of weakness. Suburban has done this before and it was helpful in understanding who we were and how we could grow.

We met at a cute little restaurant with great food and good coffee. Peteris made sure we knew that the bartender at this place is the champion bartender in all Latvia! 🙂

After this meeting Chuck took us on a brief walking tour in this area of Riga. We saw St. Peter’s church and one of the interesting points is a little mask high up in the wall. The monks would stand behind the masks and shout out the news of the community. The masks are designed in such a way that they are like a megaphone and allowed the monks voices to be heard clearly for quite a distance. We saw the Blackheads House originally built in the early 1300s and rebuilt several times over the years. At this point the Latvian President has his office in the Blackheads House as the presidential palace, the usual place for his office, is renovated. The architecture is beautiful! I’ve seen this building in many paintings, including Chuck’s, so it was good to see them for real. I’ve included a link so you can learn more about the history of these buildings if you are interested.

https://www.riga.lv/EN/Channels/About_Riga/Riga_architecture/Old_Riga/MelngalvjuNams.htm

Today for a late lunch we ate at a Hesburger.  A couple of days ago we stopped at McDonald’s here in Riga. Earlier in the week we also had pizza. Do you detect a pattern here? I guess with Steve you can take the boy out of America, but you can’t take America out of the boy. Although, if I remember what I was told, Hesburger is actually a kind of a McDonald’s but came from Germany. I suspect he can’t wait to have a Burgerking again!  🙂

We did a little bit of souvenir shopping today. I purchased a beautiful hand-knit cap that will always remind me of our time in Latvia!

Tonight I had the pleasure of sharing with the ladies of Matthews Church. Baiba and her team put together a nice time of fellowship, treats and sharing. It was fun to meet more women and to teach them from my heart of passion for prayer. We ended the evening with Lectio Divina in Psalm 37:1-9. Such a sweet time!

Thank you to all of our prayer partners! We cherish your ongoing support!
Love and blessings,
Claudia and Steve

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Answered Prayer and a Sweet Goodbye

How I praise God for our prayer warriors! Steve slept a good 12 hours last night and woke up feeling significantly improved today. He felt so rough yesterday evening and sometimes in the night, that I thought I might be teaching on my own today — I’m so thankful that wasn’t true! Thank you all for your faithful prayers — it feels like you are right here with us!

As we left the house today we remembered that Liva, the Academic Dean at BPI, had shared with us that today is her ‘Name Day.’ Each day of the year has 4 or 5 names on it that are celebrated on that day usually at work and sometimes at home. The person whose name is celebrated brings cake or treats to share with everyone, so Liva brought us all a yummy blueberry/chocolate layered cake. Chuck told us that it is appropriate to bring flowers or small sweets to the person celebrating their name day. We picked up some beautiful tangerine colored tulips for Liva and the guys brought her an orchid. Chuck made sure we knew no even numbers of flowers and no white flowers because that is what you send for a funeral. It is so helpful to have someone who knows the culture to give you hints!

Liva's Name Day gift - a flower from the men of BPI
Liva’s Name Day gift – a flower from the men of BPI

We finished our time of teaching at BPI with a lesson from me this morning on Transformational Ministry & Marriage and Family Ministry, Steve teaching on The Importance of Staying Faithful During Hard Times, and a time of questions from the men of BPI. It was an enjoyable day of hearing the hearts of these young men for the Lord and for the people of Latvia. At the end of the day they presented us with some yummy looking Latvian sweets and abundant thanks for our time with them. We got some pictures with them and also with our interpreter Vesma and then we said goodbye until we meet again. Happily I will get to see Vesma again on Saturday as I have opportunity to meet the wives and fiancees of these men and speak encouragement into their lives. I can’t wait!

I took a few more pictures on our walk home from BPI today. The transit system here is pretty amazing. We haven’t had need to use it because most of what we do is easily walkable, and when needed people have given us rides. A lot of people walk, a lot of people drive, but there is also an electric tram system, a bus system, and a rail system. I don’t have pictures of the rail system, but you can see the bus and tram. It all seems quite efficient and moves a lot of people safely and quickly.

As we walked home there was a new little statue where there had not previously been a statue. I realized that this was a man, actually not far from where the opera singer had been plying his trade earlier in the week. People find very creative ways to make a little money here from our opera singer, to a man who stands in one of the parks we walk through each morning playing his trumpet (yesterday we heard “Mack the Knife”), to this man posing as a statue and to a ‘grandma’ who sits on the street in the cold playing her tambourine. I know times have been tough here — when we went through the crash in 2008, Latvia did too and was even harder hit. Times are looking up a bit, but it is still hard to find a good job. Please pray Jeremiah 29:7 prayers for the peace and prosperity of Riga and of Latvia in general. Pray that God’s Word would spread in power. Pray for these young men and women who have a deep heart for Latvia and some pretty insurmountable challenges in front of them. God is able and they need heart and encouragement as they enter ministry.

Today there was a new statue where there was no statue before. People find very interesting ways to make money here.
Today there was a new statue where there was no statue before. People find very interesting ways to make money here.

Thank you again for you prayers. Steve teaches Bible Study tonight at Matthews Church, so your continued prayers are appreciated. Tomorrow night I speak to the ladies of Matthews Church and then on Saturday afternoon I get to speak to the wives and finacees of the men of BPI.

We praise God upon every remembrance of you!

Love and blessings,
Steve and Claudia

Baltic Pastoral Institute – Day 3

Wednesday, February 26 — Steve and I made the walk to the Baltic Pastoral Institute again today in weather that was still dry, but a bit colder than we’ve been enjoying. Today Steve taught the first two sessions of the institute on serving in your cultural context. He will teach this same material tomorrow night at Matthews Church during their Thursday night Bible Study. Steve spoke of the dynamic tension between living in our culture and knowing it well enough to call it to Jesus while not becoming so much like our culture that we mirror it. There were some very good discussions that came out of this. Steve’s goal was simply to encourage the men to keep looking at their culture and through the Word, prayer, and discussion, to continue to discern the way to engage culture without crossing the barrier into sin and becoming too worldly.

I taught on Women’s Ministry. I began my lesson by picking up where Steve left off and asking the men to consider the role of women with new eyes and outside of their cultural context as much as possible. We talked about the hearts of women and the way that Jesus valued women, listened to them, and ministered to their hurts. And I encouraged the men to apply the same principals in regard to discerning the role of women in the church as they use to engage culture – to look at scripture, to pray and to process with other leaders to come to an understanding of women’s role in the church. We also talked about the structure and programs of the Women’s Ministry at Suburban.

A picture from my viewpoint as teacher -- look at them all smile! (we counted to three)
A picture from my viewpoint as teacher. Look at them all smile (we counted to three!)

We were scheduled to go out to eat with the Smith’s tonight – a lovely older couple from Matthews Church. During the Soviet occupation, Christopher Smith was a Bible smuggler and we were looking forward to hearing his testimony over dinner at a local favorite restaurant named Garlic (even the ice cream is garlic flavored). But we decided we needed to apologize and stay in tonight to give Steve a chance to overcome a cold he has been fighting. It has proven a good decision as I’ve listened to him cough and sneeze as he quietly reads his book.

I’ve included a gallery of pictures of Chuck’s apartment. It is cozy and beautifully situated. We walk everywhere and have no problem getting where we want to go. We SO appreciate Chuck sharing his place with us — it is very comfortable and fun to get to hear about his day each evening and share about our day.

Pray for Steve please! One more day of teaching at the BPI — I’m going to miss those boys! — and then Bible Study tomorrow night. Friday will be a bit easier schedule, especially for Steve, so I hope he can knock the bug that’s gotten to him!

Love and blessings!
Steve and Claudia

Baltic Pastoral Institute Day Two and Dome Cathedral

Tuesday, February 25 was another full and wonderful day of serving the Lord and His people and enjoying the sights of Riga.

Once again we started at the BPI after a walk across town without Chuck! We made it no problem and enjoyed the exercise. We got to BPI in time for the half hour chapel service being led by Uris, one of the students. Uris said that the Lord gave him the idea that they should exercise their faith that morning and do a half hour prayer walk. I was so blessed by that because as soon as they got back from the prayer walk, I was going to teach on prayer! Later I shared that feeling of confirmation with Uris and he said that friends have told him that he will become a prayer giant and that my teaching also felt like confirmation to him! Isn’t God good?? 🙂 As the men walked and prayed Steve and I stayed in the conference room and prayed over the men, the day, and our Corvallis people. We enjoyed the back and forth with the men over the course of the day. I was also blessed to have lunch with Vesma from BPI. Vesma is our interpreter and she is very gifted in that role. She has a deep heart for the women of Riga – in particular for the women of the institute.

After our day at the institute Peter picked us up and took us back to the apartment. We did a quick drop of our books and computer and walked across the square to Riga Cathedral also known as Dome Cathedral. Peter had arranged for a tour of the cathedral for us and his staff with his friend Pastor Elijs, Pastor of Dome Cathedral. The first thing we did was climb the clock tower. If we remember right, the number of steps to the top is 286. I confess, once again Steve and I didn’t go all the way to the top, but we made it to the level just under the clock face. As we looked south from the clock tower face we could see the St. Peter’s clock tower. At the level equivalent to where we stood, but across the way, Peter proposed to Baiba just about 12 years ago (or so). She had no clue what was coming, but when the elevator stopped on a floor that tourists didn’t usually see, she knew something was up. And then there were candles everywhere — a dead giveaway! How romantic!  What a blessing to enjoy this tour and what an incredible place to see Riga! We even had a late afternoon with crystal clear weather! Several of our new Riga friends have commented on the gift this weather is to us — so spring like! Thank You Lord! (I’ve only worn my long-johns once!)

The cathedral was started in the early 1200’s and Pastor Elijs said he thinks it was finished before the end of the century. He obviously loves this place of worship and knew detail after detail. There is a lot of maintenance work happening now, and I’m guessing all of the time, with work on the pipe organ underway at this point. Steve and I came down from the clock tower early and took in the beauty of the cathedral interior with Liene. As we walked around the organ ‘maintenance man’ played little snippets of various arpeggios and even some short phrases from classics that made me long to hear a full organ concert. So beautiful!

I was impressed with the organ and Steve was impressed with the pulpit. The pulpits in cathedrals often remind me of the prow of a ship. Pastor Elijs preaches from the pulpit every other week. He graciously unlocked the door to the pulpit and let Steve climb up to see what it feels like to be in the ‘driver’s seat’. Warning to Suburban’s Building Committee — there could be a pulpit remodel in our future!  😉

After the tour Steve and I grabbed a quick bite at a ‘Double Coffee’ just under Chuck’s apartment. Coffee is their featured beverage, but Double Coffee has a varied menu of breakfast, lunch and dinner items and the atmosphere is cozy and inviting. It was perfect for the limited time we had last night. After dinner it was off to Matthews Church where we shared a testimony with the Celebrate Recovery group. This is a group of between 30 – 40 individuals who are supporting each other in their journeys in sobriety in the Lord. We spoke about how the Lord is supporting us in our day to day journey of missing Becky. It was a privilege to participate there. 

After our sharing time, Steve went with Peter to further explore partnership possibilities for our Sister Church arrangement and I went to Pastor Andis and Madera’s apartment at the top of the church to meet with a group of seven women from Matthews church. What a sweet time! I love these women and their hearts for the Lord and for the other women of Matthews Church and of Riga.

Wow! What a day. We were tired in that very good way when we got back to the apartment. We took a bit of time to review what we have for Wednesday and then fell into bed! How thankful I am for Chuck’s apartment and the way he has arranged it for his guests. Keep praying for us! You are our biggest blessing.

Love and blessings,
Steve and Claudia

Baltic Pastoral Institute Day 1

 

Monday morning — our host Chuck Kelley was scheduled to speak at the Baltic Pastoral Institute (BPI) Chapel today so we headed off together to the institute. It was a beautiful morning, cold and frosty, but clear! The walk is about a 1/2 hour walk and picturesque all the way there and back.

We were blessed to finally meet Liva Fokrote, Dean of Academic Affairs; Nora Rautmane, Program Administrator; and Vesma Sandburg, Interpreter. We’ve been speaking to these women over the last few months, so it is very nice to meet them face-to-face!

The current class for the BPI consists of 14 men from all around Latvia. They are varied in background – several are from Riga with several of those men from Matthews Church. In addition we met a man working in prison ministry, men interested in planting home churches, men who want to build redemptive communities, and one man who hoped to start a Bible College. The men have huge hearts for the Lord, for His mission and for the salvation of others. Some are quite young, some older, some are relatively new to the Lord and others grew up in the church.

The variety of men and missions brought an additional challenge to the interesting challenge of teaching through an interpreter! I think we learned some things today that will help us as we teach tomorrow.

Please pray for us and for these men! Our desire is to be an encouragement and support to them as they seek to serve Jesus with their whole lives!

I’ve included a few pictures taken on our walk today. Of special interest to me was a man that Chuck seemed to know who was standing on the sidewalk near the wall. Chuck bent over to put a coin into the man’s cup and the next thing we knew a beautiful operatic voice filled the little plaza where we stood! Amazing! Chuck said this gentleman works as a waiter in local restaurants where he also uses his singing gift and then stands in the streets and sings for coins in his off hours. It was a blessing to hear him sing.

Tomorrow is another full day of teaching at BPI, a trip to the domed church nearby, and then a chance to share tomorrow evening at the Celebrate Recovery group at Matthews Church.  Love to all of you from me and Steve!

 

 

Praising the Lord Together

The Freedom Monument and BLUE SKIES
The Freedom Monument and BLUE SKIES

What a blessing to get to meet the people of Matthews Church on Sunday! Probably my strongest impression of the services is that God’s people are so much alike no matter where we live or whatever language we speak.

I am always drawn to worship music and so appreciated the worship at Matthews Church. Worship Pastor Maris Dravnieks leads several choirs of varying sizes that contribute to the Sunday assemblies. I recognized every song used in the assemblies except one. One of the joys of music is that singing a language makes it much more accessible. Because I knew the songs and because the words were projected to screens like at home, I could sing with the congregation in the Latvian language and still know in my heart and head what I was singing! It was wonderful! The mix of instruments included keyboard, guitar, drums and pipe organ. I loved it!

Steve and I were called up front and introduced to the congregation and Peter interviewed Steve, much like what happened when Peter and Baiba were at Suburban. The highlight of the day for me was getting to listen to Steve and Peter preach the word together – one in English and one in Lativian. Peter is an excellent translator and the experience of hearing the sermon appeared to be seamless. Hearing the Word of God proclaimed in two languages at once just felt like a little touch of heaven where every tongue, every tribe, and every nation will stand before the Lord in worship! You can hear Peter and Steve together in the 30 second Youtube video linked below.

Another highlight of the Matthews Church service had to do with the children. Most of the children attend the second service with their families. At both services Children’s Minister, Liene Indrane shared a Children’s Story. At second service at the end of that story all of the children came to the steps of the church and Peter prayed over them, reminded them to be polite as they left the auditorium, and then released them to the Children’s services. I loved seeing all of those young ones — once again, a child is a child in any language!

We enjoyed a “Nearly Normals” style buffet lunch (Steve’s description) with some of the staff from Matthews Church and then back to the apartment for a couple of hours before evening services.

On Sunday evenings Matthews Church is taken over by young people! The services are attended by twenty and thirty somethings. The worship team was a couple of young men and a young woman, the ‘moderator’ was a young man and the preacher was Matthews Church staff person Andis Miezitis – Matthews Church equivalent of our Jamey. Once again Steve and I were introduced and interviewed. Then as Andis taught, Peter leaned in to us and translated so we could also enter in. Andis is a good teacher and once again I enjoyed the full experience.

As we began evening services at Matthews Church we were acutely aware of services beginning at Suburban! Separated by many miles and half a day we enjoyed the reality that together we worshiped our Lord! Blessings on our brothers and sisters in Corvallis! Praise the Lord for His global body – in Corvallis, in Riga and beyond!

Seeing the Sites with Peter and Baiba

Saturday was a great day! Peter and Baiba planned out a day to show us a bit of Latvia. It was wonderful, but I was too tired to post yesterday!

We’ve discovered that the day in Latvia tends to start later than at home – usually breakfast is around 9:00 a.m. or later, but on Saturday Peter and Baiba picked us up at 8:30 a.m. The weather was Corvallis all the way — drizzle and around 45 degrees. We drove northeast of Riga about 85 kilometers to Cesis. Cesis is a beautiful city of about 20,000 that has been continuously in existence since 1206. We toured the ruins of a castle built at the founding of Cesis. We carried candle lanterns through narrow steep rock-cut stairs up into the turret tower. Peter mentioned Psalm 119 ‘Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet’ and how it often shows us only the next step. These candle lanterns were just that and we were careful to stay close together so we could see. At one point there were ‘stairs’ to the dungeon that turned out to be a ladder down. Both Peter and Baiba climbed down to look, but Steve and I stayed above and took pictures instead!

I have to post one picture we saw in the entry area to the castle museum. The man in this picture just has to be Mike Hartwig’s ancestor! 🙂

A Hartwig Relative?
A Hartwig Relative?

The Cesis skyline is dominated by the steeple of the St. Janis church that was built beginning in around 1281. It is the biggest Medieval church in Latvia outside of Riga. We toured the church and then climbed the steeple to the church bell. The church is currently in use – attended by around 400 people. As we walked through the church I kept wishing the walls could talk — oh the stories this place could tell!

Before we left Cesis, we stopped into the local public school to see the delegates at the quarterly meeting of the Baptist Church leaders and lay leaders. We met several of them including Peteris Sprogis, Archbishop of the Baptist Church, and then shared a lunch meal with them. It was good to see this group of people who love the Lord and work together to serve Him in Latvia.

From Cesis we headed out to the area of Ligatne. There is a Rehabilitation Center at Ligatne, which is great, but the truly interesting thing in Ligatne is the secret Soviet Bunkers under the Rehabilitation Center. We toured this underground facility discovered in the 80’s after the fall of the Soviet Union. The bunker was built for the purpose of evacuating Soviet political and power elite in the event of nuclear war. The equipment in the bunker is obviously aged, but much of it still works. Even more amazing to us is the fact that there are 36 such bunkers throughout Latvia.

We drove through more Latvian countryside on our way home. We made one more stop and Steve, Baiba and I rode a tram over a little river valley while Peter drove around the valley to pick us up. Just upriver we could see a bobsled run, a ski area, and a skeleton run. Usually they are covered in natural snow this time of year, but this year there is only artificial snow to cover them.

Riding the Tram
Riding the Tram

Steve and Peter spent much of the trip home talking about Sunday, the coming week, and possibilities for our Sister Church relationship. Baiba and I power-napped in the backseat! It was a good time. We got home tired and blessed to have spent a day with good friends enjoying the beauty of their home country. We were in bed just 12 hours after we left home yesterday morning and slept hard and sound. And then comes Sunday!