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    Prague/Latvia Mission Team Updates

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    TueTuesdaySepSeptember24th2013 Tuesday Morning
    byMelissia Mason Tagged No tags 1 comments Add comment
    We're home! We arrived back at DFW safely around 2:15 yesterday afternoon. There's nothing greatly exciting to report about yesterday... except that Wayne McNinch and Trudy Hughes graciously met us at the airport to haul people and luggage back to the church and to our homes. I'm sure they'll tell you that we talked a mile-a-minute all the way.

    We'll be taking a few days to settle back in, and then we'll meet to discuss what our recommendation will be regarding ministries in Eastern Europe. John will be preaching about our trip this Sunday at the Downtown Campus (all English services). We also have lots of pictures you haven't seen (lots I haven't seen!) and some video too. We hope to be sharing more and more with you as time goes by. There's no way to adequately describe everything to you... but we'll do our best!

    I, personally, want to thank you all for entrusting this mission to us. We were greatly blessed, and our eyes were opened to a new world, new culture, new challenges and new joys. Thanks for "holding the fort" back home to allow us this amazing experience!

    SunSundaySepSeptember22nd2013 Monday Morning
    byMelissia Mason Tagged No tags 1 comments Add comment
    We are up at 3 AM this morning to get ready to go to the airport for our early flight. I'm not sure how well I think at 3 AM, but I'll attempt to give you a recap of yesterday's activities.

    We attended worship at First Riga at 11 AM. In a word... powerful. Gita is so intentional about her design of worship. She chose songs that we would know the tune to and had an interpreter there so that we would understand what was going on. For me, the most touching parts were the prayer time and Holy Communion.

    During prayer time, Gita lights four candles to remember various areas/people (their Conference, the Baltic States, etc.). Then everyone has the opportunity to come to the front and light a candle and say a prayer. The candelabra was filled with light by the end. What a beautiful sight!

    During communion, everyone receives an individual anointing and blessing. After you receive, one of the pastors (Gita or Astra) lays hands on you and says a prayer over you. All I can tell you is that we were very moved... or at least I was. "Moved" is such an inadequate word... but it's all I have at the moment.

    Our closing hymn was "This is My Song" - sung in English. How perfect. Consider the lyrics... and how you might feel after spending a week among the Latvian people...

    This is my song, O God of all the nations,
    A song of peace for lands afar and mine.
    This is my home, the country where my heart is;
    Here are my hopes, my dreams, my sacred shrine.
    But other hearts in other lands are beating,
    With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

    My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean,
    And sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine.
    But other lands have sunlight too and clover,
    And skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
    O hear my song, O God of all the nations,
    A song of peace for their land and for mine.

    What powerful worship we had!

    We spent a little while in fellowship over lunch, visiting with the pastors and then said our goodbyes. Kristine and Oscars took us for one last shopping trip, and then to the hotel for dinner. I don't know that I've said much about Kristine, but she has been our Volunteers in Mission contact, and is such a precious person. She's been our savior many times! Her English is great (she studied in the States) and she is selfless and charming always.

    On our way to the airport for this early-morning flight to Frankfurt and then on to home... we'll see you all soon!
    SunSundaySepSeptember22nd2013 Sunday Morning
    byMelissia Mason Tagged No tags 0 comments Add comment

    Today we'll be headed to church at First Riga. But fist, here's what happened on Saturday...

    Yesterday was the Apple Festival! We went out to the Wesley Camp, where about 50 children, youth and adults from the Latvian churches gathered for the apple harvest.

    We picked apples by the bucket, while the older ladies sat in the dining hall peeling and coring them. Some people were tasked with pulling weeds in the flower beds, some with picking up the apples that had already fallen and couldn't be eaten to put in the compost pile. Some of the older men were gathered around a campfire cooking apples in a big pot (presumably for apple preserves). Others helped prepare the camp for winter by covering wooden platforms with tarp… and, sadly, the sign at the entrance to the camp was stored in the hay barn before we could get a picture of it.

    Some of our team gathered near the kitchen to make batches of apple crisp from the recipe that Rachel Bell donated to the UMW cookbook. This was our contribution to the feast. It turned out great!

    At some point, the work came to an end and we gathered upstairs for worship and fellowship. We got to know each other a little better by playing a game where everyone gathered in a corner of the room with others they had something in common with… age, music preference, dessert preference, etc.

    We sang a couple of songs, and then people shared testimonies of how God had worked in their lives. Then we gathered in small groups for prayer.

    We ended with rolling apples down the ramp. You roll your apple and then stand by it. When everyone was at the bottom of the ramp, they took a picture.

    Then, it was time to eat! We gathered in the dining hall with the pastors from all the churches and listened while they shared their joys, challenges and dreams for ministry. This is a passionate group. They are excited about their ministries and hopeful for the future, but they do face great challenges, both in the communities they serve and in the church itself. I believe that they feel the same generation gaps we do, but they are amplified because of the small numbers. They also struggle to overcome the problems related to alcoholism and drug addiction in their communities. And, of course, there are the personal struggles with balancing home life and pastoring a church.

    It was a great time of fellowship and sharing. The Latvian church is blessed to have such committed leadership.

    After wrapping up things at the Apple Festival, we loaded up the bus and our two vans and started the 3-hour drive back to Riga. Conner and Madeline rode with the youth on the bus, and had a wonderful time of fellowship, singing, and learning more Latvian words!

    Judy summed up the day in three words: “I was blessed.” 

    FriFridaySepSeptember20th2013 Friday Evening
    byMelissia Mason Tagged No tags 0 comments Add comment

    We spent today in and around Liepaja on the Baltic Sea. We started the day at the churches at Liepaja, Matras and Tasi. Edgars pastors the churches at Liepaja and Matras, and the Associate Pastor at Liepaja, Gunta, pastors Tasi as well.

    The Liepaja church seems to be the largest and most active congregation. Edgars shared the history of the church and explained some of the ministries that go on there. They do many ecumenical activities with other churches in the city. They are also getting ready to start an after-school program in October. There is a space in the church that they hope to renovate for this use, but for now they will use the Sunday School rooms.

    They talked about how much it costs to heat the building (think wood-burning stoves that heat boilers... no insulation... tall ceilings... old windows). Part of their building is used by renters, so they have to make sure that those spaces are heated (Previously those businesses had reduced rent, and in exchange they provided the heat. That has changed for this coming year.)

    We continued on to Matras Church, which Edgars also pastors. This church building was one of two among the Latvian Methodist churches that actually looks like and church and has remained a church all along (used by the Lutheran church during the Soviet occupation). We learned about their Sunday School programs and their congregation. They very often have more children in Sunday School than adults in worship. It is common for parents to send their children off for Sunday School and not attend church themselves. This is part of the generation gap problem… children and seniors, but not many in between.

    Next we stopped in to the Tasi Church, which is pastored by Gunta (we will meet her at the Apple Festival on Saturday). This church and Matras are very close together and often partner together in worship and ministry. They are in a poor, rural area… but they are rich in spirit! They prepared quite a spread of tea, coffee and snacks for us. Edgars shared about how the church started as an outreach of Matras, and then the people in the area (it’s in what appears to be an apartment building) wanted to know why they couldn’t have their own church… and so it was started!

    We spent a little bit of time back in the area around the hotel, wandering through the market and eating lunch. Then we headed out to the Baltic Sea. We stopped first at the Jewish Memorial. There is a site along the sea where thousands of Jews, Jewish supporters and others were massacred and buried in mass graves by the Nazis. It was a sobering place to be… the memorial is made out of stone and shaped like a menorah.

    Next we moved on to the bunkers along the Baltic Sea… or the ruins of them. They are quite impressive. View the Facebook page for a couple of pics.

    Our last stop was back at Liepaja Church to meet Vivita, the pastor of Kuldiga Church (which we had visited the previous day) and Sniedze, the director of Sunday School for the district. We shared some SS resources with them, then listened to Vivita talk about the joys and struggles they have been experiencing at Kuldiga. Again, generation gap issues. Please be in prayer that these churches can find a way to bring the old and new together in a way that will be fulfilling for them all and honoring to God.

    See Facebook for pics...

    ThuThursdaySepSeptember19th2013 Thursday Evening
    byMelissia Mason Tagged No tags 1 comments Add comment
    Today was mostly a travel day. We packed up everything from the hotel in Riga and headed west toward Liepaja and the Baltic Sea. We made a stop along the way at Rundale Palace, an 18th century Russian ducal palace. We enjoyed a tour of the palace and beautiful gardens, and learned a little more about the history of the country. We got to see the opulence of the palace, but also many works of art and period costumes. The palace itself was in poor repair after the occupation, so the Latvian people have done an amazing job of restoring it. I don't have the interior pictures from Richard's camera yet, but here's a look outside...

    After we left the palace, we headed to Kuldiga. We stopped on the way for a very cultural experience... convenience store hot dogs. They were great! Tasty mustard, with an interesting tube-like bread. We had quite a debate about how they get the bread to be like that. Anyway, I digress...

    Kuldiga was a quaint-looking town with many old buildings and a distinctly original feel to it. We went to the church and met one of the lay leaders there, as the pastor was unavailable. The pastor drives an hour from Liepaja to get to Kuldiga. The church owns part of a building, the rest of which is apartments owned by different people. They have a worship space, Sunday School and fellowship rooms. They are partnered with three small UMC congregations in Tennessee, who have helped them with renovations.

    The congregation is small. They seem to have difficulty getting adults interested in coming to church. Many parents send their children to Sunday School, but never come to church themselves. It's a real problem because once the children grow and go away to school, they never come back... and there are no adults left to mentor the next generation. Prayers are needed for this church's growth and success in reaching a population that is largely alcoholic. 

    We were supposed to visit the church at Paplaka today, but the lay person who was supposed to get us access to the church's meeting room (which is actually in the City Hall) was unavailable. We would have only been able to drive by the building and not see inside... so we decided not to make the trip down there. Instead, we came on to Liepaja and checked into the hotel, had an hour of down-time, a relaxing dinner in the hotel restaurant and met to discuss what tomorrow would bring.

    I want you to know that we appreciate your prayers. Do you have questions? What would you like to know about the trip? John will be preaching about our trip on Sunday, September 29. If you have specific questions, e-mail them to me ( ) or to John ( ) and we'll get them when we get home!

    A little something for Pastor Kristine... 
    Prague/Latvia Mission Team Updatesby Updates from the team currently traveling to Prague & Latvia
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