Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Day 8 - Tuesday in Latvija - Camp Day!

Got up. Had some breakfast. Headed out to go back to Camp Ganchuaskas! This time we were able to see archery and even got to try it for ourselves! Eric hit the target all four times! Yeah! Campers were studying memory verses while waiting for their turn to shoot arrows.

This week is a Latvian speaking camp at Ganchuaskas. Last week was an English speaking camp. They were also practicing memory work in line while waiting to go in to lunch.
We had lunch (again at Camp!) and were able to see a little bit of a Bible class although it was a slide show. The kids were also singing silly camp songs before lunch and before the Bible Class/Chapel time.

Over lunch we met and had conversation with Christel Whitford. She is from Idaho! She had graduated from both Boise Bible College and Canyonview Equestrian College. She was adopted herself by Christian parents and had been considering and planning for three years to do mission work before coming to Ganchuaskas in Latvia! We couldn't hardly believe her story as it seemed to match so closely not only that of Janeks but of ourselves. Christel hopes to be a teacher and do mission work with orphans!!!

After lunch, Eric, Mark and Victor met with Lydia and Marita to get answers to questions we had thought of since our visit of last week and while on site this time around. We spent at least an hour and a half reviewing camp policies, regulations and securing copies of the Camp's certification documents. We put the down payment on the Camp rental for 2010!

Victor took us to Jurmala, a town near Riga known for its tourist attractions. It's basically known as a resort as you even have to pay a lat to get in! We walked the beach and then up the side main street (no vehicle traffic allowed) past a lot of restaurants, gifts stores and street vendors. They had a few rides and other kinds of entertainment. They had this bungee ball in which two people sat and were flung into the air screaming.

We took the train out of Jurmala back to Riga (about 12 stops). There was a very nice lady on the train who spoke English. She has a good friend living in Toledo, Ohio! We got off at the Torna Kalna Statija (station). We were taken aback when, as we got off the train, there smack dab in front of us was a freight box car sitting off to the side. It was a box car used during WWII to deport people out of Latvia.

Day 7 of our trip - Monday in Latvija

Today, was a very relaxing day. We slept in a little later than normal. We've been getting up around 8 a.m. here. It was nice to get a little extra rest. After eating breakfast we went downtown to Riga for a little more sightseeing and souvenir shopping. We went by St. Peter's Church which has the highest steeple in the city of Riga. If you are lost you can always look to the cross to find your way back. The church steeples are the tallest structures in Riga.

Just as is true in everyday life, as we are all on a journey, when we get lost, we can always look to the cross to find our way home. We saw some more street musicians just like yesterday. After doing some shopping we went by a restaurant where they serve a very Russian pasta called Pelmeni. The first day we arrived we had made some at the house for dinner but this was much better. Food always seems better when you don't have to make it yourself, but this lunch was really good!

After eating we went to a former cloister where we toured The Museum of the History of Riga and Navigation. This was a very interesting museum that had some medieval things from the time of the Liefs who were the first people in this region during the time of the Vikings. It also had a lot of information about the harbor as well as different types of boats. There were many different types of weapons and other things about castles and protection during times of war including spears, swords, a crossbow, and cannon. There were a lot of things about Latvian history through WWI, WWI and the Soviet occupation. Many of the old photographs were very interesting.

Following the museum tour we met up with Victor's wife, Sarmite. We then went to a really nice Asian restaurant called Gen Bei. This was not a typical Latvian meal but the food was great!

At 8:30pm Victor took us on an incredible boat ride! We took a boat called the Jelgava, which took us down the Daugava River to Riga Bay. The mate on the boat was Vitoly (a Russian) who had learned English by watching Cartoon Network. He tried to convince us that the Russian word for thank you was much better than the Latvian word.

The ride on the river was a great way to end the day as we got to see the sunset and a beautiful full moon. The city looked incredible at night! The lights on the bridges were so beautiful (CCS Blue)!

We finished the day with a nice walk home. The weather here has been beautiful!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Sunday Afternoon with Agra and Ivars

Sunday afternoon was spent with Elina, Janeks, Agra Vavere and Ivars Landorfs. Agra and Ivars both really enjoyed the preaching and singing and wanted to continue to practice their English. We walked around old Riga and visited several souvenir shops and street vendor tables. Janeks and Elina also tagged along. Finally, we were able to see the Freedom Monument we had heard so much about. This liberty monument commemorates Latvian independence in 1918. It is so revered here that it is guarded day and night by two uniformed guards of the Latvian Army.

Agra used to be a teacher. She now works in the Museum in Ogre, a Latvian city not far from Riga. Ivars is a pensioner (retired) who still works building fireplaces. They both seemed to really enjoy the time with us and were so excited every time they got a new English word. One big and beautiful building is the city opera house. We explained that opera is not very popular in the US. We ate again (third time this week) at a Lido restaurant which is a very popular place (for good reason).

We observed a older woman doing what looked like an interpretive folk dance on the street. Agra and Ivars both commented on how many think she is crazy but that she really is just a lady who likes to dance. There were a number of street musicians playing flutes, saxophone, violin and accordions.

Eric, Elina, and Janeks each fed pigeons from their hands in the park. Eventually, we walked Agra and Ivars to the train station. Then Janeks and Elina walked us through the city tunnel back to old city Riga. Janeks was very concerned about our well being and ability to find our way back to the part of the city where we needed to end up to meet back up with Victor.

It was a great Lords' Day!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Day 6 - Sunday Morning Worship

This morning we got up and went to the market on our way to services, to get apple cakes for the fellowship time following services. We also picked up some flowers for members who were celebrating their birthdays as well as Victors mother-in-law Anna who was celebrating her name day. In many countries in Europe people celebrate their name day'on which they celebrate. For example, if your name was John you would celebrate your name day on June 24th with anyone else named John. They even have a day for people who do not have a specific name day so they can celebrate. These days are celebrated much like birthdays.

The church meets in a rented hall from a cultural center operated by the city of Riga. This hall is located in Old Town Riga directly behind City Hall. They rent a room on the second floor of this building. One of the Christians, Guntis Grizans had the chairs as well as the Lords Supper table set up before we got there. Several of the members spoke at least some English but many did not. Janeks as well as his girlfriend Elina took the bus from Cesis at 7 a.m. to make it to worship with us. It was great that Janeks was able to bring Elina and it was also great that Janeks was able to worship and sing songs in his native tongue.

Service began with prayer requests and an opening prayer by Victor. Following the prayer Victor read an article from the Christian Chronicle about persecution going on in Russia to a church there. Mark led several songs in English while the members sang in their own languages. Some were trying to sing in English, most were singing in Latvian, and one sang in Russian. It reminded us of what heaven is going to be like. It was very emotional to worship with our brothers and sisters here in Latvia. There were 20 people in attendance including us. There was a family that was there for the first time. It was a mother, son, and young daughter. They had a hard time finding the meeting place so one of the members went and found them and brought them to the building.

Following the singing we took the Lords Supper. Victor led ļed prayer for the bread and when he finished all of the members stood up and went to the table and broke bread. They remained standing with the bread in their hands until everyone had a piece and the all took the bread together. We then did the same thing for the fruit of the vine. After taking the Lords Supper they had a time of fellowship. It was like a meet and greet time. It was very neat! Victor explained afterwards that this was intended to reflect the extension of the "communion" among the brethren. Then they passed the collection basket.

Eric presented the sermon after the Lords Supper while Victor translated. The lesson was about "Gods' Awesome Plan" to reach the lost all around the world including Latvia. The members received the message well. Following the lesson, we had class where we talked about God transforming us and Janeks stood up to share how God had transformed his life. Several people were moved by his story as all of us have been. We closed with a prayer and then the ladies set up a table with cakes and cookies as well as tea & coffee. We gathered around the table and enjoyed some great fellowship! Janeks and Elina said that they really enjoyed the time worshipping together. It seemed like Elina really enjoyed the singing as well as most of the congregation. On Wednesday we will have a congregational sing and all of the members were invited to Victors apartment at 6pm. We are looking forward to spending more time with the members then.

All around we had a great day of worship! How wonderful Heaven will be!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Day 5, Saturday

Elinaš parents, Janeks, and Elina took us first to a windmill maintained in remarkable condition! It was used to grind wheat into flour. There were also several other machines from a cabbage slicer, to a butter churn, and a buggy.

Next we visited Zvaŗtes'Rock. A huge sandstone outcropping where we hiked across a hanging bridge and up through the woods. Even though the sign prohibited bouncing and swaying it seemed to happen anyway. Hmmmm. There were many padlocks on the bridge with names and dates of those married there who had thrown away the keys to the locks as a sign of their undying love for one another. This may make for a good object lesson for Ericš future wedding ceremonies.

We then met up with Victor at the Sigulda Park and rode the ski lift to the top of the hill and rode a car down the side of the hill attached to a rail. It was a lot of fun! And as though we hadn't had enough we went to Ramkalns another fun spot. They were having a contest where men had to carry their wives up the hill against the clock. This was a televised event on Latvian TV. Mark and Eric committed to training to carry Bev and Jaime up the hill next year! We had fun riding the Luge down the hill several times. We also got to have lunch at the restaurant there. We all had a great time together. We said our goodbyes to Elina, her family and Janeks, hoping to see them all at church services in the morning.

Victor took us by to visit some old friends Peter and Zaiga Kupla. They were a very interesting elderly couple. Peter (83) was working on house repairs. He said he wanted to see New York city before he dies, so we invited them to come on over and we would show them around. Zaiga had an amazing garden from which we had several samples of thorn berries, currents, blueberries, and apples. Her flowers were beautiful!

We then went out to Lidoš for dinner. This is a buffet type restaurant housed in the largest log cabin structure in Europe. The front of the restaurant is a windmill. We discussed plans for church services and how Eric would preach and Janeks would assist with the class.

Stay tuned!

Day 4 - In Latvia - Dinner with Elinas Parents

On our way to dinner, we picked up a flower for our friend Sveta in the computer center who was so kind the day before and had given us blueberries.

Āfter working all day, Elinaš parents invited us for dinner. Elinaš mother is a pastry chef for a chain of stores which have bakery sections. We were proud of Janeks when he asked Elinaš father to say the blessing. He stood up and did so. He is a faithful catholic. We had walked past the church where he worships on one of our walks through Cesis.

We had Latvian pork chops (boneless and breaded (very popular and , potatoes (served at every meal in one form or another), smoked fish, pickled herring, a salsa like salad (of chopped tomatoes, onions, cabbage and with corn. The topper was the plate of pastries served for dessert! I asked for the recipe of the berry crunch pastry, which I ate four or five of, but didn't get it.

Janeks, Elina, Lynda (Janeks' sister) took a walk again through the city at night which was beautiful even without streetlights.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Day 4 in Latvija

Eric got up and ran again this morning before we got ready to meet Ina who took us to two more orphanages. Elina, Janeks' girlfriend, did not go with us again. She seemed troubled at seeing the orphans. We passed over a stork hit and killed on the road and both Janeks and Ina were noticeably upset. Both Ina and Janeks stated that they had never seen a dead stork, much less one killed along the road. Eric and I were both struck by this as we take road kill pretty much for granted in the US. The stork is the national bird of Latvia. Storks are very large birds standing about 4 feet tall. They can be seen all over the countryside here. They make their nests on the tops of chimneys (presumably for warmth) and in trees.

We also saw a man working the field with a horse. No, he wasn't Amish as they don't have Amish here. He simply didn't have a tractor. They do have Gypsies here who apparently have their own festival! We passed by several fields of wheat and saw some cattle. Much of Latvia is rural. The population of the entire country is about 2.1 million and decreasing as many are leaving the country due to the economic crisis here.

The first stop for the day was the Umurgas Childrens Social Center (orphanage). The orphanage is about 30 km from the Baltic Sea coast and about 150 km south of Estonia.

The Director there is Gunta who was the founding director 15 years ago. She had previously been a Kindergarten (this is the Latvian term for preschool and kindergarten) director/principal next door. The kindergarten there has about 140 preschool and kindergarten aged children enrolled. There are about 30 children (the number fluctuates each school year) in the orphanage. The Center is licensed for 24 children but has had as many as 36. 14 were on site for the summer with most of these being older as Gunta explained that many of the younger children had been adopted. We met and spoke with three 15 year old boys and a teenage girl who could speak some English (all Latvian children study English in school). Each child in the orphanage had recently received a 15th anniversary orphanage mug with their name on it.

Gunta had not only heard of Camp Ganchauskas, but seemed to have actually been there! She thought our camp idea was a good one and thought we could probably count on 12 children from her orphanage.

We passed the town of Limbzi on the way to our second stop of the day. There are more Russians living in this area than other places in Latvia. We saw a number of older people walking along the roads. There are always people walking or riding bicycles, not just along the country roads but even along the highways.

The third orphanage we visited (second of the day) was housed in the restored (in 2000) estate house of Mercendarbe. This large manor house was formerly a "hunterš castle" it still had the original door and stairs complete with large set of elk antlers in the entryway on the wall. An orphanage has been housed in this manor house since 1940. Anairs (pronounced Inars) Spons has been the director for five years. He had attended university with Ina our driver.

At New Yearš there were 20 children in the orphanage (25 is supposed to be the max). Currently, there are 11 for the summer.

In meeting with Anairs and Digna Zitnikova (his assistant), we came to learn that they had actually hosted a camp of their own this summer for two weeks with 20 children attending each week. Most of these children were from Riga, the capital city of Latvia, where the church is located that Victor Barviks preaches for. They shared that their camp would probably not be possible next year due to funding cuts from the government.

They thought that about 15 - 20 children ages 14-16 might be interested in attending the camp. Older orphans are harder to manage by host families and therefore harder to place for the summer.

We were quite startled to find that Victoria, the very cute two year old which had been tagging along and interrupting our meeting several times, was not actually an orphan but Dignaš granddaughter! When we got back to Cesis, it was time to get ready for dinner. We were invited out to Elinaš home for dinner with her family. More about that later.