Monday, 25 May 2009

Questions, dilemmas and privileges

To own or not to own land that is the question! Well actually it isn't at the moment as we don't qualify yet. The law in Latvia is foreigners cannot own Latvian agricultural land - yet! EU citizens maybe able to in a couple of years time or after a qualifying period of three years in agriculture or if the local authorities agree or.... something like that. What it does do though is raise some interesting questions regarding ownership. Ownership of land and land rights are a contentious issue all over the world. Ownership rights are being fought for for vulnerable groups like indigenous populations and for women as they get excluded from land because they are not powerful enough in their society; that then means they can't access wood for fuel or land to grow crops to support themselves. Ownership rights are quite new in historical terms even if there have always been different ways of distributing access to land. Ownership rights in England meant the loss of common land for the poor to graze their animals on several hundred years ago. More recently ownership rights just meant that big businesses and the rich could buy up what they wanted leaving the poor hunting for work in the low paid factories or as poorly paid farm workers instead of raising food for themselves. So is ownership a good thing or a bad thing? I am sure there will be much discussion on that in the future in the corridors of power and in the desperate circumstances of others regarding the subject. As for us, the time is not yet.

What it also means for us is that we are going to take on the responsibility of a piece of land, to steward it for the foreseeable future and invest in it as a piece of land that belongs to God not to us. That requires trust on our part and our friends, who own the piece of land, which is quite an alien concept these days, so I think that is significant in itself. So the next few months should prove interesting as we try and find out what we can and can't do with the piece of land, and we will enjoy the process while we are it, bringing the land back into use. 
These pictures are of the land from April when it had just got rid of all the snow. The lake unfortunately was temporary as it has now dried up and there wasn't really meant to be a lake there anyway. Mind you it looked so nice we are seriously tempted to make it a permanent feature - now just have to convince the authorities that it would be perfect.

One thing we can own here in Latvia is an apartment so we had the apartment that we have lived in for the last year finally signed across to us. Again that was on trust as we have been doing up the place and just about completed it apart from some minor details without our name being on any papers. The reason for not doing it before has been time, as our friends are so busy with preparing for camps and raising two small boys. At least finally we got around to getting it done and we got to spend time with the family too. Many of the antics of the little ones I find quite amusing now I don't have to deal with my own kids and their quirky little ways when they want something (hmmm maybe somethings don't change - only kidding!). 

We had a bit of a disaster with the truck whilst ferrying some stuff about this week as our rear window on the truck cover smashed to smithereens. The stuff we were ferrying about was sticking out of the rear of the truck and we couldn't fasten the rear window down, so just left it up as we normally do in those circumstances, but Ian forgot about it and hit a bump which the window decided it didn't like, so disintegrated in protest. The most galling thing for Ian was he had only just got the window to lock properly and cleaned the back out the other day, but today after a short drive down the gravel roads it was filled with dust again. Do you like his temporary repair job? He is hero of the week as he made this despite feeling not so good.

Sunday, 24 May 2009


Today's praise is for Inspiring books 

This Beautiful Mess by Rick McKinley  "We felt like the disciples must have felt when Jesus sent them out. A lot of times they didn't know where they were going, or why, or what they should do when they got there. They just went, and as it turned out, going was what mattered most."

This phrase is just how we feel as we have gone where God has sent us and that matters. We've journeyed with God from Sheffield to Barlow in Derbyshire (only 10 miles but a big step of faith), from Derbyshire to Denmark, from Denmark to America and America to Latvia, learning along the way. 

Another praise is for the hugs from the youths who live in the orphanage we have been to a few times. It is lovely to feel accepted and loved by them when we meet them in the church meeting.

Saturday, 23 May 2009


Fresh eggs! A gift from a neighbour, we haven't had such fresh eggs since we moved and had to get rid of our hens.

Also listening to some good Christian music, like water to my soul.

Friday, 22 May 2009


For Food, friends and fellowship! Aren't they just great?

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Today really is Thursday

Just realised I have got this week all wrong. So today is THURSDAY! and remarkably yesterday was Wednesday not Tuesday. Oh dear! Anyway today I am grateful for the hotel, faithfully serving up good food every week. If you haven't been then here is the website

The crisis is hitting hard here so go on if you fancied a holiday and wondered where to go then think about this little place, it's a beautiful, warm and friendly place to be.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Tuesdays delight

I have loved the places where God has lead us to live. I am a country girl at heart and although we live in an apartment now there is still a huge garden outside where I can see the locals getting their veg patches ready for the year. Dandelions are often a nuisance for gardeners but I think they are beautiful and I love the way they open wide for the sun and they are such a cheerful yellow, they really lift my spirits. So here is my home or rather some of the views from nearby.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Mondays offering

Thank God for blog posts and RSS feeds. I awoke this morning with such a strong sense of unease and I was really encouraged to read Martin Scott's blog (whoops forgot the link) about this being a time of debate and a strong call to justice.  He also wrote 

"Those who have been learning to be confident in God in the hidden place will find that there are now fresh revelation and relationships that will come forth. Anticipate to begin to be connected with others who have been on the same journey.

Debate that provokes maturity has begun."

This was just what I needed to hear. Not a nice comfortable message but one that reminded me that I am on a journey and others are tracking the same route, we just haven't met up yet.

Some of the other blogs I follow are 

1. - a pastor with a strong environmental awareness and instead of acres of green belonging to the church they grow vegetables to feed the poor some good wholesome food - I respect that.

2. - for recipe tips and the sheer joy of growing things. (Our potatoes have started to peep through today, very exciting.)

3. - an artist to has left his home and his security and shares his thoughts both in words and pictures and they have been very helpful.

Don't forget if you want to share something you are more than welcome.

For those who have already seen the post sorry, I noticed some editing needed doing

Monday, 18 May 2009

And so it begins

Life is springing up around our house and I am still fighting a losing battle for workspace on my desk as the seeds begin to sprout and need potting on. The good news is that at last some of the plants can be put outside or rather they could go out most days, one day was so cold I didn't dare put them out, otherwise the poor little things would have frozen. Winter hasn't quite finished yet even if it is only in the cold breeze which felt like it had made a quick detour around Siberia before reaching us. One thing we were surprised at is that anything survived under the two foot of snow over winter but we have been able to get our first harvest of the year Swiss Chard and swede (rutabaga) leaves which tastes like Spring greens. The swedes had been nibbled on by the deer over winter but as soon as the snow disappeared so did the deer and therefore the swedes recovered and started sprouting, couldn't say the same for the cabbage which were reduced to stalks. Our marjoram and parsley has also recovered and doing well, so that is encouraging for next year. Although it feels like winter has not quite lost its grip on us the sun takes a long time to go down now and it is very light even at 10 pm as you can see from the photos. I woke up in the middle of the night this week and it said 3:50 am on the clock but the day was certainly beginning as there was a glimmer of light outside. 

A bit random I know (so is this picture - a stick eaten by bugs found in Cyprus still on my camera several months later) but I thought I would tell you about shopping here in Latvia as it is not quite like shopping in the UK or the US where there is a huge range of things to choose from. We found the same problem in Denmark where we lived for 3 years being small countries (Denmark 5m & Latvia 2.3m population) they just do not have the range of stuff available - you might be able to order it but you can't really go and see it and buy it there and then. The range was improving quite rapidly early on last year here in Latvia, each time we went to any builders merchants there was always something different but that was last year. The crash happened and suddenly things started disappearing from the shelves as they weren't restocked, don't get me wrong there is still far more in the shops than when we first came in 2000 but it is just not as much as there was 6 months ago. The problem is with the limited range of things it makes shopping difficult to plan and sometimes you have to impulse buy, if you see it and think it might possibly come in useful or you may need it sometime - get it! You might never see it again or when you actually do need it it won't be there, it makes shopping an opportunistic exercise and not a planned expedition. Strange what Denmark prepared us for!

I was thinking about whether to go more newsy or whether to carry on with my thoughts etc in the way I do, and decided both are a part of me. I think.... I think a lot and it weaves in with what I do and where I go. I mull things around in my mind, chew on them and try to see things from different angles. I want to know about how the world works, I want to understand why it is the way it is and how it can be changed, I want to know what God's perspective is on it all. I was getting really annoyed with a paper I had to read for my course, my thoughts were more along the lines of "what is wrong with the guy" and "what's his problem" and "why is this paper in the list of readings I have to do?" It hit me at some point as I tried to mull it over that he was doing for Development Management what Ian and I are mulling over regarding the whole idea of church, trying to look at every aspect of it and say "is this bit right?", "why do we do that?" and "is there good reason for doing that?" At times it can seem pedantic and sometimes it seems destructive but then again so many things have been built into the church that doesn't need to be there so unless you critique things you will not acknowledge the problems. Ignoring the value of critiquing is like burying your head in the sand and pretending everything is fine. The problem with critiquing though is it does not help on its own to advance the practical positive actions we can take. More of that later!

One blog struck me this week which was about non-invasive native and invasive non-native species in the garden and relating those to our own lives and how our wilderness years (we all have them it is part and parcel of faith) determines what we think is important in our lives. The non-native species that we bring in can take a lot of work, they might look good but can take over. It struck me that our programmes and projects taken from one country and tried out in the church life of another country can be like invasive non-native species, all show and requiring a lot of work whereas we are meant to be discovering the native species that thrive well and bring those into the church life, something indigenous to the country we are in. They might not be as exciting at first but God is the gardener and has designed our planet to reflect his glory in different ways in different parts of the world and when we get in the flow of that it will look good and work well.

I was talking earlier about practical positive actions, well I have decided that I will take some positive action this week and see where it all goes. Each day this week I am going to post a thank you or a praise or something that inspires me and you can join me in this by posting your own comment if you would like to.

So the journey begins! (A comment I wrote in my personal journal this week, no idea what or where but just such a sense of something starting).

Monday, 11 May 2009

Latvian life

Latvia's run of good luck in the ice hockey ran out on Thursday as they were knocked out in the quaterfinals against Canada, Canada won 4-2. We went out for a meal at the hotel as usual (how predictable we are!) and just as we were pulling into the car park, I remembered that Latvia was supposed to be playing ice-hockey that evening and they had a projector to televise the game at the hotel, I had visions of a packed hotel later on. To our surprise the game had already started when we got in, but a very subdued crowd of a half a dozen teenagers were the only ones in, I had a feeling the expectations of Latvia winning was rather low. There was some attempt at cheering when Latvia scored but hardly enthusiastic, so at least apart from the blaring television we managed a meal in relative peace, better than I feared anyway.

I was flabbergasted by the Swedish finance minister this week as he decided to have a go at the Latvian government by insisting they get their finances right, insisting that the Latvians had to take greater responsibility in order to have a sustainable future. Nothing about the responsibility of the Swedish banks who contributed so much to the unsustainable nature of Latvia's previous growth. Well our Latvian neighbours are doing their bit for a sustainable future - they are planting potatoes! 
We have had a spell of dry weather and as soon as we had a shower of rain the Latvians were out hand ploughing their land and planting potatoes. We have noticed there have been far more men out in the gardens this year, usually gardening is either a woman's job or an old man's job (I bet Ian gets a few odd looks out there on his own so often). I am not sure if it is a sense of desperation or just making sure that at least they will have food on the table later on in the year. There is one thing for sure though, I would like the Swedish finance minister to come and take a good look at the folks out there working so hard and see if he still wants the Latvian government to make even deeper cuts. No country should have to go through so much pain so quickly and this is the second time; the first time was the rapid conversion to capitalism in the early 90's from the security of the Soviet system (imperfect though that was it did mean security for many). The Latvian system is not perfect and does need reform but not like this, the rapid change can be so destructive especially when so many are still in shock that so much seems to be unravelling so quickly for them, their dreams dying at their feet. I keep praying for hope but there is nothing on the horizon yet but I know it is just a matter of time. There is a God who cares and provides and something special is out there for Latvia, I just can't see it yet.

We went to a prayer meeting this morning and it was a slightly different format to normal as we were joined by a few others to start praying for the camps that the church will be involved in over the summer. Many who attended were English speakers so it was very refreshing to be singing in English again, even if I did have to look at the words as I can't remember English songs any more. Ian played his djembe drum and at one point he carried on playing after the music stopped, it was a real battle drum beat and I felt like a battle was certainly going on in the Heavenlies and the atmosphere was left refreshed like the freshness after a rain storm in summer. He also felt free enough to dance with the streamer for the first time in ages. He was quite surprised by the response to his dancing, a young man who can be a very teenagerish was genuinely impressed with the dancing and wondered where Ian had been taught (which he hasn't, he just goes with the flow) and was asking all sorts of questions about it, he was the last person we would ever have expected to have responded to a bloke dancing with a streamer as usually it is a woman's thing. Ian is certainly challenging some gender roles here! Just to clarify at this point, Ian's dancing is kind of wild and vibrant and not quite like the more graceful dancing that women usually do with streamers, there is no doubting he is a bloke.

I am glad that Ian did feel released to drum and dance today as there was a need to chase some demons away. We have both had strange dreams this week and both have a sense that something is not where it should be, something is in the wrong place. Not sure what that something is or even what place exactly it is in, so definitely need some revelation on that. We would love to hear of any insights if you have any! I was encouraged as well by a picture that someone had while I was sharing about my faith. I don't get disappointed in God as I know, from experience and from listening to others that God always works things out in the end, even if it is surprising or not what we expected and as I talked he saw a picture of Everest and the words were "His ways are higher than ours". That is just so true, God has the big picture and often we can't see the top because of the clouds, but just as there are times when the clouds clear from the mountains and you can see the summit clearly, so God clears the muddle and reveals the big picture and it is truly awesome but sometimes frightening too; I think that is why the clouds are there to stop us realising how high the climb is, but believe me it is worth it in the end.

The last piece of news is that our kitchen is done! Well not quite! Nearly done! Ever so nearly! Our tiles arrived at the shop on Thursday so Friday we did a detour to pick them up on the way to visit some friends. Saturday Ian got on with the tiling and by Sunday had grouted them but it was at this point he discovered a small problem....... the sockets were too far into the wall and the plugs would not connect with the contacts - to say he was not best pleased is to put it mildly. On Monday afternoon he had to take the relevant tiles off the wall and sort out the sockets, I knew it was going well when I heard the whistling! All we need now is some paint for the window wall and a coat of paint on the door frame into the kitchen and a piece of beading to finish the tilling off and a small piece to take off the back of a box which will cover the gas stopcock and a ....... actually I think that's it! Wonder how long it will be before they get done? Do you ever find out it is the little niggly details that don't always get done? (Just for Emma the detail on the tile, see it is not a drawing on the wall by your Dad! By the way have a good trip)

Monday, 4 May 2009

A relaxing week

Not done a lot this week as I am between courses. I had the books for my new course and could have started on the work but I decided a week off would do me good. It was a chance to get some seeds planted and the weather has been nice all week - too nice really as now everything will need watering. A big difference to 5 weeks ago when we were still under a foot of snow. I have been planting seeds inside as well and any available container has been used from the usual to the unusual such as the pots the mushrooms come in, ice-cream pots, bottoms of milk and juice cartons and even some plastic cups from a little end of term party at the orphanage we have visited occasionally to teach English (wouldn't want to waste them now).  Problem is that now I can hardly move on my desk where I work and just managed to get all my stuff on the desk that I needed to start work today. I am also slowly loosing my view from the window as I sit at the desk as the trees have all started coming into leaf over the last two weeks, it as if now that the snow has gone Spring is impatient to get going and burst forth in abundance and so rapidly too.

The reason for the end of term party is that now the weather is nicer the children at the orphanage would rather be outside playing so there is little point in having English lessons. We had some snacks and pop (soda) and then we went outside where they played hide and seek. Ian and I decided not to join in the hide and seek, instead we played with the little children - language isn't always a problem with them. One little chap had a little ball and so Ian played with him and I kept another little chap entertained so he didn't keep nicking the ball off the other one. The one thing we have been impressed with at this orphanage is how lovely the kids are and how they look out for each other. One girl can't speak properly and the others really take care of her and are very accepting of her, the older ones also look after the little ones by playing with them and picking them up just as if they are their older brothers and sisters. We hear how out of control some of the kids are from other orphanages that it is such a blessing to see one run so well where the kids actually seem to care about each other. The furnishings aren't brilliant and the place could do with being spruced up a bit but it is clean and has a nice atmosphere, I think the manager must do a wonderful job as she cares for around 30 children between the ages of 18 months - 20 years all from difficult backgrounds.

Our friend Steve who we have known since the first time we visited Latvia had a Friday/Saturday meeting in a guest house to try and plan some camps for over the summer. Although we are not likely to have a huge input into the camps themselves we wish to be available to the leaders of the camps to support and encourage them. Steve is trying a new approach to camping by encouraging leaders to bring four children that they are prepared to mentor/nurture/disciple for at least a year afterwards. He has seen so many cases where children come along to camp and make a commitment and then have no follow up afterwards, leaving the children floundering in their new faith. Also not all children find faith in camp so ongoing relationships are more likely to help them make the journey towards a faith in Jesus and even if they don't they are likely to have some positive input from the leaders to make wiser choices for their futures - so necessary when many children come from backgrounds where parents could be alcoholic, or absent due to work or divorce. Although there weren't many leaders able to attend or not willing due to the good weather for a holiday weekend the ones that were there were eager and excited about the idea and really got going on the planning side of things. The idea is to build a community in the camps where everyone takes part in the tasks that need doing, where possible, and the day is not structured to death. The camp is also loosely enough structured so it can be changed, if that is what the campers want, such a change from the huge camps we have been to where everyone is so exhausted at the end and with very little time to actually interact with the campers. 

The place where we stayed for the meeting was an eclectic place but nice and clean and the owners were very friendly but oh the beds! Latvian hotels often have hard beds, the Latvians must be made of tougher stuff than me as I can't get comfy on a hard bed. So it was a bit of a rough night with both Ian and I waking up with bad backs and that might have something to do with what happened later on in the day. We had most of the meetings outside since it was so sunny and I was asked to finish off the last session of prayer in the afternoon, I was listening carefully so I knew when it was the best time to wind up the prayer session when I heard some rather deep rhythmic breathing next to me "No it can't be!" I thought, I listened again and sure enough the breathing was getting deeper and deeper, Ian was in deep, deep meditation... i.e. asleep! I had to nudge him in case he started snoring.

The evening we got back from the camp we were sitting in our living room when shouting and cheering erupted from at least one of the nearby apartments, some Latvian neighbours were sure having a good time. We had seen some notices around our village about ice-hockey and I wondered if that was the reason for the cheering and checked it out on the Internet (what would I do without it?) and they were playing France. There was lots of cheering that night as they beat France 7-1 and in fact little Latvia has been having a good season as they also beat Sweden earlier on, unfortunately their luck ran out against the title holders Russia who beat them 6-1 on Sunday night. There is still a chance that Latvia will make the quaterfinals of the Ice Hockey World Championships but it all depends on how other teams do tonight. 

One idea I came across on the Internet this week was Estonia's think tank, where groups of people got together over the long holiday weekend to brainstorm and think about ways they personally could make a difference in their communities and their nation. I think it was a brilliant idea as they recognised that governments do not have all the answers (you may have noticed this over the last few months) and they were encouraging everyone young and old, rich and poor to come together to think of positive ideas where they could make a difference and maybe think up the clever ideas necessary to help their nation at this difficult time. I do hope they have some stories of what comes out of their discussions as I would be very interested to know how they do.

Thought I would show you Ian's new pets! We have loads of little frogs in our basement, in fact we have had some rather large frogs in our basement and this is where Ian found the frog spawn. I am not overly keen of frogs, I am fine as long as they keep their distance and usually they do apart from once when I was in Brazil. A group of us were stood praying at a site someone wanted to buy and turn into a house of prayer when this frog leapt up high into the air (apparently it had been escaping a snake but I hadn't seen that bit thank goodness) and it bounded over to us and next thing I knew was it bounding up to me and nearly up my skirt, not a pleasant experience for me or the frog and fortunately it then made its escape. I am not quite sure who jumped the highest though me or the frog! I don't think Ian's pets are going to be bounding around very soon and should they get to tadpole size they will no doubt end up in the local pond where hopefully they will eat some mosquito larvae and keep the population of those critters down.