31 December 2008

A Few Answers to Prayer

Happy New Year's Eve!! We are off to a games, food, and fireworks night in a few minutes, but I wanted to take a moment to write about a few prayer requests.

"Prayer" can sometimes be a daunting word - or task, and sometimes it can seem wildly unknown and foreign. Sometimes it happens when we are unaware. Sometimes it seems an automatic response to situations - so automatic, in fact, that at times we forget we even asked God for help, wisdom, intervention, etc... And only as times passes and we look back do we remember and realize, "Oh, wait a minute, didn't we pray about this or that or the other?"

When we returned to Latvia in November, Courtney needed to see her doctor about the baby. Her doctor informed her that she would be out of town, but she could see her associate. Now we liked this doctor because she appears competent, proficient, AND she speaks English!! The thought of trying to do the doctor/baby/ultrasound/what will having a baby in Latvia be like conversation in Latvian added a bit of anxiety. We went anyway, praying that we could understand enough of the technical language to know what to do... we walked into the office and the associate spoke to us in English and appears just as competent as Court's first doctor. What a relief...and a reason to give thanks for God's provision.

Last week Court didn't feel well. She had the same pain in the same place for a few days - sometimes a dull ache, sometimes a sharp pain. Finally we phoned the Ob/Gyn to ask for an appointment. She informed us that her office (and most doctors' offices for that matter) are closed until January 5th, so we should go to the hospital and have them check Court. As we understand things, here in Latvia, without a doctor's recommendation, the only way for a hospital to see you is if you go to an emergency room. An emergency room in a foreign language when things didn't seem an absolute 'emergency' appeared daunting to us. We prayed, asking for wisdom, strength, and help. The next day, Court's pain was gone and it hasn't returned since. Coincidence? Maybe, yet we are thankful that God can bring relief.

One more story (there are many to tell) involves the Hope Center. Their grant is running out, and the budget has been stretched as thin as possible. At the beginning of December they had just enough to pay the staff and house the girls, and then they received notice from the government about year-end health and fire inspections, which cost to have completed, plus the costs of the remodeling they require to have done. If these things weren't completed, the Hope Center would have been shut down and the girls and their babies would have no where else to go. We prayed and asked God to provide for all that is necessary - and knowing that many times, God allows others to be answers to prayer, we started telling the story to others. In the midst of holiday spending and fears over the plummeting economy, various people and groups gave enough to help the Hope Center get through the next couple of months. WOOHOO!! God does answer prayer - not always how we expect, yet the answer always comes - whether it be a 'yes,' 'no,' or 'just wait and trust.'

I know many people have many questions about God, prayer, and the 'whys' and 'why nots' associated with those questions. I don't intend to offer a theological defense here, nor do I want to try to explain why some seem answered and some seem forgotten. I just wanted to take a few minutes and say that I know God hears, and I am thankful for the relief and response we have felt these past few weeks.

Well, we're off to celebrate the New Year with some friends. We are not sure what will happen in 2009, yet we know that we can trust our ever-faithful and loving God to be with us throughout this next year.

We pray that you would know peace in that reality as well.

PEACE ~ Dan and Courtney

29 December 2008

Christmas, Light, and the Past Few Weeks

Once again, a few have passed since posting...sorry.
The past few weeks have seen Courtney trying to fight off a nasty cold-and-sinus doozy that kept her on the couch and doing minimal activity for almost 3 weeks. She seems to be just about over it, and for that we are thankful! I (Dan) took a 6-day intensive training course for camp leaders - a requirement from the Latvian government for all camp leaders. Some of the information was new (especially Latvian law and regulations), some of it was review from my camp experiences, and ALL of it was in Latvian - even the two tests at the end! I am so thankful for my friend, Rihards, who attended the course with me to help translate. We both passed the tests, too - woohoo! (and Praise the Lord!!)

LIGHT! - the days are becoming longer, which means a bit more light through the windows, and that is a blessed thing. In fact, we have had mostly clear skies the past few days. On Christmas we watched the sky turn orange, red, pink, and then purple before becoming dark around 4pm... and the past few mornings the we have glimpsed the clouds turn from orange to gold as they caught the rising sun at 8:40am. We look forward to the lengthening of days over the next 6 months.

CHRISTMAS! - Two weeks ago (the 15th) I went on a Christmas tree hunt with Rihards. We met up with Riga 1st's part-time maintenance man, Janis, at his country home and tromped through the woods with his two dogs. After walking a while we found a nice little grove with some skinny little trees, and borrowing Janis' handsaw, I cut one for our apartment in Riga. In the photos you can see the three guys and the tree - in the woods and in the apartment.

We wanted to attend some of the Christmas Eve services in Methodist churches in the eastern part of Latvia, yet Court didn't feel well, and the 4 hours on a train and almost an hour of walking wouldn't help her feel better, so we attended the candle-light service at Riga 1st which started around 4pm. We got home about 6.30pm and made our traditional 'Ante Pasta' which includes a variety of meats, some cheese, olives, bread, etc...
Christmas Day turned out a lot quieter than expected, and we welcomed the time to chat, read, and talk to our families on the phone. On Second Christmas (Dec. 26th), we went to the Hope Center with a few others because they were having a small Christmas party for the girls and their babies, yet even more exciting - two of the girls AND their babies would be baptized. Courtney really enjoyed the opportunity to help with the service
and to distribute gifts to the girls from some folks in North Carolina. (Thanks, Jacquie and Cirlcle 5!) Yesterday after church we went over to Gita's house (the District Superintendent and the pastor of Riga 1st and Cesis) for a small Christmas/New Year's party. They cooked an awesome roast and we exchanged gifts and sang songs and played games.

Court and I look back on this past year and we give thanks for God's grace and love experienced through the support of our friends and families, and also in the peace and perseverence in the difficult times. We are amazed at the little life growing in Court, and also nervously excited as we anticipate a lot of changes with the baby coming at the end of May or beginning of June.

So many, many more thoughts, but that's it for the random stream of consciousness at this time.

PEACE - Dan and Court

06 December 2008

Ebbs, Flows, and the Nutcracker

Ebb and Flow describes this past weeks - emotionally, physically, mentally... We have had some good times with people, some frustrations causing stress, we have felt alert and out-of-it - and that's mostly because of a virus working its way through (and hopefully out of) our bodies. Court has taken the brunt of it with congestion, coughing, and soreness - yet she has actually taken time to lay on the couch and rest.
I had a couple of frustrating days at the beginning of the week...not one thing exactly, but enough to steal the joy and peace.
Anyway, in the midst of all that, we still had tickets for the Nutcracker ballet on Wednesday night. (An amazing thing about living here is that people love ballet, opera, etc... AND tickets are accessible to everyone. Tickets started at $5. We payed $20 and sat 14 rows from the orchestra pit.) We decided to make the attempt to go. WOW! What a great evening. The inside of the opera house is probably the most beautiful building interior I have seen in Latvia. The orchestra played wonderfully and the main dancers performed exquisitely. We had a nice walk home, and the fresh air and exercise did us both some good.
We are constantly reminded that God is faithful and good. We have hope that is steadfast. Even if circumstances don't always seem good, we can trust that God will not abandon us - and that God will always provide those things necessary for us to live in hope and peace.

27 November 2008

Thanksgiving in Riga

We had a wonderful Thanksgiving in Latvia today. Some of our American friends in ministry here in Riga came over joining three folks who flew in from Alabama today (they came to do a training in Lithuania). We had mashed potatoes, cranberry-apple sauce, salad with craisins and mandarins, stuffing with fennel, bread, scalloped potatoes, honey-glazed carrots, green-bean casserole, and...Chicken. Yep, turkey was way too expensive, so we decided on two small birds and stuffed them and rubbed them in honey from a local farm.

23 November 2008

We're Back - and in a blizzard, sort of

Well - we returned to Latvia last week and finally returned to blogging today. Yesterday and today has given us the weather we expected when we arrived last year - snow and wind and cold. We are thankful that we live in a apartment with HEAT. woohoo! A friend told us that the news said that the real bulk of the storm will arrive on Monday and Tuesday. So for people in the Carolinas, Tennessee, and thereabouts, this is a blizzard. For those from New England and the Rocky Mountain region, this is just one of those winter storms when your glad for hot chocolate (Thanks, Grammy!!) and hope the electricity doesn't go out.

We had a very full time in the states - a lot of driving, a bit of flying, and plenty of good food with friends and family. We visited various camps and met with their directors, which proved quite enlightening and encouraging for some of our work in Latvia. We enjoyed eating ice cream with our niece, Aria, and nephew, William, in Georgia, and we had a blast carving pumpkins and making chocolate chip cookies with our niece, Emily, and her new baby sister, Brooke, in Portland.

Well, the small, latchless window in the kitchen just blew open, so I'm off to keep the snow out of the apartment.

29 September 2008

A Haven of Healing and Hope

I want to share three stories about Camp Wesley. When Courtney and I first anticipated the summer, we knew we would help with programming and life at camp, yet through the course of the summer we realized that Camp Wesley offers more than just a place to gather and to have a good time – I hope these stories will help explain (FYI: I have changed the names…)

The first story happened this past weekend at the Apple Festival, which turned out to be more than just a day to pick apples and make jam. We knew ‘Susan’ from this summer. She is a 12 year-old with a ton of energy who likes to be the boss and get everything she wants. I confess that when I saw her on Saturday I simultaneously thought, “Good that she is coming, and Oh-no, she is coming.” She came with her sister and a friend from their apartment complex – which is the Soviet-bloc style housing in an ‘under-privileged’ area.

The three of them met up with some of the other youth and spent little time picking apples :) They chased the boys around camp, swung on the rope swing in the barn, and tried to put frogs in each others’ hair. Around 2 o’clock they asked Courtney if they could stay the night. Courtney thought another group of youth was staying so she said, “Sure.” Turns out the other groups would soon be leaving (even so, I think Courtney would have still said, “Yes,” …). They ran up to me and asked, “Can we sleep in the barn, can we sleep in the attic, can we sleep in the big building, can we…” I told them that I wasn’t quite sure what they were asking me. “Courtney said we could spend the night – isn’t that great?”

As I drove a group to the bus station in town I tried not to be frustrated as this unexpected plan. I really didn’t feel like being a baby-sitter for three 12 year-old girls. I phoned Courtney and discussed the entire situation logically, yet the entire time I knew in my heart that I needed to let the girls stay. Courtney asked the girls if maybe they could stay on a different night just not this night. “Well, where are we going to sleep tonight? Mom has already left for work, locked the apartment, and she won’t be home until 6am. We can’t go to our dad’s apartment because he drinks and, well, it is not safe for us there.”

For these sisters and their friend, Camp Wesley offers a place to live as kids and experience a haven – if even for only an evening – from the storms in their lives.

The second and third stories happened during children’s camp this summer:
‘Sally’ comes from one of the most economically- and resource- deprived towns (if you can call it that) in Latvia. This beautiful child has a ton of behavioral and socializing issues – some resulting from alcohol and drug use during pregnancy and some stem from poor (or lack of) nurture at home. Her life displays obvious signs of neglect and abuse. At moments this summer all 60-pounds of her would go into a screaming rage and only her pastor’s strong, patient arms of love could enfold her and calm her down.

Swinging on the rope swing in the barn became one of her favorite things this summer. While swinging, a smile would grow on her face and a life-light would fill her eyes. The swinging did not fix the behavioral issues or problems at home, yet those 60-second periods allowed her a tangible experience of freedom, joy and God’s love.

‘Sam’, his older sister, and younger brother came to camp because someone from a local congregation invited them. Their family deals with the many issues associated with unemployment, alcoholism, and abuse. The two weeks before camp were especially difficult – so much so that the sister chose to leave camp early because emotionally things were much too raw to stay.

‘Sam’ came to camp with a shirt, shorts, and a pair of shoes too small because the family budget cannot keep up with his 13 year-old growth spurt. By the third day of living, playing, and sleeping at camp his and his brother’s clothes became an object of scorn of other children. “Sam” and his brother also had a number of infected scrapes because they had received no proper care for them at home.

Over the course of the week, the camp nurse cleaned and freshly bandaged their scrapes daily, and we washed their clothes and gave them a fresh change of clothes. The thing I remember best about “Sam” is the smile that cracks open when someone takes the time to stop and truly see him and not push him away.

We saw “Sam” a couple of weeks ago – seeing that smile again brought a flash of joy to my heart.

Camp Wesley offers a haven where kids can receive healing and hope in things I often take for granted – like clean clothes, simple medical care, a safe place to sleep – and it also offers a place where they can experience God’s kingdom –love, hope, joy and peace – in tangible and practical ways.

Apple Festival and an end to the camping season

This past weekend we had an Apple Festival at Camp Wesley in Liepaja (on the coast next to the Baltic Sea). About 50 people from 8 of the 13 congregations participated. Camp Wesley has about an acre of orchard containing many apple trees (of 4 or 5 different varieties - I need to learn the specifics!) a few pear trees, and a couple of plum trees. The camp also has quite a few cherry trees along with an assortment of various fruit bushes.

People gathered together to pick, peel and preserve apples. Some people stirred the two big, black kettles bubbling over the camp fire, while others made two giant cakes in the kitchen. Some people canned the jam and preserves in jars they had brought from home, and Everyone tasted the progress along the way.

We also tried to do some work at winterizing the camp ... as we drove away yesterday we reminisced about the past 3 months of activity at the camp... The unknowns and anticipations before hand - the many different groups and people we had the opportunity of meeting - Wow - only three months ago... (obviously I am currently struggling with words - hopefully I will be able to articulate something later.)

We will try to post some photos when Courtney returns from Switzerland this weekend (she brought the camera with her).

24 September 2008

WOOHOO for Brooke Frances !!!!

Yesterday, Courtney's sister, Amy, gave birth to a 9-pound (4kg) girl in Portland, OR. Her name is Brooke Frances.

We are sooooo excited to be Aunt Courtney and Uncle Dan for the 4th time!


08 September 2008

translation and crayons and the resuming of language lessons

Translating is hard!! We have made attempts to learn the language while here, and one of my (Dan's) favorite phrases is: "I know enough to get myself in trouble, but not enough to get out of it." As different folks have visited and various groups have traveled through, I have, at times, had to translate from Latvian into English. While I don't catch everything and I miss a lot of the nuances, I can usually convey the broad brush stroke meaning of the conversations.
Fluency in a language, I think, is similar to a box of at least 64 color crayons - you have the primaries, you have the basics, and then you have a variation on all of those. In a box of 64 crayons, one doesn't have only 'red' - no, one has 'brick red', 'maroon', 'mauve' - etc...
Well, a few weeks ago a group of people from United Methodist Churches in Tennessee came to Latvia to spend time with people from the congregations here - to work on projects together, to share stories and songs, to share meals, to laugh...
Right now I have about 8 colors in my Latvian crayon box. So imagine my surprise a few weeks ago when, on the second Sunday of their visit, I was asked to translate the sermon - from English into Latvian because the pastor became extremely ill. The service went okay. The people understood the basic message - and they helped me as I searched for words...
So while Will, the preacher, had a great message with wonderful nuances on God's goodness, I couldn't convey all those meanings. It is as if he would say 'sky blue' and 'midnight blue' and 'aqua-marine', and I would translate, 'blue' 'blue' 'blue-like with a bit of green'...
We are sooo glad that our language lessons begin this week - hopefully another color or two in the box by Christmas time...
Well, just wanted to share some silliness with you.
: ) peace

Change - Change of Seasons - Change of Roles

We have come back to blogger-land...sorry for the absence.
This blog is about change - the first two sections are kind of silly, the third has more substance.
Latvia uses the Lat as its currency, and each Lat has 100 santimi. (oh - at the beginning of the summer, $1 was worth 0.42 Lats, or 42 santimi...I think today it is around $1=48 santimi.)
What can spare change buy in Lativa?
10 santimi (about 20 to 25 cents) = one large plastic bag to bag groceries at the store
20 santimi = 1 hour of parking in Liepaja, but only 6 minutes of parking in Riga.
20 santimi = the price to use public restrooms in both Riga and Liepaja
35 santimi = one ride on the tram in Liepaja
40 santimi = one ride on public transport in Riga
50 santimi = coffee from automatic machine in bus terminal

Change of Seasons:
The weather is cooling down and more rain has fallen recently. Also, the sun now sets outside our window around 7.45pm. Leaves are starting to turn color and fall from trees. Stores are closing out their summer wear and full-length coats are beginning to appear on manequines around town.

Change of Roles:
As of our annual conference two weeks ago, our jobs have changed slightly. Courtney will remain the director of youth ministry and director of Sunday School and Curriculum for the country. Dan will continue to work with continuing education for clergy and laity.
Our new roles: Courtney will serve as the program director for Camp Wesley and Dan will serve as the camp director. We are excited to serve in these vital roles to continue the wonderful work already begun at Camp Wesley. (we will write more about the camp itself in a later blog.) These new roles do entail an eventual move to the camp, which is located in Liepaja. Until that happens, though, we will split our time between Riga and Camp Wesley. (the photo shows us standing in front of the main gathering/dining facility at camp.)

That's all for now.

06 August 2008

camps, colds, and crazy utilities

We just returned home the other day from the last official camp of the summer. The kids really enjoyed it, and we enjoyed working with the kids.
Some of the kids came from fairly stable families and some came from horrible situations. We thank God for the joy evidenced in their smiles as they swung on the rope swing in the barn or splashed in the waves at the beach.
One boy, after jumping from the swing into the hay after lunch, excitedly asked me, "Are we going to eat again today?" My face smiled as I reassured him that we will have another meal today, yet my heart saddened to know that he and his friends eat one meal a day...

After the young adult camp, Dan came home with a bad cold, and he was able to rest one day (Monday) before heading off to Lithuania for two days. Courtney went directly to the Hope Center (where a group from Alabama came to spend time some of the kids and work on the church building there for a bit) and returned home Tuesday night. On Wednesday, Dan came home and the two of looked forward to planning a day together (Thursday) before heading back to Wesley Camp for Children's Camp. However we were surprised to find that our electricity had been turned off...and it was still off when we left for camp on Friday. Thankfully our landlady has worked to help us - and phoned us that Friday to assure us things were in order.
Then a loooong week at Children's Camp. Both of us returned to Riga with colds - Dan on Sunday and Courtney on Tuesday. Dan spent Monday debriefing the two students from Auburn who had spent the summer in Latvia and Russia - this turned out to be a wonderfully fantastic time for all three. Court came home Tuesday afternoon, and we went out to dinner to celebrate the completion of Children's Camp. We came home last night (Tuesday) to find that our water had been turned off, as people on the floor below had water coming into their apartment. Today we had water on and off as we had different people in and out of the apartment looking for the leak. Needless to say this has been a bit frustrating.

During this summer we feel we have gained fruitful insight into the work situation here. Even though the camp schedule was quite full - and many times draining - we felt God strengthen us each day and we even experienced moments of refreshment and glimpses of joy.
As we write this, we have water and electricity and our congestion and coughs. We are off to Camp Wesley on Friday - Dan for another 10 days to work with a group from Tennessee here to work on the camp, and Courtney for a few before she goes to Lithuanian next weekend for a youth retreat called 'Chrysalis'.
We will try to put up pictures, catch-up with e-mails, and make phone calls in the weeks ahead, yet please be patient as we are trying to navigate through this time.

13 July 2008

A Few Notes from Camp

I wrote this a few nights ago from Camp Wesley...
Camp Wesley has provided some refreshment for us. We sleep less, get up earlier and go to bed later, yet we have felt restored in our time here. (While I am writing this at Camp Wesley, it will not get posted until I return to Riga.)
We have enjoyed the sea and the fresh air and sitting by the camp fire at night. Last week we had an evening service on the beach and many of the people present stayed after the service to watch the sunset on the water - around 11pm.
Mosquitoes the size of teradactyls have bitten me (Dan) through my clothes, yet they have not been as numerous as we had expected - so that's a plus.
I am writing this entry as I sit by the campfire (although I will not be able to post it until I return to Riga), and I am enjoying the afternoon breeze and watching the flames lap over the wood from the trees we trimmed today.
I took a walk to the beach in the evening. I enjoyed looking at the various shapes, sizes and colors of stones on the beach. I skipped stones into the waves. I enjoyed another sunset on the beach...

29 June 2008

long nights and grilling out ( IN ! )

Our friends, Kelly and Donna - whom we met here, moved from Colorado. They miss grilling out more than we do, as neither of our apartments have balconies or other spaces to grill... The other night they invited us over for dinner - to "grill out" inside. We opened the windows and turned on the powerful exhaust fan. We only had one moment of "Was this really a good idea?" yet after our meal of tender, grilled food we knew we found a great idea. The first photo is of Dan and Kelly at the moment they said - "uh, maybe not so much lighter fluid next time..." The second photo is of the four of us before we eat.

We know we have commented before on the long nights, but we wanted to share with you the scene from our apartment a few nights ago. We took the photo around 10.30pm

some of our work...in photos

We realize that you may not know some of the things we do here, and if you do, you may not know some of the people with whom we have the opportunity to spend some time. Sooo....
These three ladies with Court are three of the theological students Dan mentors. From left to right: Vivita, Gunta, and Liga.

This past weekend we held a youth leader training seminar at Camp Wesley in Liepaja. Here are some of those who attended:

And two weeks ago we had a gathering of young adults in our apartment for a homemade pizza party - we are thankful we finally got a couch:

18 June 2008

A Red Sox Hat, A Pan of Sauce, and the need to Remember

I (Dan) wore my Red Sox hat yesterday - something I haven't done in a while because this is not really a 'ball cap' culture. I needed to go to the store because I wanted to make the sauce for the young adult homemade pizza party in our apartment tonight (I think I have finally developed a good sauce recipe using available local ingredients!).

However, I had a difficult day yesterday (not an uncommon occurrence lately) - the rain fell heavily from the clouds and in my heart. Because of the rain, I decided to don my Red Sox for my walk to the store. As I took the hat off the shelf I looked under the brim at the dates I have written on it. I know it may sound weird, but under the brim I have written significant dates when I have worn the hat so that I will remember. I started this on 27 October 2004 (the night the Red Sox finally "reversed the curse" and won the World Series after an 86-year drought). Since then I have written a few other dates: the day Court said, "Yes!" to my proposal (I inscribed the date of our wedding under the brim of my '2004 World Series Champions' Red Sox hat); the day we graduated from Divinity School; the day the Red Sox won the last World Series. In between those last two dates I had another inscribed - "9 October 2008". I remembered that on this day Bishop Martinez and Bishop Justo laid their hands on our heads and Bishop Olsen stretched forth his hand as they commissioned Courtney and I "to go forth..." which resulted in our arrival in Latvia 2 weeks later. This remembrance granted perspective.

As I walked in the rain to the store I realized that I had bought the lie - hook, line, and sinker. What lie? The lie that current circumstances and situations have greater claim on our lives than God's hope, love and peace - The lie that circumstances and situations are a greater reality than the cross, resurrection, and expectant return of Christ - The lie that struggles, difficulties, and other peoples' perceptions define us rather than the reality that God created us, knows us, and cherishes us.

On the way to the store I stopped by the apartment of some recent, yet good and life-giving friends who also serve in this place. They also had a discouraging and frustrating day. We talked, we shared deeply, we laughed, and we prayed. And in this process, God lifted our heads and strengthened our hearts.

While I made a quick batch of pasta and let the sauce simmer, I hummed and smiled as I remembered the greater reality that defines me. I say greater reality, because this acknowledges the circumstances, difficulties, and frustrations we face are not merely illusions or false perceptions, yet they are, in fact, real. Yet into the midst of these realities lives the greater hope and the greater truth that I am a child of God - defined by God's love, grace, hope and peace.

I thank God for memories and the comfort of a favorite hat, for the simple things like homemade pasta and sauce, and for the truth that our identity and our joy comes from a from a reality greater than our circumstances and situations. Our joy, hope, and peace are gifts given to us by our loving Creator - our loving God. Amen!

17 June 2008

Getting Ready for the Summer Schedule

We transition into our summer schedules this week. However, don't let the term 'schedule' fool you into thinking that we have a specific plan and schedule ; ) For the next 6 weeks or so we will be traveling back and forth between Riga and Liepaja (about 3 hours to the west). While in Liepaja we will live at Camp Wesley, participating in the various activities, week-long camps, and trainings that will occur. Some of these we are leading from the front, some we are supporting, and some we are observing.

Many people from outside of Latvia will also participate in the various camps and programs with the UMC in Latvia this summer, and we are excited to meet new people and build new relationships. Here are just a few to note:

This next weekend (26th-29th June) the two of us have prepared a mini-seminar for the youth leaders who will do a good deal of the work this summer. We have discovered that many are encouraged to initiate programs, very little training has been given in the 'how' behind and the 'why' underneath the programs. We want to focus on the importance of 're-charging' and 'self-care' in the midst of serving.

The first week of July sees the beginning of Wesley Days, which is an international camp with the focus of fellowship and working on advancing the work, remodel, and repairs necessary to continue to convert the old, dilapidated farm into a fully functioning camp.

The middle of July welcomes a young adult camp with people attending from Lithuania, Estonia, Finland, and Latvia - the purpose of this camp is to deepen connections with Christians in other countries while serving the camp in any needed way.

Courtney has done some awesome preparation for the Children's Camp that will happen the final week of July, and we are excited to see how that plays out with the 80+ children who will attend.

Well, we just wanted to provide a glimpse and an update.

10 June 2008

"Those are our rules..."

We had brought a package to the post office and asked to mail it to our friend in Germany - without asking us about the contents of the box or for a filled-out customs form, the young post-lady said, "I need to open this package before you can send it."
I replied, "You do not need to open it before I send it."
"I'm sorry, but those are our rules," the young post-lady said to us as she sat behind the counter.
"Don't I first need to fill out a customs form and you need to ask what's in the box?" I asked.
The older post-lady working at the next counter tried to help. "Excuse me, what are you mailing?"
I replied, "A wooden rolling pin from a craft maker."
Turning to the younger lady she said there was no need to open the box and then added, "Why didn't you have them fill out the form first? What did you think was in there?"
"Narcotics..." was the shy response.
At this point Courtney and I started laughing - is this lady serious? Yet the postal-ladies' conversation continued..."Why did you think it was narcotics?"
"Well, look at the box and feel how light it is..." the younger one replied.
"and your point is?" her colleague asked.
"...I mean why would someone mail a wooden rolling pin to Germany?" the younger one finished.

Thinking is okay, and using one's mind is a great thing to do - however, C'mon...

Well, just wanted to share this silly encounter with you.

07 June 2008

Late Night Sun

It stay light very late in Riga - we'll let these three pictures speak for themselves (and this is before the longest day of the year...). First photo - a hand puppet made with the light on the sun on the wall of our apartment at 9.30pm.
Second photo - reflection of the clock tower in the water (the clock reads 9.45pm).
Third photo - a clock with the dusk-lit sky behind it (the clock reads 9.50pm).

New Cuts and New Couch

Hello Hello!! Sorry that we have not posted in while - just craziness and sorting through emotions, vocation, visitors and our job situation.
Well, Spring has sprung in Latvia - and we have our new Spring hair-cuts. Courtney's was done by a professional and Dan's friend, Rihards, cut his hair in the kitchen of the church.

In other fun and exciting news - we finally found a couch for our apartment. We moved in over two months ago, yet have not had a couch for the living room. Up to this point it was okay- and the Sunday School kids who had a home-made-pizza-party

here last week enjoyed all of the space to jump, wrestle, and play. However, we realize that we could not have people sitting on the wooden floor forever. Furniture prices in Riga are absolutely ridiculous (even the uncomfortable and ugly ones start out around $800). Even though we knew we needed one, we didn't want to spend a lot of money on something we wouldn't enjoy - and couldn't justify spending $2000 on a comfortable one... Sooo, we had some friends show us a used/defect furniture store a while ago. Well, after 5 trips to the store, we found one that had a 'defect' (read: minor tear in one cushion) and that reduced the price by about 75% of what it would cost in the retail store. A real blessing, especially now that the summer is beginning and we will have people sleeping on the couch.
Again, sorry that we haven't updated this in a while. We have a full summer ahead and we will try to post a few times a month.
That's all the rambling for this go around.

12 May 2008

We have internet!

The internet folks just left, and we now have internet in our apartment. This means we can make phone calls and do a better job (hopefully) of keeping in touch with friends and family - woohoo!
We will write some tales of vacation in another blog.

27 April 2008

Going on Holiday!!! WooHoo!!!!!!!!

Can you tell we are excited? We leave in less than 10 hours for vacation. We fly to Paris via Hamburg - excited to return to see some familiar places and old friends - and then we meet Dan's parents in Germany for a few days before we return to Latvia on the 7th of May.
We will then spend a few days with Dan's parents in Latvia.
We have waited for this break and time away, and to be completely honest, some times we didn't think it would ever arrive.
Don't know how much blogging we'll do in the next two weeks, yet we will try to write when we return (That is if we finally get the internet in the apartment...)

13 April 2008

Latvia's J.J. Reddick

So I (Dan) went to a Baltic Basketball League playoff game on Friday night with some guys I have met here. One of Riga's three teams - "ASK" - played a team from Estonia.
This Latvian player named Sandis Valters drained 8 three-pointers in the game. It reminded me of watching an on-fire J.J. Reddick play in Cameron at DUKE. Nice and Smooth shot - either open or double-teamed - basically at-will shooting. It was awesome. The team as a whole hit 12 or 13 three-pointers that night.
Well, that's about it for now. : )


WooHoo!! With an unexpected phone call on Thursday we changed our plans and went down to the Office for Migration Affairs, and they gave us our residence permits valid for one year - no hassle, no huff - just "Sign these papers" and "Here you go."
So this past week has seen some nice up-turns - a new apartment, our resident visas... We give thanks to God!!

09 April 2008

We've MOVED!!

Hello - unexpectedly (in a GOOD way) we moved this past week. We had considered moving into an apartment with an extra room to use partly as an office and so guests will have a more personal space to stay when they come. So, two weeks ago I fiddled around on the internet looking at different offerings in Riga - we went to look at one last Monday, signed the Lease on Friday, and moved (for the most part) on Sunday and Monday. (THANK YOU to the Hargans for the use of their vehicle and to Rihards, Joe, and Nick for their braun moving items to the 4th floor!)
We still have to get some things sorted and settled, yet we have enjoyed the new space and the higher floor.
Our new address is:
Gertrudes iela 69/71 - dz.63
Riga, LV - 1011
We will try to post pictures later.

26 March 2008

a late winter blast...

I think Latvia gave up 'winter' for Lent, because ever since Easter morning the snow and the temperatures have continued falling.
We actually thought we had missed winter this year - or, rather, that it had missed us. I shaved my chin and had my hair cut about two weeks ago thinking Spring was just around the corner. As the snow piles up outside our window and on the street I think I should have waited another week or so before the Spring shearing. Oh well, I have a nice hat and a scarf...

23 March 2008

Happy Easter - Priecigus Lieldienas

Priecigus Lieldienas! Happy Easter! This morning a group of twenty youth and adults from Fairview UMC in Tennessee and the youth from Riga’s two Methodist Churches boarded a bus for Jurmula. We traveled out to the coast of the Baltic Sea for a sunrise service on the beach. When we arrived in Jurmula there was a light dusting of snow. However I (Court) was completely amazed and surprised to see the whole beach covered in snow. Although it makes sense if it is snowing on the road than it would also be snow on the beach – but somehow the presence of snow just brought more attention to God’s glory. The group huddled together in a circle surrounding the cross made from beach candles for a Service of Light. As we sang, prayed, and read scripture – I noticed a great peace and warmth on this Easter Sunday. The restoration brought by the empty tomb became real and tangible to me there on the beach standing in the snow. We talked about the light of Christ – how we receive it and are told to share it with one another. Through out this week I have been strengthened by the witness of the youth - both American and Latvian. They are Christ’s light in the world.

May the joy, hope and peace of Jesus’ resurrection be tangible in your life today.

19 March 2008

Was that in Latvian?

Kind of indicative of my (Dan's) day and week so far - I heard this phrase in Latvian language class today. I had asked, in Latvian, what a certain word meant that I had heard many people use. The teacher looked a be in a befuddled manner and replied, "Is that Latvian?" I said, "Yes." She said, "I mean is that a Latvian word your saying?" Again, I said, "Yes." After two more attempts at the word she said, "Oh, do you mean...?" (which was only a fraction of a sound off of what I had said). I said, "Yes..."
So that was my little joke that helped me laugh through the day and all that is has been... Even when we try our best or even do our best, people are going to look befuddled - and make us wonder "What am I doing? Should I even be here? Maybe I should just do something else....

10 March 2008

A Tribute...

I (dan) received some sad news on Saturday. My Uncle Joe (my grandma's youngest brother - by 17 years, and to my knowledge her only surviving sibling) passed away. I didn't spend a lot of time with him, yet the time we did spend was memorable. The dry cleaning shop we would visit on summer vacations off the boardwalk in Atlantic City - the Italian food - the gold chains... I just wanted to say that Uncle Joe D'Amico will be missed.

The photo shows me, Uncle Joe, Uncle Flav (my mom's brother), and Auntie Alice (Joe's wife).

05 March 2008

some of our recent work...

As I said in an earlier post, this past weekend we attended (and helped to host) a Diaconal Conference for the Northern European United Methodist Churches. [Diaconal work encompasses the work of the Deacon, which in the UMC most often means working to feed the hungry, visit the sick and imprisoned, assist the poor, etc... for an example look in the Bible in Acts chapter 6 when the church chose seven people to look after the needs of the brothers and sisters.] At the end of this meeting we drafted a statement that the Bishop's office will send to all the churches under his jurisdiction, and ask that it be read to those congregations. I thought I would post it here as well...

Humility, Mercy, and Justice: a call for holistic ministry in every community

Poverty affects all of our communities, whether we encounter a poverty of physical resources or a poverty of tenuous connections.

We, representatives from the Nordic and Baltic area of the United Methodist Church and its institutions, gathered in Latvia in March 2008 to share from our stories – our joys and our challenges – in ministry, specifically in the areas related to children and vulnerable families.

We acknowledge that poverty results from scarcity – whether a lack of physical resources, a lack of spiritual formation, or a lack of emotional nurture – and this poverty affects all of our communities.

We believe that our rich Biblical heritage and our Wesleyan theological and spiritual tradition challenge our lives, congregations, and ministries to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly (cf. Micah 6:8) among the children and the vulnerable both within our immediate milieux and throughout the entire world.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reminds us that the Kingdom of God is open to all persons, including the child, the outcast, the enemy, and the vulnerable.

We encourage Acts of Piety (celebrating the sacraments and participating in the life of worship) and Acts of Mercy (meeting immediate and tangible physical, spiritual, and emotional needs), yet we also acknowledge that these two remain incomplete without Acts of Justice (cf. James 2:14-17).

In our Wesleyan tradition, salvation involves the work of reconciling humanity’s broken relationship with God, and salvation in Wesleyan tradition also means that those who engage in Acts of Piety, Acts of Mercy, and Acts of Justice participate in God’s holy and salvific work of healing the world.

To this end, we would want to challenge our Methodist brothers and sisters, as individuals and as congregations, to engage in dialogue (Christian conferencing) around our Social Principles in order to see the children and vulnerable anew and to hear a fresh challenge of engaging the unjust social structures that adversely affect the children and vulnerable throughout God’s creation.

03 March 2008

Joy in a Purple Bus

I have ridden on a variety of buses over the past 10 years. In Europe, travel by Coach (i.e. a really nice bus) is a popular way for groups to get around or see sights, etc. I stepped into one this past weekend and thought I had landed in Barney's playhouse. The entire bus had a purple motif - from the voilet seats to the deep purple upholstered walls - everything had a purple hue. A bit of a shock at first, but I got used to it...after all, it was just another bus.

This past weekend we attended (and helped to host) a Diaconal Conference for the Northern European United Methodist Churches. [Diaconal work encompasses the work of the Deacon, which in the UMC most often means working to feed the hungry, visit the sick and imprisoned, assist the poor, etc... for an example look in the Bible in Acts chapter 6 when the church chose seven people to look after the needs of the brothers and sisters.] On Friday we took a group of 50 people to see one of the Hope Center buildings. [The Hope Center is a home for vulnerable single girls (literally, as they are usually around 15 years-old when they arrive) who want to keep their babies, yet they have no support network. Most of the girls got pregnant while in an orphanage or by being ravaged on the street...]

We took the girls and their babies with us to the other Hope Center building - on board the 'normal' purple bus. One girl stepped onto the bus with her baby and her eyes grew as wide as saucers. "Wow - this is soo pretty. This is sooo cool." This was also the nicest bus on which she had ever traveled.

I started to think about how many things I take for granted - a been there, seen that, done that mentality. I'm thankful that I took time to marvel at the double rainbow later in the day, along with the burning sunset ringed by rain clouds... I need to take time to wonder and marvel every day - even to see joy in a purple bus.

20 February 2008

Looking Back...

(I started writing this on the 20th of February, because six years ago on that day I (Dan) started on a wonderfully exciting journey.) I left Colorado to work in Northern Afghanistan for about three months and then went on to return to Kosovo (I spent time there in 1999 and 2000) to work for another three months before I returned to the US to begin working on an M.Div. at Duke. In between these two places I visited some friends in Kazakhstan for about a week.

This morning I sat with a cup of tea remembering some of the amazing moments of God's provision and guidance during those six months. In doing so I had to ask myself, "Where is my reliance on God now? Do I still trust as intensely as I did then? Do I try to control circumstances more now?" I asked more questions, too. ... (I didn't know where this thought would end up, yet it just ended.)

Those six months held exciting times, difficult times, dangerous times, lonely times, uplifting times, searching and questioning times, times of community and friendship and sharing... Looking back now I can see that in all of those times God was present - I may not have always 'felt' it or 'seen' it, yet at other times God's presence was obvious and tangible.

This is a good reminder in this season of Court's and my life in Latvia - God is always present. It's the hope we hold onto when God seems anything but present, involved, loving, etc... The sky may be grey, yet that doesn't mean that the sun has stopped shining. The sun is always shining - we have to believe that even when circumstances seem other than that.

Even though it is an overcast day as I write, I don't feel my heart is overcast - and that is a good thing, a marvelous thing, a freeing feeling.

May you know hope and joy amidst whatever circumstances are out your window and in your heart.

15 February 2008

Frustrating (and inefficient) Beauracracy !

After numerous visits to the office of foreign affairs in Rīga we still do NOT have our residence permits for Latvia.

In order for us to submit our paperwork, the UMC's District office here has to submit paperwork. We checked the internet site of the foreign affairs office here, printed those instructions, and then went to the office just to make sure the information corresponded. We spent time asking detailed questions about which forms and how many of each, what letters need to be written and whose signature needed to appear, etc...

A few days later we returned with the proper documentation and we were told that one of the letters was wrong (even though it was exactly like they told us a few days before). We left and returned two days later with the proper letter (in two various formats to anticipate a change in plans) and they told us we had the correct format but we lacked a signature (one that they said was not required on the previous trip).

We went to that office only to find that they were moving - we phoned them and the lady said, "Come tomorrow, no problem, we'll sign and stamp the letter for you." (She said this even though they were moving. I have to say this office has been the only helpful one in this entire process!) So the next day I brought the letter and they signed and stamped it - no problem.
We brought this letter to foreign affairs and they said it was in the wrong format (even though they approved the format on the previous visit) and that we had to put it in a different format and get a new stamp and new signature. - Thankfully the office that was moving complied once again and helped us out by signing and stamping the letter.

During this entire process, I held on to a conversation I had with the Latvian Embassy in the U.S. (D.C.) before we arrived. I asked, "Where do I need to send my forms to have them processed? D.C., New York, somewhere else?" The cordial reply, "You can submit them to any embassy, or, if you happen to be in Riga, you can submit them to the proper office there." Astonished I asked, "Really, some countries require one to submit an application outside of their country - I can really submit them in Riga?" Again a pleasant voice, "Of course you can submit them in Riga - it is no problem."

So, imagine my surprise the other day when, after they finally accepted the District Office's forms and letters, they told us, "Now you know that you cannot turn the applications in here - the closest places are Estonia or Lithuania. You will have to schedule an appointment with the Latvian Consulate in those countries."

Here is the process - we travel to Estonia, meet with the official in their office, submit the application and pay the fee for that application (because of the long delay in this process, we now have to pay for expedited processing). Then we have to pay an additional "Consular processing fee" (because we submitted the application outside of the country (yet they won't accept the application within the country!) and they will send the applications via courier to the office in Riga where they will end up on the same person's desk that I could hand it to in person. Remember, at this point they don't read or process the applications - they simply take them from us, ask us what we plan to do in Latvia, and then place them in an envelope.
However, since they only send a courier twice a month, if we want to have the applications expedited, then we have to pay a courier fee on top of the expedited fee.

Frustrating and inefficient beauracracy!!
-just thought we would share the insanity with you...

12 February 2008

SUVs vs. SmartCars, Scooters & Cyclists

The other day while I walked down a busy side-walk, a cyclist passed me going in the other direction. I did a double-take primarily because the cyclist was walking his bicycle. At this point a lightbulb turned on in my head and I had a new observation regarding the difference between Riga and other European cities.
In some of the major European cities bicycles and/or motor-scooters serve as a major form of transportation for many people. SUVs are also a rare sight in these cities, while SmartCars (a sardine can on wheels, basically), and other smaller cars are the norm. To date, I have only seen one SmartCar in Latvia, yet at least a third of the vehicles I see are SUVs (American size).
Well, that's just a little observation from over here.

05 February 2008

a little superbowl goes a long way...

Well, I (Dan) did it - I stayed up until 5am Monday morning watching Superbowl XLII. Earlier in the week I was 50/50 about whether or not to watch it. On Sunday afternoon I decided I would find a way to watch it. When I'm in the US, I will watch it, yet I'm more excited to hang out with friends.

During halftime I reflected upon other times when I have been abroad during Superbowl ('98 - Belfast; '04 - Germany; '06 - Paris). I realized that one reason I really wanted to watch it is that I find it helps me connect with some things that are familiar - things that I usually find fulfilled in other ways when I'm in the US. (Wow, it's already 10 years ago that I sat with friends in Belfast and watched the Broncos beat the Packers.)

So, a little Superbowl this past Monday morning went a long way to help my heart and mind during this time of transition.

I hope these thoughts make sense - I am still feeling the sleep deprivation from the other night, so I'm off to bed.

01 February 2008

hamburg church photos

here are some picts of the churches mentioned in our blog about our time in Hamburg (19 Jan). These first few are of St. Nikolai's church which was bombed during WWII and now stands as a peace memorial. This one is St. Michael's

This one is St. Katherine
The next two are St. James' (the aerial photo was taken from the steeple of St. Peter's, which is the last photo.

whacky weather and olive oil

I read on BBC today that many places have experienced weird weather these past couple of weeks. My brother said that he saw snow in Iraq two weeks ago.
Well, in preparation for Latvia, Court and I read some different websites and different guide books. While each one had different things to say, they all had a common denominator - Winter! It is COLD, and it last from the end of October through March. Apparently, that is usually the case. However, many Latvians have told us that this has been a strange winter. Many thought it had come with the New Year when the Daugava River froze , the snow started consistently falling, and the temperature started to steadily descend. However, the past two weeks have been a bit of a reprieve - for which we are thankful because we are still trying to figure out a heating scheme for out apartment that actually keeps us warm.
But Courtney and I know it is warmer outside for a reason other than the river melting and rain instead of snow. See, our kitchen is a temperature gauge of sorts - if its cold outside, then it is cold in the kitchen. If it is warm outside (okay - wait a minute did I just admit that 39F is warm? Well, our bodies are at least adjusting to the cooler weather), then the kitchen is still cold. Courtney laughed/cried a couple of weeks ago when she went into the kitchen and found the olive oil congealed. This past week the olive oil was more like thick honey than a stick of butter - that's how we know it is warmer outside!
Anyway, many Latvians tell us that February should get cold (i.e. the river freezing so solidly that cars can drive on it, etc...). We think we'll survive though as we figured out that 30 minutes before we cook we should put the olive oil on the electric radiator, which warms it up quite nicely.

I guess they are used to waiting...

We are learning that sometimes things just take longer here - a reality that most people here just seem to accept. Now some of the drivers in Riga could benefit from a defensive driving class or anti-roadrage seminar, but most seem content to sit in traffic.
Yesterday we were in the supermarket and the bar code on our bag of onions didn't register. The cashier said, "Do you really want these?" I said, "Yes." But I thought, "Well, that is why I put them in the basket and brought them up here..." Her body language said, "Okay," even if her voice didn't. She stood up, locked the cash drawer, locked the cigarette display, and then walked away with the bag of onions. After a few minutes she returned with a different sticker, rang it in and told me the total. What shocked us the most about this transaction was the reaction of people around us. Courtney observed that in the states if that had happened, many of the people in the line behind me would have been miffed and got into different lanes to get out of the store more quickly. And while a person or two did, most of the people just stood and kept talking to each other...I guess they are used to waiting.
We went to a clinic last week because we needed to get chest x-rays for our visa applications (checking for TB and other lung disease). The receptionist told us that we should just take a seat and in a couple of hours they could do it, unless of course we wanted to come in on Monday or Tuesday at 8am when there would be no line. We opted for this past Monday, and we were in and out in 15 minutes. On the way back to the office we talked about why everyone didn't try to come in at 8am - yet people seemed content to stand and sit for hours just to get an x-ray...I guess they are used to waiting.

'Les Mis' is in Latvia

We saw advertisements for 'Les Mis' on our way to language class last week. On the way home from class we stopped by the opera house to buy tickets for Court's birthday. We decided to take the bus as public transportation is usually reliable. We didn't want to rush so we decided to take an early bus - only it never came. So after waiting for 45-minutes the proper bus came and we were on our way. Then our bus got stuck in traffic. We thought that we would miss the first half because if we got there late we wouldn't be allowed in to the show. Even though bus stop was 3/4 mile from the hall, we actually laughed as we jogged in mist. We arrived, checked our coats, and ran to the entrance hoping the usher would allow us to pass (it was 7.39pm and the showtime was 7.30pm). We walked into what turned out to be an arena and the usher said since they weren't sold out that we could sit anywhere we wanted. We slid into our bleacher seats just as the curtain opened. The entire musical was translated into Latvian - and we even followed some it! The Set: fantastic. The Costumes: brilliant. The Voices: brilliantly fantastic. We enjoyed our night out.

19 January 2008

Hamburg, Happy B-Day, and Remembering...

Hello All, Sorry that we haven't posted in 3 weeks - we are working on being more consistent. We had snow on New Year's and watched fireworks with folks from the church here and folks from Oslo who came in for the weekend to celebrate with all of us. Here's a pict of us ringing in the new year.
Happy Birthday to Courtney today!! Woohoo!
We just returned from a few days in Hamburg, Germany visiting our friend Krista who pastors a church in the city. I (Dan) wrote a bit on the plane last night and thought I would include that below. Yet before I do, I want to take a moment to remember an influential person in my life - Phil Berg. I met him and his family and experienced their wonderful hospitality during my time in Israel. Two years ago on the 16th, Phil died of a heart attack. His wife, Martha, and their five children still live in Israel and do amazing work with an organization called Shevet Achim (please check out their website at www.shevet.org) which works at building bridges of peace - "the holy work of mending the world."
Well, it's getting late here so I'll leave you with the journal entry from yesterday...

"... We have visited all 5 of the major churches in the city center and spent significant time in each one. Listening to the organs and gazing up at the vaulted ceilings has lifted my heart a bit. At times I felt as if the organ music itself carried me along the clouds.

We looked out the steeple of St. Peter’s viewing the entire city from 554 steps and over 350 feet above the ground floor. Yesterday (Thursday) we sat in St. Michael’s on the hill near the harbor. Beautiful, atypical lines for a cathedral, almost as if the design came from Atlantis or a royal architect of King Neptune – Fabulous. We stood in St. Nicholai’s and could not help but pray for peace in these ruins kept as a memorial for peace. The bell tower, foundation, and a few segments of wall are all that remain after the Allies’ bombing campaign in 1943 and 1944. The amputated arches and hollow windows stand in stark contrast to the new buildings around it. St. James and St. Katherine’s allowed space to pray amidst the remodeling efforts…

God refreshed us in visiting these churches, viewing art at the museum, spending time with good friends, and sitting in a warm house each morning and night..."

Good night and May God Bless You!