Monday, 30 June 2008

11:30pm on camp

No curtains (drapes) either!


Where to start this week! Hmmm! 

Well I have survived a 10 day camp where the staff were really friendly and welcoming, even though they spoke limited English. I left as a friend. You could tell it was not a Christian camp by the fact that in the evenings they would have some brandy and on the last night they were toasting various things and we were chatting about religion, (they were all from Orthodox backgrounds) and the leader stated that she felt it was important that we all tried to be good men and women, I disagreed and said to me it was important that we were all tried to be followers of Jesus and amazingly they all agreed and drank to that!

The children were all from rich backgrounds and most of them were single children, only around 4 or 5 of them had siblings out of 26 children altogether and consequently it felt more like 50 children at times. The week went well though and they on the whole enjoyed the lessons, and the little ones really enjoyed being allowed to watch Chicken Run in English if they behaved themselves. This is my Diploma and if anyone knows what the Russian says I will be grateful. They must have been happy with me as I was invited back for next year.

During the camp I also finished an embroidery, three books and two magazines of Home Farmer because it wasn't programmed to death. If anyone wants to offer a home to the embroidery then offers will be taken (measures 15x16cm). My embroideries this year are a challenge to myself to work small having produced some fairly large pieces just lately - not very practical in a small apartment to work on or when you are on the move. All the pieces that I will do this year will be using all the bits of fabric I have lying around, I will not buy any new pieces (except for the curtain material I have just bought). My inspiration for this piece was to blend some fairly random fabrics together. 

Sometimes wish random bits of my life could be pieced together so easily, having said that some aspects do seem to be coming together and despite the randomness of the topics of the books I read there does seem to be some threads in the books that merge with how my life is and reflects the journey I have been on.

The first book I completed was Holy Sweat and will appeal especially to those doers amongst you. It is written by Tim Hansel who is active in nature and loves adventure. I love the phrase "Do you know why most of us miss the adventure? It's because we've never learned to plug our theology into our biography". I am hoping that these next few years will really see me plugging my theology into my biography. The book is a call to be adventurous, to trust that Christ has us roped to him and even if we make a mistake the rope will hold us. I certainly agree that faith should be an adventure, we are loved outrageously by an extravagant God, how can we play safe? 

My next book was "What's so Amazing about Grace" and I love Philip Yancey's use of the word "atrocious" to describe God's way of pouring out grace on the undeserving. He points out that God has atrocious mathematics when it comes to pouring out his grace, from the parable of the workers in the vineyard where each gets the same wage no matter how long they have been working, to the widow who only puts in a few pennies into the offering and counted as far superior to the large sums donated by the wealthier donors. This book again talks about an extravagant God who loves outrageously, and in a society that likes black and whites it sends out a clear message that God's grace is sufficient for all of us, not just for those who are "good", and where we long to punish, God's desire is pour out his grace.

Book Three was the "Irresistible Revolution" by Shane Clairborne read alongside the two copies of "Home Farmer" magazine. On the surface that would seem like an incongruous combination and yet there was a common thread in them. Home Farmer stresses that people should become self-responsible with what they have instead of self-sufficient which is really impossible and utterly selfish; they encourage people to grow what they can as responsibly as possible using what they have. Shane Clairborned encourages Christians to be responsible with what they have and to live with a sense of responsibility for all our Christian brothers and sisters and the rest of humanity too. As I have said in a previous blog God commanded us to fill the earth and subdue it, we are meant to fill the earth and if we believe that God is not cruel then we have to assume that there will be enough resources for all of us, and in Shane's book he is encouraging Christians to rethink how they live their lives so that the poor amongst us are fed and clothed and more importantly loved. We can share all we have and not connect with those we are giving our stuff to, without love it just becomes an exercise in guilt relief. 

Saturday afternoon and evening I finally got around to reading "The Shack" by William P. Young, I didn't find it earth shatteringly amazing but comforting. I believe in a wonderful God who has an amazing plan for each and everyone of us, who loves us outrageously and longs for us to be part of the process of redeeming this world back to Him. "The Shack" conveys some of that outrageousness of God, how passionately he loves us and not just the "good" people, not just those who have never let him down, but all of us. My favourite part is "It's all part of the timing of grace, Mack", Jesus continued. "If the universe contained only one human being, timing would be simple. But add just one more, and well, you know the story. Each choice ripples out through time and relationships, bouncing off of other choices. And out of what seems to be a huge mess, Papa weaves a magnificent tapestry. Only Papa can work all this out, and she does it with grace." This reminds me of a time when I was getting a little stressed producing some work for an exhibition and it inspired me to produce the picture that you see of a crown on a fairly random background and the piece I wrote to accompany it was something along the lines of "Sometimes I get lost in the detail of what is going on and I have to remind myself that the Lord of Lords and the King of Kings is in overall charge of the picture." This picture is no longer with me but was bought from me for a wonderful friend who has had more than her fair share of problems and tests and yet her heart is so full of love for others, when this world ends and we stand before God I know he will be looking at my friend and seeing that great big heart of hers and not looking at all her failings in this judgmental world.

Monday, 23 June 2008

Refugees and Nomads

Yes I am on my travels again this week, not so far this time, just to Gančauskus near Sigulda where I am teaching English in a camp for a private Russian school. This is a new experience for me as I have only done Christian camps before and it should be interesting to see how things are run differently. Not sure how much of a challenge the language will be either as I am unsure how much English any of the other members of staff know.

Thought I would post some reminisces from my time in Petworth that I found while sorting through my bags from travelling. 

The life of a refugee and a nomad

I have felt a little like a refugee a few times in my life just lately. It is a story of excitement and adventure but also of boredom. The life of a nomad on the other hand can seem quite boring in comparison as the story seems less exciting in the telling. What’s the difference? A refugee moves because they have to, often under the threat of terror from others or fear of poverty; their journey takes thim to places they do not know with the few possessions they can carry. A nomad takes their journey to places they know and they carry everything with them; it is also a lifestyle they are familiar with.

So why do I feel more like a refugee than a nomad? It is not because I am under threat, unless you include the possibility of breaking the law if we had stayed on in the US, but because we have had periods of time travelling with what little we can carry. It is in these times realise how utterly boring it can be and exhausting to be a refugee. Constant travel is tiring and boring when you are not surrounded by the usual familiar means of entertaining yourself or from filling in your time. I am blessed that if I feel that I am getting bored I have my computer, or I can buy something like paper and crayons, sewing things etc to occupy my mind or luxuriate in observing the scenery without feeling I have to be doing something. I am also blessed with the reasonable certainty that this period of time will come to an end and I will be reunited with my things and space and time to enjoy them.

Confronted by the odd moments when I have so little with me that is mine and removed from the ordinary daily routine are the moments I connect with the life of a refugee. Refugees are so often despised when they arrive on the shores of our prosperous countries as people cannot comprehend what it is like to have to travel through fear, travel is tiring, travelling with fear must be exhausting. What do you then do when you are cut off from the normal routine of life? When I have nothing to do at all except feast my eyes on the landscape of my Creator, my mind wanders over the images of my past and hopes and dreams for the future. A refugees mind may only fill with horror and fear for the future. When I am hungry - I have money in the bank to feed myself, when I am tired - I sleep in a bed whether it is a hotel or that of a kind host. So m connection with being a refugee so far has made me aware of how we need to treat people cut off from their old lives to be aware that they may need time to sleep, or things to do to give them a sense of purpose or to give their minds time to heal a little from the trauma of the past. We can never wipe out the past, nor should we but we can help by giving a hope for the future to lift the refugee of the despair and a sense of identity and of worth.

For me though I am going to choose to become more nomadic in my existence, reliant on less things to occupy my time or even steal my time and more able to carry around with me the things I need. With discipline you can travel with very little - how many clothes do you really need and still be able to dress appropriately for each occasion? There are remarkable inventions called washing machines you know! What do you really need to occupy your time productively - bearing in mind God has called us to be productive? Paper, pens, books to fill your mind as well as your time, the list could be endless in many ways as God has made us all unique and each of us will have different priorities and gifts. I do know that next time on my list is amy small scale art projects that I was going to do and forgot to pack it this time, as well as plenty of paper to organise my thoughts and my computer to communicate with those I have left behind.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Saved my bacon

I came across this piece of writing from January 6th - unfortunately I cannot remember which year but it is quite a long time ago and thought I would share the thoughts I had then on hearing a prophetic word I had given to our church about people clearing their diaries for three months to let God set the agenda.

Gobsmacked and terrified, those were my emotions on hearing my prophesy read by Andy. To hear Andy speak the words with such authority made it difficult for me to comprehend that I had actually had a part to play in the writing of those words. To then hear Andy preach from those words were just utterly devastating. I felt in total shock the whole evening. I knew that my prophecy had made some impact on the elders, and I can see some of the far reaching implications of the prophecy but I don't think I really had understood. The prophecy was born out of anguish, I knew what the prophet meant by the non-utterance of a prophecy causing bones to ache, but once given my duty was complete. To then hear those words read back to me numbed me. It reminds me of my favourite song "Beyond these shore". I sang those words to myself before I set off to lead the 3-4's at the Event (a camp and conference organised by Pioneer) knowing that I would never be the same, but then I was conscious of me setting off in the direction that God wanted me to go, not quite sure where it would lead but knowing the direction to go. Sunday night I recall thinking "who put the boat out", I felt at sea without remembering even getting into the boat. I also felt that I did not know which direction I was going or where to. Yet sometimes I feel I do know where I'm going but the summit is too high, I feel like someone who keeps their head down looking at the path because to look up is to see how far and how high to go.

Some things change a lot and some things never change. I feel at the moment like I am looking down at the path just so I can see it, as the path is now rather foggy and I can't see it and the summit is impossible to see- or can I? I have begun to wonder that over the weekend as we talked with others and what we are or rather are not doing , here in Latvia. It has been great to meet with others who have a heart for this nation we now live in or are from this nation and now live in the UK. What crystallised out for me is that Ian and I have a heart for churches working together, for people to feel encouraged and to be courageous in their faith. To see those things happen we are to meet people and eat with them, I think it is so simple it was being overlooked. No grand plan, no set agendas but just meeting people where they are and letting them talk about their hopes and fears and their dreams. Helping them to dare hope that the great Creator of plans had them in mind when he was drawing up those plans and to maybe caution a few who were running ahead of where God wants them at the moment.

This week has also been a week of preparation for a camp where I will be teaching English for a private Russian speaking school. This will be a little different to what I normally do, for one I get paid - that will be a novelty in itself. It is also not a Christian camp although it is being run at a Christian Centre called Gančauskas near Sigulda. I have been to Gančauskas many times before and it is the first place we went to when we came to Latvia in the year 2000 for the first time. So it will be in many ways the same but different - odd how some things turn out!

When we came back we drove to the shop to pick up some bread and milk from our favourite supermarket here in Ērgļi, only to find that while we had been away it had had a fire. Fires are common here as there is a lot of aluminium wiring which burns easily and lots of overloaded systems. We are praying that it was successful enough to be re-opened as the other supermarket here is not so good and doesn't have the range of stock that Elvi had.

So what is the title all about I hear you ask? (Or maybe I didn't but I will tell you anyway). My Mum sent me a link to a website for a new magazine called Home Farmer and it had a blog where the editor explained how to make a passable bacon - something we haven't been able to get since we went to Denmark. Even in Denmark the home of the Danish bacon common throughout England would not yield up anything like English bacon, the Danes send all the good stuff to England!!!!!!! There was always streaky bacon in Denmark and America but it just wasn't the same. The only time I got some reasonable back bacon was some small packets imported from Cornwall as a special and only available twice during our three years in Denmark. The brilliant thing is that the bacon is also lower in salt than the shop bought stuff and no nitrates and although it doesn't last as long, at least it tastes like bacon with the right kind of texture; now all we have to do is find a way to cut the slices thinner. If you are a budding home farmer, interested in saving some pennies or just love reading about homely topics (for my American friends this does not mean plain or ugly in English but something comforting, a homely place is a place where you can feel comfortable kicking off your shoes and just relaxing) then the Home Farmer site maybe of interest to you.

On our way home from a town called Smiltene we stopped to take some photos of a field of Lupins it was just such an amazing sight. Latvia is definitely a colourful place to be at the moment with patches of buttercups and cow parsley amongst the ripening barley fields. 

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Mixed bag of a week

It has been a strange week this week with some big ups and some big downs. On Wednesday we travelled out to Malta - well that is what we told our kids, we didn't actually get as far as Malta but we crossed the river that the town of Malta, Latvia is named after. Our kids genuinely thought we were off to the island Malta (pity there are no emoticons on this site that I know of as this would be a good point to place a rolling around on the floor laughing kind of emoticon). We went out there to meet with a guy called Levi who is working hard to bring about unity amongst the denominations within Latvia and working to see a growth of prayer in this land. He has a clothing ministry to this poor area of Latvia as well as a place of prayer. It was a privilege to sit and eat and talk with this guy and his helpers, and to see people walking in off the streets looking for work or help and being shown care and compassion.

On the topic of prayer I read the book Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire by Jim Cymbala.  It is a refreshing book even if I don't agree with everything in it, but I have to agree that if we don't do anything else in our church body today we have to pray. Fantastic sermons, brilliant worship are nice but unless we are seeking God's will in prayer, unless we are praying together for the world around us we may as well pack up and go home and rent a video instead. Jim Cymbala states "North American Christians (and others I might add) must no longer accept the status quo. No more neat little meetings, even with the benefit of 100 per cent correct doctrine." Despite being written in 1997 it would appear that we are still seeing new fads, new ideas in worship, the emphasis on having the best preaching around and yet still our prayer meetings are empty and we wonder why the Christian church is in retreat in many places. It is exciting partnering with God in prayer, seeing how he answers the prayers, seeing how we grow through prayer - great stuff!

A rather flippant high this week - I reached a vocabulary of level 48 on the Free Rice website. This site allows you to improve your vocabulary and for every correct answer 20 grains of rice is donated to help end hunger through the UN food programme, not much but it will add up, especially as more people play it.

The lows this week are with two of my kids who are both struggling this week with relationships within the homes where they are living. One of them is trying to find alternative accommodation due to unreasonable behaviour of the host and the other one has been upset by the behaviour of someone moving out and the way they are going about it. It is kind of hard at times when the family is so far away, but jumping in to help won't  be helpful in the long run, the most I can do is provide a listening ear and let them work out how to resolve the issues. 

As you may have read gardens and gardening has been a big feature of our last month or so and I found two articles interesting this week for totally different reasons. The first was on the BBC about Lesotho keyhole gardens. Our friend Kjessie from our American church Timberline Oldtown is currently in Lesotho so I emailed her with the article link and her reply was that " I live this article. There are keyhole gardens all over the village that I work in and many of my volunteer friends have projects working to build them." It is great to see how encouraging small scale gardens can have such an impact on people and their diet and shows you don't need a huge amount of space to grow your own veg. If you do read the article and are left wondering what the tin cans are for then according to my friend Kjessie they are for micro nutrients. 

The other article I found while trawling through my friend Martin's site (which is full of interesting articles, blogs and comments). I have copied it below (with permission of course)

If God has placed keys to discovering himself and his nature throughout all of creation, then it is not at all unlikely that there are aspects of his nature that are more revealed in one place than another. So, for example, it seems likely that Adam and Eve were to discover all they
could of God through tilling the garden, working the soil, and in their fellowship with God after their day’s work to reflect back on what had been revealed, and that once the garden had yielded up what had been hidden that they were to move on to the next geography. In the next
location they were to discover other aspects of this creator God. Through their work they were to fill up all of creation with the presence of God.

That brings about an interesting perspective on our garden and ties in with the feeling that Ian had that God was going to show him something about the land we now live in through the garden, so that was quite an encouragement.

I was dwelling on those two points and thinking about Genesis where it says:-

Genesis 1:28 God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground."

29 Then God said, "I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.

There should be enough food for all of us in God's plans otherwise he wouldn't have given us instructions to fill the earth. It is too easy to lose touch with the land. Abraham was meant to walk the land - let his feet feel the ground beneath him he could hadve ridden the land but he wasn't supposed to. As Martin said the land should speak to us of God, not just the stunning panoramas or the glorious sunsets that take your breath away but also the way that the humble earthworm brings health to the soil (dirt) beneath our feet, the way the ants organise their communities, to the way that nothing is wasted in an ecosystem. It all speaks of God and the care he put into his creation. All we need now on our little bit of creation that we are responsible for is some nice gentle rain. Unusually for Latvia it hasn't rained for days but if we have one of the downpours all our seeds are going to end up at the bottom of our digging area as there are not much vegetation and roots to hold the soil in one place yet, and if we don't get some rain soon we are not going to get much in the way of vegetation either.

I know this is unusual but I hate going to the hairdressers and will put it off as long as I can. It is even worse when I move because trying to find a hairdresser I find it really stressful. Strange but true! I really did try and find a hairdresser here in Ērgli but so far I haven't been able to find one. One of the problems is that here shops don't always look like shops, they might be tucked away in an apartment block, or in a building that just doesn't look like a shop to my English eyes. We are gradually finding these little places but so far a hairdresser has been elusive and so I had to take the drastic step of asking Ian to cut my hair and to tell you the truth he didn't do a bad job at all. Phew!

Monday, 2 June 2008

God comes knocking

It has been a significant week, one of inspiration and encouragement. Over the last weekend I thought that I would like to hear a good sermon and listen to something inspiring, well I never actually got around to finding one on-line but we got chatting on Tuesday with a friend of our American neighbours. We invited her around to our house to see the work we had been doing on our flat (apartment) and to chat some more. She went to join our friends for lunch and later on in the afternoon there was a knock at the door, our new friend, Kathleen was back. 
To fill you in a bit, Kathleen is American with a call to be a missionary in England. She is now married to an Englishman and training to be a minister in the Anglican church. It was as if God had sent a pastor to us to preach a sermon specifically to us that inspired and encouraged us. We rounded off the afternoon with a trip up to Gaizinkalns the highest point in the whole of Latvia to pray. Our American neighbours know the owner of the tower quite well but it has been difficult road for the owner to come back from America to run the hotel and right now it is shut. We prayed God's blessing on the area and the nation of Latvia from the great height of 312m (1023ft). God has a significant plan for Latvia, a nation struggling with debt and inflation, with oppression from the occupying powers of the past and yet God is releasing a new sense of joy in the land and colour to overcome the oppression.

Wednesday was our daughter Emma's birthday, she turned 22 years old. It was a wet and windy Wednesday in Sheffield all those years ago that she was born, somethings don't change - apparently the weather was not so good in Sheffield this year either, where she is studying to be a nurse.

Wednesday was a day of births according to a comment on our friend Martin's blog and we certainly felt that when we got together with Kathleen and her husband Ian, and our American neighbours Kim and Bruce. It was as if Kathleen catalysed our relationship with our neighbours and brought new understanding. It forged a friendship that we can build together to affect the area that we live in, we can bathe the place in prayer knowing we are singing from the same hymn sheet - to use a common phrase. 

A song has been coming back to me called Pillar of Fire and you can read the lyrics here the phrase "Where, Oh Lord, are you leading?" keeps coming through in this time. I am not scared as in the song but certainly puzzled. I knew it would be a different road to travel from here, after all the title of a book "What got you here. won't get you there" - a book about business leaders by Marshall Goldsmith leapt out at me last year and has never left. So what is God doing at the moment? Where is he leading His church? All I know is he is transforming the landscape, transforming the places where we live and He is going to do a thorough job of it, there will be no "it's good enough" or "it will do for now", his transformation may take time but it will be complete. 

Ian is out tilling his land i.e. he is digging, but his back keeps twinging and the biting insects are giving him some grief as well. So what does this say about those who dig our lands in a spiritual sense, those who prepare the ground for sowing the seeds?What are the pains they suffer and what are the irritations that they are attacked with? It is tempting when these things happen to get a tractor and just plough the lot, but to short cut this stage will just produce more weeds that grow amongst our crops and so he slowly and thoroughly digs the land, getting rid of the roots and leave just the good soil.

We also met up with our good friends Steve and Natalija before they get busy with the camping season. We were really excited to hear about their plans for this coming year, how they are looking not to just entertain youth in camping mission but to encourage youths and youth leaders to model community, to engage everyone and give them all a role and not just put on a performance and lots of activities to stop them from getting bored. 

Yesterday we had a great time of soaking and prayer time with our American neighbours. Ian put some songs together that spoke of journeying with God and we listened to those for half an hour and afterwards were just still before God letting his presence minister to us. We then moved on to pray for our community and then shared more about our own journeys - it was a precious time.

Well summer is now upon us and I took this photo at 11pm - as you can see it is still light, hence our later and later bedtime. We are fortunate that dawn does not wake us up as I think it is early, I do pray though that the curtain poles that we have ordered will be ready soon.