As I write, we have just returned from our family holiday. My first thought is that however much we have enjoyed being away, we usually feel how nice it is to come home afterwards. And so for the first time we’ve felt that about coming home to Tadworth and the vicarage.
We travelled to the Baltic states: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and so learned to say thank you in three more languages (Aitäh, Paldies, and Ačiū). We worshipped in two very different English-speaking churches – the Anglican church in Riga with a warm welcome and a very similar service to ours; and an informal service at the International Church in Vilnius.
Travelling through the countryside between capitals and countries the land was wide and open with less forest and the further south we went, more fields of wheat and other grain crops ripe for the harvest. With so few visible combine harvesters and people starting on harvest, it seemed a perfect backdrop to remind me of Jesus’ parable of the promise of the kingdom of God (Matthew 9.37-38).
‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few;
therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.’
I like exploring the history of places, and there was so much history to encounter, from the prehistoric up to the dramatic history of the twentieth century.
One of the most striking sights we saw is the Vilnius TV tower. It has a strangely sci-fi shape with its bulbous offices a third of the way up. I remember that tower appearing on our news in January 1991. Then Soviet troops tried to suppress civilian protesters defending Lithuanian independence, and fourteen people died because of troops firing. The events strengthened the resolve of Lithuanians seeking independence, with members of the crowds “praying, singing and chanting independence slogans”. Full independence for Lithuania quickly followed and the break-up of the Soviet Union happened later that year.
Then, I remember feeling how remote Vilnius was with its strange TV tower. Now that tower seems to stand for the desire for truth and justice, sometimes thwarted, and sometimes successful, a struggle inspired then by Christian faith.
Now the Baltic countries have much the same everyday challanges in their societies as we do, things like inequality, materialism, temptations to selfishness, risk of corruption amongst leaders in society, and so on. Many churches have been reopened and rebuilt, and Christians have returned to less dramatic and visible outworking of faith.
Across the Baltic states, as at home, the harvest of God’s kingdom is plentiful, and the labourers seem few. So perhaps for them and for us, our request of God, our prayer, for this September is that God sends out more labourers into his harvest.