One of the things I’m enjoying about living in Stockholm is the connections it offers across northern Europe. I recently was able to visit some friends in Latvia’s capital, Riga and learn first hand of how they’re planting a church in that city. Here are a collection of thoughts from that visit, in no particular order.
Church planting is hard work
The above isn’t news to anyone, but it is easily forgotten. I met people who without any outside funding, are from scratch building a community of God’s people. The journey has been costly in every way – relationally, financially, emotionally. It is very sacrificial and makes you wonder why they do it.
Church planting is Rewarding
When you see a community love someone so much that they help pay off their debts or see people discover the incredible grace of God through Jesus it is immensely rewarding. These people are living for something greater, giving of themselves to share the gospel. Ultimately though it’s a sign that the church is a community of hope: Hope in Jesus, hope in a better world, hope in the transforming power of the gospel.
Communism continues to leave its mark
Latvia has been an independent nation for nearly 25 years now but the marks of communism are still everywhere. You see it in the infrastructure and buildings which take so long to upgrade and repair but you hear it in the stories people tell. Subjugation takes a long time to get out of the national psyche.
Capitalism is now leaving its mark
The standard of living has risen considerably and there are endless material improvements, evident for all to see. However financial debt is a huge problem, drug problems, homelessness and inequality have increased and there is greed and individualism that is in its own way just as poisonous.
people are afraid of russia
If you live in the UK, Russia’s invasion and land grab of parts of Ukraine is fairly low on your list of concerns. If you’re a small country that has a long history of Russian occupation and 30% are Russian speakers who are supportive of President Putin then the situation is different.
Western liberalism is afraid of religion
I heard several stories of how the spiritual openness of the early post-communist years is being replaced by suspicion, fear and hostility. Several linked it to the time Latvia joined the European Union. What seems clear is that western liberalism is afraid and does not know what to do with any kind of faith that puts allegiance into anything other than the individual.
Saunas are great
There are few things as relaxing as being in the countryside sitting in a sauna, hot tub or pool and getting to know people.