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On Saturday I head to Latvia for the 10th time.
As some of you open a new tab to remind yourself where the heck Latvia is let me save you the time - it’s over there near Russia. If the area was a sandwich Latvia would be the filling with Estonia and Lithuania being the bread. Russia would be the enormous salad on the right hand side of the plate and Finland some sort of Scandinavian garnish to the north.
Latvia isn’t a place that a lot of people have been to or even have on their radar.
But for me it’s a home from home.
Latvia, and in particular the city of Liepāja, is a place that I can now navigate with a fair degree of ease (although I’m still to master the language!)
It’s a place that has opened up other nations. I count people from Norway, Holland, USA and other great nations as friends because I have spent time with them in Latvia.
It’s a place that I think about each day.
There are people there who have and continue to shape me.
I have been in villages where mothers have smiled when I told them I was from Ireland because their relatives live in towns dotted around our island. The most random time was whenever I was in a house and one guy didn’t say much, but kept smiling at me. Finally he spoke to me in a Latvian/Ballymoney accent - he had worked in Ballymoney for a couple of years and we had great chat about Cow Town!
I have preached in a prison, slept under the stars, had a car break down in the middle of nowhere and wonder what the heck I’m going to do, worked with kids and teens and had countless cups of tea in Soviet apartment blocks. But what brings me back so often is the reality that I have listened to countless testimonies of how simple acts of love have helped to soften callous hearts and break through years of suspicion and mistrust.
In terms of faith there are cultural differences, but there is a sense of expectancy that I don’t often see over here, but more than that, a sense of journey. Plans are good, necessary, but there is an invigorating aspect to their faith that is spontaneous, costly, practical, daily, and so obvious that we often miss it. That’s one of the things I’m reminded about when I head to Latvia. It’s a place where I have seen love shared and sowed, discussed and discovered. I have spent over 4 months of my life in that country and the amazing thing is that every time I go I learn new things and get encouraged by other people.
So as I prepare to hear out this week I wonder what you are doing with your summer? Later in the summer we head to France for a holiday, another adventure. But I challenge you to take the time this summer to go on an adventure with your life, your wife or your amigos. An adventure in conversation, a day trip or a longer period of time. I promise you will learn a lot and come back changed. Open yourself up to spontaneity, to days with no agenda, to moments to refresh your soul.
And if you need a good book to read during that time remember to pick up Half Irish -
A few years ago I wrote a short story about a couple of kids kicking back and spending their carefree summer on the sandy shores of the Baltic Sea. I’ll do you a swap - Send me a screen shot of your order of Half Irish and I'll email you a PDF of that short story for free!