October 18, 2012

LFL’s executive director, Rev. Dr. James I. Lamb had a fantastic trip to England, Latvia, and Russia this October. While in England, he was able to speak at the Westfield House of Theological Studies—and had a grand time generally! He also spoke at an LFL conference in Latvia as well as in St. Petersburg, Russia.

LFL’s International Representative, Rev. Don Richman, was instrumental in organizing the Latvia and Russia part of the trip. As Dr. Lamb would have a layover somewhere, it worked out well to do that in London. His speaking at Westfield House has been on the “wish list” for many years.

What follows are updates on the trip from e-mails and text messages sent by Dr. Lamb.

Day 1 – October 7

All went well with flights. Arrived one hour ahead of time—did not sleep much. It is 11:20 here and have not slept since Friday night, but doing okay. Had a grand church service. They have tea afterward and pastor asked people if they had any questions for me. We were there until 1:30! A post-abortive woman identified herself to me and was grateful for the message. Another woman had helped do abortions and she too identified herself. It was an amazing mix of people—British, German, Polish, African, a woman from Madagascar, China, Italy, Spain—all living in England and all Lutheran. A pastor and his daughter doing a tour of Europe are also staying at the parsonage—Kevin Johnson from Carlisle, Iowa!!! I’ve preached at his church and had talked to him and his daughter at the Higher Things conference this summer!!!

Good meeting at the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children this a.m.

We took the “tube” (subway) downtown and went to Even Song at St. Paul Cathedral (Church of England). Gigantic! Had antiphonal choirs, children’s choirs, massive organ. It was built in 1666 and was the only building in the area not destroyed by German bombs in WWII! All the other buildings around it are “modern.” You can see the contrast. I could have listened all night—acoustics amazing. Then went for walk along river Thames, saw London Bridge, Tower Bridge, and the famous London dungeons and towers, saw Winchester Cathedral, House of Parliament, Shakespeare’s playhouse (replica), Big Ben, and a couple of other cathedrals centuries old. Not bad for first day …

Day 2 – October 8

Started day two with a visit to the SPUC—Society for the Protection of Unborn Children. If it were not for Pastor Van Fosson, I would still be wandering the streets of London! Their address was really in what we would call an alley. But thanks to pastor’s cell phone, we were “talked in”! All of this search took place in good old London fog and rain. But my luggage I was dragging around proved to be quite waterproof! John Smeaton was in Ireland so we met with his assistant, Dan Blackman and the General Secretary Paul Tully. We had a tour and then—you guessed it—tea! Good conversation. They were particularly interested in RFL as they are trying to get churches more involved.

Traveled by train to Cambridge. Spent more time at the SPUC than planned so arrived at Westfield House at 1:50 and spoke at 2:00! Sat around the table in the library and just talked about life and the Gospel for one and a half hours. Our Gospel approach was VERY well received. Again, very multicultural. Finland, Brazil, Spain, US, Germany, and Uganda. After this we had Evening Prayer in the chapel led by Preceptor Dr. Reginald Quirk. Then, yep—tea! This was even better conversation than the library. Students opened up more. Rev. Joel Heck from Concordia, Austin is here doing research. We have met several times in the past. After tea several of us went to Kings College Chapel’s Evensong. This is where their Christmas Eve service is broadcast worldwide. I cannot possibly describe this worship experience except: no lights, only candles; no microphones, only the incredible acoustics of the chapel.

After Evensong, we stopped for dinner at the Pickerel, the pub where C.S. Lewis spent time with his friend J.R.R. Tolkien. The conversation continued here. Pastor Heck is a C.S. Lewis expert and has written books about him so we had a great learning experience. Now I am back at Westfield House in the commons. As I type this, its 10 p.m. here. Five students are in conversation sharing the various unique differences in their languages and culture. I have learned much in just the time it took to type this!

Tomorrow, I will take train to Gatwick and fly from there to Riga. This is completely on my own, so will need many prayers.

Day 3 – October 9

I spent day three traveling by trains from Cambridge to London to Gatwick Airport south of London. I was picked up at the airport in Riga by Gunta Irbe. She is the Jean Garton of Latvia’s LFL. Her husband is Rev. Martins Irbe, a pastor in the Lutheran Church of Latvia. They will be moving soon to the United States, but she feels she has a capable young man, Janis Diekontys, eager to take over. He has also designed their website. I hope to meet him on Saturday.

Gunta drove us about two hours to Saldus and St. Gregor’s Mission school—my home for the next three days. St.Gregor’s Christian Mission Center in Saldus, Latvia, is a gathering place for missionaries from all around the world. Founded in 1995 by the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Norwegian Mission to the East, and the local Lutheran parish of St. John’s congregation in Saldus, St.Gregor’s believes it has a call to “equip evangelists locally and missionaries globally.”

St. Gregor’s Christian Mission Center

The heating system is not working so a bit chilly around the edges! Pastor Don Richman and I do have a space heater in our little “apartment.” In the picture of my room, that is my bedroom on the left and my study on the right!

Don teaches here each year and does a “crash” course. This year it is Galatians in one week. I will speak to the class Thursday on life issues, especially post-abortion syndrome. Under the Soviets, abortion became common place and a form of birth control. Grandmothers who had abortions took their daughters to have abortions who took their daughters to have abortions, etc. It is engrained in the Latvian culture as a way of life. Don believes, and has experienced firsthand, that there are many hurting woman secretly grieving. So he emphasizes forgiveness of sins for abortion as often as he can.

Day 4 – October 10, 2012

Had lunch today with the students, a wonderful soup with spinach and smoked pork arm roast and many other unidentifiable but tasty morsels. It was made by one of the staff members along with apple cake for desert made with apples from local trees. There are many apple trees all over the area. Latvia has an “apple year” every other year. This is obviously the year.

Gunta and I and one of the students then drove west almost to the Baltic Sea to Piekule and Piekule Lutheran Church of Latvia. The pastor is Ojarus Freiman. This is a very unique church built in 1684. It was heavily damaged during WWII, but the members decided to rebuild rather than tear down. They had some amazing pictures of the destruction and of the restoration. Not sure how well you will be able to see them. Many Latvian churches have a rooster on their steeples. I asked the pastor about the meaning and he said generally there were two. One is to remind us all to “stay awake” and watch, for you never know when the Lord will return. The other is as a “call to repentance” as the rooster crowing brought Peter to tears.

Thirteen people came to the presentation including three Roman Catholic woman and a young Baptist man. Gunta was my translator. I did an abbreviated version of “The Handiwork of God.” We had fun with the translation—especially of biological terms like “embryo.” Also, Latvians have no word for “knitted” so translating Psalm 139:13 “knitted together in my mother’s womb” was very interesting and took us a while. Everyone was good natured and we had lots of laughs. They were a very receptive group.

The discussion afterward centered around the sad state of affairs in Latvia with about a 60 percent abortion rate. We think things are bad in the United States, but the schools in Latvia encourage pre-marital sex—with the help of Planned Parenthood. The media is even more biased than ours and so many of the churches are silent. The parliament listens to Planned Parenthood, but Gunta has made some inroads via a pro-life member. She said members of parliament are surprised to hear that there actually is “another side”! Gunta and Martins have done TV interviews around various pro-life topics and some are starting to see what is going on, and at least see the economic and demographic problems of killing off 60 percent of their population each year. As Pastor Martins says, “Latvia is a nice place to live. In 100 years people will be living here. I’m just not sure there will be any Latvians.” As you can see in the pictures, the ladies enjoyed the fetal models. They are a universal language.

Day 5 – October 11, 2012

Today Don Richman gave me the last hour of his Galatians class to tell of LFL and what we do. I shared mostly about WHY we do what we do and focused on the God-given value of human life using some Galatians passages. (Galatians 1:15; 3:13; 4:4-7; 5:14; 6:2) Don had a fetal development chart which helped show the “fearfully and wonderfully made” aspect of the value of life. We also used the chart to show how Jesus went through the same development in the womb taking our place, even then, “under the law” (4:4). We pointed out how this elevates the tragedy of abortion. Those we abort are created, redeemed, and someone God wants to call to Himself. We talked about abortion in the US and Latvia and the importance of the Church being a voice.

We then used 3:13 and 4:4-5 to emphasize the forgiveness won for us by our Savior who took the curse for all our sins and has declared us His very “sons” through adoption, holy and pure in His sight because of Christ. An eternal inheritance awaits us all.

During the question time, one of the older students stood up and shared about her abortion years ago. The doctors told her it was only cells. Later when she learned the truth and realized what she had done, she confessed her sin to God. She compared herself to the thief on the cross. “Like him,” she said, “I asked God to have mercy upon me.” Jesus forgave the thief. I know He forgave me.” Pastor Richman spent some time with her following class.

One of the ladies on staff prepared our lunch again today. She lives on a farm where they are very self-sufficient. She served wild boar stew. Her husband shot the boar. The potatoes and carrots where home grown as were the pickles. Even the cottage cheese was homemade. These Latvians eat with much joy and gusto! With such good food, it is easy to join them!

How do four young people share the love of Jesus in an amazing way? I can answer that because they took me along to a Crisis Center that takes in abused children. Ninety percent are sexually abused. The age range was 17 years down to nine months. This facility keeps them until either the home situation can be remedied or they are placed in foster care. Some of the staff and students here go there every Thursday and spend three hours with them. Add to this the thirty-minute drive each way and $7.00/gal gasoline, and you have true commitment.

We sang songs, did face painting, had snacks, and shared stories about prayer—the evening’s focus. I was also able to share about the value God gives to each life and that every life is special no matter what the circumstances. Then came the big hit—disco dancing! I sat and watched. We shared an evening meal with them and headed home tired, but knowing the Holy Spirit was at work.

The facility was a former Soviet Pre-School which had been brightened up considerably. I will not disclose the location. I was allowed to take pictures but not of any faces. So the shots you see are mostly of the young folks doing the face painting. It was truly amazing to watch these young people at work.

One highlight for me was a little boy who, for some reason, “attached” himself to my leg for much of the evening! He taught me there is no language barrier when it comes to being a grandpa. The whole evening taught me there are no barriers at all when it comes to being Jesus in such simple but profound ways.

Day 6 – October 12

Don, Marten, Gunda, and I traveled to Riga. We attended a medical conference on infertility in downtown Riga. Gunda wanted us to attend to see how many would come and to “take up space.” But we were not needed, as attendance was good. It was interesting that the gentlemen who introduced the conference noted how such a conference was needed as the demographics of Latvia were not good. Steadily declining population and infertility was noted as a possible problem and thus the conference. Incredible that aborting 36 of their citizens everyday was not mentioned! Nor was the connection between abortion and infertility.

We took some time to visit the Latvia Occupation museum. Latvia was occupied twice—first by the Nazi’s and then, after the war, by the Soviets. Independence from the Soviets is relatively recent and so stories abound of the occupation horrors and tortures. People I talked with had parents and grandparents who were tortured or killed.

There are many ancient cathedrals in Riga. The big Lutheran one, St. John’s, is being renovated. (It felt strange for this Midwestern boy to walk by functional buildings built in the 15th and 16th centuries.)

We are staying in an apartment owned by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia. Was able to tour the facility and meet several of the staff. We also met briefly the archbishop and one of the bishops.

Day 7 – October 13

The conference began at 10:00 a.m. and lasted until 3:00. There was never really a lunch, only “coffee.” But they did serve the ever present open-face sandwiches. There were many speakers scheduled for short speeches. I actually had the longest time slot with 35 minutes. I did my “Time to Speak” presentation.

This was the 10th anniversary of LFL of Latvia. Martens and Gunta were honored as was Don Richman who really inspired it all 10 years ago. I met the young man who is taking over leadership, Janis Diekonys. We visited at length at the conference and then he and his wife came back to our apartment and we visited for another two hours. I am very impressed with this young man and his approach is very much like Renewal For Life. He has prepared a presentation for churches and seeks to go personally to the congregations. Many of the schools here allow teachers to have “guests” on Wednesday. Such guest may discuss whatever they want. So far, Janis has presented in school under such an invitation.

He has a website up and running. Their hope is to fund Janis at least part time so he will not have to work. He is also a student at Luther Seminary so he has plenty to do. Janis has prepared a very detailed budget.

I received an invite to preach on Sunday at the conference so tomorrow will be traveling outside the city for this. Visit with you then.

Day 8 – October 14 – Preaching at St. Michael, Ropazi, Latvia

The building offered a bit of a chill, but the people more than made up for it with the warmth of their friendliness. Located about 45 minutes from Riga, St. Michael can trace its existence back to 1624. The present building is not that old, but the trees that flank the walk up to the church undoubtedly grew up in its stately presence.

The German army blew up the bell tower as they retreated in 1944 to prevent it from being used as an observation point for the Soviet army. The church closed in 1959 under the Soviet occupation with plans—as the Soviets often did—to turn it into a concert hall. In 1991, after Latvian independence, renovation began. It is a slow process, but continues as funds allow.

Preaching there seemed a bit surreal with the Word of God echoing from crumbling plaster and the ancient bricks revealed underneath. Undoubtedly, these were no strangers to such proclamation. The lack of any heat added to the uniqueness as I could see my breath as I preached! But the Gospel of Jesus does not seek comfortable environs, only open ears and hearts.

After the service almost everyone gathered in the large sacristy behind the altar—which did have a heater—for coffee, tea, and Latvian pastries. We encountered receptive attitudes as we discussed LFL in the US and Latvia. It progressed to be almost like an RFL presentation as eagerness to do something led to discussions of a Life Team! As you may have read in the last report, the new LFL of Latvia’s director desires this same kind of approach. We will make sure they know about each other.

The liveliest discussions came when Don brought up the need to help fund LFL of Latvia. “Impossible!” was the first reaction from one lady—understandable given the poverty of most Latvians. But we talked about how a little from many can build quickly. I gave the example of how much of the funding in the US is from many, many smaller gifts. I shared about the young man who sometimes sends us two cents. Things were winding down and people needed to leave (there is no bathroom in this church!) when someone asked, “So what can we do?” An elderly lady with a cane sitting right next to me brought her hand on the table with a slap and said, “We’ll give our two cents.” I believe they will.

The perseverance of these Latvian churches through much persecution over so many years testifies to the words of Jesus, “the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).

Back in Riga, I visited a special work of art dedicated for their October “Life Month.” Twenty-seven concrete fetal models about two feet long had been placed on the cobblestone of a busy town square. Twenty-seven babies lose their lives every day in Latvia. Each had an inscription by it both in Latvian and English with a reason why mothers and fathers choose abortion. For example: “My mummy had just begun a new job. She freed herself of me because she was afraid to lose her job.” As you can see from the photos, many had laid flowers next to the babies. It was a moving exhibit and quite amazing that it was allowed. (Click here to read more inscriptions.)

After a final meal with the Irbes, Don and I headed to the train station. I write this from my little bedroom, dining room, and study for the next fourteen hours as we travel to St. Petersburg.

Dr. Lamb sent a text on October 15 saying he arrived in St. Petersburg, Russia—and that he had slept amazingly well on the train. He met with the bishop of Ingrian Lutheran Church and did a life conference.

On October 16 he wrote, “A very tiring but fruitful day. Went to Pushkin to speak at a seminary. Thought we had an hour, but they wanted four which turned into about five! Don and I covered Value of Life, Abortion, Stem Cells, Cloning, and End of Life. It was great, but we are tired. Don is asleep already! 5 p.m. here. Going out to eat with Leif Camp and his family tonight and then will head to airport at 4:30 a.m. tomorrow. Has not been much time for sightseeing. Am at Leif’s house now. Computer really slow. I have attached some reports. But will not be able to send photos. They are on my laptop at our apartment.”

Days 9-10 – October 14-15

Whether due to tiredness or the lulling sound of the rails, I slept amazingly well on the fourteen-hour train ride from Riga, Latvia, to St. Petersburg, Russia. Don Richman, my ever faithful traveling companion, “knew the ropes” and provided wise train travelling advice. One anxious moment occurred when we crossed the Russian border about 1:00 a.m. The train stops for about an hour as Russian custom officials check passports and visas. The official checking mine spent more time than he had on others. He then motioned me to wait and left with my passport. He soon came back with a form that he filled out and all went well after that. He did the same with Don’s, so we figured it had something with American passports/visas.

A pastor from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria in Russia (ELCIR) picked us up from the train station and took us to St. Mary’s Lutheran Church in downtown St. Petersburg. The national office of the ELCIR is next door. The bishop’s vicar—comparable, I suppose, to a district president in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod—Rev. Olav Panchu, from Saratov, was just vacating the church’s apartment when we arrived. He spoke very good English and we had a great conversation about the ELCIR. We wanted to visit the head of the ELCIR, Bishop Arri Kugappi, and Olav offered to translate. We visited for about half an hour. He supports the work of LFL in Russia and was glad that we had come. He showed us a book just published on the history of the ELCIR. We didn’t need a translator to tell he was very proud of the book.

We met some of the staff of St. Mary’s and then met Pastor Leif Camp, missionary and champion of LFL in Russia, for lunch. After settling into our apartment, we prepared for the evening seminar.

All expressed disappointment at the turn out—only 16. They sounded just like organizers of life conferences here in the Unites States! However, a number of young couples attended and that was encouraging. Don spoke on abortion and I on end-of-life. People asked good questions and seemed very interested. I noticed afterward that the young people spent a good deal of time looking at and taking brochures. Some had been translated from LFL brochures and others were written by Pastor Camp.

Our visit to the Lutheran seminary outside of St. Petersburg unfortunately was cancelled. Pastor Camp was not given a reason. But he knew of a non-denominational Bible school/seminary about an hour north and arranged at the last minute for us to speak there.

Sixteen men and four women made up the class. This group could have been an old German Lutheran group for the women sat on one side and the men on the other! They treated us way “above our pay grade” as they all stood when we walked into the classroom. We thought we would have one hour of class time, but soon learned they were expecting four! Don and I covered the God-given value of human life, abortion, embryonic stem cell research and cloning, and end-of-life issues. It was great fun watching Pastor Camp translate some of the biological terms. The class eagerly helped and we shared many laughs.

When we took a break for tea, the director of the school led us into a small room with the table set with “American” coffee, cookies, and a variety of candies. We had to insist that we eat with the students who had small apples with their tea—no cookies! Don initiated a conversation about abortion attitudes. The students agreed it was rarely talked about in their culture and generally accepted as a way of life. One of the young women was post-abortive and expressed her confidence in the forgiveness of Jesus.

We taught until 2:00 p.m. and then joined the students for lunch and more conversation. By now we were being treated closer to our “pay grade”! Again the director expressed concern about whether we would like the buckwheat based “hot dish” and soup being served. I found both delicious!

We returned to Pastor Camp’s apartment, debriefed a bit, checked email, and relaxed—although the latter was a bit difficult given the adrenaline “rush” of the day’s teaching. Pastor Camp’s two children joined us and we went out to eat at a Russian buffet. I took a little of everything and didn’t find anything distasteful. Nothing was labeled so I wasn’t always sure what I was eating!

Don and I took the subway back to St. Mary’s arriving at 9:30 p.m. Another long day, but many For Life seeds had been planted for the Holy Spirit to water and nurture.

My taxi arrived right on time at 4:15 a.m. the next morning and took me to the airport. All flights back went very well. On the last leg from Minneapolis to Des Moines, I sat with an Englishman who now lives in Canada. He was on his way to visit his brother in Des Moines. He grew up just outside of London so we had some common ground for conversation. As a retired flight attendant for British Airways, he also had some good advice to help deal with jet lag! God took care of me right down to the last minute!

I thank the Lord of Life for the opportunity to represent Him and Lutherans For Life on this journey. My thanks also to all who support LFL with gifts and prayers for without them this would not have been possible. I learned a great deal about the cultures I visited and especially about the urgent and universal need to share the message of life and new life given us in Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory!