Once again 3 of us from Maidenhead set off to Latvia to do some building work on the ecclesial buildings. This time we had one or two surprises apart from the building work.
We arrived in Riga on Sunday in very cold weather with a biting wind, we were freezing, only to be told by Duncan that a convert had asked to be Baptised in the river that morning. He had some sympathy for us but we had to admit he had ‘top trumped’ us. Riga is a beautiful city with some of the buildings dating back to the 13th century
We made our way to the hall on Sunday evening to meet Duncan after he had driven back from the bible school in Naukseni (approximately 180km to the north of Riga). He informed us that there wasn’t any hot water in the ecclesial hall. The reason for this is that the ecclesial hall is in the basement of a tower block, where the heating is distributed by the local authorities and some of the residents couldn’t afford to pay their heating bill so the whole building was cut off. This can last for years. This was the first surprise and the first job…install a hot water boiler.
First thing Monday morning whilst planning the jobs and the listing the materials needed, we met a brother from a meeting in Copenhagen (denmark) who had come to Latvia to run the English classes which Duncan had organised to take place at the ecclesial hall while we were there. We were to find out very quickly that sadly he was in the process of having a complete nervous breakdown, this resulted in him being admitted to the local lunatic asylum. This place was apparently like something out of the dark ages, with nurses shouting at the poor patient’s who seemed to be herded together willy-nilly in various states of distress, a place to keep unstable people off the streets rather than a place of care. Fortunately between Duncan and the Danish embassy it was possible to get the Danish brother flown home to his very distraught, wife who was expecting their second child. The Danish brother was never far from our thoughts and prayers all week.
The English classes started on Monday evening as planned with Duncan taking the place of our Danish brother. 11 or 12 people came regularly throughout the week, 4 or 5 ladies taking two buses and 1/12 to 2 hours to get to the hall. They wanted to pay to hear more lessons! These ladies belong to other churches but explained that they were not happy there. Having had a discussion after the class one night, they thought that Christadelphian meetings may be a better fit for them and said they would attend on Sunday………success!
After the set backs of Monday, on Tuesday morning, having bought the boiler from the diy store, we set about plumbing it in to feed the kitchen sink and the baptismal bath. At the same time we put in a shower and tiled the bath. Additionally shelving units to take all the bibles and books were built and the kitchen floor tiled and skirted. Many other smaller jobs were also carried out.
On the Tuesday afternoon we visited the Asylum seekers refugee camp, which is housed in an old Russian concentration camp. No one locally knows it is there and it looks like a prison.
We had a service and broke bread with the two brethren held there, they seemed very happy to see us. Brother Walter, big and strong is 25 and 2 years ago was a first division Cameroon football player. He gave a lovely exhortation, while Brother Yeasu, an older contemplative man from Eritrea (Ethiopia), sat and listened. It was a moving experience.
For those who read the carelinks emails you may remember the recent release of Brother Robert who was held at the camp for 2 years. He is now living in hope in Naukseni to the North, although he is without an identity and could be re-arrested and returned to the camp at any time.
The Solicitor who is representing these brethren as to their human rights has been so overwhelmed by the brothers faith she then enquired further and in time she was baptised.
Also pastoral work is being done in a women’s shelter. Here, normally elderly ladies are allowed to stay overnight but have to be out by 8:00am with all their belongings. They are literally bag-ladies, finding respite in the shopping malls or the station before they are allowed back into the shelter at 7:00pm. A number of these have been baptised and attend the meetings.
A brother John Aldersley and his daughter were staying in Riga, helping out with bible school, and visiting brethren and sisters in the very poor parts of eastern Latvia. In one house it was noticed that what looked like sticks were being stored in the cellar. These sticks were in fact carrots and root vegetables, their provision for the winter.
While we were there, John’s daughter announced she wanted to be baptised and when she rang her mother with the news, her brother said he was ready too. More good news.
At the end of the week we travelled 180km north to Naukseni in the country. Naukseni is a bible school set up by Duncan where they regularly have 30+ people attend for a weekend. Along the way Mark insisted we looked out for Stork’s nests.
The house/Bible school is a large 17th century German built house with a nice garden, some out buildings and backs onto the river. Currently there is an ex-7th day Adventist family living there who has pretty much been ex-communicated by their family and community for changing faith to christadelphian
The 4x4 was laden down with tools and materials to frost proof the well and some internal pipes. The winters there can get down to -35°C, sometimes more.
While Mark tried to find the well with divining rods, Adam & Chris boxed in the main incoming water pipes.
Raymon, the ex 7th-Day Adventist, was preparing wood for the log stoves for the winter. He and his wife have 8 children (only 6 shown below). They have not shaken off all the Adventist practices like opposition to contraception. Inconceivable really. They made us very welcome with some traditional Latvian food.
Brother Robert as mentioned earlier is also staying at the bible school while his human rights and asylum case is being worked out.
Their cellar is full of carrots, root vegetables, cabbages and the like for a long hard winter. They have worked hard on their allotment.
It is worth remembering that the food was priced roughly the same as the uk, so it was tough to live considering a doctors average wage is 400 pounds per month
After a long hard week, sometimes working till midnight and eating at 1am, we drove back to Riga to leave for England.
Chris and Mark and fellow traveller Adam ‘Dove boy’ Quinn
We left a dedicated team behind, prepared not only to give up all to spread the gospel, but also to look after these folk with medicine, shelter, fuel, food and pastoral care. They really appreciate what maidenhead ecclesia is doing for them and are truly thankful. We took 45kg of blankets, sheets, wool, knitting needles, buttons and the like. So thank you very much for all your support. 33 people were at the breaking of bread in the riga hall two Sundays ago. A remarkable achievement and testimony to the effort put in and the support given by others, especially our ecclesia and its members.
God willing I shall be going out again next year. So I shall probably make an appeal for things needed before then.
Maidenhead ecclesia have been very generous in their financial help, but those who come need to be aware that it may be mainly own financing, as we should not presume upon financial aid.
So I hope this gives an overall picture of the way of life out there, their trials and the sterling and dedicated work put in by various people. There have been over 20 baptisms in the hall since the work this May 2009.
The Latvian economy has collapsed and the government have reduced salaries by 30% but the gospel of our lord Jesus Christ and very importantly, its practical considerations are spread, thank you all and thank you Lord Jesus.
Adam ‘Dove boy’ Quinn
My time in Latvia was an eye opening experience, it was very enjoyable and if I was asked, I would go back and help tomorrow. I felt my time was well spent and I am grateful for the experience. It opened my eyes to a different way of living.
A fantastic week of great fellowship, many moments of joy and so many sobering experiences to remind us just why we went there. I really felt we made a difference. I was reminded of the most generous blessings I certainly feel we have living in the UK, not having to worry about health care, where our next meal is coming from or having a roof over our heads.