Carelinks | Riga ~ Winter Welfare
It is December 2014 and Bro Jim and Sis Anne Barton from Canada have been hard at work this week in Riga helping with the Winter Welfare Scheme. Here are their first impressions after a week:
Cindy takes Sisters Hannah and Anna and Bro Jim through the kitchen hygiene training
“It was with some intimidation that we inquired about coming to Riga to help out with the Riga Bible Centre operated by Carelinks. After reading so many Carelinks’ accounts over the past years about the people who use the centre, it left us with an impression that it was a society that was predominantly indigent, living in dire circumstances and perhaps it was even dangerous for westerners to be here. After some comforting discussions with Duncan we were able to step out of our comfort zone and come here to help out.
We do meet many people in the Bible centre who are living poorly, but there is a range of poverty. Some have regular apartments but after paying utilities, can’t afford enough food. There are others who use night shelters to survive most nights; there are others who just have to find anywhere to sleep, which in some cases may be at a bus station or under a bridge. Last night we went to deliver firewood to a woman who was squatting in an abandoned building for lack of anywhere else to live. We entered her home through a window off of the hallway. There was one candle for light, which left the room rather dimly lit. She had no power, no water, no bathroom, no toilet, only a small opening in the chimney where she could maintain a small fire to provide a minimum of heat.
The entry to Sis Brigita’s room through a window - she has quite a style to doing it by a swinging motion!
There was a mattress in one corner, the sum total of her furniture. She had been breaking up a cupboard to provide herself with firewood. It was notable that she did a remarkable job of keeping it clean and as organized as one can under such circumstances.
It’s a sad commentary on a place that fails to provide minimal support to those most in need. For many if not most in Riga and Latvia life is much better. There is a significant middle class and apparently a wealthy class too, as evidenced by some of the luxury cars we see on the streets. They have a rather sophisticated public transportation system and shopping that rivals most stores you might find in the west and the prices are lower in many cases. The scene is not too different from what you might find in most western nations. Most of them go to work everyday and come back to their homes at night. Housing appears to be somewhat different as there are many, many Soviet era and style apartment blocks, not always appearing to be in very good repair but quite functional. It’s sometimes interesting to see upscale cars outside these apartment buildings. One thing I did seem to notice about the society, not just the poor, is that they seem somewhat dour. They rarely make eye contact, when they do they quickly look away and usually down. Their faces appear sad, sometimes even a bit angry. If you nod to them as you walk by they almost never nod back or reply. I’m not certain if that’s just a Latvian or Eastern European way but it seems a bit sad. There’s a gloom in the air that feels somewhat disconcerting but not threatening.
Working in the Bible Centre has been so very fulfilling. Most days involve going to a market called “Maxima”, which is a large superstore much like a super WalMart, with groceries and department store combined but more heavily proportioned to the groceries than dry goods. Most days so far we make Borshch soup. It’s a comprehensive meal that includes a balance of vegetables, meat, dairy and liquid. It’s quite tasty and the guests enjoy it very much and almost always come back for refills, usually several times. Tomorrow we’re changing things up with some Split Pea soup. I’ve been ladling out the soup each evening at 6pm (after an hour Bible Study) and they consume about 50 litres per night, sometimes more. Typically there’s between 60 to 100 souls to feed (spiritually and physically). At first it didn’t seem like they ever smiled much but in the last few days as they’ve seen us there a few times, they seem to warm up to us and show much appreciation for the efforts made for them and finally a warm appreciative smile on their face makes our day. Anne helps by handing out the bread and spoons. When they arrive there’s always plenty of hot coffee and tea to warm them up.
“The time here has its challenges but none that match the fulfilment one feels by helping out their brothers and neighbours in need.”
In just a few minutes first, second and sometimes third helpings are served up to anywhere between 60 - 100+ people
The language is a barrier that can be overcome. Sometimes it’s frustrating and sometimes it’s downright amusing. We spend a large amount of time with Maxim, a wonderful brother from the Ukraine who has problems with military service there. He speaks Ukrainian and Russian and almost no English, although he knows more English words than we know Russian or Ukraine. He attempts to teach us some key Russian words but we don’t seem to retain them very well. We can usually sign something to indicate what we want, other times we make use of Google Translate, which works pretty well but not always perfectly, sometimes providing a rather amusing interpretation of what we said. We also spend a lot of time with Hannah, a lovely young sister from New Zealand staying here for her Summer (southern Hemisphere) break, three months. She’s quite energetic and cheerful and so very pleasant to be around. Together with Maxim, we prepare the food from raw ingredients each day, preparing, cooking and cleaning and sanitizing. When we’re done, the kitchen, dining hall, meeting room and washrooms are all clean, sanitary and ready for another day. I can’t close without mentioning how nice Duncan and Cindy (and their three little children) are to be around. They constantly open their home to us all for fellowship, prayer and encouragement in the scriptures. They make a significant difference in countless lives every day to help advance the Gospel message. The work being done here in Riga is a very special mission and well organized in accordance to the word of God.”