Monday, 25 August 2008

The passage of time

It has been a bit of a gloomy week with lots of rain, a definite feel of autumn in the air - I love it! I am not a hot, sunny weather kind of person unlike Ian so I welcomed the freshness in the air and it was a break to get outside, when it was not raining, to breathe it in as the atmosphere in the flat has been to say the least, dusty. We did get on quite well with the kitchen or rather Ian has got on quite well with the kitchen. I have been ill this week with a cough and cold, I know I won't get any sympathy from my kids as I never really had much for them when they were ill. I always made sure they were looked after well enough but I never really molly coddled them (that is molly coddled not cuddled and molly coddled means be overly protective). It is a strange phenomenon being ill from a cold for me, as the last cold I had was in February 2006 when I moved to the States and I think it might have lasted a couple of days only, this one has made me feel under the weather for five days so far and I have been achy too. Usually I might get a sore throat if everyone else around me is poorly, sick and dying and that is it. Not sure I like the idea of having any more of these. I don't think it helped when we took off the cladding to find mould behind it or when we scraped as much of the original lime paint of the kitchen walls as possible - that stuff is seriously not environmentally friendly at all as I said before, it is like having chalk on your walls - not healthy. You can see our gorgeous kitchen revealed in the photos but it is now disappearing under a thin layer of plaster to smooth out the rather rough texture.

I have been reading Acts for Everyone part 2 by Tom Wright and his comments on chapter 13:13-25 really resonated with me after coming to the conclusion last week that God wanted us to carry on waiting, and not to create an Ishmael. Here is what he had to say when Paul was addressing the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch  "Paul makes his way swiftly through the early years to arrive at the monarchy of Saul and David. What he says about the early period, though is enough to establish the fact that God's method of operation is to choose his people, to prepare them, to lead them through one stage after another, and then finally, to give them 'the man after my own heart' as king. In other words, perhaps the main point of verses 17-20 s to stress that God's purposes normally take a while to unfold to get to the place where the ultimate purpose can be revealed."

It is great to realise that God is not always in a hurry to get his plans accomplished. It also reminds me of Elijah who spent three and half years in Zarephath doing exactly what? Well the Bible doesn't record it, it was nothing of real note. So one of the great prophets in the Bible sat and twiddled his thumbs for over three years, well there wasn't much planting or reaping to do as there was a drought on, which he had prophesied there would be, and there wasn't going to be any rain or dew until he said so, so Elijah would have realised it is a bit pointless planting anything.

I have also been reading Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell and I love his statement about missions "Missions is less about the transportation of God from one place to another and more about the identification of a God who is already there. It is almost as if being a good missionary means having really good eyesight. Or maybe it means teaching people to use their eyes to see things that have always been there; they just didn't realise it. You see God where others don't and then you point him out." In many places that would turn missions work on its head and is less about telling people that they have it all wrong and need to start again from scratch but recognising the good that is there and affirming it. Why aren't Christians the most positive people in the world at times, shouldn't they be? And I am not talking about being overly positive to the point where problems are not recognised but why do we always have to be seen as critical just because it isn't "Christian". Some people do a good job even though they are not Christian, and we need to applaud them for it, not bring them down. Having said that I am conscious of the fact that as regards church and what goes on I have been told I am not the most positive up upbuilding of people. I guess I need to learn what to say and when to say and when just to shut up, as I used to tell my kids even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue. (Proverbs 17:28)

We ran out of fish oil tablets about a week ago and Ian seemed to be suffering and feeling down (the weather wasn't helping), we got some more and I realised they were already having a quick effect the day after when he started whistling in the afternoon. Not sure what it is about fish oil tablets that has the effect of making some people whistle but it has been observed several times now both in Ian and my sons. Lol Fortunately I have not been subject to this side effect.

Electricity went off Saturday for around three hours wasn't sure if it would be off for the whole weekend. Didn't know if the electric companies worked at weekends or not, so was quite relieved in some ways that they do as I didn't want my freezer defrosting, then again the booming music that emanated from our neighbours when the electric came back on wasn't really appreciated either as we had wondered about just going to bed anyway rather than finding candles for the evening, especially as I wasn't feeling so good. 

Today we got our new cooker in preparation for the rearrangement of the gas pipes. We have a rather unusual arrangement at the moment as you can see which no one seems to understand the purpose for and I call the spaghetti junction. It is connected to an oven which only has two burners working and I don't even use the oven as we were warned it smokes. There was a beautiful but expensive cooker (stove) I really liked that seemed to be very good quality as well but it had an electric oven - I have a combination microwave oven already so we decided that really we should go with the gas oven, the power cut the other day confirmed our decision as we were still able to use the cooker even if we had no lights or microwave. We also got a freezer in preparation for freezing some of our produce and also for when we get meat in bulk - ie anytime we venture to one of the bigger shopping centres when we stock up. The meat available in the small town we live in is usually either minced pork or chicken legs and only one sort at a time so not a huge variety. They say that this country is behind the times and yet we bought the freezer and the cooker around lunchtime and by early evening it was delivered for the total of 20 Lats, probably a bit excessive for here but the job is done and a lot less hassle than deliveries in any of the countries we have lived in so far, so I am not complaining!

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

A surprising week!

Went to a camp at Norkalni, Ropaži - surprising day and God was so gracious. Nearly the whole team knew of us, either because we have met somewhere before or because they knew one of our children. One guy I met in Holland for the first time, the team who were in Ružina from last week were there, our old friends from our church in England and two of their children, one guy I had met his wife before, one couple knew two of our children from working in camps in England, one we knew from visiting our son in Worthing, one young man has been to other camps that we visited this year and the list just goes on. It even got a bit freaky at times when the connection was worked out. 

I had determined that before we left the camp that we should ask our old friends from our English church for prayer but even before that happened two of the team we had met last week in Ružina came up to us and shared words for us. The first was that Ian dancing with the streamer was lighting a fire of passion in peoples hearts which ties in very well with the word we were to be firestarters which was given us the week after we got to Latvia. 

The second word was that in the next six months God would be opening up doors for us which would be beyond belief - I had seen this young man who gave us this word work and pray for others and I have a lot of respect for him so I was quite exited by this word, it also answered some questions I had on the way to the camp. We have enough money to carry on for a while but I wasn't sure if we are to just carry on living on this money or start looking for other sources of income and then use the money to invest in something within Latvia. I felt God remind me of Abraham with Ishmael and Isaac and I had the sense that it took God 6 years to get us here and he wasn't in a hurry, so
 we are to carry on waiting for the next step. When I got to the camp and someone asked us what we are doing in Latvia and the answer is really "nothing much", we are doing the garden and visiting people and waiting to see what God is doing, God said "Come" and that is what we have done and her reply was straight from God as she said "Oh just like Abraham!" - that was a wonderful confirmation of what God had said to me on the way to the camp. These words were such great confirmation that we are still on track and God does have a plan (that statement sounds kind of daft, of course God has a plan but at least I feel like I am following it). The words from our friends who we asked to pray for us were also similarly encouraging of where we were at the moment and the plans God has for us, nothing specific but encouraging and confirming. 

All day long we had talked with different people about God and what he is doing in our lives, what he is doing in their lives and it was just such a wonderful time of connection with the wider body of Christ. I feel so blessed that God has given us so many people to connect with whilst here in Latvia, we really sense being part of the wider body and being a part of what God is doing here.

On Friday our friends Steve, Natalija, Samuel and Simon came to see us. Steve and Natalija were surprised at the changes we have made to their old flat (apartment), they had been so busy that it was not a priority to make many changes but we were glad they managed to get the new windows done before we got the flat. We had a really good time of sharing of hearts and talked about where God was leading us and them, they also took away a cabin bed which we no longer need but brought anyway hoping someone would have a use for it. While they were here it was a chance to connect with some of our neighbours as they talked and could interpret for us. One of our neighbours is quite involved in going to camps all over Europe as a European Union initiative to bring youngsters together from different countries. We also thank goodness found out which is our apple tree, they are not quite ripe yet but it won't be long. Apparently the apples are winter apples which means they take a long time to ripen fully and will store well but they do make good cooking apples, which I have already found by making some apple sauce to go with some pork.

Saturday we had Marvin round for tea (dinner) and spent a really relaxing time eating, talking and sweating mightily. Why on earth did I do a full roast meal when it was so hot I have no idea 
apart from the fact that there were loads of veggies ready in the garden that were better steamed than in a salad. Marvin gets his veg fix while at our house as it is much more difficult for him to buy veg as he is in camp so much during the summer but it reminded me of most of my Sunday School staff in Timberline Oldtown who were students and they only seemed to eat veg and home made food when they came to me to eat. Still we had some good times or sharing around the table. Sharing around the table is what I feel I do best, probably why my waistline is the size it is, I can really relate to Acts 2:46 "They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts", around the table is just such a fantastic place to share hearts and we have been doing a lot of that over the last few weeks.

Sunday was an amazing day there were hundreds and hundreds of people on bikes Our neighbour jokingly said that we just tripled our population for the day, although that might have been an 

exaggeration it certainly felt like that round us. Ian was a little disappointed in that it was a mountain bike race as he loves his road bike but he saw some interesting mountain bikes that he thinks would suit his riding style better - oh dear! I had better confiscate all cards. Lol. Still Ian enjoyed himself taking photographs as you can see!

This week we will be making a push to get the kitchen and rewiring done and we got started on that today. We took some rather nice panelling off the wall which had been ruined when we had the radiators renewed and previously when the new windows were put in. Now we can see what they were covering up and all I can say is "YUCK!" The top of the walls are lime paint, which is supposedly a very environmentally friendly paint which allows the walls to breathe, it might let the walls breathe but not me as I was cleaning it,  it was causing me to cough, I had to use a face mask in the end just to wash them down. Normally I like to be as environmentally friendly as possible but this stuff has to go. The bottom of the walls is a kind of glossy caramel colour and looks terrible, the walls are not very even too which is what we expected. So it looks like a fun dusty week this next week, heh ho! Must remember to take some photos of the gorgeous decor for you all to see.

Monday, 11 August 2008

Human Race slated for tomorrow

Human Race slated for tomorrow - oh no the end of the world is nigh! Miscommunication is a wonderful thing. It is amazing how different language can be even when using English. This title reminded me of when we were in the process of moving to the US and couldn't understand the use of the word "slated" until I realised it was being used to mean something is scheduled to happen. Slated in England means something got an horrendous review - a completely different meaning to that in American English. Well I got over my shock that we were all in for a review before God the following day - just!

On Tuesday I read in 1 Corinthians 1:20 "Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?" How true this is at the moment, in the financial chaos of the world - the philosophers of this age have been shown to be greedy and corrupt and lacking in wisdom and they are certainly looking very foolish at the moment for their lack of proper accounting. I really pray that the Christians take this opportunity to look at the whole financial world and start to work into establishing a market based on honesty, integrity and financial transparency. It is such a fantastic opportunity to be investing into the new economy of God's Kingdom.

Later on in the day saw us in a small place called Ružina where we joined a motley crew of folks for a festival. There were people from all walks of life including one guy who by world standards is not successful and probably never will be but he shines in God's kingdom as he prays and worships with a sensitivity to the Spirit that is often rare. There were also folks from Scotland, Ireland and England as well as Latvia. For the first time in ages Ian played the drum and danced using the streamer, they were powerful times and seemed to bring about a release in the meetings. There were also some special times just talking around the table which is where I find that God seems to speak to me and through me the most often.

Several things stand out from the meetings the first was having Latvians singing over us a Psalm of blessing. The Latvians are a nation of song and dance, they have lots and lots of traditional songs and dances and it is a powerful force in this country, one which brings people together and yet there are no recognised worship leaders that have come out of Latvia that I am aware of. I asked the Latvians to sing over the rest of us as a recognition of the fact that they are to be a nation who are to bless other nations through song. It got off to a shaky start as they sang from Psalm 68 but as they gained confidence they even began to harmonise, it was so special to observe.

The leader of the group from Glasgow university felt that we ought to wash the Latvians feet as an act of service to them. I explained that was so important as too often people come in from the other nations and dominate the shy Latvians, from those who have dominated at the end of a sword or gun to those who dominate with their "superior" programmes and money. Even amongst Christian circles people have come in with their good ideas and not their service as if the Latvians have no worth and can't come up with their own plans. I know they find this difficult but it is encouragement they need more. It took quite a bit of persuading to get someone to volunteer but in the end it was the most appropriate person who was volunteered - the quietest of the cooks. As her feet were washed there were many tears shed and we asked for forgiveness on behalf of those who have come in domination instead of service. I have a feeling that the ripples from that small act are likely to spread far and wide in the Heavenlies.

Ian thought he heard someone say that Latvia will rise on Eagle's wings during one of the words that was given- we live in Ergli which is latvian for Eagle. Even if she did not say that then maybe that is what he is meant to pick up and I look forward to rising on Eagle's wings here in this place. This is a special place and not really sure why and it is a place of healing and quietness and would love to have a house big enough to accommodate people who need a rest. Just today I heard one of the really on fire Latvians I know is not so well due to overwork. So many feel sad and unsure of themselves and many in the church feel overworked and undervalued, it would be fantastic to have a place where people can come and be rested and given time to heal.

On Friday we travelled to Gančauskas where we met many friends of ours from England who were teaching English in a youth camp. Unfortunately we didn't have much chance to talk a lot but we tried our best amongst the preparations to leave, it was snatches of precious conversation though. We went to pick up our friend Mr.Tipler (why we refer to each other so formally is completely lost in the mists of time but has been a running joke for years). We have known him for over 20 years and he has seen us setting out on our first adventure of moving to a small village 10 miles away from the city, trusting that God was in the move with our then two small children. Mr Tipler has been renowned for telling stories over the years but they are worth hearing as they speak of a journey of faith and discovery and I never tired of them over the whole weekend. It was a privilege to show him around our new home and slightly further out too, he saw a side of Latvia that he hadn't really experienced in camp and he began to see the amount of space and potential this little country has and see our heart for the place in context.

Here are two more colourful buildings. These ones are in Ličupe and the first I think is the town office and the other one a hotel.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Sewing and err sowing!

Oh the embarrassment of the situation speared by my own curtain (drapery) pole! We had had some curtain poles made to order (they cost a grand total of 8 Lats each =£9,
 $17.66) and they took a month to make and they have been lying around our house for another month while I got around to making the curtains. I obviously wasn't paying attention and speared myself on the end of the particularly sharp one, fortunately missing my eye but with a definite mark on my forehead. Well after that Ian decided to put a protective cork on it, it is a wonder he didn't think of that before knowing me . I spent most of the week sewing curtains, they seemed to take ages but I managed to work out how to sew on tabs at the top in a way that I can use them to take the curtains on and off the pole - we can't slide anything on and off them.

It struck me this week that I know that the Gospel is the good news of Jesus and that it is not just  confined to "The Cross Story" but a re-reading of Acts in Acts for Everyone by Tom Wright reminded me of this fact. The Gospel is the story of Jesus and his followers and that includes our stories too and the way Jesus has impacted on that story. We don't need to have our prepared five steps to salvation story - that is not the full extent of the Gospel. The Gospel is not just about an event 2000 years ago but the ongoing story of how God is intimately involved in his creation and that is as individual as you and I, yes it has to be understood in the context of Jesus' death and resurrection but it didn't end there! I guess that from time to time I do need to remind myself of some fairly basic facts, it is so easy to make things complicated or to simplify things down so much it looses its individuality - hence the five/seven/ten steps to......, one size fit all, mentality.

Tom Wright's comment on Acts 11:1-18, where Peter has to explain himself to the circumcised believers is very thought provoking  "If we want to understand, and learn from, the complex debates faced by the early church, we would do well to ponder their entire situation, and contemplate the ways in which our own theological debates are more conditioned than we sometimes realise by the swirling currents of political, social and cultural pressure". It tied in nicely with an article I read about harmony on a Pacific island and how easy it was for the missionaries who turned up to tell them about Jesus as it fitted in so well with the Pacific islanders culture, it would have been easy for the missionaries to assume that they have all the answers and to ignore the culture of the Pacific people and ride roughshod over them. Instead they continue to be a harmonious group of people, extending friendship to each other and visitors alike and now with a faith in Jesus too. It led to a chat with my friend Kathleen about gungho evangelism that assumes no previous knowledge and is culturally insensitive. This has caused so much disharmony over the years and subjugates other cultures, it tends to demonise the "others" whoever the others are. How often do we view the arabic nation as zealots and terrorists always flagellating themselves, killing each other and who are always a danger to us, yet the arabic people can also be a very hospitable people who love their families (see pictures 1 & 2). It should make us think when we realise the importance that the Bible places on hospitality and I think we have a long way to go before we show the same kind of hospitality the arabic people can display. 

Continuing on with the theme of wildlife particularly insects a hornet flew into our house this week. Here is a picture of the beast to show you how huge they can be. The hornet seemed to be still kicking slightly despite the death blow it suffered so it was added to some bleach water which was used to dispatch those Colorado beetles from a few weeks ago (well they were proving rather difficult to dispatch). The jar they were in interestingly enough now seems to be growing some crystals which we surmise are protein crystals (but if you have any better ideas then do please let us know)

Thursday we had an urgent email from a friend of ours, her husband was on the way to Latvia and his plane was delayed by two hours, could we relay a message to the people picking him up. Of course we were happy to oblige but it felt odd to be relaying messages to people we haven't actually seen in a few years due to us moving about. Anyway said delayed husband will be coming to our house later on this week and Ian and I are really looking forward to showing our friend of over 20 years around our new home (should take a few minutes). It is amazing to track our path from the days that our friend Tipler, as we affectionately call him (well it is his last name), was an art dealer who used to come to our coffee bar once a week in the church that I attended then. He made it known that he was also a Christian and admired our outreach into the community. Ian and I eventually moved nearer to Tipler and he welcomed us into his own church community where we stayed for around 15 years. 

Friday there was a partial solar eclipse around the middle of the day. It was a weird half light for a good half and hour and if you look carefully at our pinhole picture you can see the shadow of the moon covering about 40% of the sun- okay it is not that obvious but believe me anyway!

Saturday and Sunday we went to watch a bike race in the nearest big town of Madona. There aren't that many routes you can take around the area on tarmac roads (paved roads), so there was no circular routes. It was good fun to watch the guys and a few women race. The police had an exciting day as they went ahead and stopped the traffic - or rather kind of forced you off the road actually so the bunch sprint behind could use all the road. There was an interesting mix of bikes and even a couple of mountain bikes. Having travelled the course to see where they would be riding I wondered if the mountain bikes might have an advantage, some of those road surfaces looked a little rough. 

The bike race also went through a town called Cesvaine 
which has a very picturesque castle or palace in it. Last time I saw it was being restored after a fire. It uses the local stone and you see many buildings in Latvia made of similar small boulders of different pink hues. We would love to have a stone house, I think they would look wonderful when they are done up. Some today just look very atmospheric with trees growing up through the middle of them. We didn't actually go in the castle we will save that for when we have visitors (hint, hint!)

The bakery in Ērgli looks like it is nearly finished - as you can see it is a wonderful bright orange. Hope they have bread and not just pastries but I am sure we will be sampling both if we get the chance. 

Oh yes nearly forgot! I did really do lots of sewing and some sowing. Three pairs of curtains as I mentioned and I sowed a few rows of carrots, lettuces, beans, onions and leeks (to use as spring onions/ green onions)