Tuesday, March 4 – Steve and I are home safe and sound and actually awake after a good night’s sleep in Portland. We left Chuck’s place in Riga at 3:30 a.m. Monday morning, which translates to 5:30 p.m. Sunday evening in Oregon time, and traveled through Frankfurt and San Francisco to arrive in Portland at 7:45 p.m. Monday night. Traveling 26 hours mostly in daylight is a bit disorienting, but the fact that we can cross half the world in such a short time and do so in relative comfort counts as a modern day miracle in my book. Everything went well with the exception of a surprise about our luggage on the first flight out of Riga. All in all we have nothing to complain about and new information to tuck into our heads and hearts for future trips. Plus we brought back chocolate! Lots and lots of chocolate! 🙂
There are so many things that I will keep in my heart and savor over the coming weeks and months. I’m eager to share my experiences with the women I love from Suburban, some of whom were mentioned by name in the prayer teachings I shared with the women of Matthews Church and BPI. Steve and I will also have opportunity to share our experiences at a Senior’s Potluck later in March and we’ll share briefly in a Mission Moment at SCC on Sunday morning March 16.
We will keep the Suburban Latvia Link bog active. You won’t receive daily updates until the next trip, but off and on we will keep you updated with prayer requests and information about what is happening with our Sister Church relationship. As Steve and I process this most recent trip, there may be one or two more posts about that experience.
We can’t thank you enough for your prayers and support. From a personal standpoint I can tell you that this trip has been an amazing experience of obedience, walking in faith, trusting the Lord and seeing His sufficiency and provision. It is a delight to experience the reality of body of Christ relationships halfway around the world. I felt like ‘family’ from the moment I met my brothers and sisters in Riga. I hope we have the blessing of welcoming some of them into our Suburban home over the coming years too!
Love you all and can’t wait to see you at SCC!
Steve and Claudia
Sunday, March 2 — It is hard to believe that in about 7 hours we will be heading to the Riga airport to catch a Lufthsana flight for Frankfurt, Germany for the first leg of our trip home.
The opera last night was quite an experience! The National Opera is topnotch and they presented “The Marriage of Figaro” with professionalism and creativity. We attended as the guests of Peter and Baiba and all of us thoroughly enjoyed the opera orchestra, the staging, the voices — it was all so well done. It think we were all a bit surprised at the rather ribald nature of the story line of this particular opera. I confess, had I done my research ahead of time, we would’ve been more prepared for this as even in Mozart’s time “The Marriage of Figaro” was considered risque. In some ways the impressions I’m left with after the opera are a perfect picture of what I will be praying for Latvia. There is immense national pride here and a treasuring of freedom. The people love music and cherish history. They are cultured and modern in their thought and the culture is challenged by the same things that challenge American culture. They long to grow in the Lord, see others come to Him, and see culture transformed by the light and life of Jesus.
Today Steve and I were blessed by Chuck Kelley as he allowed us to choose one of his paintings to take home. I love this because a painting is the perfect prayer reminder for me. We chose his painting called “Festival of Light Goes to the Opera”. The painting will hang in a very visible place in our home as a reminder to pray for Latvia. I really enjoy Chuck’s paintings. You can see some of his work at the following link or look online for artist Charles David Kelley.
This morning we returned to Matthews Church and heard Peter preach. It was Communion Sunday and I thoroughly enjoyed the services. A larger choir sang this weekend and did a wonderful job lifting even us English speakers to the Lord. There is a special lectern reserved for the preaching of the Word and Peter stopped and knelt to pray as he stepped up into the lectern. At communion time the men came forward to serve communion all dressed in dark suits. Before serving communion everyone of them knelt around the table to pray private prayers of confession. I loved seeing these men humbly doing this and being the first-fruits of personal confession for this body of believers. Peter’s sermon was good solid Bible teaching from Luke chapter 5.
One other unique and helpful thing at Matthews Church – since Peter is there early and then preaches two services, the ladies of the church provide a snack for him to enjoy in his office between services. There is a half hour between the services and generally Peter doesn’t leave church until 2:00 p.m. which is when the family eats lunch/dinner together. The snack really does tide him over. Although they think of it as a ‘snack’ both weeks that we got to partake of it, the food was wonderful! Colorful, beautifully presented, tasty — something I would expect to see in a very nice deli at home!
Hmmm – I’m not at all hungry, but I seem to be focused on food because now I’m thinking about the amazing lunch we enjoyed! We took Peter, Baiba, Ruta, Felips and Edvards to lunch to say ‘thank-you’ for the way they took care of us during our stay. We went to a unique and HUGE restaurant called “Lido”. Lido has about every type of food you can imagine. The food is cafeteria style and there are stations for fish, chicken, beef, pork, pancakes, salads, desserts, etc., etc. The food was also excellent! So often it seems like cafeteria food is abundant, but not all that appetizing. This was definitely not the case at Lido. The prices are also very reasonable. So if you come to Riga, be sure you try a Lido before you leave!
This has been a trip of many firsts for me and Steve. It has been personally enriching and encouraging. We’ve made many new and delightful friends and gotten to know some ‘already-friends’ much, much better. Even in such a short time we feel we know our Latvian brothers and sisters better and our hearts have been knit together. We still don’t have the full picture of what the future will bring, but we are eager to explore that together. Steve will bring some ideas home to our Missions Ministry Team and soon a group will be called together to help pray into and formulate plans.
Many thanks for each of you who helped support this trip, who have prayed for us over the course of this trip, and who we now ask to pray us home! Thank you to Bill Zipp for maps, and books, and hints and encouragement. And a heartfelt thank-you to Chuck Kelley for his amazing hospitality and helps for us while we’ve been in Latvia. Chuck loves Latvia and he loves the Lord and his evident love reaches into the heart of anyone who spends time with him.
“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” Ephesians 3:20,21
Saturday, March 1, 2014 — Once again today we enjoyed a slower pace. We had only two commitments today; early this afternoon I enjoyed sharing with the wives and fiancees of the men from the Baltic Pastoral Institute and this evening Steve and I get to attend the national opera with Peter and Baiba.
Steve and I are just beginning to feel comfortable with finding our way around Old Town Riga. We learned earlier in the week how to get through Old Town and to the Baltic Pastoral Institute (BPI), but finding our way around where Chuck lives has been a challenge. We walked around a bit this morning and had lunch at a little Italian place with good pizza for Steve and good salad and soup for me. On the map below, we are located very near the Domed Cathedral.
After lunch Steve walked me part way to the BPI where I met with the wives and fiancees and he went on to the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia. Latvia was occupied from 1940 through 1991 first by the Soviets, then by the Nazi’s and once again by the Soviets. The Occupation was a very hard time and there are many still alive today who remember gaining freedom. What is happening in the Ukraine is disturbing for Latvians. It raises their fears about losing their freedom and coming then again under Russian rule. If you’d like to know more about the Occupation, please check out the museum site link below.
I loved sharing with the wives and fiancees of the Pastors from BPI. I’ve been in the place these young women find themselves and I spoke a word of encouragement to them. Then they asked questions! I hope and pray that what I shared in answer was an encouragement to hang on and to trust that God can provide them all they need for life and godliness.
Soon we head to the opera. I took some pictures as I walked by there today because tonight it will be dark. I think Steve is even looking forward to this new experience! I also included some random pictures from last night and today. Enjoy!
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.