Our Trip Ends, But the Journey Begins

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.

http://www.charlesdavidkelley.com/Welcome.html

"Festival of Light Goes to the Opera"
“Festival of Light Goes to the Opera” by 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!

Lido Restaurant - Riga, Latvia
Lido Restaurant – Riga, Latvia

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

A Slower Paced Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baltic Pastoral Institute – Day 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love and blessings!
Steve and Claudia

Praising the Lord Together

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Day of Firsts

2 Year Old Edvards - the Newest Beaver
2 Year Old Edvards – the Newest Beaver

Friday was a day of ‘firsts’, but before I talk about that day, I just had to post a picture of Edvards, Peter and Baiba’s 2 year old boy. When we had dinner at their home on Thursday night we gave them the various gifts we brought for them – quillows from Maxx, cards from Lori, a scarf from Tina and various Beaver clothing from us and SCC. This is Edvards in his new hat which he loved!

Chuck and Vineta
Chuck and Vineta

We started Friday off with breakfast by Chuck where we enjoyed getting to know his Lativian fellow workers – Vineta Zale and Lienite Bemere. Chuck is President of ‘Bridge Builders International’ the organization that facilitates sister church relationships and so much more for the Latvian Evangelical church and churches stateside. You can learn more about Chuck’s organization at the link below. Vineta and Lienite both share Chuck’s passion and vision for the Latvian church and bring their unique gifting into the partnership. It was a joy to get to know them more and find out how to pray for them!
http://www.bridgebuildersint.com/People.html

Pastor Girts Asnevic
Pastor Girts Asnevic
Vilandes Baptist Church
Vilandes Baptist Church

After breakfast Peter picked us up for a brief auto-tour of Riga Baptist Churches on our way to meet Matthews Church staff. Our first stop was Vilandes Baptist Church where we met Pastor Girts Asnevic. God utilized a unique method of church planting in Riga. At the fall of Soviet Russia, church buildings that had been confiscated for Soviet use were returned to the use of church bodies. Wherever a church was returned a Pastor came and a congregation began. Initially the pent up demand for places to gather, learn, worship and serve the Lord meant a large influx of believers into these churches. Today it is harder, but faithful service still bears fruit for the Lord. I asked Pastor Asnevic how we could pray for him and his request is for more leaders in the church.

Matthews Church, 61 Matisa iela, Riga, Rigas Pilseta
Matthews Church, 61 Matisa iela, Riga, Rigas Pilseta

At Matthews Church we enjoyed meeting with staff members Andis Miezītis, Small Group leader and Preacher; Maris Dravnieks, Worship Minister; and Liene Indrane, Children’s Minister. We heard them share their ministries and the prayer requests of each heart. For Andis – more leaders; for Maris – fresh inspiration as he leads worship; and for Liene – more volunteers. I know that Jamey Mills, Randy Tryon and Kim Simmons could all relate to those requests! By the way, I included the Matthews Church address in the caption of the picture to the left. If you are a Google Earth user, google the address and you can see the streets we were on yesterday!

Before we left for the apartment, Peter took us on a tour of the building. It is a beautiful and very versatile structure. I especially enjoyed peeking in on one room of their pre-school where a whole flock of little ones slept soundly. I could only imagine the energy in that room just a short time later!  Another thing I was taken with – there is a picture of a banner that hangs in a stairwell. It has been in that place for some time and Peter couldn’t really tell me about it, but it spoke to me. The spire of a church is in the background and I see people perhaps bent in sorrow, but certainly bent in prayer.  I forgot to mention that just before the tour of Matthews Church we were privileged to share lunch with this group of Pastors. We ate what the Pre-schoolers ate that day — a delicious traditional soup that I think was very similar to the recipe I found for Frikadelle Soup and a very light Strawberry puree that I think might have been Strawberry Kisiel – a recipe from Belarus. I say ‘I think’ because our new friends weren’t sure of the names of the items and the wonderful cook couldn’t speak English and was very shy!

http://www.jsonline.com/features/recipes/188905941.html

http://laurenaiken1.wordpress.com/2012/05/18/strawberry-kisiel-forever/

The final first for Friday was a ‘Steve and Chuck Only’ opportunity. Peter came and picked up Steve and Chuck and whisked them off to a Pastor’s home to the northeast of Riga. This Pastor has a sauna in his basement and often hosts sauna (pronounced sow-nah) parties for the local Baptist Pastors. Ten men, all local Pastors plus a not-so-local Pastor, gathered together to eat and sweat and cool off and talk together, a very traditional and ancient practice. I didn’t get to hear all of the details of this male-bonding event, but it sounded like a  little bit of heaven — even though it WAS hot! Over the course of the night Steve went three times for 15 minutes each time into the ‘oven’ – one time it was 180 degrees in there! After the 15 minutes in the sauna, the men went to the outside porch to cool off. A wood stove heated the sauna and water was poured over the hot rocks to create a rising steam. All of this made for an interesting experience, but what sounded like heaven to me is that the guys talked and talked and talked! Again, I’m not privy to the details, but I know a lot of really good sharing went on in the midst of heat, rising steam and ten men who really love the Lord. Hmmm – I wonder if we could add a sauna on to our house in Corvallis?

A Riga Sauna
A Riga Sauna

Today Peter and Baiba pick us up for more touring – including a climb to the top of one of the highest steeples in Riga and a tour through some Russian bunkers! Tomorrow our work begins in earnest as Steve will preach at Matthews Church and then Monday we begin teaching at the Baltic Pastoral Institute. We feel your prayers – thank you so much! We also love and miss you! May the God of grace give you everything you need to fulfill every good purpose of HIS and Yours as you serve Him!

Love and blessings, Claudia and Steve

Walking Tour With Chuck Kelley

We arrived safe and sound and got to enjoy hugs from Baiba and meet her two boys Filips and Edvards when she picked us up at the Riga Airport. Then on to Chuck’s apartment and settling into our temporary housing here in Riga. Chuck needed to keep us awake until 9:00 p.m. Riga time, so we took off on a walking tour of old town Riga. What a beautiful city! Chuck is an awesome tour guide and knows the fascinating history of this city well. Then this evening Peter and Baiba treated us to dinner at their house where we got to meet Ruta and their cousin Tom, as well as enjoy Chuck’s company.

What a sweet start to this journey together!

Almost There!

Our journey began on Tuesday, February 17 in Portland. Steve and I spent the night there because our flight out on Wednesday left Portland at 6:00 a.m. I’m posting a quick update as we sit in the Frankfurt, Germany airport waiting to board the plane for the last leg of our journey to Riga. We are getting close!

Repacking - 'Semper Gumby'
Repacking – ‘Semper Gumby’

Our dear friend and partner in serving the Lord, Kim Simmons, told us before we left that our theme for the journey is “Semper Gumby” or in English “Always Flexible”. That motto was put to use first on Tuesday night. When we got our luggage into the room thinking we’d hit the hay early, the handle on my bag would NOT go down! It was stuck in the upright and locked position. So we made an emergency run to the local Target to get me a new bag. I am thankful on so many levels for this little excursion. The Target was nearby, the bag was the right size, and I was thrilled it happened at 6:00 p.m. the night BEFORE we flew and not at 3:45 a.m. the morning that we needed to catch our flight! THANK YOU LORD!

 

Chicago and Blue Skies
Chicago and Blue Skies

The rest of our journey today has been long, but wonderfully uneventful! We breezed through security in Portland, encountered beautiful blue skies in Chicago, and had an uneventful, and shockingly comfortable flight to Frankfurt! One more leg to go!

On Monday night the SCC Ministry leaders prayed over us after our quarterly meeting. Carey shared this scripture from Isaiah 59:21:

“As for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the LORD. “My Spirit, who is on you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will not depart from your mouth, or from the mouths of your children, or from the mouths of their descendants from this time on and forever,” says the LORD.

I see this as a promise for us at SCC and for our brothers and sisters at Matthews Church in Riga. I love this picture of the Word of the Lord in our mouths, the mouths of our children, our grandchildren, and on and on! I can’t wait to see this promise unfolding over the next days and weeks and months!

Blessings – Steve and Claudia