Making Some New Friends

Latvia Map

Today we left early because we knew that we were going to cover a LOT of territory. Our ultimate goal was to visit a long time friend of Laima’s named Tabita. And, on the way there, to cover some ground and see some sights.

Laima, her friend (and mine from my first visit) Monta Kodola, and Markuss Rozims, the 20 something year old son of one of Laima’s friends, showed up at our door at 9am. We laughingly decided that having four women ready for a road trip by 9am when there is only one very small bathroom might qualify as a miracle in and of itself! Markuss was our driver for the day and an absolute delight! He is a gentleman with a deep heart for the Lord. He proved to be a safe driver and a charmer and actually seemed to enjoy the company of a bunch of women who could easily be Mom or Grandmom to him! What a blessing!

We headed west our of Riga through some territory we’d enjoyed earlier but quickly found ourselves in what appeared to be Latvia’s breadbasket. Latvia is fairly flat, but this area had a lightly rolling quality to it with lots of wheat fields, alfalfa, silage corn, and various other crops planted. Hay was baled and decorating many of the fields with the occasional haystack here and there. The wheat is still just the slightest bit green — not yet ready for harvest. The countryside was beautiful and so, so much like our beautiful Oregon!

As we continued through the country we drove through many small and picturesque communities including one whose name I’ve forgotten but whose inhabitants stick in my mind. They are dolls. Lots of dolls! There is a woman in this town who, for many years, has crafted and dressed multiple little people who populate her front yard. A unique occupation for sure.

We continued up to Kuldiga where we enjoyed about 2 hours of strolling through the community taking pictures and touring one of the ancient churches.We took lunch here at a little bakery. I had a Latvian hot dog! ūüôā

From Kuldiga we continued to the northern most point of this little horn of Latvia. Just a few kilometers past Roja we stopped and visited with Tabita and her family. Tabita’s home is in an incredibly beautiful place. Today it was surrounded by sunshine and flowers and after a very short walk we were on the shore of Riga Bay. We walked east on the bayshore and returned to Tabita’s home through the forest. So beautiful! Tabita told us the story of this home. Her father was amongst those deported to Siberia and was gone for 11 years, from age 20 to 31. When he returned he was not allowed to return to his family home – it was destroyed, so instead he was given this parcel of land to rent that had a very old rundown home on it. He met his wife, Tabita’s mother, and Tabita was born. This old home would not work for a family so Tabita’s father built the home we saw today. After freedom, the family was given the home they had been renting. Tabita seems to love and appreciate her home, but she is also acutely aware that it isn’t ‘hers’. The deep roots that existed in the old family place that was taken from them haven’t quite settled into this place yet.

In true Latvian style Tabita and her family treated us to a feast. There was home-made pizza that even I loved! They also made little bite-sized pastries in both cinnamon and poppy-seed flavors. We ate outside in the mild summer weather. Such a feast for the body and soul. We visited for a bit and then spent some time praying for one another. As we prepared to leave after this sweet, sweet time, Tabita’s 90 year old father came down from the upstairs portion of the house where he lives with them. He welcomed us and expressed his surprise at the number we were! It was a delight to meet this man who has endured much in his life, but overcome in such a way that his legacy lives on. All through Tabita’s home I saw scripture sayings seasoning their life. Faith. Deep faith holds them¬†and radiates from them. It was a joy to be with them for even a few hours.

We traveled the few kilometers up the point to spend some time walking the beach both along Riga Bay and where the Baltic meets the bay. It was such a wonderful time of refreshing. And then, off again to head back to Riga. The sun set about 11:05 pm as we returned to our apartment. Thank You Lord for travel mercies, a sweet time in a van load of women and one young man, and for the delight of new friends in Jesus.

A National Treasure and Treasuring Each Other

Latvian National Library

Today Laima arranged for us to have a tour of the Latvian National Library. This beautiful building was completed just a year ago and has just recently become fully open to the general public. For a brief time after completion portions of it were closed to the public as the Latvian president and staff utilized it for temporary offices. But today we got to see it all — starting with a tour of the 12th floor. The library is beautiful and functional, although we had to admit that we would have a hard time keeping our heads in our books with such a beautiful view right outside our windows.The tour was wonderful and we saw a lot, but I’ll share only about the people’s¬†wall of books. In 2013 the people of Latvia were invited to bring copies of their favorite books to the library to be placed in the People’s Wall of Books. In November they formed a human chain over the bridge to pass them from hand to hand through the cold November weather and get them to the library. The people’s wall of books is impressive — especially when you consider that the first book in it was the Bible! We finished the morning off with¬†lunch in the library’s restaurant, and it was good and restful.

After lunch we took the tram to Baltic Pastoral Institute where we met with Vesma Sandburg, the woman who interpreted for me and Steve when we were here in 2014. It was so good to see her again and catch up with her life. She gave us the tour of the institute and then we sat by the busy city streets drinking cold lattes and visiting about our various ministries. We ended our time together with prayer and then Vesma accompanied us part way to our apartment. We parted ways as she headed to the train station and we headed off to the apartment.

After a quick time of freshening up we ate a fast¬†dinner at “Double Coffee” and then set off to our ‘pick-up’ spot to meet Dace, our ride to a meeting with women from Matthews. We spent an incredibly sweet evening sitting in a beautiful ‘country in the city’ backyard and eating second dinner with a group of wonderful women (and one man!). We each shared a bit about ourselves and our ministry areas. When it was time for dessert we moved inside and immediately after dessert we split into affinity groups and listened to and shared with and prayed with the women of our groups. It was such a sweet time of encouraging and being encouraged in the Lord. I felt so very blessed by the prayer offered over me and I know my sisters felt the same after being prayed for.

This day was rich in relationship! I can’t wait until tomorrow!



Tourists and Encouragers

Today was a slower paced day, which was probably very good because we’ve kept a brisk pace. Around 10:00 Laima and a sweet gentleman from Matthews Church and one of Laima’s friends from Matthews Church¬†picked us up in a black Mercedes van to take us on an excursion to Rundale Palace. The palace is located about an hour and half due South of Riga. Driving through the countryside was eye-opening. We were surprised at how much Latvia has in common with Oregon – at least in the Willamette Valley. It was beautiful and lush in the full bloom of summer.

The palace is incredible. When you read through the history of the palace it is like a mini-history of Latvia. We thoroughly enjoyed the time getting to know one another better and the pleasure of walking through history and beauty. The palace grounds are a French-style garden and impeccably groomed¬†and we had the pleasure of enjoying¬†lunch together in an open air restaurant on the palace grounds. If you’d like to know more of the history of the palace and see some professional pictures, please click this web address:¬†Rundale Palace Link.

We had about an hour at home and then headed to Matthews Church for a meeting with those who serve in mercy ministries. We visited with an older man and his wife who helped organize medical care and supplies for the disadvantaged immediately after freedom was first gained. We heard from a young woman whose passion is relational ministry for seniors who would otherwise have little or no social contact at all. We heard from a young man who came to Jesus at Matthews just a few years ago and now participates in¬†sports outreach to youth who live near Matthews and helps with the ‘littlest ones’ ministry. We heard the testimony of the man whose life was completely turned around through one little prayer and the gospel of Jesus Christ after a life that took him to prison. Today he preaches in the ‘littlest ones’ services and has a passion to see them come to Jesus. We heard from a young man whose heart is completely torn for this same group and he faithfully purchases food to distribute to them and coordinates this service every single week. And we heard from a woman whose has devoted her life to Celebrate Recovery.

We are incredibly humbled by this group of devoted servants of Jesus. They are discouraged in a work that is very demanding and where much devotion is required for each life brought to fruitfulness. The gentleman whose preaching speaks to the ‘littlest ones’ each week reminded us of the history of America. Of this great land built on faith, and the Bible, and freedom in Christ and He asked ‘what has happened’? So we shared with him the realities for our lives in Christ and the difficulty of working in a land that prizes personal freedom far above the freedom that Christ came to bring. We then prayed encouragement over them – asking God to fill them with the power of His Holy Spirit and give them every good thing they need to complete the work He has set before them. And they in turn prayed for us asking God to bring revival to His church in America and to empower and encourage us.

Please join us in praying encouragement and power into these mercy ministries of Matthews Church. And let’s join them in praying for revival in the churches of America.

(The internet is glacial tonight. I will try to add pictures to this post tomorrow!)

A Sunday to Remember

Today at 8:45am on the dot Dace Pole, a friend of Laima’s, picked us up to take us to Matthews Church for services. Prior to the services we visited with the members of the church and spoke to Hardijs, the Chairman of the Board, about what would happen in the services and when we would participate. Liz Myers brought gracious and truth-filled greetings from us and you, Suburban friends, to the people of Matthews Church and I prayed Ephesians 1:15-21 over the people. At the first service time we were very graciously welcomed and each of us were given a beautiful bouquet of sweet peas. At the second service time we were given Matthews Church t-shirts and a painting of Matthews Church that we will bring home to you! A highlight of that time was the whole body of believers at Matthews sending a wave to you. We weren’t to wave back, instead we are to wait until we can wave to you on their behalf! At Matthews we also got to see Baiba Eisan again and Anete Abola along with her husband and their 2 month old baby Rebekah and Andis and Madara Miezite and Timothy and their new twins. After services were over we enjoyed a brief bite of abundant and delicious food in the Matthews kitchen area. From there we went to Matthews ministry to a group called ‘the little ones.’ I think it possible that in our country we might actually call this service ‘the least of these.’ This group was very down and out. It was easy to perceive a variety of different problems among the individuals in the group. But even with their problems they were polite and listened well. Kim shared a brief testimony about her life and although it has been relatively easy and she’s not wanted for anything, she has found that only Jesus can truly satisfy. Then I shared briefly about fear and the overcoming of fear through the salvation and presence offered by the Lord and ended with prayer over this group. It was a sweet, sweet time. The man who delivered the sermon for the group is one who was in the same situation as many of these people just a few short years ago. He spoke on God’s grace and did so with power and truth. When the sermon was done, they were given food to take home with them (or to the streets when that applied.) Matthews Church appears healthy and strong in spite of having been without a preacher since January/February. They continue to do some important ministry and continue to pray for and seek a new Pastor. Please join your Latvia Link team in praying for Matthews Church. In fact, it would be a good plan to pray for them every time you pray for Suburban’s search for a new Pastor!

We spent about an hour and a half in the apartment and then it was time to head to the¬†home of Hardijs and Vigrita Rozenfelds. Hardijs is the Chairman of the Board for Matthews Church. We enjoyed another wonderful meal (are you catching the drift that we eat ALL OF THE TIME) and thoroughly enjoyed getting to know this wonderful family. In addition to their son and daughter and her soon-to-be-spouse there were other leaders from Matthews at this gathering including those involved in Finance, Children’s Ministry, and of course choir. We went around the picnic table each sharing who we are, what God has called us to in ministry life and as an occupation and other pieces of our stories as we saw fit. I was impressed by this group of people, the hard life events they’ve endured, and their deep, deep love for Jesus, His church, and their own families. In them I saw what a difference it makes to have Jesus in your life, and to be firmly knit into a family of God, especially in the hard times that come.

Hardijs invited us to go to Jurmula to the Riga Bay to watch the sunset. We said ‘yes’ and the whole crew of people jumped into cars and drove the 30 kilometers to the beach. Jurmula is a pricey resort area of Latvia and the walk through there and on the beach was wonderful. The wind was a bit piercing, just like at home, but the air temperature was about 63 degrees as was the water temperature! A bit different than at home.

After strolling for a while in what I think of as half light, I looked at my watch and realized it was 11pm! The light here goes on and on and I’m fast becoming a crazy night owl! ¬†We left the beach and strolled through the main pedestrian mall of Jurmula. It was a beautiful quiet night and many delightful conversations happened. Plus Kim Simmons got to eat good ol’ fashioned Latvian Cotton Candy — which is crazy sweet!

God is at work. There were many strategic conversations for the Kingdom tonight and for Kingdom hearts! Please continue to pray for us, for Matthews Church, and for Suburban — both in regard to our partnership and as we each continue in the process of seeking a new minister for our church families.

Learning Hospitality!

Today we woke up to rain thrown against our windows, but with a plan to do a two hour walking tour of Riga with Laima and her friend Ligita. Ligita is an excellent tour guide and can guide in either Latvian or German, but knows little English. So Laima and Ligita guided us together. Before we left the weather sweetened and we walked about in some sunshine and no rain!  Hooray! We saw many buildings and sights important to Riga and to Lativians and learned a bit of Latvian history to boot.

We realized that to be at our best this afternoon getting to know another Matthews Church family, we really needed some downtime. So after a lunch of wonderful crepe-like pancakes we returned to the apartment for a short rest. Then off to Ogre and an afternoon with the Babrovskis family. On our way we stopped at the Daugava river and got to see the oldest rock building in Latvia – the remains of a church. It is now stranded in the middle of the Daugava due to dams that help control flooding. Still, every August the water level is reduced and people can walk over to the old church building. They enjoy picnics there and some even marry there. I love it that the oldest builiding in Latvia is a church!

We drove on just a bit further, a total of about 30 kilometers / 18 miles from Riga. What a blessing we enjoyed in our time with the Babrovskis¬†family. The home they live in was built by their grandparents about 50 years ago upon their return from seven years of exile in Siberia. The home is solid and comfortable and a wonderful support to the gatherings of this loving family. After introductions we sat down and were treated to a wonderful meal of potatoes, salad, and a delicious thin pork patty with tomatoes and cheese on it along with some crisp home grown/squeezed apple juice and a curd-based yummy dessert. We went on a short drive into the heart of Ogre and walked through a lovely area that had once been a resort or health spa and is now a beautiful pedestrian mall. We walked to the Ogre river and began to cross¬†the bridge only to see a wedding party approaching us from the other side. We went around them, not interrupting their ceremony and watched for a bit. The bride and groom appeared to make some promises and then the groom locked a padlock on the bridge and together they threw the key into the Ogre River. As you cross the bridge you can see many other padlocks — evidence of prior wedding commitments.

We returned to the Babrovskis family home and spent some more time with the family during which¬†they offered us the chance to experience a sauna! At the first trip Steve and I took to Riga, Steve experienced a sauna while I enjoyed a much needed night at home. So I was pretty eager to try this. We all went out and scoped out the sauna that Marks built behind the family home. IT.WAS.HOT. In the final analysis Laima, Kim, Linda and I all decided to try the sauna. It was a new and pretty delicious experience! Linda and I did only a bit over 5 minutes, then a cooling period and another 3 or 4 minutes. Kim and Laima toughed it out quite a bit longer. Later we found out that the temp in the sauna was over 200 degrees! A bit high for us novices, but even so, I think I’d quickly build a fondness for this particular exercise.

When we returned to the house to clean up, we were shocked to find a whole new beautiful spread of food! A delicious salad, several varieties of breads and cheese, and a crazy beautiful cake. The food is the plain homemade food the family eats, but it is so delicious and the quantities were amazing. As in our experience last night, the family completely opened their homes and hearts to us. All of us feel like we are learning the true art of hospitality as we are welcomed into Latvian homes. We are humbled and blessed by the sweet and good-natured love of every Latvian we meet. Before we left we gave each member of the family a sleeve of Oregon quilt cards crafted by our own Gail Bartlett. Then they turned around and gave us each a little souvenir of our visit and promised another when we meet again sometime this week! We were astounded at their generosity.

We spent a few minutes explaining why we are in Latvia and asked if we could pray over the family. It was a sweet, sweet way to end our time in their home and I think all of us were blessed by this experience. We set out to return to Riga, but within a very short distance of the family home we drove into a forested area, parked our cars and set off up a very steep trail to a wooden watchtower that rose into the sky. Our goal was to climb to the top to see the skyline of Riga framed against a sunset sky. Most of us made it — it was a VERY high climb ¬†— and we can say the climb was well worth it!

Every member of the Babrovskis family has received many invitations from us to come visit Corvallis. And here is another — Mr. and Mrs. Babrovskis; Elina and Matiss; Lasma and Edgars Kozlovska any and all of you are most welcome to visit any and all of us at any time!

Tomorrow is Sunday and we are so eager for time at Matthews Church! Please pray for us as we bring a greeting from all of you to them and pray for them. And we’ll pray for you — we miss you Suburban family, but we are loving make news friends and seeking the heart of Jesus for this relationship!

Relationship and Ministry

As we processed together early this morning before our day began, each one of us on the Latvia Link Summer Trip team sensed a call from the Lord to focus on ‘being’ with Him and others instead of our standard operating procedure of¬†‘doing’. God has been affirming His call to follow Him and to care for others through prayer. We were blessed with just those opportunities as today progressed.

We met with Vineta Zale, Chuck Kelley’s Office Manager in¬†Latvia for Bridges International, and with Lienite Bemere, Counselor and Director for Bridges International Latvia for a 9am breakfast this morning. We just plain had fun as we listened to Lienite share about¬†her heart for the women of Latvia. Vineta had to leave early, but after breakfast we spent some time in prayer together with Lienite in the apartment we are renting from Chuck. It was a sweet, sweet time together with Lienite and we all grew to love her and want to continue supporting her in prayer.

In the midst of this time Laurel Luke and her friend Amanda showed up at the apartment! What a wonderful time we had listening to her share stories about the two Orphan Camps she has helped with! Laurel is an amazing young woman and Amanda is the answer to Laurel’s prayer for a slightly older friend to come along side her and be an encouragement and support. Once again we spent some time in prayer with Laurel and Amanda and then headed out on a bit more of a walking tour with Laima. At the end of our walking tour Laurel and Amanda caught a bus for their next appointment and Laima took us to Riga University to enjoy lunch in the basement cafeteria there. The food was simple, inexpensive and good! It just plain hit the spot!

On our way back to the apartment from our late lunch, we got a first dose of the Latvian Children’s Song and Dance festival that is happening this week. Not too long later Kim and I met up with a young couple from Matthews Church. They had some of the¬†very hard to come by tickets to the festival performance tonight and invited two of our team to join them for the dance and then for dinner at their home. Kim and I were the lucky ones! At the same time Laima, Liz and Linda went to the home of another couple for dinner. I honestly can’t share much about Liz and Linda’s experience (except that they had a wonderful time) because we’ve not had time to talk about it. But I can tell you that Kim and I thoroughly enjoyed our time with the young couple we met. The Children’s Dance and Song festival was wonderful and so was everything about our time with our new friends. When all of the children were on the stadium floor at the festival there were 16,700 children! The children practice the dances all year long, but then they spend a week in kind of a dance camp where the individual area groups of children come together and practice much larger intricately choreographed routines. The discipline and cooperation of the children was amazing and the color and beauty a feast for the eyes.

I’m going to call it a night because we have plans again tomorrow morning! Hope to write more later. Thank you so much for your prayers!

Challenges and God Appointments — They Seem to Go Together!

We’re here! The pictures above are in random order, but honestly the day is beginning to fade into that! We made it to Portland with time to spare thanks to our prayer warrior sister, Cheryl Black. Three of us had TSA Pre-check (*sweet*), but not Kim. So Kim ¬†decided to take a short side trip before she went through security and then seemed to just plain disappear. We found each other again, but thanks to the major United Airlines computer glitch (thank You Lord that we didn’t fly anything United) our plane for Seattle left significantly late. For reasons none of us have figured out we had to get our boarding passes for the Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt at the boarding gate in Seattle. So, running late, we zoomed to the boarding gate where we waited in a long line of displaced United persons. Once again three of us managed to get our boarding passes and, because of all of the displaced United people taking our previously assigned seats, we were upgraded to business class! But not Kim. More about Kim in a minute, but I have to say that I’ve never stretched out and slept laying down on my side in my airline seat before. And I’m fairly certain I never will again. But it was sweet. A true gift from God.

Back with Kim –¬†the gate clerk was still trying to get Kim ticketed for boarding and they needed us to get on, so on we went telling Kim we would see her inside. But we didn’t. We watched and never saw her come in. After we lifted off Liz went all through the plane looking for Kim. No Kim. We had Kim paged 4 times. No Kim. Lufthansa couldn’t tell us who was in the economy class because they didn’t know. I went through the plane a couple of times looking for Kim. No Kim. We said to the Purser, please tell us if/when you find Kim Simmons. Nothing. Until about 45 minutes before we landed when the Purser came to us and said, “Oh, by the way, we found Kim last night at dinner and forgot to tell you.” By then we had alerted the prayer warriors asking God to get Kim to Latvia and to get us reconnected. Which He did – so praise Him!

By the way Kim was in row 50. We have no clue why we were upgraded and she wasn’t except that she had a God appointment with a Christian woman heading to Moldova on a mission trip. And earlier Linda had a God appointment with Mary a Christian woman who prayed for our mission and Linda prayed for her. And earlier a chance to bless the man at PDX who was playing “It Is Well With My Soul” so beautifully on the airport lounge piano. And later Linda had a long conversation of blessing for a man recovering from alcohol addiction. And I spoke to a young woman from Walla Walla and encouraged her as she preps for Pharmacy School. And Liz spoke with a young expatriate man from Latvia who gave her some great info about Latvia and the area churches of Latvia!

We were met at the airport by¬†Laima,¬†Lauris, from the Corvallis Link Team and Hardijs, the Chairman of the Board of Elders for Matthews Church. And they gave us flowers! I don’t think any of us have been greeted at the airport and given flowers before — we were so blessed! We’ve had a great afternoon of settling in, a little walking tour, and a sweet, sweet time reconnecting with our Sister Laima.

The thing that sticks with all of us as we fade into the sunset tonight is the beauty of a day of meeting God’s people on mission, loving and serving Him, and those He appoints for their day. Praise Him! Praise Him! We can’t wait for tomorrow!

P.S. we get to connect with Laurel Luke tomorrow — we weren’t sure that would happen!

Steve, You've Got To Try This Waiting for a Ride