Day Nine: Celebrating 150 Years

Today, Sunday October 22 and next Sunday, October 29 are the two Sundays set aside to Celebrate Matthews Church’s 150 years of serving God. We were so blessed to take part in all aspects of the celebration. We left for Matthews Church at 10:30 this morning set on an 11:00 arrival time for services that began at 11:30. 

As with the last two Saturday nights, once again the Celebration was filled with music. I don’t think it is possible to over emphasize how important music is to the Latvian heart. Add to that heart a soul that longs to praise God and musical expression becomes an overflowing fountain. Today’s service also overflowed with prayer as every ministry area of the church was prayed over during the celebration. During the service all ages were involved in praising God –  even the littlest ones who sang “Jesus is my Friend”. At one point in the service Pastor Mike brought greetings from Suburban and prayed scripture over Matthews Church. And then Pastor Scott from Evergreen Baptist Church, a second sister Church from Bixby, Oklahoma, also brought greetings. After the celebration concluded, the whole congregation, including us two sisters, squeezed onto the stage and a photograph was taken of everyone. And then, homemade Latvian cake for all!

Matthews Church Celebrates 150 Years
Matiss Babrovskis translates for Pastor Mike

Pastor Scott from Evergreen Baptist Church, Bixby Oklahoma
 

Those of you from Suburban may remember the Latvia Link Team talking about a timeline project to honor Matthews Church. Erik Simmons visited Latvia in June to discuss the project and the idea shifted a bit to become a history booklet of Matthews Church. Today those history booklets were available in both English and Latvian. They are a beautiful reminder of God’s hand in the history of the church. Matthews gave both Sister Churches a gift too! We each took home a beautiful wooden clock made from the heart of a tree from Latvia’s forest and a plaque celebrating our friendship and partnership with Matthews Church. Each Pastor’s wife present was given a beautiful bouquet of flowers — another language of the Latvian heart.

Front Page of the 150th Celebration History Booklet
Inside pages of the 150th Celebration History Booklet
A Gift From Our Friends
 

After the congregational photograph and a piece of cake we climbed a couple of flights of stairs to “The Least of These” service. Today around 150 people came to worship, hear the Gospel preached, and to receive the blessing of a small portion of food. These people are in hard times – some are homeless, some struggle with addictions, all are in reduced circumstances. Steve was surprised by a request to share a word with them, but the Holy Spirit was not surprised as Steve shared from his quiet time this morning. It was perfect — the story of Nicodemus, a man who thought he had everything, but found he had nothing without Jesus. As Steve said, Nicodemus’ story is Steve’s story, and my story and the story of each and everyone of us until we decide to give ourselves to following Jesus body, mind, and soul. As Steve shared I stood beside him and prayed over these men and women God loves so much. And then at the end of the service we were privileged to help distribute food and bless each person in the name of Jesus. It felt like a holy communion – a sharing of the word of life and the bread of life all in the name of the One who died for us. I praise God for Janis Neiders, the far man in the picture below, and his tenacious devotion to this ministry.

Worship and Scripture shared in Latvian and Russian

From The Least of These service, we took off with Lauris, Marks and Anni and Gatis and Ance Olte to go for a walk on the banks of the Daulgava River. And last, but not least, off to a dinner of pizza with Gatis and Ance. It was so good to meet these two face to face as we’ve heard many glowing reports about them from our Volleyball Camp team over the years. They are every bit as wonderful as we’ve been told. 🙂

Ance and Gatis Olte of Volleyball Camp Fame

Pizza and Friends — a great combination!

Our day was non-stop from 10:30 to 8:30 and it was all good! We look forward to tomorrow, connecting with Hardijs Rosenfelds, Chairman of the Board for Matthews, and learning a bit about Latvian history.

Ciao!! 

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Day Eight: Connecting New and Old Friends

Our hotel includes a wonderful breakfast with our room, so we started our day together talking and laughing over a good meal. Just a bit about breakfast here — it isn’t the typical waffle, cold cereal and coffee meal we tend to get in the States. The selections are abundant and range from various cereals and muesli to eggs, bacon, cold cuts, cheeses, coffee cakes, yogurt, baked beans (Steve wants those for breakfast from now on), mushrooms, tomatoes, cucumbers, fruit, etc., etc. It is yummy and invites lingering and conversation.

We left the hotel about 11:00 to walk to a local flower vendor and then on up to Matthews Church and a visit at the Pastor’s home. Flowers speak the language of friendship and appreciation in Latvia and we knew we wanted to communicate that to our friends here. We may have looked a bit like an odd bridal party as we made our way through town to Matthews Church.

Flower vendor on Terbatas Iela
Hmmm – which is most handsome? Flowers or the Guys?

We arrived at Matthews just before noon. Lauris Grins met us there and took us up a few flights of stairs to the home of Pastor Ainars Purmalis, his wife Mairita, and their daughter ‘Anni’. They greeted us warmly and led us to their table which was decorated beautifully and covered with many delightful dishes. The Purmalis family also invited our friend Gatis Olte, Volleyball Camp planner and coach extraordinaire, and Lauris and his son Marks also joined us at the table. We enjoyed a wide ranging conversation learning more about each other’s lives and our mutual hearts to love and serve Jesus. We spoke of past partnership and of opportunities to come, including this coming summer’s Volleyball Camp — our third camp together. Pastor Mike presented Pastor Ainars with a letter and a card from Suburban’s Elders with congratulations on the 150th anniversary of Matthews Church. 

We left Ainars and Mairita’s warm company to walk a few blocks with Matiss Babrovskis to the apartment where he lives with his wife Elina and his 5 1/2 month old little girl Emma. Matiss is in year two of Baltic Pastoral Institute training. During this year of study Matiss serves as an intern at Matthews Church for three weeks of each month and attends classes at BPI for the other week of the month. Suburban has the privilege of providing some financial and prayer support for Mattis as he studies and prepares for full time ministry. Mattis participated in the program portion of this last summer’s Volleyball Camp and made a great impression on our team. He had creative ideas and the kids loved him. The actual sports portion of the camp is important and helps to connect the kids to one another and to both the American and Latvian coaches. But the importance of the program portion is it works to connect the kids to Jesus. We planted the seed of an idea with Matiss and Elina that they might someday come to Suburban for at least a couple of weeks or maybe even for a 3 month internship. This is only a dream at this point, but something we will pray about and see how God leads.

Around Mairita’s table
What a fellowship!
New friends! Randy, Mike, Elina, Matiss. Emma was sleeping. 🙂
From Matiss and Elina’s home we took a walk around a large and beautiful park right across the street from Matthews Church. During the summer months Mathews Church has a monthly sports outreach to local youth that happens in the park. Today the weather was crisp and clear and the leaves were golden, both on the trees and where they had fallen under our feet. So beautiful!

A golden October day

The next couple of hours we were at Matthews Church and blessed to hear excellent choral and instrumental music from adult and children’s choirs, small ensembles, and Christian classical guitarist Kaspars Zemitis. This is the first time I had the opportunity to hear a choral setting written by Kaspars and called “Mass” that consisted entirely of voices and guitar. There were several pieces interwoven including ‘Agnus Dei’, ‘Kyrie Eleison’, and ‘Sanctus’. All were beautifully and exquisitely done. Here is a link to Kaspars Zemitis presenting  one of the songs we heard this evening with another Latvian choir.  Kyrie Eleison by Kaspars Zemitis and Liepaja Choir

Matthews Church doorplate
God’s stained glass – the beauty of fall reflected in Matthews Church windows
Matthews Church choirs and instrumentalists — full praise to God!

Our day was full and tomorrow promises to be more of the same as we gather with Matthews Church for a special 150th anniversary Sunday celebration.

Day Seven: Pastor Mike and Randy Arrive (and Laima Candy Museum)

Originally Steve and I thought we would spend this day available in our room waiting for Mike and Randy to arrive. We realized the flaw in this plan was we needed to leave long enough for our room to be done up and fresh towels brought in. So we decided a tour of the Laima Chocolate Factory was in order.

Laima Chocolate Museum and Factory

Tiffany, our museum guide with excellent English language skills

Sampling Laima Drinking Chocolate

What a great PreSchool field trip

I’ve known since our first visit here that I enjoy Laima candies. Today I realized how important they have been in the contemporary life of Latvia. Even during occupations when Russian or Nazi forces claimed the factories as their own success stories, the heart and soul of those working in the factories has been about producing a Latvian product in a Latvian way with great excellence. Even the wrappers for the candies have communicated – sometimes about the world, sometimes about the candy, and honestly sometimes propaganda during occupation. When we were at the museum today, there was also a group of preschool aged children there. It was fun watching them tour and enjoy the samples Laima freely gives.

When we finished the tour we walked back to the hotel hoping to find our room ready. Not so much. In fact it was not ready until 3:30. We realized that a LOT of people checked out today and a LOT were checking in! We must have seen 100 or more check in as we waited for Mike and Randy to arrive. 

Mike and Randy arrived at 3:30 with all their luggage and completed a quick check in — thank you all for praying! We met at 5pm in the lobby and walked them up to Lido on Elisabetes Iela for a yummy authentic Latvian dinner. After dinner we took them on a walk down Brivibas Bulvaris (Freedom Bouvelard) and into Old Town. This was a brief tour mostly designed to keep them awake until at least 7:30 so they can somewhat adjust their bodies to the time here.

They’ve Arrived!

Tomorrow we will start with a long, slow morning, but then we’ll be engaged from noon until about 8pm. I’m looking forward to beginning our weekend of celebrating what God has done through Matthews Church! Please pray that we will honor and glorify God together as we remember and rejoice in this 150 year story of God’s faithfulness.

Day Six: Morning Walk and Brunch With Liva Fokrote, Dean of BPI

Today was a slightly slower pace with fewer appointments scheduled so we started our day with a walk to the Latvian National Library. The day dawned clear and beautiful – in fact, although there have been some showers and rainy walks since we arrived, for the most part we’ve walked in dry weather. This is a blessing for us, but we are thankful even more for this answer to prayer for Latvia. We hope the dry weather continues so farmers can bring in the harvest before it is too late!

The Latvian National Library building is located across the Daugava River about a mile and a half from where we are staying. The building is beautiful and functional and houses both books and historical collections of value to the people of Latvia. 

The Latvian National Library
Entry Area and Registration Desk

Steve in front of the Wall of Books

One of my favorite features of the Library is ‘The People’s Bookshelf”. This shelf is five stories high and is protected by a wall of glass. The people of Latvia have been encouraged to donate a personal book and to write the story of the book’s significance inside. When complete the wall will house 15,000 books. Today the collection is over 5,000 books. When I saw the library in 2015 Laima Dravniece shared that a Latvian Bible was the first book in The People’s Bookshelf.

Across the Daugava

Another lovely feature of the library is the incredible views, especially on a beautiful fall day like today. As visitors we were able to access up to the eighth floor (out of a total of 13) and the views were outstanding!

Across the Daugava

From the library Steve and I walked back across the river and to the Baltic Pastoral Institute (BPI) to spend some time visiting with Liva Fokrote, Dean. We got to know Liva back in 2014 when Steve and I first visited Latvia. Liva and Peteris Sprogis, Bishop of the Latvian Baptist Union, and Chuck Kelley, Director of Partners Latvia, worked together in 2008 to open this training school for those called to be Pastors. Liva is fun to talk to – intelligent and real, she clearly loves Jesus and these young men who want to grow in Him and serve His church. She shared some wisdom and some insights about how Americans can best partner with Latvians in spreading the Gospel to Latvians. 

Liva Fokrote, Dean of BPI making a point

After lunch we released Steve and I power walked with Liva back to the Baptist Union offices and where I had the privilege of meeting Līvija Godiņa, the retiring Director of Women’s Ministry and Agnese Megne, the incoming Director. I was impressed with the humble spirit of both of these women and their clear hearts for Jesus and the women who love Him. As I prepared to leave, I was introduced to a group of four women who are in Latvia to teach “Entrust”. Entrust is an excellent Women’s Ministry Training program that started in Austria. http://www.entrust4.org/home. My friend Martina has taken part in Entrust training, now in her second year, and has found it both challenging and a blessing. 

Baptist Union offices

This day is nearly done. For dinner tonight, Steve and I are splitting. I will enjoy a last meal with Martina while Steve goes in search of pizza! 😉 Tomorrow we will stick close to the hotel waiting eagerly for Pastor Mike and Randy to arrive. We can’t wait! Please pray for travel mercies and connections to fall in place — and luggage to arrive with the team! 🙂

Day Five: Inguna Raudina & Peteris & Baiba Eisans

During Suburban’s summer of 2015 trip to Latvia, our team was blessed with the language interpretation skills of Inguna Raudina a young woman of Matthews Church. The ladies from Suburban appreciated Inguna’s skills at interpretation and her evident love for Jesus and joy in the Lord. Today Steve and I got to have coffee with Inguna and catch up with where following Jesus has brought her at this time. A lot has changed in 2 1/2 years!

One year ago, with the help of Baltic Global Initiative Director Peteris Eisans (more about Peteris later), Inguna went on mission internship to Jordan. For three months she worked three days a week teaching English to children. Children of several nationalities, several language groups, several religions and various life status – including some refugee children. She lived with a local Pastor’s family and worked at developing relationships and growing in her understanding of what God had next for her life. 

Inguna Raudina – her tattoo is Ephesians 3:20, 21 in Arabic
When Inguna returned to Latvia she became a member of Vilandes Baptist Church in Riga and joined “Josiah Venture” https://www.josiahventure.com/ a mission organization focused on reaching and discipling the youth of Europe. Her primary area of ministry is youth camps, often the place that a young person chooses to follow Jesus. Josiah Venture also works to connect these young new believers to a local church and into a discipleship experience. Inguna is walking in faith as she serves the Lord through Josiah Venture and seeks to build her support base for her ministry life. Steve and I are praying with her that her support goals will be met and, even more importantly, for the youth of Europe to hear the Gospel message and respond!

Inguna Raudina

A couple of hours later we met Peteris and Baiba Eisans. It was so good to see both of them again, but honestly it was best to see Baiba since it has been a long time since we spoke face to face. Peteris and Baiba are doing well. Baiba does finances for a couple of organizations, one of which is Cru (Campus Crusade for Christ). Their three children are growing up! Ruta is nearly 15, Philips is 11 and Edwards is 6. Peteris’ role as Director of Baltic Global Initiative keeps him busy with travels and several projects. A top project right now is The Kairos Project, an educational series that encourages individuals to engage in cross-cultural missions. In January Peteris will fly to the west coast and spend time in Portland presenting at Mission Connexion, spend time with Suburban (hooray!), and spend some time in California working with a group that will help him discover and apply for grants to help with various projects. Peteris has very clear vision, passion and drive to see the gospel transform lives in the Baltic nations, but also to see the churches of the Baltic nations become sending churches engaged in cross-cultural missions.

We spoke of possible projects for the future – projects that could unite U.S. churches with Baltic churches and BGI for God’s greater glory. Talking to Peteris is always a great encouragement and spiritual shot in the arm. 🙂

Peteris and Baiba Eisans

I’ve got a new friend!

Today was my follow up appointment with Uljana Semjonova.  As it turned out, forgetting to bring my Gold Medal to the first meeting was a brilliant strategy, because it necessitated a second meeting.  Today’s meeting was much shorter but even more friendly, if that’s possible.

When we arrived Uljana almost immediately pulled out her 1980 Gold Metal, signaling me to present my 1984 Gold Medal.  She was very excited to see it, and I was able to help place it around her neck.  She also offered her 1980 Gold Medal for me to wear.  Talk about a photo-op.  This was the first time Uljana had seen a 1984 Gold Medal.  It was really cool that the first one she saw was actually for women’s basketball.

I asked if she was able to watch any of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic games and she said: “No, no, no.” while wagging her finger.   Uljana said they were training hard for the 1984 Olympics and only learned three weeks prior to the games that they would not be going.  They cried.

I can honestly say that I’ve not met anyone as excited to see my Gold Medal as Uljana Semjonova.  We stood side by side for our entire visit.  Every time I moved to create some space so we could talk, she pulled me back next to her.  I think I have a new friend.

I was pleased to be able to present Uljana with a personal donation to her foundation and she was truly touched.

Uljana asked if we would be returning to Riga again next year.  When we said we would like to return she made us promise that we would call her as soon as we got into town.  She indicated that it’s difficult for her to go out into public places because people are always coming up to here.  She talked about having us over to her apartment next time.  I told her that I would love to meet with her again, and that I was interested in hearing more of her great stories.

Until next time…

We are excited for…

What a way to start a new day and week in a new country (for me, most of the team has been here before) with worship at Matthews Church! My ears are still enjoying the music they shared.

Directly following service, our team and Latvian cohorts walked over to the gym facilities to make last minute preparations and plans for the camp that’s happening this week.

We spent the evening having traditional Latvian food. The food was awesome, but that wasn’t the highlight. People and relationships with them are, which is why we are so thankful to have the opportunity to be a part of this Latvia church family. It is so good to share the same goals and work together in pursuit of showing the love God has for each one of us and how it is so worth following Him!