Captain ARIJA BERGMANE telling the story of The Salvation Army (TSA) in Latvia, at the same time is also telling her own. There is no other way, for they are so intertwined. Arija is one of the few people whose memory of TSA is older than 20 years, because she saw it working as a little girl before the war. Maybe this very thing and love for God made her fight to renew it when Latvia regained independence. In the beginning of 1990s the meetings were also held in Arija’s one-room flat. She remembers that one only had to open the door of the balcony to see six, seven militiamen downstairs, and she said laughing „Moja militzija menja berezhot!” (My militia is guarding me- Russian). She was not only guarded by the militia; she was also protected by God. In her life, the Captain has been in charge of the Corps in Riga, Cesis, Liepaja, at the present taking care of the churches in Tadaiki and Ilmajas.
Thinking about Arija, a conversation comes to mind, which I heard not long ago. One of the leaders in TSA, overwhelmed with Arija’s energy and youthfulness, exclaimed “Arija, tell me your secret! Do you have the potion of everlasting youth?” “Yes!” She called back laughing, “And I can tell you what it is- the Word of God!
Arija Bergmane. Photo from personal archive
Mother: MARIJA GORSKA - head editor of the War Cry before the war, has translated more than 50 books, in 1991 in London received the highest award from the General.
Father: VALERIANS GORSKS - a policeman, who came to God when guarding one of TSA meetings in Jelgava, later worked in HQ as Divisional Secretary.
THE ORIGINS OF THE SALVATION ARMY IN LATVIA
The very beginning took place before my birth, so I know it only from stories. My Mum and Papa lived in Jelgava (in 1923), when someone called Aleksandrs Polis came and started preaching there. Many young people came to God, my Mum too. He was a SA man and had come from Germany. Then all these newly saved youth talked among themselves that The Salvation Army should be founded in Latvia too, so they wrote a letter to London, asking them to come and establish TSA in Latvia. That was the very beginning, in Jelgava. The Commander at that time was Lockyer (from United Kingdom), but Divisional Secretary- Valerians Gorsks, my Papa; there was a Latvia-Estonia Division. The first soldier enrolment saw lots of soldiers. Before World War II (1940) when TSA in Latvia was closed down, it had seventeen Corps: in Jelgava, Cesis, Liepaja, Ventspils, four in Riga, as well as night shelters- the one in Riga was huge.
My Mum, when in charge of a Corps in Ventspils along with another girl, was very poor; they did not have a good salary to live on. Apparently there was some wealthy man there, who helped TSA a lot by giving gifts, organizing fests for children and old people, and once a week he invited both officers to a lunch, for he knew that mostly they lived on bread and tea. He told them: “So, girls, eat as much as you can and whatever you want!” My Mum had asked him, why he donated and helped that much, to which he answered. “Twice when I stopped giving, I became poor, I went bankrupt. But when I started giving my tithe to God and also donated, I got rich again”. He was a very rich man indeed, it is a good lesson. My Mum was in Liepaja too, but then she was already married, for one of my sisters was born there.
But the time that I remember, we already lived in Riga then. Papa was working at Head Quarters; Mum was the editor of the War Cry. I remember on Elizabete’s street, near the station there was Riga I Corps, where I went to Sunday school. It was a wooden building; now it is taken down. (Looking at the photos). Yes, although I was a little girl at that time, I remember many of these faces.
Before the war people knew TSA, it was well known. At Christmas time TSA... MY Papa, I know, stood on the street with a ‘Red Kettle’ collecting donations for the work of TSA.
Before the closing down of the army the last leaders were Hartelius from Sweden. Our family shared a house with them on Elizabete’s street, Riga I Corps- they lived in the first staircase, us- in the third. We met their children all the time, we had a good friendship, and they were studying Latvian. Hartelius had two daughters and a son, who was exactly my age. At that time we were both six years old, he was my friend. When I was already about 70, I went to see him in Stockholm and asked: ‘So, do you still remember your first girlfriend?’ (bursting in laughter). His eldest sister came to Riga after 60 years not long ago, had a ride on the tram and was so thrilled to still be able to understand what the people were saying.
In Soviet Latvia the official activity of TSA was forbidden, but officers kept meeting. I remember all these years when people were visiting one another. Although we did not hold worship services, just had a cup of coffee and talked. We went to Lucija Liepina’s place often; she lived in Jelgava and went to the Baptist Church. I have kept one of her letters to my Mum. Everyone went to some Church. They usually arranged things, the old ones- once we went to Cesis to see Alvine, someone called Smilga lived in Mezaparks in Riga, we met at Lonija’s place and Mum’s. Sometimes we had visitors from England, I think it was Sarah’s (Sarah Ilsters) parents who came time to time. Then they met, but on a normal day everyone went to their own church, and no one knew anything, because, they did not wear uniforms, of course. They just went to see one another as old friends.
Soviet establishments, of course, had information about the officers of TSA. There was a time when my Mum was taken by KGB, and we, five children, spent the whole night on our knees praying. We did not know what had happened to Mum- was she alive or not. We asked God to keep her safe. She had been interrogated all night about people she apparently knew abroad. But Mum said that she does not know anything and cannot tell them anything about anyone. It took a whole night. Then they understood that they cannot get any information from Mum and let her go in the morning. Mum came home.
CONGRESS IN LENINGRAD
Mum had a phone call from the officer Tiainen, who said that he had already been praying for three years that the iron curtain would open up, and now had been given permission to organize an SA Congress. For the first time in all these years a group of about a hundred people came from, I seem to remember, Sweden, England, Canada. There was a brass band and a choir. But they had been told that they may not appear in uniform on the street, only at the church (it took place in Petersburg, in a big Baptist Church). On Saturday night there was one service, the next evening- two more services.
Tiainen had sent a letter to Mum, but this letter did not get to her, it was intercepted by ČEKA. We got this letter when it was all over, in order for us to miss going to this event. But Tiainen had thought of calling Mum too, so several people from Latvia ended up going there. That was something indescribable! (Fighting tears). Even now I cannot speak. So many years had passed... I was a little girl, when the army in Latvia was closed down, and there at the Congress they all marched in wearing uniforms and singing ‘Hallelujah’, walked through the Church. It was so impressive! On Saturday night not many people were there, and I recall thinking ‘Such a pity that the church is so empty’. But until Sunday morning, I do not know how, they had found out, and the church was full. When this service was over, no one walked away, they were all scared not to be able to come back to the next one- they sat there for hours, had sandwiches and waited for the next service. It was an evening service. The Church was full to the brim. If I am not mistaken it was autumn then, October, so it got dark quickly. In order to stop this service, it was still the Soviet time, they switched off electricity for the Church. It got dark, a few candles were burning only on the platform. Some more candles were quickly found for the brass band, so they would be able to see what to play. The band played; the church sang almost making the roof lift off. After the sermon, no one needed any invitations- people came forward, knelt. It was something truly amazing! Yes, we had such an adventure in 1986.
RENEWAL OF THE ARMY
Already then we were talking about it, of course, no one really believed that it would be possible to renew the Army in Latvia. It still was not the so called time of perestroika. In 1990 when it started falling down and apart, some radio journalist from Sweden- Alvars Jansons had heard something about Mum. Mum was about 94 years old at that time. A.Jansons had said that he was coming to Latvia to interview Mum. His colleagues did not think it a very wise action for what could a person that old possibly be able to tell. We got a letter from him expressing his wish to come and visit us. Of course, we were very surprised; Mum got a bit nervous. He came, had a calm chat with her. Then he put his microphone in front of her and said that he would like her to tell him something. When Mum started speaking, she got so much into it- she spoke for 45 min in Swedish, she sang too. When the interview was over Jansons said “Fantastic!” On January 1, 1990 this interview was broadcast on radio in Sweden. Some people from the Army had heard it and invited Mum to come and visit Stockholm.
At that time I was in the Baptist Church, and also went to Sweden for the first time with the pastor of our church Gunars Lagzdins and his daughter, Agita Lagzdina, she was an organist. We travelled around different places, took part in services. And then I told them, that my Mum too is in Sweden now, in Stockholm and that I would like to go and see her. Of course, they did not mind. So I went to Stockholm, me and Mum met, at that time it was, Comm. Anna Hannevik. We also spoke, that TSA should be re-opened in Latvia. While there we also met Bjorn and Mona Stockman for the first time. We received such a powerful word from the book of Ezekiel 36:36:
“Then the nations around you that remain will know that I the LORD have rebuilt what was destroyed and have replanted what was desolate. I the LORD have spoken, and I will do it.”
That was exactly the time when things were getting unsteady, when the door was starting to open up. We came home, and I went to the Department of Religious Affairs, still at Minister Council at that time. The head of it was Mr. Kublinskis and when I started speaking, he suddenly exclaimed “Oh! But I know your Mum very well!” Mum had been a duty officer in the school which he attended; he respected Mum greatly and promised to help. He came to visit us, and we talked about what we should do to renew TSA. We draw up the Statutes over night (later they were amended, of course); they helped us also with other documents. There were two of them- Mr. Kublinskis and Mr. Timpa. Lawyer Astrida Jurkele also helped me a lot.
On November 2nd 1990 I received a registration document stating that TSA in Latvia was renewed. Immediately we wrote to Bjorn and told him that TSA in Latvia is established, that he can come. On November 18th 1990 the official opening took place in the church of Golgata. The Church was full. We had organized a large choir, I also sang in it. There was also a brass band, everything as it should be in the Army. Bjorn came over along with Hasse Kjellgren, he was the Chief Secretary at that time. We went to Freedom Monument too.
The time of renewing TSA was also the time of renewing Latvia. I had to go to police to get a stamp for the renewed Army. Then I already had a uniform. We found out in the archives how the previous stamp of the pre-war Army had looked. I told to the woman in charge what TSA is. She said “Oh that is good, we could do with something like that!” She also mentioned that it would be difficult to get the stamp made, for one had to wait eight months in a queue, as everyone needed a stamp now and, of course, state institutions were a priority. I went in my uniform to order the stamp, thinking to myself “Should I plead them to make it sooner or not?” But no, I said nothing. I asked shyly when I could come to pick it up, and the man said “I should think within a week”. And after a week I had the stamp, while others had to wait for months.
THE BUILDING ON BRUNINIEKU STREET
I was trying to do my best, no, not me, but it was God who sorted out the Army building. Yes, we got it back. There had been a theatre, a club and circus in that hall, and whatever else. We managed to find a common language with the chairwoman of the Builders Trade Union Māra. Bjorn and I also invited her to Sweden to show TSA there. We had a nice and sincere relationship.
BJORN UN MONA STOCKMAN
At the beginning Bjorn came once in two months. They had to sort out accommodation and other things. Bjorn and Mona`s kids were very young at that time- Emilia had to start grade one, but Gabriel was two or three years old, he was just learning to speak. At the end of his time here he was asking his Mum: “Mum, how would this be in Swedish?”
While Bjorn and Mona were attending a Latvian course, I had to look after the children and put them to bed. In order to make them go to sleep, I sat down at the piano and played and sang: “Aijā žūžū, lāča bērni” (a well known Latvian lullaby about bear cubs, word the “Bjorn” in Swedish also means ‘bear’”). When the little one had his eyes closed, I thought he had fallen asleep, but as soon as I stopped playing, I heard in Swedish “More!” It was very interesting with the kids. They learnt Latvian really well. Emilia went to a Latvian speaking class and was her Mum`s translator. But Bjorn I respected a lot and valued him very highly.
THE TIME OF THE BARRICADES
Bjorn came every other month, but we also came together on our own and held services, at that time we still had the old officers. One of the times when we had arranged for him to come, it happened to be exactly the time of the barricades. We, of course, did not know that the whole situation will get so complicated. Gete Lindgren at that time was the Chief Secretary, and he had told Bjorn “You are not going to Latvia! There is disorder now, it is dangerous there”. But Bjorn spoke to Colonel Gertrude Bergman and came secretly.
In Riga Bjorn stayed in a hotel, I lived across the River. He was visiting me, we were having supper, and the TV was on. Suddenly we hear- pif paf- someone shooting. Oh, my goodness, but it is happening here. I told Bjorn “You cannot go to the hotel, it is dangerous”. But he said no, no, no way. Then someone took him there. It was the evening when G. Zvaigzne was shot dead.
Every night I went to all the barricade places. I did not have a uniform at that time, but I had the Army flag, and with this flag I stood at the Freedom Monument, when all the victims had their funerals, there were lots of people there. Later we were told that someone in France had seen the flag on TV and had wondered: “Oh, is the Salvation Army in Latvia?” Bjorn and I went to the barricade places every night, we gave out hot coffee and sandwiches. We went also to the Television Centre, which was guarded day and night. The bridge was blocked and no one was allowed to go there. When I was stopped I said, that I was driving the leader of TSA, a Swede. They said “Here you are, go!” People there were overtired. I told them that a leader of TSA has come from Sweden. Their reaction was “Yes, right, any Swedes are really going to come here now, it is too heated here now. If he is a Swede, let him speak to us”. My knowledge of Swedish at that time was very poor. Bjorn spoke simply; God also helped me to understand. Those men got tears in their eyes, and I was so happy that day that Bjorn did not listen to the Chief Secretary, that he came.
At the same time my pastor of the Baptist Church in Ogre, Gunars Lagzdins invited Bjorn to come and preach in Ogre. I could not interpret sermons then yet, but my Mum could. We were going in the car- I was driving, Bjorn sat next to me, Mum and Gunars sat at the back. Pastor Gunars said these words “Brother, I want to ask you something now, it is a serious question”, he said. “You want to come to our land, you see how dangerous it is here now, and you have little children. Are you ready to lay down your head for this land should it be needed?” Bjorn sat, looked straight ahead as if frozen, then he turned back and said “Yes!” I told about this occasion also at the Stockmans` farewell meeting in Riga.
WORK IN FREE LATVIA
I repaired the flat for Bjorn and Mona as I could, not up to Swedish standards, of course, but they were satisfied. When they came, we had already claimed the building back, we began the work. Bjorn is big, I am small. He walks with such big steps, me -tip tip- alongside him. In this way we went and took care of the things. We did not have working hours- we worked when it was needed. Yes, the hall was full (Looking at the pictures). We used to have soup kitchen downstairs, in the foyer. A Camp for deaf children. We had lots of camps.
God has led me so wonderfully. I even walked in KGB wearing my uniform, when I had to sort out the first camp for children to go to Sweden. They did not know what uniform it was, but they saw a uniform and they saluted me. All the children were allowed to go that time. I went to the Children’s Fund in order for them to give me the families who would benefit from it the most. There was a family with a sister and a brother whose mother was in a wheelchair, she had multiple sclerosis. The boy had since the age of six years been doing the cooking, laundry, and taking care of their Mum. I wanted to help them so much! One of the times we managed to sort out a trip for his mum to Sweden. It was an indescribable adventure for her. Soon after that she passed away. There were lots of different cases.
On May 12th 1995 the General of TSA Paul Rader with his wife came to visit Latvia. We met them with flags by the plane. We also had an official visit arranged with the President of Latvia- Guntis Ulmanis in Riga Palace. It was all on a very high level- although the initiative came from the Army: I told everyone that the General would come. We organized also a march, permissions were required for everything. I received a personal thank you from the General. Three days I took them around and showed them everything.
I recall, once we had a brass band with us, we were marching through Vermane`s Park to the station to play there. They marched and played. I walked ahead of them and thought to myself how we would cross the street. Traffic light was showing green light for the tram, I walked in front of it, stood in the middle of the street and did not let the cars anywhere, but they also let us pass by. The whole march walked through. Yes, we have had various wonderful events.
They have also written different things about me in the papers. Someone once wrote that the leader of TSA Arija Bergmane defends bandits. I did not reply in writing, but I phoned up and told the person who had written it “You have understood correctly. This shows that I am on the right road, because Jesus also loved sinners- He hated sin, but loved sinners”, this person did not have much to say back. To be honest, I can fully admit that wherever I went and whatever I did, God has walked ahead of me opening the doors. I cannot boast and take credit for anything. He has led me so wonderfully.
(Velta Udarska and Dace Akermane listened to the story of A. Bergmane).