29 December 2007

A Need to Testify - to Times Past and to Times Present

I (Dan) realize it has been a while since we have written - we apologize and thank you for your patience. I have spent some time reflecting the past few days and wanted to share my journal entry from tonight with you. Thanks for joining in the journey with us.

" Nine weeks ago we arrived. Nine weeks ago (2 months ago yesterday – the 28th) the Red Sox won the World Series – seems a lifetime ago…

I just finished The Longing for Home by Buechner. I will definitely have to return to more than a few of those chapters in the future – deep wells of wisdom. Lord, thank you that you answer prayer. Thank you.

I jotted a brief note to Britt yesterday. In it I mentioned that while I could not describe or explain it, after reading Buechner (and Lewis) these past few days my feet feel a bit lighter. Lord, Thank you.

… Buechner encourages preachers to preach out of their own stories. This does not mean to make the sermon about themselves, rather to speak of love, grace, faith, and hope in ways that reveal a tangible encounter with those things – an encounter beyond a book or an idea. Sometimes we (I) tend to speak of God as if God was and did, and we (I) forget to speak of how God is – today! Maybe that’s why Puritans placed so much emphasis on personal testimony and witnessing time. We must link our stories with those of the past in order to become a part of the tapestry of faith. Yet, how can we add our names to the ‘great cloud of witnesses’ listed in Hebrews? By Grace! We are able to add our names to the list of Abraham & Sarah, Moses, David and others not because of our perfection or stellar stories yet because God has acted in our lives and wants for us to join in with the Story somehow and someway.

So, Buechner’s implied questions to me in chapters 12-14 are these: How have I experienced Grace? Why do I have “faith”? How do I have hope? How have I experienced God’s grace, love, joy and peace?

When people ask, "How do you know that God loves you?" I answer that often I don’t know what God’s love feels like – and that is true to the extent that I can’t capture it, quantify it, and explain it. Yet neither can I do that with Courtney’s love for me. However, I catch glimpses of it in a smile or a wink or feel it in a hug or when she offers me a warm cup of tea. Likewise, in a sunset or snowflake, mountain expanse or sea of clouds or provision for rent… Some people will chalk these things up to coincidence or to karma (however I don’t know how well I would fare if someone would place my thoughts, words, and deeds on a scale…) or to other peoples’ kind hearted, generous natures. Yet for me, I name these instances as God’s love.

Writing that makes me think of the sunset I saw from the plane heading back to Israel from Russia four years ago on Christmas Eve while I sat next to a woman named Anna. And that, in and of itself, represented a moment – a glimpse – of God’s love through me, rather than towards me specifically, yet serving as a vessel left a ‘residue’ (for lack of a better word) of God’s love in me.

How alert the eyes of my heart and spirit seemed in Afghanistan and Kosovo in 2002 and in Israel in 2003 & 2004, and how, in comparison, dull and dim – of wit, sight, and heart – I have felt since then. At times, I seem to spend so much time clamoring about how I wish I could ‘see’ now like I did then, that I forget two things: First, I forget to look around and notice now. Second, I forget that I had discouraging and depressing times in those places as well – and at times I would feel that couldn’t see clearly. However, as I look back and view those moments within a larger perspective I notice God’s fingerprints covering all the snapshots of those times. I think of the e-mail I sent from Mazar-ī-Sharif to DuFault in Seattle when I was burned out and fed up, and I remember the grace I received in that moment.

And those memories bring me to now. Recently, Courtney and I had a boiling over, not with each other, yet with our time here in Latvia. In each other we found, and through each other we experienced, God’s grace and peace – in a shared meal and then in kneeling by ourselves in the church at the altar and just ‘being’ in that space. I think of the sunset the other day – well, what I could see of it – the colored sky glimpsed between the buildings on cross streets. Beauty and Hope.

While the true joie de vivre (joy of life) that Buechner refers to remains regardless of circumstances because its source is the very Creator of both Joy and Life themselves, there remain moments when our steps bounce with a spring because we have experienced a glimpse of something beyond ourselves. And so, for those times when I have the eyes to see more keenly, Lord, I thank you. And for those times when I struggle to see beyond the end of my own nose, Lord, I thank you, for you remain present, persistent, and help to refocus my vision. Lord, thank you.

13 December 2007

End of a Heatwave, yet Still the Middle of Three Busy Weeks

We know it's been awhile since we have posted. I wish I could say we were out enjoying the heatwave we just had - at one point our high reached a balmy 43 degrees F. Today we are back to the reality of 28F.
Last week Courtney spent three days in Lithuania for a Sunday School Curriculum Translation seminar. She has promised to take Dan to Kaunus once she finishes her candidacy papers! Then this past weekend Dan and Court attending a youth retreat - we missed the late nights, early mornings, and sharing a bathroom with 30 teenagers! The young adults who planned and implemented the retreat did a good job... This coming weekend we will travel to Norway to celebrate St. Lucia Day with a congregation who has built a friendship with the UMC in Latvia. Dan will preach on Sunday, so he is in the midst of preparing that sermon.
Language lessons progress by baby steps, which is better than no steps at all!
We will try to write more later and expound on the events mentioned...
PEACE and JOY to you amidst Advent.

28 November 2007

"Won't My Mommy Be So Proud of Me..." or "Our Thanksgiving in Latvia"

A week after Thanksgiving and we are still enjoying the turkey from last Thursday in the form of SOUP! Our mothers and grandmothers would truly be proud of our ability to make soup from the remains of the turkey. We did, however, give the soup a Latvian twist by adding sauerkraut - Hey, don't knock it until you have tried it!
Our Thanksgiving Day in Latvia consisted of us attending language class in the morning, cooking like banshees with the office staff in the afternoon (see photos), Courtney preaching and leading worship in the evening, and eventually (around 8pm) eating turkey & gravy, potatoes, cranberry sauce, and a variety of Latvian interpretations of "An American Thanksgiving Side-dish." While we enjoyed the cooking and serving of the food, the day itself did not feel very 'restful.' The following day the district office of the church hosted a pastors' meeting, which began with all the warmed-up leftovers. This day had a much slower pace and the meal itself was more relaxed for us - this helped to stoke the ember of Thanksgiving feeling. In these photos, you can see that the pastors and office staff enjoyed the turkey - for some, this was their first time ever eating turkey!
On Saturday, we celebrated a day of rest. We enjoyed more leftovers and unpacked two footlockers we shipped from the US. Shelving books and putting away kitchen utensils while still in our pajamas helped us to feel a bit more settled in this place. One of these photos shows some of the books and kitchen utensils we shipped from the US (notice the pasta machine!!). The other photo shows our smiles after successfully unpacking the trunks.

27 November 2007

Where Did All The Music Go?

Well, you may or may not spend hours a day wondering what happened to the One-Hit Wonder Music from the '90's. Or maybe you wish you could listen to the cheesy (and downright weird!) love ballads of the '80's. Wait no more! Come to Eastern Europe! Over the past few days whilst running daily errands (A brief side-note: we cycle through the 7 items in our fridge frequently, requiring multiple trips to the grocery store each week - which we see as a good thing because it offers a a chance to practice our language...) we heard Vanilla Ice, Ace of Base, Spin Doctors, and some, well, let's just say if people really grasped the meaning behind some of the lyrics, then they probably wouldn't broadcast it at overly high decibel level for the entire store to hear.
Yet we will admit that some music caused our feet to tap and smiles to spread across our faces :)
On a more serious note, Latvians, on the whole, love to sing. Instead of protesting by abandoning work or lighting things on fire, they gather choirs from around the country, set up a stage in Riga, and sing for hours. This upcoming summer Latvia will have their National Song Festival with an expected attendance of more than 100,000 people (36,000 of those will be members of various choirs).
Well, that's all on this cool (33 degrees F) evening.

23 November 2007

Bundled and Warm

Last Sunday (the 18th), Latvia celebrated her independence day. The festivities concluded with a fireworks show on the Daugava River. Courtney and I dressed in layers: long-underwear, long-sleeve shirts, heavy sweaters, jackets, scarves and hats. (The photo shows us happily bundled.) As we waited for the fireworks, we watched the river flow by us. Our friend, Kristine, said, "Wait until the winter when the river freezes over so thick that people will drive their cars on it!" We responded in unison, "You mean this isn't winter yet?" The three of us had a good laugh...
So, one of our new quests will be how to figure out how to remain warm this winter :)

17 November 2007

Conceptions of Time

Time has a weird way of lingering and rushing at the same time.
Weeks and Months...
We sat in our living room tonight reminiscing that only two months ago we shared a meal with family in Boston before we went to training with the General Board of Global Ministry in New York. We had a fantastic time meeting 14 new people (pictured here) who became dear friends over three weeks (which seemed like months - in a good way). Only a month has passed since GBGM commissioned us - that seems like a year ago... We only arrived in Riga three weeks ago, and we have had no concept of time since arriving. While the actual arrival doesn't seem that long ago, the first few days here could have happened last winter...
Some days blur together, and before we know it the week ends. Other times, a day seems to last for 48 hours and we feel as though we actually accomplish a couple of things.
We think that part of this has to do with a whacky work schedule while another part is effected by our northern latitude. In winter, Riga starts to get dark around 4.30pm, and by 6pm it can start to feel like 10pm or 11pm. So as far as hours in a day goes, our internal clocks have yet to adjust.
Even so, the reality as we write is that it is getting later and we need to get up early - so no matter how we feel, we should head off to bed.
PEACE to you - in whatever space of time you currently feel like you live ~ Court and Dan

13 November 2007

Learning the Language and Drinking Tea

Learning Latvian can take many forms. One way happens in the classroom - we have classes 2 mornings a week. Another way happens in ordinary experiences - like shopping.

So during our first week, Court and I decided to pick up some milk while buying some other groceries. I stood in the dairy section scanning all the cardboard cartons of various sizes and various prices. I noticed the numbers conveying milk fat (no terms of fat-free, skim or whole to help) and I found one at 1.8%. Satisfied that I had found milk as close as possible to skim, I tromped off to find Courtney and declare victory at finding milk for her cereal and our tea - (when moving to a new culture, it's the little successes that can make one's day!)

We walked home, started the kettle for tea, and unloaded the groceries filling our European fridge, which took about 15 seconds and consisted of 7 items.

I don't remember why I went to the living room, yet I remember the startled outburst from Courtney as she made tea in the kitchen. I ran around the corner to see a very perplexed look on her face...

We now know that kefirs (a mix between buttermilk and plain drinking yogurt with an odor of sour milk) is not milk, as kefirs does not look, smell, or taste the same as milk. We quickly learned that piens is Latvian for milk.
~ Dan

04 November 2007

We've arrived!

So, our first official post to this blog - what to say? Well, We Have Arrived in Latvia. We landed in Riga a week ago Friday. Three of the people we will work with (Gita, the District Superintendent (not pictured); Kristine, the Admin. Assistant; and Inga, the finance person) greeted us at the airport in a traditional Latvian way - FLOWERS! The Latvians love their flowers! You can see flower stalls everywhere and all the time - below is a photo of some vendors in the snow.
Last Monday we purchased furniture for our apartment - and then we spent the next two days assembling some bookshelves, a bed, a wardrobe, a mini-dresser, and a table - it is nice not to live out of our suitcases.
What's the weather like? We experienced our first snow yesterday. The weather has not yet been as cold as we thought - in the 30's and 40's, yet today I (Dan) have officially felt the cold to the core most of the day. We are soooo glad that we have electricity to run the radiators that our landlord provided for us.

We thank God for the opportunity to live here for a bit.

Well, that's it for now - we wanted to start with a brief post. We look forward to sharing thoughts and experiences in days and weeks to come. PEACE ~ Dan and Court