The Soul of Latvia

It is good to be home. There is no denying that. But I also miss Latvia! So many impressions and observations are floating around in me and, I’m sure of it, in the rest of the team. Sometime next week we will meet again to debrief our trip. The time to process individually is important and we need to wait to meet until we have Kim back from her sojourn in Austria. In the meantime, I wanted to post just a bit about the heart of Latvia as I observed it.

Some background information for this post. Latvia is a small, beautiful gem of a country and people. It is located on the Gulf of Riga which is a sub-basin of the Baltic Sea. Because of its location and the geographically strategic possibilities inherent in it, Latvia has enjoyed only about 70 years of independence for its entire history. In the last 100 years they have experienced occupation by the Nazis and the Soviet regime. Even with a history touched by so many other cultures, the evidence of which is everywhere in architecture, language, music, etc., there is a strong Latvian culture, language, and heritage. Latvians know they are Latvian. Latvians love Latvia.

Latvians are devoted to music as an expression of their souls. Music underpins the many festivals of their national life. We were blessed to experience the Latvian Children’s Song and Dance Festival shortly after our arrival and then to enjoy the Baptist Song Festival in Cesis our last weekend in Latvia. Over the course of the song festival we witnessed various expressions of music in St. John’s Church, one of the oldest churches in Latvia. We enjoyed choral presentations, a beautiful piece on the old pipe organ, and Youth Worship late into the evening. We heard an outstanding pianist in concert at the Cesis Concert Hall. But my favorite of all was listening to the combined Baptist Church choirs, including the choir from our sister church Matthews Church, at the united worship service on Sunday morning at the end of the festival. The songs used for the service were a combination of songs we knew like “How Great Thou Art” and other completely unfamiliar songs, of course all in Latvian. The song that most captured my heart was a song written by Latvian composer Eriks Esenvalds entitled “Dveseles dziesma” or Soul Song. As we watched and listened to this song being sung it was evident that the song came from the hearts of those who voiced it. Even those listening were obviously captured by the song. It was clear that the words had power for the people … that they somehow expressed their own hearts. I’ve captured a portion of the song in a somewhat shaky video clip linked below. Because of the obvious power of the song, I came home and looked for a translation of the words. No translation is perfect and I so wish I understood Latvian to better grasp what this song means to the heart of my friends. But I think I get it in part. Latvia has four main regions. Each region is defined by geography, agriculture, economy and the items produced. And each region is acknowledged in this song  — the coastal region feels the sting of a reduction in demand for fish — especially that which is exported to Russia; the north mourns the loss of Staburags, a culturally significant cliff formation, after the Soviets built a dam that flooded it; the southern fields seem to reflect the steadfastness and beauty of hope in the Latvian soul; and from the industry and utility of the east a reminder of the continuance of provision from Latvia for Latvia.  At the end of the video clip you’ll hear the people reciting together ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ as the closing to the combined worship assembly.

This song speaks the heart of the Latvian people. It acknowledges hard times, it hears the heart of God in the midst, and it somehow inspires hope in the continuance of the life of Latvia. And it invites me to love this country and people even more. Enjoy!

SOUL SONG by Eriks Esenvalds

It sings, my soul sings
Silently, through thousands of voices
God is singing in my soul
Which is over-pouring with starlight
It is saddened, my soul is saddened
Like fishing nets left by the seacoast
It is saddened, my soul is saddened
It is saddened, in Kurzeme

It sings, my soul sings
Silently, through thousands of voices
God is singing in my soul
Which is over-pouring with starlight
Cries, my soul cries,
In agonizing pain because of the fate of Staburags
Cries, my soul cries,
It cries, in Vidzeme

It sings, my soul sings
Silently, through thousands of voices
God is singing in my soul
Which is over-pouring with starlight
Blooms, my soul blooms,
Like a sunflower in a wheatfield
Blooms, my soul blooms,
It blooms, in Zemgale

My song shines, my song prays, my song loves In Latvia
My song shines, my song prays, my song loves In Latvia

It sings, my soul sings
Silently, through thousands of voices
God is singing in my soul
Which is over-pouring with starlight
Burns, my soul it burns
Like a milk-mug made in a clay oven
Burns, my soul it burns
It burns, in Latgale

My song shines, my song prays, my song loves in Latvia
My song shines, my song prays, my song loves in my Latvia
My song shines, my song prays, my song loves in Latvia

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Homeward Bound

This is an early post. We have today in Sigulda, then to our airport hotel at 7pm and a brief overnight before we head to the airport at 4am tomorrow morning. I’m pre-posting because I’m not sure it will be possible to post tonight. If it is, I will update with a few details and pictures.

Martina, Liz, Linda, and I along with Monta will take a trip of about 1/2 an hour today to visit Riga Bay. Our plan is simply to walk and wade and talk — and spend a time of prayer sitting on the white sands together. An added joy to this trip is that Laima is joining us! She is taking a train from Riga right to the bay-side community we will be visiting. We look forward to being together again and wish only that Kim could join us. 🙂

I remember as a girl who loved to ride horses that the minute I turned my horse toward the barn it could become a tug of war if that horse was ‘barn sour’. The lure of the barn and a stall with hay was strong and I had to work to keep my horse on the course that I set instead of on a bee-line for home. That is the tug at work in me and my team members now. We are so eager to see husbands and home and you again! So today, pray that we can press in and really savor every sight and sound and relational moment. I don’t want to lose a thing here to my longing for there!

So many words evoke new memories for us now … key, lock, Mary Poppins, cord, carpet bag, pray and prayer, hospitality, ‘she who wanders is not always lost, she is sometimes Kim’, I’ve always got my eye on you’, and on and on. As we’ve processed our days here one of the concepts that raises to the surface is that relationship and building relationship is critical for Sister churches. Eating together, visiting one another, sharing what we have without concern for what we don’t have, listening, praying, dreaming — these things come with knowing one another and being together. This is a challenge when our homes are 5,170 miles apart. Thank God for Facebook and email and Skype and Facetime!! It is so much easier to stay connected now than ever before. And thank God for prayer and the power of connection and encouragement in praying. As we enter our last day in Latvia, the team is praying into a time not many months from now when individuals and/or families from Latvia come to visit us! We might be calling you to prepare and eat a meal with these new friends, or to take a couple of Latvians on a tour of some place uniquely Oregon, or ???? We can guarantee that you will be blessed as you enter into the lives and hearts of this people! Please continue to pray for Matthews Church leadership and congregation as they continue in their process to call a new Pastor. They are praying for us as we enter into this process too!

Thank you for your prayers and support as we’ve prepared for and experienced this trip. You have blessed us beyond anything we could have hoped or imagined! See you soon!

Over and Above Slide - End of Service

The Gift of Hospitality — The Gift of Family

I’m upstairs for just a moment wanting to capture what I’m feeling. Liz, Linda and I are still in Sigulda at Martina’s home. We spent this rainy day touring the area in Martina’s car along with her friend (and our new friend) Monta. We saw so many beautiful sights and got to have our picture taken in a bobsleigh and just enjoyed visiting together as we traveled the area.

But do you know what is the best? Just being here watching Sandijs and Martina exercise the gift of extreme hospitality. This week the three of us are here visiting from Oregon. Martina’s sister is here visiting from the east coast — soon to be Washington, D.C. Mark and Carol Ann are here visiting from England. Martina’s friend Monta was with us today and tonight at the table. And over the course of the day we meet two different friends of Sandijs and one of those friends and his young brother also joined us at the table. Fifteen of us sat down to a delicious one pot dinner that Carol Ann and Mark put together for us. It was so good and I promise you it seemed to be the widow’s cruse of oil and the pot of flour. There were leftovers even after all of us had eaten as much as we wanted. We laughed and enjoyed each other and just plain had a good time! Not to mention a wonderful Latvian honey cake that Mark and Carol Ann picked up and ice cream that we brought to the table to say ‘thank-you’ to the kids for letting us displace them from their beds. This is community. This is life. This is sweet.

I think all of us on the Latvian Link team hope to bring this treasure of hospitality back with us to the states. Honestly, although they are immensely blessed, at the same time by the standards that american’s enjoy Martina and Sandijs have little. But their home is open, their table is shared and the love and joy are palpable.

Just now I’m hearing a piano and praise music from downstairs! I need to join in!

Lord -continue to bless Martina and Sandijs with every good thing they need that they might continue to bless others in Your Name!

Good-Bye and Hello!

Today we began our good-byes, but also got to say hello! We left Cesis late afternoon after enjoying the combined worship service of the Baptist churches. Once again we saw so many people we knew and got to give them one last hug before we left for Sigulda and Martina and Sandijs’ home. We said a mini-good bye to Laima, but hold onto hope that we will see her again for a bit before we leave. She is even dearer to us now than she was after her visit to Corvallis. It will be hard to leave her, but maybe we can entice her to come see us again!

Marcus, the young man who was our driver on our Baltic Sea day, very graciously transported the three of us to Sigulda today. We love him so much and once again nearly demanded that he come to the states and see us! Here’s hoping he can make that happen some day!

Sigulda is beautiful and Martina took us on an extended walk not too long after our afternoon coffee break with her. It is so good to be here and see Martina’s home and meet her family. What a blessing! Tomorrow it is supposed to rain — we are divided in thoughts about tomorrow between doing some driving or just staying cozy in the home and talking! Hard to pick between the two!

Time here draws short and everyone else is downstairs talking and laughing! I’m off to join them. Love to all of you back home! 🙂

Baptist Song Festival

Today we enjoyed the breakfast part of our bed-n-breakfast. It was SO GOOD! Bread and meats and cheeses and vegetables and fruit and one little egg each. The array was amazing and all was fresh and good. We thoroughly enjoyed this start to our day.

WP_20150718_08_20_51_ProAfter breakfast we spent the morning walking around Cesis and seeing the sights. Cesis is home to the ruins of a midieval castle. We toured the castle with our candle lanterns, including some of us climbing down into the dungeon on a very steep steel-runged ladder. We also climbed into the tower to take in the 360 degree view of Cesis. One of the best aspects of touring the castle today is that it sits on a rise above the amphitheater where the Song Festival combined choir sang tonight. This morning and afternoon they practiced diligently on the amphitheater stage. Because of that we were treated to an incredibly beautiful sound track to our trek through the castle. At one point we heard “Be Thou My Vision” as we walked in the ruins. The castle was built about 100 years before that song came into the repertoire of Christian music. We stopped around lunch time and enjoyed cStatsoffee and a small bakery treat and then shared a mid-afternoon lunch with the singers and instrumentalists who had practiced hard all day.

The concert was such a gift and blessing. We started the evening off with rain — quite a bit of it! The wait time and the first few songs were pretty damp, but then the rain let up and all of us were thankful. There must have been near 300 voices in the choir and an orchestra of 40 or 50. The music was varied with several pieces we all recognized and others that were completely new to us. The choir showed amazing stamina and gifting. They stood in the rain waiting for their entrance and then stood on the steps behind the stage in the wide open and for part of the time in the pouring rain! But nothing phased them — their singing was beautiful and expressive.

At the end of the concert we had opportunity to say hello and good-bye to friends we’ve made over the last week. We were particularly touched by our friends Maris and  Ilze who brought us each a framed picture taken when we were with them last week. We invited them to Corvallis and they seemed to think it might happen some day! That would be so sweet!

We got to connect with Martina again — she came and sat by us during the concert. Sandijs had the kids off to the side, and so at the end of the concert we walked over to meet him and the kids. Sandijs greeted us with a great big bear hug!  🙂

Tomorrow we will enjoy Sunday worship with this big, beautiful group of people we have grown to love. We will pray for you and miss you as we cherish the last bit of time with our new friends from Latvia. Tomorrow we will also say good-bye to Kim as she returns to Riga and then on to Austria on Monday morning. The rest of us will move to Martina and Sandijs’ home to spend a couple of nights with them. It is astounding to realize just how soon we will be stepping on a plane to head back to Corvallis. How we will miss Laima, our friends from Matthews, Martina and her family, and the Latvian people and country who have taken our hearts! Love you all!

 

Full Hearts

Today we said a temporary good-bye to Riga and moved on to Cesis for the Baptist Song Festival. But first we had the distinct pleasure of sharing pancakes with dear friends from home! We met Marc and Carol Andresen, their daughter Katey and long time friend and ministry partner, Paula Hewitt.These friends from Corvallis are in Latvia for multiple purposes. Next week they will lead an English Camp in Madona in the central area of Latvia. Tomorrow they will enjoy the wedding of a young friend from Matthews Church. This young lady spent 3 weeks with them in Corvallis many years ago and tomorrow they are overjoyed to watch her take this big step in her life. It was so much fun to sit at a table and talk and talk and talk about our Latvia experiences! Please pray the favor of God on the English camp this next week.

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We spent some time this morning packing and giving the apartment a good cleaning prior to our departure. I exercised my faith again by riding the rickety elevator up to the fourth floor and then riding it back down with all of the luggage! I feel intrepid. 🙂 As we said good-bye to the apartment we were accompanied by thunder and lightening and a torrential downpour, but praise the Lord that the major rain stopped before we actually needed to load the van. Our van driver is Helvis — the really fun young man we met last week at the Rozenfelds. Helvis is training to be an airline pilot and completed some testing this week in Lithuania. He was a good driver and a very kind young man — I would trust him to fly me anywhere! Today he drove us to Cesis, Latvia home of this year’s Baptist Song Festival. If you followed the blog Steve and I kept when we were in Latvia in 2014, you may remember that Cesis is home to the Cesis castle and museum and that the castle is the first place the Latvian flag was raised on the eve of freedom. This is a beautiful and very inspiring place.

We stopped in Sigulda on the way to Cesis so that I could post a package to Suburban, but I think it might actually have been Laima’s kind and sneaky way to let us get an early glimpse of Martina. On Sunday afternoon Liz, Linda and I will head to spend a couple of days and nights with Martina and Sandijs, her husband (and her kids too)! But we have been very eager to see each other again, so this few extra minutes and hugs were true treasures.

Our hotel in Cesis is very nice and honestly we won’t be spending much time in it. The song festival is wonderful! Today we heard several choirs sing under the vaulted arches of St. Janis Cathedral. Then we were treated to an excellent piano concert in the local concert hall and late tonight we enjoyed youth worship bands back at the cathedral. The whole experience was so uplifting and beautiful. A worship team from a church in Texas, a sister church to Cesis Baptist Church, led us in “Oceans” — it was a very sweet experience worshiping together in an ancient cathedral. Tomorrow will be a full day of choirs and other music opportunities scattered throughout Cesis. Then on Sunday there will be a major united worship service and united choir for all here. It is an amazing experience to walk to these various events and have people shout out our names and welcome us heartily! We KNOW people here and they know us!! Isn’t that astounding!

Our hearts are full tonight and we’re looking forward to what tomorrow will bring!

Nearing the End of Phase One …

Phase one of our trip is nearly complete! Tomorrow we leave Chuck Kelley’s apartment and travel with Laima to Cesis for the weekend of the Baptist Song Festival. Baptist Church choirs from all around Latvia will be together for a weekend of concerts, fellowship, and prayer and, of course, Matthews Church will be represented there! On Sunday we will remain in Cesis for a united church service with most of the members of the Baptist Churches of Latvia. We are really looking forward to this weekend.

Today was a day to do some shopping. Laima has gained confidence in our ability to navigate the city and so she didn’t join us until a late lunch/early dinner around 3pm. We told her yesterday that the team really wanted to treat her to a nice meal as a way to say thank you for all she’s done. She originally suggested “Subway” and we had to gently push to get her to consider something a bit more elevated in taste! 🙂  We ended up at Neiburgs, a very nice family owned restaurant in Old Town Riga. We spent a restful couple of hours together enjoying an entirely delicious meal. We shared three desserts between us and Laima chose one that was intriguing — parmesan ice cream, a sugared tomato and a crispy turnover filled with berry sauce. It was delicious!

After dinner we headed to Matthews for the summer Thursday evening Bible study. The passage seemed hand-picked for us: 1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:13 all about gaining encouragement in our faith from one another. We had opportunity to share greetings from you again and express our appreciation for the way the faith of those at Matthews speaks to us! We also wore the t-shirts we were given by Matthews Church and the creator of those t-shirts, Anita Gercane, was at the Bible study. We were able to thank her and get a picture with her, much to our pleasure and hers. In addition we were blessed with translators who had actually translated for us earlier – Inguna Raudina who translated for us at Matthews Church on Sunday and Lelde Berzkaline who translated for us on Tuesday night, of course along with Laima. It was so good to have just a little bit of time with them again! We invited all of the Thursday night group to Corvallis to visit us — oh how we hope some of them take us up on this invitation!

Just before we ran out the door to catch the trolley to head to Matthews my borrowed cell phone rang and a familiar voice said “Hi Claudia!” — it was Mark Andresen! Mark and Carol, Paula Hewitt, and a team are here for an English language camp and to participate in the marriage of a young friend who spent time with them in Corvallis a few years back.We hope to connect with them tomorrow when I’ll hand over the cell phone and just catch-up with them hopefully hearing what God has done through them so far.

Tonight we are in early and getting ready for the job of packing and changing gears as we head to Cesis and then Segulda to finish out our trip. Thank you for your faithful prayers! We appreciate you so very, very much.