Daily devotions


Report from UK Mission Team in Latvia

From fsaof.blogpost.com:
It has been a very big pleasure to be a part of our UK Latvia Mission 2011 team. I was born and experienced living in Ukraine for 24 years and I thought I had seen a lot in my life until I came here. I knew something of my neighbours to the north but not until this, my first visit here, did I appreciate that the Latvians are a truly good people and a good country. However, the conditions in which some people live are absolutely reprehensible.

Our visit to Skangali, our residence while working here and the focus of our work, Sakarni, a short distance down the dirt road, was the most dramatic I have witnessed in my life. Six derelict buildings.

During our visit we have had the opportunity to meet local people who are alcoholics who are imprisoned in both their dependence on alcohol and their dire living conditions. They have no income and have been virtually abandoned by the state because they couldn’t pay their bills in any of the larger cities. This settlement, Sakarni, is located in the fields between the forests and there is nothing around. All of them are unemployed and receive minimal support from the government and which is all spent on alcohol. There are about twenty five young children growing up in this environment with their alcohol dependent parents and luckily for them the Salvation Army is running kids club programme in two renovated flat (last year’s UK Team), by dedicated Officers and a assistant bringing some hope to the village.

Among the children and their parents lives a man, probably in his 60’s but through the toll of drink and harsh winters looks much older. As soon as our team arrived the children came running from all directions but not far behind came Nikolai looking a bit weary and clutching what must be a very precious possession.

His face lit up in a beautiful smile when he recognized some of the team members from last year, however, what I found so special was that half our team went directly to Kolia and left the children to be entertained by the other half of the team. As soon as Kolia recognized he had an attentive audience, his story began to be told. He shared his memories of his past life, time when we were all part of the same nation, the Soviet Union, I translated his Russian stories to the team members next to me but Kolia’s mind ran faster than his words as he shared the glory of the Soviet’s past in which everyone had an important role. That past guaranteed him job security, income, health care, pension, holiday, accommodation and sufficient comfort for his family; health and happiness for life.

Twenty years ago following Perestroika, and the break up of the Soviet Union Latvia gained its independence and with it fell into free fall. The economy, manufacturing, exports, the military all crumbled. The population decreased from 4 million as hundreds of thousands of Russian troops returned home from Latvia with more than a million emigrating to the west as Latvia joined the EU. Included in those who were caught in the downwards spiral was Nikolai, and we considered that he lost everything since the government ‘sentenced him’ with a score of others to a life without hope living with others in the former Russian military barracks, dilapidated buildings abandoned for more than five years lacking heating, water and toilet facilities. This is one of Latvia’s abandoned villages, Sakarni.

Kolai and I learned that we have a lot of things in common since our countries were joined under the hammer and sickle flag for so many years. He told us some Latvian and managed to say a few phrases in Ukrainian. And in spite of the obvious hardships the glint in his eye expressed his appreciation for our taking time listening to his stories. He clutched under his arm a pictorial history of the famous Soviet astronaut Yuri Gagarin representing the glorious and golden history of the Soviet Unions triumphant wins in the space race against the USA. Kolia played a part in that race we never learned what part, but that’s irrelevant.

So what now with this proud veteran with his somewhat cloudy reminiscences of the past. Today he moves between bottle and shuffling along the dirt road to the occasional chat with those willing to listen. I am pleased to be a part of this new wave of Salvationist volunteers not only willing to listen but to do so lovingly as a soldier of Jesus Christ. Kolia will perhaps never know much of the Salvation Army but he will know that a small group of Christ’s servants visit his village at least three times yearly providing hope and making it feel just a little less abandoned than it truly is.

Jesus Christ Hope of the World.

Ivan Berezkin, SA Soldier
Glasgow, Scotlan

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