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Eastern Europe

Fall 2001

My Eastern Europe trip started October 3, 2001. Lyle Ball took me to the OKC airport from Lawton for a late morning flight. Oklahoma City – Chicago – Frankfurt – Riga, Latvia.

You see my name is Dave and I am a Christian. That means that I have accepted Christ into my life. I travel around the world telling people about how God has worked in my life. I use a piece of string to tell them. Yes, a piece of string. How does that work? Let me tell you.

If you take a piece of string that has been fused together you have a circle – much like the completeness of God. It is never ending, like his love. It has no beginning and no ending. And it flows freely through my hands. I am not a marionette or puppet that he "makes" me do things. I am a free being that wants to do things for him.

More about the string later. Let’s get settled on the journey first.


Carol and Kevin Seckle met me at the airport. They are the Methodist Missionaries that arranged for my trip. They were asked by the Methodist churches just starting back up after 50 years of Russian rule in Latvia to help become more Methodist. I had met them while they were spiritual directors for the Alaska Youth Services Homes in Anchorage.

We ate lunch in Riga and looked around. Then took the bus for a 2-hour trip to their home in Cesis. They live in an old Russian apartment building. The heat was not on and things are not in good repair. They are working on it and when I returned a week later they had a new stool in the bathroom. Good meal of Sauerkraut soup and dark bread.

On the 5th had a walking tour of Cesis – saw the castle etc, then lunch in the old hotel. "Point and be served buffet." Handy at this point.

That evening we then took a train to Liapa Methodist Church. Erik and Elsa, the pastors for that church met with us for snacks then had a program in their church. (All the pastors of Methodist churches in Latvia are Latvian.) Mixed youth audience. Around 15 people. A couple of the boys had been drinking a little. (They are part of a group of unchurched boys that Kevin is starting to work with building a racecar.)

When I brought out the strings and we got comfortable with them I then told them that it isn’t enough to know about God, we need to be connected to him. I show two loops that are not connected then show those same two loops connected. It got their attention. They wanted to know how to do that. From then on it was easy to keep them working.

We spent about one hour doing tricks and throwing in the Gospel message that goes with them.

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The 6th took a taxi to another church that Erik and Elsa pastor in Sarkani. They were a mixed audience, old and young. Food artistically presented for anyone to take. About 30 there. I did a similar program for them. The next things we talk about are problems. Everyone has them but we don’t have to let them control our life. There is a wonderful trick that shows how things pile up in life and then become problems (a series of knots on the string) and then how we can pray and they will go away. – Not forever, but we will have relief from them.


I then took the taxi back to Cesis and the bus to Riga. Changed busses in Riga without any problem. Then the Bus to Kaunas, Lithuania. Arrived early evening and was met by Chet and Jodi Cataldo and their daughter Natalia. . (All the pastors in Lithuania are foreign missionaries.) We went out for Chinese and then they deposited me in my Hotel in Old Town Kaunas

My hotel was right in the middle of Old Town on a Cobblestone street, just a short way off the pedestrian walkway. Individual heat with a heated floor in the bathroom. Breakfast was Juice, yogurt, fruit, cheese, and meat - salami, ham and smoked fish, bread and rolls with butter, jam and marmalade and Coffee. Very nice way to start the day.

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Up bright and early on the 7th so they could pick me up to take me to Vilnius, Capital of Lithuania. Went to the Methodist Church there and gave a program for the Sunday school group. Also gave a portion of the Adult sermon for the day. We then had coffee and tort. Cowboy coffee – finely ground coffee in cup. Pore in hot water and stir. WAIT TIL IT SETTLES before drinking it. Very popular in Lithuania.

Then a group from the church went to the Children’s unit of the State Hospital and I gave a program there for about 50 children, parents and staff. We then went to McDonalds for lunch. Drove back to the Cataldo home where Jodi fixed some soup.

Monday the 8th went by local bus to a (Private) school and talked with the English teachers – those teaching English. Asked if they would like to have me present string programs to their students. I set up times for two different schools. In these countries there is no problem with mentioning God. It seems that in my travels, only in the US is there such a concern regarding speaking of ones value system.

Tuesday morning did the sightseeing thing in Kaunas. In the afternoon, went to Pilviskiai with the driver, Vetas, Translator and youth worker, Egle, Jodi and Natalia. About 2 hours by Autobahn – then dirt road with horse carts, geese, cows etc. About 40 kids waiting outside the "Yellow" house. 6 women also. Kids loved the string program. They have no other activities in the village. School and farm work. We had refreshments also. Women washed everything in a bucket. No running water. Out house of course. They are building a new church with sponsorship from a church in the States.

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Wednesday the 9th met Jodi and Natalia for a "taksi" to take us to a primary school for about 40 kids in grades one and two. Gave 2 programs for them then went back to Methodist headquarters for two-hour trip to Taurage. Stopped on Autobahn and had garlic bread and cabbage rolls with beet salad.

Went on to the Orphanage for coffee and chocolates filled with honey. Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia argue as to who has the best chocolates. Orphanage kids were coming home from school and started the string program with about 1/3 of the 125 residents. Others came in and we left strings for the ones that didn’t get in.

Dale Clem, the new pastor met us in Turgage. There is 70% unemployment in Taurage. The church has a soup kitchen, and is trying to get food vouchers for $2.50 per time. That will buy a lot of food for a family. Gave a program for the Methodist Church there for about 40 people of all ages. Good crowd that almost filled up the church.

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Thursday the 10th I was working at the Anima School in Kaunas for 5 periods with Anya the teacher of 6th, 7th, and 8th grade English students. Also worked with some younger classes.

Lunch in an Armenian restaurant of Chicken Schiskabob and then went to Methodist office to meet Jeff Hassel, Pastor at Kazlu Ruda. We then drove two hours to get to Kazlu Ruda; Vetas the driver, Jurgita the translator, Jeff and Kestas, a young man who was quite taken with the string figures. The Church has a "gym" and sanctuary and kitchen – running water. The ceiling of the gym is just tall enough for the backboard. About 25 kids present. Great participation. 3 or 4 know Jacob’s Ladder, hand trick and weaving the finger trick.

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Very creative kids. They learned everything and wanted more. Taught them the dog and spider. These students are part of a one year old church. A woman contacted the Methodist church and said she wanted a church in her village. It is now very active. They have made a CD of praise songs in English and Lithuanian. Had snacks and then came back to Kaunas and Jeff, Jurgita and I ate at one of the restaurants in old town. A casserole of escaloped potatoes with sour cream on top. Also Deep fried strips of Garlic toast. What cholesterol problem?

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Slept in the next day and met Jeff for lunch. We bought some local pastries and went to his apartment for lunch. Wonderful rolls filled with meat, cheese, mushrooms and doughnuts made with cream cheese in batter.

In the afternoon went to the Eiguliais Methodist church in Kaunas. Eight wonderful women and eight kids. Unlike Kazla Ruda this church has strong women and fewer kids. The women just started meeting on Wednesday for Bible study, prayer and crafts. They gave me the first bear they made – quite an honor. They were proud to give it. One additional 8th grade girl from Animas school and the English teacher Anya also came to the program.

Saturday the 13th checked my e-mail at the Internet café - $.50 for an hour on the Internet. It is so neat to be able to be in contact by e-mail. I also checked out the news on BBC World News. Went by myself to a Chinese restaurant.

Went with Chet, Jodi, Natalia and Agle to the Sanciai Methodist church in Kaunas. This church was there before the Russians. The church is being restored. The parsonage has 18 people living in it – no water though. To buy them out would cost thousands. The house is the churches but people would have to be relocated and Pastor Chet says it must be to better housing and would not be cost effective. The church is very simple but very old. It has bathrooms; a kitchen and they are running a shower mission for the neighborhood.

The youth practiced their Liturgical Dance class and then I gave a string program. We then had snacks. Agle translated and Kestas (the youth that was so interested in the string stuff) came. He had forgotten one step in making the dog. About 12 youth and 2 adults. Going to the bus, we met 3 boys that didn’t come to the program. I showed them a couple of tricks and we talked, then we went out for fried chicken. Almost like home – almost.

Met at the Methodist office at 7:00 AM for the three-hour trip to Birzia. Besides Veytas the driver and Jodi and Natalia, two high school girls traveled with us. Stopped on the Autobahn for breakfast. Same menu as later – Salad, Snitzel, meat filled Crepes, cabbage rolls and Pelmaini. The Methodist church in Brizia is next to the train station where thousands of Lithuanians were sent to the Gulag in Siberia.

Church is one room with closets for kitchen and Vestry and a W.C. It was packed with 60 adults and children. The women were signing up to start a women’s group. I did a program for the Sunday school. It was a mixed group of all ages. I also did a short part of the worship service. Kingsley Halden, a British Methodist pastor from Jamaica did a great job of incorporating my program in his sermon. Beautiful soft Jamaican accent was translated by a Latvian woman.

They "made us stay" for coffee and cookies so we were a ˝ hour late for our meeting in Panevezys about a 45-minute drive away. The driver Veytas called on his cell phone while we were driving to tell them about our late arrival. 19 of us packed into the apartment of Toomas the cell leader. There is no Methodist church in Panevezys yet.

The newspaper, in talking about the meeting, said that the Methodist Sect was trying to start in Panevezys. We had two new couples there in spite of the negative coverage. Gave a string program for about an hour and ˝ that was well received. Then we had coffee, tea, cookies and apple strudel. Ate again on the Autobahn on the way back to Kaunas. Same menu as breakfast.

Monday the 15th Met Jodi and Natalia and went by microbus to Animas school. I gave programs for five English classes. I ate lunch at the school, Borsch and bread. Jodi met me at the school and returned with me to the Methodist office.

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At 4:00 Megla came to my hotel to pick me up. She is an older woman who works with youth at the prison. Went to the prison and worked with about 40 class one prisoners. They are separated by types of crimes. These were not the worst offenders. The prison was dismal by any standards. The Methodists are putting up a gym so these young men will have a place to exercise during winter and rain.

The inmates were very engaged in the string stuff. When I talked about God’s Grace rather than "works", I had the feeling that she was really emphasizing that. Needed to keep track of the strings and they had to give them back at the end of the session. Megla kept the strings and will work with them again. Some of the young men came in late and the others were ever so happy to teach them. They will enjoy having the strings for other times and some that learned will teach others. Some of them already knew different figures.

Tuesday the 16th Christiana, a Red Cross worker, picked me up. Her husband is Chapter Chairman for Kaunas region. Went to the Refugees Reception Center in Rukla run by the Latvian Government. All the residents that I worked with were Chechenyan Muslims. Christiana suggested that I keep the "religion" aspect of the program low key. No problem. I talked about the power of God and kept things generic. I think God is a big enough Gentleman to accept this concept.

They spoke Russian so Christiana; a Lithuanian translated my English into Russian. They also knew a little English. I used a little of my Russian with them. They were all ages and most excited to have something new to do. They really caught on to the games and tricks. There was one young man, Adam, that kept saying "More, more." I had a great time there. Had to be back by 4:45.

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Tuesday at 5:00 met Vetas, Jodi, Natalia and Agle for a two-hour trip to Kybartai. The Methodist church there is a rented building. About 40 kids and four moms for a 7:00 PM youth group. They were very receptive. Appreciative. Clapped at each one of the tricks and wanted more. By now Vetas and Agle are learning some of the more complicated tricks. In fact, I "jokingly" told Vetas to stop teaching something at the back while I was doing something different in the front.

The kids are excited that when I am gone, Vetas and Agle will be able to teach them more. I also told each group that I had left some of my videos in the region so they could be borrowed to learn more. I guess that I am making "disciples".

Wednesday took the early bus to Sauiliai. Arrived about noon and Dale Clem and his wife picked me up. We walked to the Methodist church. During Russian times the church had been signed over to the custodian for safekeeping. Her son deeded it back to the Methodist after independance from Russia and he is now the custodian. Nice remodeled building with office, meeting room, new WC with showers and a nice sanctuary.

Went to the school to pick up Sarah, their daughter, and the 5th grade teacher allowed me to give a program for the class. No translator so everyone helped. It was lots of fun and everyone understood what was being said. Gave an evening program at the church with about 40 in attendance. Some of Sarah‘s friends were there from school.


The next morning (the 18th) took the bus back to Riga, Latvia. A three-hour ride. No WC at the border. Met in Riga by Kevin Seckle who said that we could just make the bus for Liepija if I did not need the WC. He said it was a four-hour ride but they had a WC stop half way. I gulped and said no problem. Ran to get the bus. Carol Seckle had been holding our place. Got on the bus and had much fun telling them about my travels. Since they had arranged the initial trip, they were very interested in how it was going. They are very happy at all the contacts that are working out.

Arrived in Liepia and walked to the Methodist church. Three floors. First floor is rented out for a business, second floor has a large sanctuary, smaller chapel, and women’s meeting room, WC, and third floor has Sunday school rooms, kitchen, WC with no working light, and meeting room. There is a couch in the meeting room that they wanted me to sleep on. Wood fires built in thick brick walls provide all heat. The bricks stay warm for hours.

Had a supper provided by churchwomen for the youth leaders, etc. About 15 people. They left and I had the building to myself. No hot water, no tub or shower, no light, no comfort. After that night "we" decided it would be better for someone to invite me to stay at his or her home for the night.

The morning of the 19th the women coming in to fix breakfast awakened me. Coffee, smoked fish, salad, bread and cheese. Agris, the mayor of Nice picked me up to take me to his village to give a program for 80 Jr. High students. He took me to the coast and I walked along the Baltic Sea on an unspoiled section of virgin forest and beach. Elze, the youth worker for Liepia met me for lunch then went to the public library for a program there.

Back to the Methodist church for dinner with the youth (more open-faced sandwiches) then a service in the Chapel of the church for about 40 people. The three-hour program was to include snacks and me. In the front row were 4 men from the local Alcohol Treatment center. They really enjoyed the string tricks. They looked and were probably right off the docks.

Originally I was to stay 3 nights, each at a different place but that was changed to the same place – a young woman Dyga and her daughter Wendy invited me to stay the entire time. She knew a "little" English but had a dictionary. We communicated with short sentences, gestures and looking up words.

Saturday morning the 20th was "Sunday School" time. They put all the kids together in one room, about 45 in a small room. We had a warm and close time together. Then lunch in the church provided again by the churchwomen.

In the afternoon gave a program for the Youth group.15 or 16 Youth. We spent about 3 hours together. They really got into it and wanted to learn everything. Then supper with the youth – Yep – Open faced sandwiches again.

After that I went with Dyga and Wendy to the theater. Saw a play by the Russian, Antone Checkov titled "The Three Sisters". All in Latvian. I did not understand a thing, but it was a fun experience what with intermissions in the coffee house etc.

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Sunday morning was picked up by Edgars and Gunta Sneiders to go to their two churches. First was Matres. It could have been the model for "The little brown church in the wildwood." A beautiful church down a dirt track. No running water. Outhouse down a fern covered path. Wood fired stoves. I provided the sermon time – string stuff then sandwiches and coffee and in the early afternoon – Sunday school. More sandwiches and cookies and strudel then on to Tasi.

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Tasi is in a rented room of the community building. Built around 1750 but they have added electricity. A full house of about 35 people. They were most appreciative in both communities. They do not have many outside visitors or much to do so this was quite a treat for them. Children and adults came to the string games with a beautiful simple wonder. This is why I was on the trip. More tea and cakes then to the Windmill restaurant. The windmill was built in the 1200’s.

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Monday the 22nd Edgars and Gunta met me again. Gunta took the day off to help translate for me. We went to a primary school and I gave a program for them. They have many handicapped children in the school and the physical therapist was blown away with the possibilities for string as a teaching and exercise tool. We stayed an extra hour talking and teaching her some more things.

Went to the Internet store and I caught up on my e-mail then had a short tour of the city. Climbed to the top of the Lutheran church tower. Past the bells, past the clockworks, past the pigeons, past any safety regulations, up a ladder – all the time guided by a wonderful character that was talking about "his" tower. He could have been the model for "Hunchback of Notre Dame." Then to Edgars for tea and Latvian teacake – lots of sour cream in it.

On to the Baptist church at 3:00 where their youth group was joined by another youth group from the Baptist church across town. We had a rousing time making string figures etc. Who has more fun? The kids or the grownups?

5:00 at the Evangelical Lutheran church parlor with a red hot wood stove and about 20 people. Gave a string program and had lots of fun teaching and learning. The teacher from the primary school came to learn more things. After the program, of course, we had tea and sandwiches and cookies. Lutheran ladies cook just like the Methodist ladies. As guest of honor, they always fix a special plate for me with one of everything. There is no way I can eat it all. If I leave it set, someone starts to nibble at it and it is emptied.

Tuesday the 23rd, Edgars graciously picked me up to take my luggage and I to the bus to go to Kuldiga, a two-hour trip. Someone is always there to meet my bus. This was no exception. A couple met the bus and gave me a tour of the town, widest falls in Europe, park and Methodist church. Then went to the Gymnasium (High School) where I gave programs for two English classes. Ate lunch at the school and checked my e-mail.

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Then went to the couples’ farm about 10 miles outside of town for the afternoon, supper of lamb and 5 kinds of tomatoes. Their 3 girls gave me a concert of Latvian folk songs with piano, flute and song. Beautiful expression of who they are. The neighbors arrived and we did strings. After the program we had herb tea, apple strudel with sour cream and cookies. Wonderful time sitting in the kitchen with the huge wood burning stove built into the wall of brick.

Wednesday morning they took me to the bus to travel back to Liepia. Met by Ruta Balode the community director for the village of Paplaka with a van and driver. About 1,000 people in the village45 minutes from Liepia. The old Barons’ home is a school for about 100 children, grades 1 – 9. Thirty of the children are living there because they live too far to commute. The parents pay only for the food. School was out for the week so I stayed in the dorm. They have a wonderful hot shower. It is the little things that you learn to appreciate.

Eighteen children from the village were waiting for me. Gave about an hour program then told them to go play because the cooks had prepared lunch for the teachers and I. Ate schnitzel, pork patties, salads, pickles, three breads and potatoes. Desert was called "Floating Island". Rich and delicious. After lunch went back and the children were waiting for another hour of string stuff.

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Had an afternoon walk to see the village; granaries, Manor house, windmill, stork’s nests, and little museum. The school was attractive, with artistic decorations and a greenhouse. Then had an evening program for the teachers on strings, the why’s and how’s. I started to introduce the strings and two of the teachers that were in the earlier sessions took over and started showing the other teachers what they had learned. "More disciples". I didn’t have to do more than encourage them on. I left enough strings so each one in the school could have one.

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6:30 AM the van and Ruta took me back to Liepia to catch the bus for the three hour ride to Riga. Met by Kevin Seckel. It was so good to speak fluent English. I find that my English suffers in the villages. I use simple words and ideas if there are no native English speakers. We had coffee – the first of the day. We met Carol Seckel for lunch then I caught the 1:00 bus for Tallinn, Estonia. That was a 5-hour trip.


Went to Terminal A to catch hydrofoil to Finland. Fellow there spoke beautiful English. His first words were "Unfortunately… the ship was cancelled. Went to terminal B to get the Ferry. 2 hours to Helsinki, Finland. Tried to call Hans in Finland to tell him the change in plans but could not get the numbers to work. Arrived at 11:00 PM and no one was at the station to meet me. After about ˝ hour trying to call, I asked the guard to try. Hans came within 15 minutes and we were at the Methodist parsonage before midnight. What a long day of travel.

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Finland has two official languages, Finnish and Swedish, and two Methodist conferences. I was working with the Swedish conference. Christ Church, the main church in downtown Helsinki was a "Cradle to the Grave" building. The birthing center and clinic have closed and the orphanage has moved to another site, but they still have a retirement/nursing home there. Also there is a youth room, parsonage, offices, fellowship area and beautiful sanctuary with crucifix and pipe organ. The organist was practicing and Hans ask if he would play something for me. He gave an improvised rendition of "How Great Thou Art" and it was phenonimal. My own personal pipe organ concert.

Friday, I did a program for the Retirement center and also a youth program. (They want me back to go to other parts of Finland.) Kaikka Vaxby is the pastor and her husband, Hans is the assistant. He was the Bishop for the Baltic countries until this year. Hans took me on a tour of Helsinki. We visited 3 churches and at each he went to the altar and prayed for that church and congregation. I liked that concept very much and am trying to incorperate it into my visits.


Saturday the 27th took the ferry back to Tallinn, Estonia. Met by the youth pastor Tavvi. He put my luggage in the trunk of his car but suggested that we take it to the church and lock it in the office since it was not safe in the car. Much crime in Tallinn. Had a tour of the Baltic Mission Center, home of the Methodist church, Methodist seminary and proposed soup kitchen for the area. Beautiful building provided by funding by churches in the States.

After a tour of Tallinn, we ate and returned to the Mission center for the kick-off of the fall youth program. Gave a string program for the youth and some of the leaders. Then went home with three of the boys to the remodeled farm house of Tarmo and Lll Lilleoja. He works at the Bible society and she teaches at the seminary. The boys wanted to learn some more string figures so spent that late evening teaching them.

Sunday morning went to the Mission center. They had asked me to give the children’s time and also the sermon for the Estonian service. Tavvi translated both for me. There is also a Russian Conference in Estonia and their church service in Tallinn is in the afternoon. There was a TV crew there from Estonian TV doing a documentary on Religion in Estonia. They taped the children’s time.

After the service a Japanese man came up to me and thanked me for giving the service in English. He does not understand Estonian and appreciated having it in a language he knows. Maybe I was there just for him. 5 or 6 people came up and wanted to offer condolences for what was happening in the US regarding September 11th and the ensuing events. It was very touching to me.

Went to lunch with the senior pastor, Toomas Pajusoo. Then back to the church where there was a group of children from the Children"s Lighthouse Center, a refuge for needy children with a hot meal, showers, clothes, special classes and fieldtrips. Worked with those children and taught them some extra string tricks. They were going throughout the fellowship hall teaching others that were there.

Late Sunday afternoon a young man – 24 and three others took me about 2 hours out of Tallinn to Peetri, a small village where these young people have started an outreach. We went to the school where they expected 25 children to show up for a string program. When we arrived that rainy evening there were 75 kids crowded into the activity room. Village kids are so eager for entertainment. They loved the strings and making all the things. They didn’t know how much of the Gospel Story they were also getting.

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Monday the 29th Tarmo took me on a tour of the Estonian Bible Society. He was in charge of the project to translate the bible into Estonian. He is now in charge of putting it on CD with a complete concordance. They also have a Christian book store and library there. He took me to the bus to go back to Riga. Tavvi came to the station to see me off and invite me to come back to Estonia and go to all the other Methodist churches there.


Back on the bus for the 5-hour trip to Riga. Carol Seckel met me at the station with Dace Atvara, Director of Teachers’ Ministry for Agape Latvija, a part of Campus Crusade and Zigmars Atvars an illusionist also with Agape Latvija. They wanted to talk to me about doing some programs through them. Zigmars was particularly excited to meet another evangelistic performer. He was feeling very alone. He ended up being my translator for my work with them. Took the train for the two-hour ride to Cesis.

Had the next day off – till 4:00. Slept late, did hand laundry, walked around Cesis then took the Bus to Riga. Arrived at 6:00 PM and met by Dace Atvara and three people from Fairview United Methodist Church in Maryville, TN. Wesley Rouse is the Minister of Music and Gary and Sue Fowler are Lay leaders involved with VIM (Volunteer in Missions) trips. Went to eat and showed them what String Ministries, Inc. was all about. Spent a long time at Lido restaurant visiting about the ministry.

Spent the night at Drews’ apartment. Drew is with Agape Latvija and works with the Latvian army as a sort of Chaplain. Zigmars picked me up at 7:00AM in a rented car to take me to two villages – Ozolinieki and Svete. Dace said there would be not more than 200 kids – oops! There were at least 250 at the first school. Since we arrived an hour early at the first village, I gave a program for a 5th grade Christian education class before presenting the string program to the combined groups.

Gave out strings to all the kids at the first school and at the second only had 80 to give to the oldest of the 300 kids there. Showed them all string stuff and did some storytelling and was assured that the older ones would teach the younger ones later. Returned by train to Cesis that evening. Spent Halloween quietly. They do not celebrate it. They celebrate the month of November by decorating the cemeteries and placing food and flowers for the spirits.

November 1st A scary thing happened on the way to the city. I was to meet Zigmars at the clock tower of the train station at 6:00 PM. I took the 4:00 train and it was raining and blowing a lot. When I got to the train station in Riga and started out the door there was a lot of noise and Zigmars was right at the door to the station and said, "lets run". We started running across the plaza and a large piece (about 10 Feet Square) of the metal roof blew off the station roof and landed about 15 feet behind me. I didn’t have time to realize how close it was till much later.

We were to first go to the Christian radio station (Latvijas Kristigais Radio, 101.8 FM) for an interview. That went well even though it is on the 6th floor of the building with no elevator. Then on to a Baptist youth group of 18 to 25 year olds. Put on a program for them and gave each of them an extra string to share the message with a friend.

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Back to Drew’s apartment for the night. It wasn’t until I was safe in bed – in his 6th floor loft that I realized what a close call I had. The wind was still blowing and I was able to stop and thank God for keeping me safe.

Friday the 2nd I took the early train to Cesis. The pastors from Cesis meet once a month and I gave them a sample of what String Ministries, Inc. programs are like. A promo to see if they would like me to come to their churches. Gave a program at the Orphanage in the afternoon then had a call from the Lutheran pastor who wondered if I could meet with his youth group that evening. Met with about 15 high school youth and had a nice relaxed time sharing string stuff with them.

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Saturday AM went to the Seventh Day Adventist Sunday School. Had about 75 people of all ages for the program. The pastor was busy video taping the program for later use. Then back to the orphanage for an encore performance. I had told the kids that if they could learn Jacob’s ladder from a couple of the kids that knew, I would show then how to make the spider from it. They accepted the challenge and were all ready for me.

The Seckel’s and I then took the bus into Riga with 6 boys from Sarkani that Kevin is working with on the racecar project and two girls from Cesis for a youth conference. One of the boys left us when we reached the outskirts of the city and said he had to visit his brother and would meet up with us at the church. Found out later that his "brother" was Jim Beam. Kevin asked him to pour the rest of it out and he did. The conference was held at 2nd Methodist church in Riga. About 40 youth there for the first annual conference. I presented two string programs and a story for them. We had pizza. Boy did it taste good. Lots of stuff on it. Fifteen large pizzas with only a little bit left over for breakfast.

Gary and Sue Fowler were there and so was Patrick Friday, another stateside missionary to Latvia. That night I opted to not sleep on the floor of the church but rather to stay at the B&B that Gary and Sue were at. Patrick went to the B&B and we visited late. He was impressed with String Ministries, Inc. and invited me to return and go with him to visit some of the villages he is working with in Belarus. That might be a good trip to pair up with Estonia.

Gary and Sue also want me to go to Honduras to work with some missionaries they know there and also to go with a medical team to Paraguay. This ministry is so hard to describe. It is something that one needs to see in action before it is understood. Everywhere I go, once people see it they say, "Oh, we want you to do a program at such and such."

Enjoyed the church service on Sunday morning at 2nd Methodist. It is amazing to look around the sanctuary and see some of the cables and hooks that were from Russian times when the church was confiscated and used as an exercise and fitness center. The pastor asked me to give a program at the social hour after church. Yes, more coffee, open-faced sandwiches and cookies. Left with the youth right after that to take the bus back to Cesis. Gave everyone change at the bus station for the WC.

Went to the 5:00 Methodist service in Cesis. The building is owned by the Lutherans. Their service is in AM, Baptist in afternoon and Methodist in evening. Seventh Day Adventist, of course, meet on Saturday.

Kevin went for a taxi to take us to Liepa to the Community Hall for a "Cultural program on Strings" at 7:00 that evening. There was one car outside the hall and so we expected an empty room. Were surprised to walk in and see about 75 people. In a small village everyone walks. Had a great time. Wonderful response from everyone. Some of the kids from the youth group that I had done a couple weeks earlier had spread the word. Carol was taking pictures and kept commenting that the only problem was that they did not have sound. The group was quite animated.

The taxi waited and took us back to Cesis. We were home for just a few minutes when a woman stopped by the apartment to ask if I could come to her school and work with some of her students in Cesis. She had heard from her daughter who went to the youth conference what fun the strings were. I arranged to visit her school on Monday morning. She was delighted.

8:30 Monday morning I was at the elementary school in Cesis working with 4 different classes. I had to be done by 12:00 so I could get a taxi to take me to the vocational school so I could do a program there. The teacher Ilga Grote was my translator. She had translated for me a couple of times at the orphanage and I found was not always saying what I said. Interesting how you can tell from the length of the comments or not hearing some of the international words that sound similar in any language.

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She was good hearted and just not equipped to translate. It takes special talents to do it well. Anyway, after working with her students at the vocational school, she then took me to the Young men’s prison in Cesis and I gave two programs, one of 25 each for two groups of prisoners. The first group were all Latvian speaking the second were Russian speaking. The English teacher translated for the Russian group. In this prison all the prisoners were together no matter what the crime or sentence.

The education department in the prison was a separate building with bright walls, bulletin boards, plants and pictures on the walls. Very different from the one in Lithuania. Like Lithuania, we did need to keep count of the strings and collect them at the end of the session. I left a supply of them so they could do some things with them another time. When we left there we stopped at the Sanatorium, a residential facility for youth with breathing problems. Set up for me to go on Wednesday evening for a program.

Tuesday the 6th I was taking the bus into Riga again to meet Zigmars from Campus Crusade to do a program for a middle school. I had directions on how to take the trolley but he met the bus and directed me – thank heavens. latvia21.jpg (153356 bytes)
The small group I had asked for turned into about 250 7th and 8th graders. We did strings and had a rousing time. Ate lunch at the school. Zigmars really enjoyed having another Christian performer to relate to. I gave him a number of strings that he said he would save to use for a summer camp he was scheduled for. We then took trolley to meet Kevin and Carol.

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Spent the afternoon souvinier shopping etc. and then went to the "Big Lido" restaurant. It is a Disney like experience that all tourists must try. A huge smorgasbord type place with delicious food. I treated and we all enjoyed a scrumptious meal. All for about $15 total. Then took the train home to Cesis.

Wednesday morning I got serious about packing. In the afternoon went to the Sanatorium. Carol and Ilga went along. Ilga had translated for me at least 4 times before and really enjoyed the string things. Then an amazing thing happened. I started to explain a trick and she got ahead of me. She just kept going and actually stepped in front of me and finished the trick. She didn’t even realize what she had done.

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Her usefulness as a translator was all down hill from there. It really didn’t make a big difference as many of the children knew some English and most of what I was doing was by gesture anyway. An interesting experience to say the least. I think I can now call her a disciple.

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Carol knows enough Latvian to explain later some of the things Ilga had translated and what she had changed or left out. At one point, as I useually do, I had explained that the Methodist women of my church make crafts and sell them. With some of the money the Methodist women make they pay for the strings that I give out. In listening to the translation, I never heard a word that sounded like Methodist. So I stopped and directly said – "Tell them that the strings are from the METHODIST women at my church." At that point I did hear Methodistu. Oh, the fun of traveling.

In spite of the translating problems, this was one of the high points of the trip. These children, living in an old institutional building were so happy for some diversion. They really grabbed on to the string fun and immediately started teaching others. I left strings for all 250 kids and know they will be doing string things for a long time to come. What a reward to be able to give a little joy to someone.



Thursday I took the 10:00 bus into Riga and met the Seckels one last time. They took me to the airport and after our "goodby’s" I boarded the plane for Frankfurt, Germany. A short trip and was met by Mary Leonhart, a teacher at the DOD (Department of Defense) school in Darmstadt. Mary is also a member of Lawton Heights Methodist Church, my home church in Oklahoma.

Along with much sightseeing I did two programs for the Army. Saturday evening the 10th I gave a string program for about 30 Junior High students for the Malachci Youth program, part of Cadence International. Tom and Yevette Leightenheimer were the leaders.

I also provided the Sunday school program for the 223rd BSB Community Chapel at Darmstadt.

Tuesday morning November 13, 200 I boarded the plane to return to the United States. Through all the prayers and support of many people


NOTE: I am planning on returning to Eastern Europe, November 2003 for about four weeks. I may also get to Belarus on this trip. If you would like to help fund strings for the people of Eastern Europe, contact me. Thank you.

David Titus