Faith in the Chaos- Chapter Twenty-Six: The End

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On my last Friday in Latvia, I was scheduled to speak at the Friday night youth meeting at Paul’s Church. All I can say, is that the Spirit moved among the group. It was satisfying to leave on such a positive note.

The next morning I boarded the train for Riga. My missions trip was nearly complete. Upon arriving, I met an American missionary. He brought me to the seminary and invited me to be a guest on his radio show. I was beginning to wonder if I had a career in radio.

We later went to his house to meet his family. It was amazing to be in a home where people spoke English. It was the closest thing to home I experienced since leaving.

On Sunday we went to the church they were attending. The pastor was away, so a deacon filled the pulpit. The read from a stack of looseleaf papers in a monotone voice. I watched in agony as he slowly turned over page after page. After forty-five minutes of preaching, I silently rejoiced when he turned over his last page. Then he continued to preach for forty-five more minutes.

I fought back tears trying to stay awake. I couldn’t let these full-time missionaries see me succumb to fatigue. Eventually, I looked over at the missionary beside me. He was out like a light! I was so relieved.

The next day I flew home. I had a two hour layover in Prague, then the long flight home. Upon arrival my fiancée was waiting for me. It was a bittersweet meeting. I was so excited to be home again, but in a way I felt sorry for her. I knew that over the next months, if not years, she would have to endure the endless retelling of my Latvia experiences. They became some of the most formative moments of my spiritual life.

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Faith in the Chaos- Chapter Twenty-Five: Unfinished Business

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Most of my last week was devoted to studying for a deferred university exam. I missed writing the exam because of an orientation session for the missions trip. The university allowed me to write it in Latvia.

At this point, studying the history of the Middle Ages was the furthest thing from my mind. Motivation became a problem. I was having too much fun exploring this amazing country to bury my head in a textbook.

First Corinthians 10:31 says, ‘So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.’ This verse reminded me that people are watching me. If I take my exam seriously or not affects my testimony. This exam took on a whole new dimension. It became more than just a test. It became a testimony.

With this put in perspective, I committed myself to completing the task. I reread my textbook and poured over my notes. When my apartment became too confining, I went to the café to read. That was easy after learning how to block out the conversations around me.

One afternoon, while in the café, an inebriated man found me particularly interesting. He grabbed for my baseball cap, then my textbook. An employee of the café kicked him out.

As soon as the employee turned his back, the inebriated man was right back at my table. This time the employee grabbed the man and threw him into the street. I watched in horror as the two had a shouting match at the front door of the café.

Two other patrons noticed my dilemma and invited me to their table. Although we couldn’t speak to each other, we smiled and laughed about what just happened. It turned out to be a pleasant evening, not to mention a welcome break from studying.

By the day of the exam I was done with studying. I had to give it all up to God. When it was placed in front of me, I was ready. I responded to each question with a confidence I didn’t believe was possible. I finished with an ‘A’ in the course. I left that exam praising God because I knew He was behind my success.

Faith in the Chaos- Chapter Twenty-Three: Rounds

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One of the elders of Paul’s Church was a doctor at Liepaja Central Hospital. In fact, he was the head of the Department of Tramatology and Orthopaedics. While his title is impressive, his position is not held in as high esteem as it would be in North America. Doctors were some of the lowest paid professionals in Latvia.

The doctor asked me if I would like a tour of his hospital. I was entering my last week of the trip and jumped at the chance. We arranged to meet at 7:00AM in order to start his shift at 8:00.

I must admit that when he asked me if I wanted a tour, I expected an actual tour. We would walk through several floors, perhaps wander through a few departments, meet a couple other doctors and nurses. I hoped to even share the Gospel with a few people.

Was I wrong!

We arrived at the hospital around 7:45 and went to his office. We talked about the hospital, Latvia and Paul’s Church until 8:30. He got up, lent me one of his white lab coats. He told me, “This one is not too dirty.”

From his office we went to the head nurse’s office. They were about to have a department meeting. I was introduced as a student from Canada. They all smiled and nodded, then began to review medical cases.

At this point I realized, this was no tour.

When this meeting ended, the doctor took me to a conference room with several other department heads. My head was swimming. I listened attentively even though I had no idea what was being said. I was handed x-rays to examine. They looked at the files of current cases, then passed them to me. I tried to look intelligent. As long as I kept my mouth shut, I hoped to get through without looking foolish.

After the meeting, we started rounds.

It wasn’t seeing the patients that bothered me initially. It was the cockroach climbing up the wall beside the examining table that turned my stomach. My first instinct was jump up an crush it. The nurse also noticed it as she was washing her hands. She unceremoniously used the brush to knock the pest off the wall and step on it. Then she kicked the mangled insect into the corner.

When the doctor finished in the examining room, we started moving from room to room. Some patients were in better condition than others, but none were as bad as one poor man. Unwittingly, this man taught me as much about Christ as all the Sunday School classes of my youth.

When we entered, the man was sitting on the side of his bed. The nurse removed a single bandage from his shoulder blades to his buttock. It was black from third degree burns from an industrial accident. As the doctor spoke with the man, I watched the nurse use cotton swabs to wick away trickles of blood and water.

In the Gospels, Jesus was pierced in his side, where blood and water flowed. It represented the separation of fluids in dead tissue. Seeing it occur in real life on the back of this man was a powerful illustration of Christ’s sacrifice. Somehow it made the crucifixion real in a new way. It was a image that changed the way I understood the cross.

As I finished my tour, I thanked the doctor for the experience. He was a man who had great love for his people and his work. I enjoyed seeing his sincere walk with God even when dealing with the worst situations. My concept of ministry grew watching him work. It thought of the parable of the Good Samaritan, getting his hands dirty as he bandaged the wounds of the injured man. In my mind, the doctor became the Good Samaritan.

Faith in the Chaos- Chapter Twenty-Three: Figuring It Out

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Several days later, Andres told me of a reporter who wanted to speak with me about my trip. He heard me on the radio and was curious to know more. The paper he represented was the largest in Liepaja. God opened another door to speak publicly about Jesus Christ.

During the interview I spoke about the West in comparison to Latvia. I shared my journey to becoming a Summer missionary. I also tried to give publicity to Paul’s Church, encouraging folks to visit.

After several more questions, a photographer took a few pictures and they returned to file their story.

By this time my ego was so big my head could barely fit through the door. It was so exciting how God had orchestrated these events, and how I was being used, that I became extremely confident. And by confident, I mean arrogant.

I was brought back down to earth in a hurry. That weekend I was supposed to speak twice. Considering how much I struggled speaking through an interpreter, I felt the pressure to prepare. After all, I was not able to hide behind a radio microphone. Youth services were held every Friday night at Paul’s Church. This particular Friday forty youth assembled. I did not want to make a fool of myself.

The style of speaking that folks in Latvia were used to would put most North Americans to sleep. It usually consisted of an hour of monotone, low pitched speech accompanied with as little movement as possible. No matter where I traveled in Latvia, all the speaks adopted this style. When I asked career missionaries about my observations, they explained that this was the way the communists spoke, and they knew no other way.

My style, on the other hand, was far from static. I liked to wave my arms and walk around when I told stories. I worried that people would think they were watching a crazy man.

Perhaps it was this unusual style which caught their attention. Combined with a strong interpreter, the youth laughed at the jokes and seemed to understand what I was expressing. That inspired some much needed confidence, since Sunday morning I would be preaching to the entire church of three hundred and fifty people. It was, by far, the largest group I had ever spoken to.

My confidence was also shaken by the fact that my interpreter for Sunday morning would be the man I had clashed with so terribly. Although we had been reconciled, I was still afraid of him.

Through my fears God brought comfort. After I finished all my walking around and arm waving, the young pastor whispered to me, “That was good. That was really good.”

Malcolm, probably the only one who was close enough to hear what was said, was amazed. He later explained that the young pastor rarely gives compliments.

I had a tremendous feeling of relief. After a couple of weeks of uncertainty, I felt I was finally accepted.

Faith in the Chaos- Chapter Twenty-Two: Radio FM102

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People like to say that when God closes one door, it means He’s going to open another one. I discovered this to be true in Liepaja. After the incident, I had a lot of free time on my hands. I continually prayed that my time would not be wasted. I hoped to do something for the last two weeks I was there. As always, God is faithful.

One morning, when I arrived at Andres’ store, I met Matsis. He was a disk jockey for the popular music station Radio 102 FM. We spent some time talking until he had to leave for work. As he left, he invited me to visit his station. I thanked him for the offer. I had nothing else to do, anyway.

The next day, I met Andres and walked over to the station. Matsis was on the air, but saw us enter and motioned us into the control room. Radio 102 FM was one of the two most popular stations in Liepaja, but I was struck by how small it was. The entire station was no larger than a couple of small rooms.

Matsis introduced the next song, then spoke with Andres. I amused myself by looking at their music library. Their collection was small, but I recognized a lot of the artists. I was surprised to discover that most of their music was in English. Listening to Western music was a novelty of their newfound freedom.

Andres turned to me and said, “Matsis would like to know if you would like to go on the air with him after choosing three songs.” I was floored. It was something I always wanted to try. I made my selection and prepared to go on live radio.

Before going live, a thought struck me. Folks won’t understand a word I’m saying. I could picture five thousand people hearing my strange voice and changing the channel. I came up with a few novelty voices that hoped might be entertaining.

My time on air was a complete blur. Thirty minutes later I handed the microphone to the newswoman. Both Matsis and Andres stood shocked in the control room. I suppose they didn’t expect me to clown around.

Before leaving, Matsis turned to Andres and spoke in Latvian. Andres excitedly translated their conversation. Matsis knew I was a missionary for the Summer. He wanted to know if I would like to come back the next day and talk about God.

My heart pounded in my ears. It was thrilling and terrifying all at the same time. An unbelieving DJ at a popular radio station offered me an opportunity to share the Gospel over the air to over five thousand people! I knew immediately God had opened this door of ministry.

As soon as we left, Andres and I started planning. The lessons learned from past failures proved to be invaluable. I asked Gunita to interpret. It was difficult to suppress my excitement. She agreed, but expressed concern about speaking on the radio. Remembering the incident, I did not want to force her to do something uncomfortable. She assured me it too important to pass up.

That night I could hardly sleep. What an opportunity! Pride was slowly creeping in. I had to remind myself that all this was by God’s grace. There was nothing I had done to earn this. God was at work. I did not want my ego to get in the way.

The next morning arrived. It was a Tuesday. Andres and I were still on a high from the previous day, but doubts were starting to creep in. Would everything proceed as planned? Would Matsis change his mind? Would Gunita be too nervous to translate? I tried to place these in God’s hands, but the butterflies kept fluttering.

We arrived at the stating and got ready. Gunita and I scripted the message. It was unusual for me to do, but we did not want any Canadian-English slang to confuse Gunita.

Matsis handed his chair over to me and we started. I had presented the plan of salvation many times, but never to a silent audience. I had no way of knowing if I would be understood. I prayed that God would use us to touch the lives of at least a few who were listening, perhaps for the first time in their lives.

The whole thing took only ten minutes. I asked that anyone who might have questions to contact the station. They would connect them to Paul’s Church. The next day we learned that a few listeners did call the station. We were so excited. It was not in vain. God touched a few lives.

I realized this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. God opened the door to something that had been blocked from other religious groups. I could not know the long term effects of that brief radio ministry. If I never find out the fruits of that labour, it is enough to know that God entrusted us with an incredible opportunity to serve.

Faith in the Chaos- Chapter Twenty-One: My Temporary Home, With All it’s Residents

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Back when I first arrived in Liepaja, all I wanted to do was take a nap. After eight gruelling hours by train and bus, I was wiped out.

Then I was told no one had figured out where I would be staying.

“No problem,” I said, trying to appear flexible. Meanwhile, in the deep recesses of my brain, I was in a state of panic. Not only was I exhausted, I was effectively homeless. Fortunately, Malcolm put me up until a better solution could be found. After a couple of days of looking, one of the elders of Paul’s Church brought me to a one room flat in the downtown section of the city. This was to be my home.

I was thrilled. Not only did I have a place to stay, I was living alone. I unloaded my suitcase and decided to enjoy my newfound freedom. From my third floor window I could look at Lielis Iela, the main street of the city. It was a beautiful vantage point. On the ground floor was a twenty-four hour cafe where I spent a great deal of my free time reading.

The drawback to living alone was cooking for myself. There was no food in the flat, so my first priority was grocery shopping. As a holdover from communist days, grocery shopping was straight forward. There was barely any selection. When you purchased cereal or peanut butter, you got the only option available. Considering my minimal language skills, it made my experience much simpler.

That night I cooked spaghetti. I decided not to leave any open packages in the out in the open, fearing cockroaches. The next morning, it wasn’t roaches I discovered. Ants where everywhere. I was dismayed, but not discouraged. I simply closed the door to the kitchen and refused to look through the large window.

The very next night, my curiosity got the better of me. I decided to turn on the light in the kitchen and look through the window in the door. The light flashed and I looked in horror to see what seemed like hundreds of cockroaches descending on my kitchen. My stomach lurched. The flat was cockroach breeding ground. I didn’t sleep well that night.

The following morning I went to make breakfast. As I picked up a bowl, a large roach scurried from it’s hiding spot. I didn’t eat another meal in that kitchen. I didn’t have the heart or stomach to handle so many little bugs crawling all over my food and dishes.

I gave the kitchen over to my enemy, but I wouldn’t let them find their way into my luggage. I figured my best bet would be to leave a certain amount of food open in the kitchen. If they were preoccupied there, my belongings would be left alone. I also kept my suitcase sealed at all times, just in case.

For the next three weeks I shared my flat with many ‘roommates’. When the time came to leave, I went through all my things just to make sure they did not make the move with me back to Canada.

Faith in the Chaos- Chapter Twenty: Supervisors and New Friends

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My time at camp was cut short because I was needed back at Liepaja for my first and only meeting with my field supervisor. I looked forward to sharing my adventures the first five weeks. Since things were so loosely structured, I also wanted the opportunity to prove that I actually worked.

I met Bob and Meg at church at 10am Sunday morning. We arranged to go to church together followed by lunch. It was an encouraging day. I had not fully recovered from my conflict the previous week. Bob heard from all the people I worked with and was pleased with the results. Over lunch he wanted to hear my perspectives from the trip.

We spent the afternoon laughing and sharing together. We finished by talking about my plans for the last few weeks and praying for God’s guidance and protection. When we finished, they returned home to Riga in preparation for a conference in Norway. I went home to sleep, exhausted from the events from the weekend.

At 9am the next morning I was woken by the ringing of my telephone. I wasn’t impressed. It was Andres, wondering why I hadn’t met him. Andres was a youth from Paul’s Church who worked across the street at the pier. He managed a store for the Summer. Yachts would dock at the pier and use the shower facilities and stock up on supplies.

Andres offered the use of the showers any time I wanted. It was a dream come true. For the first time since arriving in Latvia I had unlimited access to hot showers. When he called that morning, I remembered that I told him I’d be by to use the showers Monday morning. When I hadn’t arrived by 9am, he decided to give me a call.

At the time, I did not realize it was the beginning of a theme of my time in Liepaja. I could not go anywhere or do anything without his knowledge. It seemed like I was the focus of his constant attention. At times it was extremely frustrating. If I was late for my morning shower, he would call. If I wanted to go to the store, he came along. By this time I learned enough to shop on my own. It was a source of personal pride to be act like a local.

I appreciated his hospitality, but at times it became aggravating. Given I was a missionary, I had to accept that I was a novelty, even a curiosity. He constantly asked about life in Canada and why I would come to Latvia. Over time, my friendship with Andres grew. At the time I didn’t realize how that friendship would open doors to opportunities I could have never imagined.