Hello there! Welcome to my first ever blog post! Recently, I went to Riga, the capital city of Latvia, as part of Fusion’s ‘Escape And Pray’. It was such an amazing, ridiculous trip that I thought it would be best to write it all down and share it in this blog, rather than spending many hours trying to recount it all to people when I saw them!
It’s probably best for me to start by explaining what escape and pray actually is. It is a project run by the charity Fusion, who have a vision to see a movement of revival of the spirit across Europe and believe that universities and their students will be a key part in this revival. From 2015, they started sending out teams of two to four people to cities across Europe with universities in them, in order to pray for and bless the places where they are sent to and the people that they meet. This year, 100 teams went to 100 different cities across Europe, including 11 teams from my church Open Heaven. I was joined by my friends Jack and Luc for the adventure!
Oh yeah I should also mention that each team has no food, no accommodation, no contacts, and only €20 per person! The idea of this trip is to be fully reliant on God and his provision, to allow his works, and not our own, to be done through us. Quite a challenge but one we wanted to take to serve God and allow him to use us as his vessels of love!
I think I’ve told you all the background stuff so I’ll get on with telling you our story.
Our journey began on the Monday 13th of June, at East Midlands airport at 5am. All we were told beforehand was where and when to be and that we would open an envelope on arrival to find out where we would be going. We opened it up to find we would be going to Riga, the capital city of Latvia! We were all really pleased, not that we had any preferences of where we’d like to have gone. After getting through all the formalities in the airport we still had an hour or so until our flight departed so we got onto our smartphones and started looking for churches and students groups to link up with. We also asked our friends on social media if they knew anyone in Riga, this would prove to be pretty crazy later on! So after giving ourselves some initial contacts to look into when we got to Riga, we boarded the plane for the two and a half hour journey.
We landed with minimal incident around midday, leaving the wet summer weather of England behind for the warm sunshine of Latvia! After going through customs, we stopped to use the airport Wi-Fi to see if any of the people we’d contacted had gotten back to us. Cue the first crazy, God interceding moment of the trip! When we checked Facebook it turned out that our friend Luke from church had an aunty, Sarah, who lived and worked for the Salvation Army in Riga!!
I mean come on, what are the chances of someone we knew having contacts in faraway Latvia?! So we took down her number and tried to contact her. We didn’t get a response straightaway so we started walking towards the city, a journey of roughly 12 kilometres, with the hope of hitch hiking a lift. This proved fruitless but after walking a third of the way we managed to get in contact with Sarah and she arranged for someone to come and pick us up from a ‘nearby’ petrol station. When we got there it turned out that our driver would be none other than Roberts, the leader of the Salvation Army in Latvia!!
Roberts drove us back to the Salvation Army HQ in Riga and he gave us a tour of the building. Once we were done he offered to let us stay in the prayer room for the duration of our stay, which we graciously accepted! They even gave us mattresses and sleeping bags to sleep on. We also got properly introduced to Sarah, who offered to show us the sights of Riga. She showed us quite a bit of the city, including its new and old parts of town, the parks and some churches. I would have gone in and had a look around the Orthodox cathedral in all its golden splendour but it turned out you couldn’t go in with shorts in so I had to wait outside! Come the end of our tour, Sarah and her kids wanted to buy us dinner so they took us to a restaurant called Lido, which had quite amazing decorations. Afterwards we went to go home, but they still wanted to help us out and they bought us some bacon in pastry things to eat, which were also very nice! We were so grateful for their kindness and help.
Once we got back to the HQ we rested for a little bit whilst we checked contacts and tried to do a bit of planning. We decided that that evening we would do a bit of prayer walking around the city to get a bit more acclimatised. Now, whilst staying at the Salvation Army building we’d been given a key to get in and out of the building. When it came to trying to leave for the evening it became apparent the door was a little hard to lock! Luc tried repeatedly for about 10 minutes trying to open the door but with no success, so Jack went looking for someone to help. Whilst he was gone, I had a go at locking the door and wouldn’t you know it I managed to lock it first time! So we got Jack to come back and we headed off. We didn’t make it more than 10 metres down the road before we were stopped by Liiga, a student worker! She was trying to get students to come to her student camp ‘Into The Wild’, apparently these kind of things are very popular in Latvia! Sadly we weren’t going to be in Latvia then but we did chat to her for a while and we were able to pray for her and her work there and then on the street! She was so helpful in telling us about some different churches and students groups to go and see. We then exchanged contact details, arranged to go on a prayer walk around the universities the next day and went our separate ways for the evening.
How bonkers is that?!
The three of us were blown away! We literally shouldn’t have even been there at that time but God arranged it so that we would meet Liiga in the right place at the right time, yet again God providing us with people to pray for and even more contacts. All we could do for the next few minutes was revel in the goodness of God and his plans. It was so crazy that we met her and it would prove pivotal in the rest of our stay in Riga! For the rest of the evening we explored the sites of the city and ear marked some more churches we could try and go and see the next day. Eventually, we returned to HQ and got some much needed sleep!
Morning came and we eventually arose from a good night’s sleep. The other two got showers, I would have if I’d bothered to bring a towel, and then myself and Luc went and got some food to eat that day. We got quite used to our butter and cheese sandwiches over the trip!
Before going off to see Liiga for the prayer walk, the church Leader Gintz (really sorry if I’ve spelt that wrong if you ever read this!) needed some help moving a ‘few’ shelves out of a house that were being donated to the Salvation Army. So me and Jack went to help, we did find there was quite a bit more to move than just a few shelves but we were more than happy to help. Once we were finished we walked down to meet the others, who had already started the prayer walk. Liiga took us around three different faculty buildings, were we got to pray for a load of people, including office workers, students who’d just come out of an exam, business leaders and then finally the ‘Rektors’ office! Sadly the Rektor was not in but after chatting with the receptionist for a while she did allow us to pray in part of his office. Throughout all these different pray points we prayed for a whole range of things, from personal issues to the state of the university to exam results! Maybe being in a foreign country that didn’t always speak out language helped but God made it so easy for us to pray in those places, there was never a fear of what people thought when they saw us, only faith in God that He would use those prayers.
Lunch time came and Liiga had to leave us to work, but before she left us she showed us to the university food chain ‘Daily’, that was in each faculty. They sold really cheap food and we got some lovely soup for just a euro each! After lunch we decided to trek across the bridges to go see the new university campus on the other side of town. After some interesting navigating, we eventually got to the new campus where only one building had been completed so far. It was so amazing! It had such an amazing and comfortable atmosphere to it, a perfect place to spend some more time praying for the current and future students, that the presence of God might be with them as they walked around the yet to be finished campus.
Whilst we were that side of the river we decided to walk around a few other university faculty buildings and were again able to go around them praying for the places we walked! After doing this for a while longer we headed back across town.
In the evening we were going to go to the Salvation Army’s worship evening and had arranged to go around to Liiga’s for dinner, so on the way back we stopped to get her and Sarah a bunch of flowers each to say thank you for their hospitality. Turns out Latvians love flowers so we thought it would be a nice gesture!
After a quick rest back at HQ, we went upstairs and joined the faithful few who had turned out to come together and worship our God! It was a lovely hour we spent with them, singing Latvian worship songs. Even though we didn’t have a clue what we were singing, it was still a great experience because we all knew that, despite our different languages, we were singing to the same God, our heavenly father!
Once we’d finished there, Roberts provided me with a towel so that I might to be able to wash myself and spare everyone else we would meet of a smelly me… We then went up for dinner and handed Liiga the flowers. To our amazement they were her favourites! We love to say we were just incredibly good botanists but we could only put that down to Gods help, after all we’d had a whole row of flower shops to pick from and we’d managed to pick her favourites! We spent a lovely evening with her swapping stories of how we’d seen God work in our lives and got to know each other a bit better. She cooked some lovely fried pork chops with rice and salad, she did tell me the name for the dish but I forgot to write it down! I’ll have to have a go at doing it myself sometime.
Now if you know me well then you know I can talk for Britain sometimes and my use of sayings (just like that one a moment ago) can be also somewhat excessive, and I can from time to time get them wrong… Well during the evening I realised how much I was using them when Luc and Jack started giggling when I was saying something, only for them to tell me it was because Liiga probably wasn’t actually understanding what I was trying to say! I can only apologise for the confusion I caused to all the Latvians I spoke to during our trip, I meant well even if you didn’t understand what I was trying to say 😛
After we ate Liiga arranged for us to meet a student group that were meeting for a midweek gathering the next evening. We then said our goodnights and decided to head into town for a bit of down time, enjoying a drink whilst watching the Euros. We also managed to get to the top of one of the tallest buildings in Riga, a very posh hotel, and enjoy the magnificent view! On our way home we went past a man begging on the side of the street and decided to offer him so change. We wanted to pray with him but neither of us could understand the other and, after a lot of gesturing, a passer-by helped translate for us. He didn’t want the prayer there and then but we made sure we prayed for him later on. After this encounter we eventually went home and again got some well-deserved sleep!
Admittedly we slept in a little longer than intended but we needed it after all the walking we had done the previous 2 days! After we all had showers, I went and got some more food for the day ahead. Since we still had quite a bit of our money left we even treated ourselves to some ham on our sandwiches, which was a welcome change!
Once we had packed everything, we decided to try to visit and connect with a load of churches in the city. Our first port of call was a Methodist church that initially seemed empty. In the end we managed to find our way in and have a look around. We eventually found Dianna, the leader of the church, and she told us lots about the work they were doing and about the other 4 churches that were using that building. We told her about what we were doing and about Fusion’s student linkup, and then spent some time praying for her and her church.
I must admit that initially we weren’t sure were our encounter was going but in the end God showed us what the purpose of us being there was. This happened so many times, it was such a test of faith in God but one that will have taught us all so much about our relationship with Father God.
After this we moved on to find the main Baptist building in the city that was around the corner. When we got there we met a receptionist who didn’t speak much English and we weren’t getting far with him. Then all of a sudden he told us to wait where we were and he bolted it out of the building, which as you can imagine left us a little confused. We waited all the same and when he returned a couple minutes later he brought with him a man named Peter, a church leader. We had a great chat with him about seeing revival coming to Latvia and seeing more and more people coming to know Christ in the country! From our chat you could really feel his heart for God and potential of the words he was speaking was obvious. Sadly he had to get back to work but before he went we shared some ‘power prayers’ in the foyer, praying for more students to come to know God and for a move of the spirit to come into Latvia and spread like wild fire! We then said our good byes and headed off, but not before the receptionist could invite us to an Oboe concert he was playing in! It was quite a strange moment but as much as we would have loved to have gone we sadly couldn’t attend.
This was the last church we actually met anyone in so we went to have lunch in the Daily restaurant and got some more soup to have with our sandwiches. With our time in Latvia running out and new opportunities to contact people drying out, the other decided the best way to spend our afternoon would be to go wild swimming! This could only be done in the massive river Daugava that ran through the middle of the city… After some walking down the banks we found a little cove to go paddling in, it looked a lot cleaner than the other places we’d seen but still wasn’t exactly your local swimming pool!! There is a video of their little swim but it’s unlikely to be published anytime soon since I recorded more than I should have done! I’ll let them explain if they want to (sorry lads haha!). We then headed to HQ for the penultimate time and tidy everything up.
After having some food we met up with Liiga outside our place and walked with her down to the church she worked at, which is where the student group we were meeting were. On the way I once again stumbled on the metaphorical language barrier by repeatedly referring to the umbrella I was holding for us as a ‘brolly’. I’ve called it that since the day I was born but apparently Latvians haven’t been taught that colloquialism…
Anyway, we eventually got to the church and were introduced to the church leader. He spoke very little English and I again found myself wondering where this was all going but went with it and we told them about what we were doing and prayed for him and his church before heading up to see the student group. This is where we left Liiga for the final time, so we said our heartfelt goodbyes but still wanted to give her something to say thank you so we gave her the remaining 24€ we had on us as a gift, she could use it a lot better than we could have done!
The couple hours that followed where the most beautiful and amazing I had ever had the privilege of witnessing and being involved in! Looking back I find it quite funny because earlier in the day we’d been talking about beautiful things and my answer at that point had been the Amalfi coast in Italy, a place with jaw dropping landscapes and views, and this meeting just blew it out of the water! It will probably remain the most beautiful thing I ever see, until I get married when that will automatically change 😉
Anyway I should probably tell you about it!
We were shown to the top floor of the church building where the meeting was going to be held. From the first moment I walked in I could feel Gods presence in that space! I later found out that the students had renovated it themselves, completely refitting and repainting the place, which was amazing because as you walked around the place I couldn’t help but notice God’s fingerprints left around the room. We then met a load of the students and got to know them a bit, and shared some of our stories from the trip. They were such an amazing group of young people and you could see vividly their love for Jesus, that there were also some great leaders among them that would be significantly used by God to spread the love of Christ throughout Riga and wider Latvia. I’m so excited to see what God might do with them so I’ve liked their Facebook page to try and keep up with any updates!
After a bit of chatting, the evening started with a prayer and then a worship song. Throughout the evening, but particularly the worship, God kept showing me the amazing beauty of His kingdom! I keep using the word beautiful but that’s because it’s the closest word I have in my vocabulary to describing what I witnessed. The fact that we could all come together, no matter our nationality or mother tongue, and worship the one true God, our Father in heaven, exceeded the definition of beautiful. It was as if the angels of heaven had come to join us in that space and worship with us! The whole experience was so wonderful it brought me to even produce a tear, not because I was upset but because I was so happy and in awe being in the presence of God!
Once the first song was finished everyone sat down and we were invited to share some of our story and what we were actually doing in Latvia, that is, with the help of our wonderful translator! She even managed to translate some of my humour across to the group, which pleased me to see some people laugh with my jokes rather than nod agreeingly even though they didn’t understand what I’d been saying! They found it very funny that Luc and Jack had gone swimming in the Daugava! We closed by praying for them all and having a picture with them! We then sung a couple more worship songs, with the same vivid feeling as I’d just described in the previous paragraph. Then heard from a man on being chosen by God, I forget which passage, and it was translated into English for our benefit. That little talk was extended because of the translating but I was still able to take away some valuable lessons from it. Almost as soon as that part of the evening had ended we had to head off to catch our plane, so quickly said some goodbyes to our new friends and walked back to HQ to hand back our keys.
By that point it was pouring down with heavy rain so it was a good thing that Gintz drove us back to the airport! We said our final goodbyes of the trip and ran inside to go wait for our plane. Once sat down we opened a letter we’d been given from Sarah and I’ll admit I initially dismissed one side of the page as recycled paper but after Luc read it I realised God hadn’t quite stopped working in our trip! It turned out that Luc had received a word from God for Sarah, about a key, and it so happened that Sarah had received such a word 5 years earlier! You see it was easy for us at the end of our trip to think God’s plan had ended when we left Riga but in actual fact He reminded me through this letter that His plan was never done and that it’s so much greater than any plan I could ever come up with!
Then after about an hour’s delay we eventually flew home to England, where it had dried up a bit upon our return! We got the bus back and finally got some sleep around 2am!
I have to say that this trip was probably the most amazing trip I’ve ever been on! When I signed up to take part I want God to challenge my faith and use it in ways I’d never done before. Only a year earlier I’d said no to taking part because I was too afraid of the uncertainties that it entailed, but God has grown me so much since then that I desired to honour Him in this way with my time. I can only encourage you reading this to do it yourself if it’s caught your interest! It’s very hard, don’t get me wrong, but it’s so worth it!
I learnt so much about stepping out of my comfort zone and trusting fully in God on this trip, I’m so thankful to Him for all that He did on this trip and the people He led us to meet.
There’s probably more stuff I could write down, because so much happened, but I can’t remember it just now! Thank you very much for spending the time to read this J