Epistle 7

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May 19-23 – 2007

LATIVA 7:    The Final Report

 

It doesn’t seem possible that we could be home, but we are.  The final days in Latvia were a whirlwind of classes, church, meals with friends, and sightseeing.

 

Saturday May 19th

The last Quilt class on Saturday May 19th was a great success.  The ladies arrived at the Ergli Hotel at 10:00 a.m.  As each lady laid her quilt out to be sandwiched with the backing and batting, they were once again surprised to see their quilt in its final stage.  Zina was the first to finish her quilt top and we laid it out for tying.  It was then that it became real for them.  It was like looking at a piece of art.  Everyone came to help tie each other’s quilts each time one was placed on the table.  As each one finished they would bring the next.  They couldn’t believe that we sleep under these quilts as they were too beautiful.  We showed them how they could put a sleeve on the back so that they could be hung on the wall instead.  They sang songs as they worked and they worked as teams to help each other be successful.

Rasma laid across her quilt with hands outstretched and praised God for its beauty.  I shared that as I quilt or tie a quilt I pray little prayers into each stitch.  They weren’t sure what I meant so I started praying prayers of blessing for joy, comfort, health, etc.  They began doing the same in Latvian.  If I wasn’t helping to tie a quilt, I would be called over to be sure that hands were laid upon the quilt and there was a prayer going into each persons.  These women are so impassioned for the Lord.  They are mostly new believers.

Kathy, bless her heart, finished the quilt for Gita, the twin sister to Zita who lives in Riga.  You know, you couldn’t have one sister with a quilt and not the other, and, especially a twin sister.  Kathy has been such a wonderful support to me through all of this and I couldn’t have done it without her.  She not only was my moral and spiritual support, but she is my calm in the storm, picking up the pieces where I left off.

At noon, we all sat down to share a final meal together.   With Kim interpreting and help from Saunita, everyone enjoyed a lively conversation with questions to both Kathy and I about what we thought of Latvia, and would we come back.  They were very curious as to our families.

At the close of the day, all the quilts were finished and the first quilt show in Latvia was held in the Ergli Hotel.  They called the staff together to come and see the finished product.  The owner of the hotel came with her husband, the Mayor of Ergli, to see what was being done there also.

We were greatly surprised to find out that an article had been published in the Madona Rajons STAR newspaper about our previous Saturday quilting at Gaizenskalns.  We took individual pictures of each woman and her quilt and then group pictures.  Pictures will be coming shortly. Still learning how to download pictures and send them.

Kathy and I are preparing individual photo books to send to each of the women.  We have also been asked to send them to Inese the owner of Gaizenskalns Ski Lodge as she has contacted the Latvian National Newspaper to publish a follow up article with pictures.  Inese was quite the go getter and promoter.  She is a real enthusiast for the promotion of arts in Latvia.

At the close of the day, we were presented with little Espresso cups and saucers that have the emblem for Madona on them, a Rooster, and Saundra presented them with, “These are to say thank you for coming to us, and when you are together as sisters, to have a cup of coffee and remember us.”  We of course cried.  To have seen the joy on these women’s faces was worth it all.

 

Sunday, May 20

We arose to a glorious sunny day and the trip to Madona for our last time to worship with the Madona Baptist Church.  I found that I could read Latvian and sing it without too much difficulty in the pronunciation, but did I know what I was singing?  Well, not exactly, other than worship is worship.  It was fun to sing some of our praise music in Latvian and understand it.  The church was absolutely packed this Sunday.  The lilac bushes outside the windows were blooming and I could smell them in the chapel area.

We sat outside on a bench with some of the ladies prior to church just soaking in the sunshine and the gentle warm breeze that was blowing.  Two young girls sat on the ground in front of us and were putting together the traditional floral head dresses that they wear for the Jani (yah-nee) celebration that is coming up quickly.  I couldn’t help but watch with fascination as they put together dandelion crowns.  After church I began picking dandelions and started to weave my own head dress.  Can hardly wait to teach my granddaughters when they are older.  I am not sure if I mentioned it, but I would swear that the dandelion is their national flower.  They actually grow fields upon fields of them.  The rolling hills are vibrant yellow seas of dandelions.  I will never look at them as weeds again, but remember Latvia.  Is this an excuse to have dandelions in my yard?  Hmmmmm?  Maybe.

After church we were all blessed with hugs and kisses, and Zina brought us a going away gift.  She wanted each of us to take home something of hers so she gave us flower pots made of yellow and gold mosaic tiles, a large wedge of her homemade goats cheese that is to die for with a cutting board, and a piece of one of her plants.  She said, “This is so you can have a part of Latvia when you are home.”  Once again we cried.  She had never spoken English before but made a point of learning how to say, “God Bless You,” “Thank you,” and “I love you” in English, just for us.  These were the greatest words of all and I in turn was able to say God Bless you in Latvian (Kimma taught us) and thank you was one of the first things we learned to say.  I love you is the same in any language, you hug, you kiss, you cry, you hold each other, your hearts are knit together – it is the same.

We headed back to the Ergli Hotel to hold our final class.  This time Kathy really shined as she prepared to teach the women Iris Paper folding.  She had put together two different projects:  one was to prepare a paper folding to be used in a greeting card, and then a second project that was a bit more advanced that made a necklace or broach to wear.  We had some of our quilting ladies there, but most were the younger girls and women.  They were treated to a cavalcade of beautifully colored and coordinated card kits that Kathy had put together so that they had everything they needed to be successful and each woman was able to select two.  The remaining kits were left with Kimma to teach again to another group at a later date.

When they went to make their necklaces they were overwhelmed by the oriental papers that Kathy had brought for them to use.  These necklaces/broaches were in copper square frames with a piece of glass over the top of the artwork.

Billie Kaufmann, a dear friend of mine,  had prepared and sent with us over 100 handmade cards to be shared with the women as gifts.  I laid them out on the deep window sills and when we were coming to a close, we explained that they could select up to 8 cards a piece to take with them as gifts.  They were stunned that someone would be so kind as to send them lovely cards to take.  Billie has blessed me for several years now with my own individual stationary to be used for ministry.  Now these cards are all over Latvia and it sparked great interest in all who were there as to what they could do on their own.  One young lady made a special card with a written note to send back to Billie just to thank her.

 

Monday, May 21

Today was a day to sightsee.  We traveled to Cesis, the home of an incredible castle.  I could have stayed all day just there and walked through the beautiful parks surrounding the castle.  We picked up a few mementos of the Cesis visit. One special thing were little clay birds that look like sparrows.  We didn’t know it until after we left there that they are actually melodic whistles.  If we had, we would have purchased more as they are lovely to listen to.

Bruce and Kim left Kathy and I at the castle and drove to the far side of the property.  Kathy and I walked from the Castle through the park that has a lake, past the outdoor ampha theatre where they hold operas (my favorite thing) with the Castle being the backdrop.  As we came down a switchback staircase to reach the park, at each bend of the stair case were statuettes of little children with flowers or animals in their hands.  As we passed the lake we got to see a mama duck with nine babies swimming behind her.  And yes, Coral, I greeted them for you and took a picture so you can have pictures of Latvian ducks.

When we got to the other side, Kim and Bruce were waiting for us and we headed to Valmir to see a church built in 1235.  It also has a castle on its property and they have begun to put in a visitors center and cultural arts building/museum.  After seeing the sights we headed back to have a final dinner with Inese at Gaizenkalns.

Kathy and I climbed Gaizenkalns (remember it is the highest mountain in Latvia= 1,017 feet.)  Kathy said it is probably just a bit higher than Pilot Butte in Bend.  It was a lovely climb and you could see in all directions.  As always the gracious host, Inese, fed us with traditional Latvian food.  It was so hard to leave such a beautiful place.  You could smell the birch trees, hear the cuckoo birds, listen to the wind in the trees, and enjoy the quiet.  I will miss this special place very much.  (I may have to buy a cuckoo clock)  It brought back many memories of growing up in the coastal range above Vernonia as a child.  Kathy and I both felt it.  Also to leave Inese and her instant friendship is so very hard as it is as if we had known each other our whole lives.

 

Tuesday, May 22

Last day to catch some closer sites to Ergli.  We went and saw the potter first.  He had made a teapot with matching creamer and sugar bowl for me to bring home.  It has the traditional little thatched roofed houses on it.  I will treasure it.

Just down the road is yet another castle.  This time in Odziena.  As we were approaching it I could see the turret and thought, well at least one of the main top pieces was still standing.  Boy was I surprised to arrive and find that it was a stork nest on top of one of the turrets.  Those bird’s nests are huge.  Got some great pictures as we walked around this ruin.  It had been grand in its day with a drive through portico, crown on the front, etc.  During the German war it was used by the Germans as a headquarters and was bombed.  It has a lake and a mote.  Now it stands in ruins – still grand in my eyes.

It was hard to go back to the hotel and pack but you just have to do that some times.  It took several hours of shifting things around, trying to figure out how to bring back pottery in our luggage, boxes of chocolate, let alone our clothes.  I guess there are some priorities.

We had dinner at Dustin and Kristine’s (pastor and his family of  Madona Baptist Church) for our final dinner.  It was about 83 degrees so we ate outside in the back yard under the blooming apple trees and shared about our families and their hearts for Latvia.  It was a great way to finish our visit to Latvia.

 

Wednesday, May 23

Saying good bye is always hard to do – so had to finally turn away from Bruce’s soft blue eyes and smile, and Kim’s sweet face or I would really lose it.  Our trip home through Riga, Copenhagen, Seattle and PDX went well.  One piece of my luggage had been searched by customs in Seattle, but other than that everything, including Kathy and I made it home safe and sound.  The customs people when they read our passports would say with great surprise, “Latvia?  Why in the world would you go to Latvia?”  We would respond with “because we have friends there and it is really beautiful there.”

Have to say one more time, “jet lag is a drag.”   We had been up since 4:00 a.m. Latvia time on Wednesday and got home at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday Pacific standard time.  Okay so to make it simple was up almost 30 hours.  On Thursday I got in the car to go have my hair cut and passed my turn and didn’t realize it until I was 10 blocks away.  I had great difficulty trying to figure out how to get back to where I needed to be.  I decided that I really shouldn’t be driving at this point.  Kind of scary to say the least.

It is so hard to leave Kim and Bruce.  They have been such great friends, hosts, chauffeurs, tourist coordinators, etc.  You hear their hearts, you see the sacrifices they make to be there (monetary, materially, isolation from their families) and you can’t but pray for them each and every day.  They have a vision and a mission to share the Gospel with their neighbors and to bring joy, hope, love to all they come in contact with.  Life is not easy there.  You have to break the cultural barrier of not only language but continued speculation as to why you would be there other than to dominate them again.  They will not be dominated again – this is their vow.  As they are on the brink of entering the EU, they are moving cautiously and slowly.  To them, it is another possible threat to their independence as a nation and the loss of their native tongue and currency.

Kim many times while I was there would ask me what my impressions were, what would I take home with me (other than chocolate), how had it changed me.  I couldn’t answer as I was many times so overwhelmed that I needed time to process.  I am still in that stage as I sit here today after being home 4 days (still waking up at 2:00 a.m.)

I can tell you this, that whereas I went to bless those that the Lord brought across my path, I am the one who returned blessed by these incredible people.

Because our country has not experienced a war on our own homeland, we came to realize that these people have withstood continual domination by different countries (Germany,Sweden,Russia).  They are resilient, cautious, and loyal to their heritage.  As you walked down the street they would pass you by and not look at you, or speak to you with heads down.  Yet, on one of our final days, we were in the local store to pick up a few things as we walked to Kim and Bruce’s.  A little woman dressed in traditional wear made a point of saying hello to Kathy and I and smile.  She knew we were Americans and she made a point of greeting us.  We of course said good morning and smiled.  As we started down the street to Kim’s, she was stopped by some other women and we could here her say, “Americano.”  This made us laugh and gave me a spark of hope that if you were able to stay and live among them, you would at some point be accepted as a friend.

Kathy and I were blessed by all your support and prayers while we were away.  You partnered with us in this mission trip and whether or not you physically went with us, you are just as much a part of what took place there as we were.  There is much more work to be done and yes, I do plan to go back.  You can’t go and not be changed.  You can’t go and stay away.  You are drawn to these friends now.

Kim warned me that Latvia gets under your skin.  It certainly does.  As you travel the dusty roads it kicks up and you breathe it in, it embeds itself in your skin, and coats you.  Just as Jesus walked the dusty roads and his presence kicked up His dust onto those he passed by, it is our hope and prayer that we were able to do the same in His name.

So, we praise the Lord for all He has done through this.  We know there is much more to come and much more that we are yet to understand and process in the coming days.  It was life changing for us.

Thank you again – all of you – for allowing us the privilege to serve.

As always, in His Service

Leslie and Kathy