Fourteen people, relatively unknown to each other, with a mission departed the UK and France the week of June 11. On June 17 we met up in Riga, Latvia and journeyed two hours north east to rural Sakarni, a village inhabited by the country’s unwanted drunks and their families, comprised mostly of children. Four in our group visited the village a year ago including Glad and me; this being our fifth visit for the two of us.
In addition we also travelled a further 40 minutes each day of our visit to Seda, where 65% of the population abandoned the village where we assisted in the refurbishment of the SA outpost there.
This included scraping, sanding and preparing walls for the 2 coats of paint that followed over the next several days. The paint was donated by Repaint Scotland, Glasgow and the painting equipment by Chris & Brett Turvey, Exeter Temple. Our visit also included some fascinating inter-action with the local residents.
Latvia was for a number of years under Soviet Union occupation with hundreds of thousands of Russians moved to Latvia. With the Russians invasion came their language, culture and religion. Although the Soviet Union collapsed more than two decades ago remnants of their power and influence remain, including Orthodox Churches and their many colourful icons.
The word icon (IKON) comes from he Greek and means mirror or reflection. In the early days of the Salvation Army’s initial presence in Russia it was not unusual to find an icon mounted in a SA hall in Leningrad or Moscow. There was the restriction though that they could only portray the face of Jesus, and they had to be mounted on the wall to the left as one entered the SA hall. The Russian Orthodox Cross was also featured on the SA crest in Russia.
On our very first day in Seda we were about to break for a late lunch when three children, well known to the Corps Officers, entered and exclaimed: ‘Our Mom is drunk again and can’t manage to fix us a meal, can we please have some food’ ? Naturally, plates where quickly put infront of them and with love, heaps of food. As you serve the least of these, you mirror Jesus.
Day two, Arturto a young gypsy boy whose family are regular visitors to the Corps programmes came and watched as we began our painting of the exterior walls. His arm was crudly wrapped and I asked him what had happened. He shared that he had broken his arm the day before and having no money and with no medical facilities nearby the arm would simply have to heal as best as possible. I invited Arturto into my car and said: “Come on, we will go and pick up your mother and have your arm looked at by a doctor’. Four hours later we were back in Seda with Arturto proudly sporting a white cast. He was welcomed as though he were a gypsy Prince; well why not? He's the son of a King, portrayed on Icons throughout the country!
Sergey’s eye glasses had been prescribed several years earlier and were now missing one side and the lenses thick and cloudy looked like a London road map had been scrawled on them. When Sergie wore the glasses one eye twitched and crossed and flitted when trying to focus. In that we were planning an excursion to Riga, the capital the next day,
The Wright sisters took it on themselves to take the glasses with them for repair or replacement. They spoke to two different opticians and both warned that any further wearing of the glasses could do irreparable harm to Sergey’s eyes. The sister’s immediately provided he funding necessary to bring Sergey to town for an eye examination and to be provided new spectacles. A new sight and vision; the promise of Jesus.
The sisters traveled to Latvia by road carrying with them in their camper a long list of donated items collected by or given directly by them. Their kindness provided beauty to the windows, updated equipment to the kitchen, a portable childrens cot and loads and loads of candy!
Haircuts in Seda are few and far between.
Ann, a registered nurse, had carried with her all the necessary equipment to first of all provide a hygienic rinse for each child followed by a haircut. The boys lined up and one even invited Ann to his home to meet the family and to introduce his barber to them! Ann also served as our resident nurse. Her association with me goes back 25 years when we both served in the NY Central Corps. She loved and cared for our homeless visitors to the corps and continues to reflect the love of Jesus.
Mark, a veteran missioner joined with Gillian and Helen to organize a steady round of games. And yesterday while enjoying shashlik, a Latvian favourite, the village lads ganged up to give Mark a real football match.
Mark held his own and gained several fans and supporters in the space of just a few minutes; a modern day Loyola preaching as he kicks the ball in a remote Latvian village. We hope Mark becomes a ‘regular’ team member.
Ivan a Ukrainian by birth, and a Salvationist living in Glasgow, Scotland, served as an all purpose coordinator and translator, being fluent in three languages. Ivan, Glad and I went to the village shop to purchase a few food items, including potatoes. The potatoes were moldy and we decided to drive the 20 minutes to town when we spotted the farmer's wife. She'd set up shop behind the village store and her total offering consisted of a large amount of dill and a few kilos of 'last year's potatoes'! After a few seconds of consultation we said, "we'll buy it all"! "All"??? "Yes, all"!
We paid a bit more than she'd asked for... and she wept with gratitude... probably the most delicious potatoes I've ever eaten; sprinkled with a generous helping of dill!
He also assisted his brother Kostia, also a Salvationist and from the Paisley Corps, Scotland in purchasing and preparing our many meals. Much of the shopping was done in a town some thirty miles away.
On our last day a pamper afternoon had been planned for the ladies but it was as if God had other things in mind as Heather and Glad found themselves washing and massaging an old ladies arms, hands, legs and feet.
As Glad sat on the floor at her feet lovingly creaming them for her, the old lady wept and explained she can’t sleep because of such severe pain in her legs and feet and last night she was so wracked with pain she prayed, begging God to help her cope and ease the pain. Today, He sent His angels to do just that.
Lewis was a key member of the 2010 team and returned again in 2011. In addition to leading the paint team he also provided 2 vocal solos in the Sunday morning service lending just the right setting for the morning’s message and candle lighting ceremony.
Derek, the senior member of our team blessed us with his fine tenor voice and good humour. In addition, he and his home corps provided the team shirts and also 55 children’s SA shirts. And they also donated the money necessary to bring all the children to Riga in December when we host their Christmas party and take them to the circus.
Our mission team came to paint and paint we did; the interior and exterior of a sizeable SA building. But in a sense, we also painted icons. Perhaps not consciously but we were the brushes Jesus used in reflecting His love in that poor abandoned Latvian village.
If someone should ask in five years what were the names of the people who painted the SA hall in Seda, chances are that few will remember. On the other hand, if people ask whose were the hands that touched your heart they may not remember the name of the UK visitors but I believe they will remember that the smile, the loving words and soothing touch were all a reflection of a loving Jesus.
FSAOF in Latvia