A question not to ask me

“Do you miss Latvia?” or equally irritating “Is it nice to be in Latvia?” Yes, I do get annoyed from time to time… I know it is just a nice question and usually it is part of small talk but for some strange reason I wonder why people ask me this kind of thing.

There are many things I miss about Latvia when I am away. I miss the woods and the green fields and the walks through the countryside. I miss the wild flowers and making a wreath or a simple bouquet. I miss sitting or laying in the grass and not worrying about snakes (well, there are still lots of small bugs but they are harmless). I miss swimming in the lakes and rivers and not worrying about crocodiles. I miss the Baltic Sea and finding some amber or beautiful rocks on the shore.

I miss the four seasons. Even though I wish the winter was shorter, the autumn was sunnier, the spring was earlier and the summer longer. I miss the different moods I experience during these seasons. The autumn for sure brings some melancholy. It is a great time for reading books and reflecting. The winter is perfect for cozy places and long chats with friends. The spring brings so much hope and anticipation. And the summer is simply… busy, busy, busy.

The reason why I don’t like these type of questions because I don’t like to categorize and compare. Is Latvia more beautiful than Thailand or Australia or South Africa? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder! I love diversity… I look at the mountains and jungles in Southeast Asia and I enjoy the sweet smell of tropical plants. I will always miss this smell.

I remember the green, rolling hills in South Africa and I start hearing the music from “The Lion King”. Yes, this is the kind of place for the King of the jungle. Can you imagine lions in Latvia? I cannot! Or giraffes? Or elephants? I will miss the big, open spaces with lots of wildlife.

Diversity is something to be celebrated. Not to be compared or rated. We are amazing because we are so different. Our planet is so beautiful because the nature and landscape is so diverse. I believe that nature teaches us many things and it tells us deep truths if we are willing to listen. It tells us that we are a part of this Creation and that we need to relate to it with love and respect. I am blessed by the simple beauty of Latvia and I hope that Latvia is blessed to have me here.

I am blessed to be here this autumn which is exceptionally sunny. The colors change weekly and sometimes daily. It is a beautiful, ever-changing canvass. There is a popular Latvian song which says, “The autumn comes to paint Latvia but don’t try so hard. She is beautiful to me… Any Way.”

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Latviski: Jautājums, ko man labāk neuzdot

“Vai tu skumsti pēc Latvijas?” vai vēl kaitinošāk “Kā tev patīk Latvijā?” Jā, ir lietas, kas mani kaitina. Es saprotu, ka tā ir vienkārši pieklājīga un draudzīga saruna, bet kaut kāda iemesla pēc manī rodas šī reakcija. Kas tiek domāts ar šo jautājumu?

Ir daudzas lietas, kuras man pietrūkst, kad neesmu Latvijā. Man pietrūkst zaļie meži un pļavas un pastaigas pa laukiem. Man pietrūkst pļavas ziedi un vainagu pīšana. Man pietrūkst sēdēšana vai gulēšana zālē, kur nav jāuztraucas par indīgām čūskām (nu, kukaiņi arī reizēm traucē, bet tie ir tik nekaitīgi). Man pietrūkst peldēšanās upēs un ezeros, kur nav jāuztraucas par krokodiliem. Vēl man pietrūkst Baltijas jūra, un smuku akmentiņu un dzintara meklēšana.

Man pietrūkst četri gadalaiki. Kaut gan ziema varētu būt īsāka, rudens varētu būt saulaināks, pavasaris varētu būt agrāks, un vasara garāka. Man pietrūkst tie dažādie noskaņojumi, ko izraisa gadalaiki. Rudens vienmēr ir melanholisks pārdomu laiks, kad var lasīt grāmatas un domāt par dzīvi. Ziemā ir forši iekārtoties kādā siltā stūrītī, un jauki pavadīt laiku ar draugiem. Pavasarī rodas daudz cerību un gaidu. Un vasarā vienkārši… visam nepietiek laika.

Man laikam nepatīk šie jautājumi, jo nevēlos salīdzināt. Vai Latvija ir skaistāka par Taizemi, Austrāliju vai Dienvidāfriku? Ir tāds teiciens, ka skaistumu piešķir tas, kurš skatās. Man patīk dažādība. Kad esmu Dienvidāzijā un skatos uz kalniem un džungļiem, es ieelpoju smaržīgo tropu gaisu. Man patīk turienes augu un ziedu smarža. Tā vienmēr pietrūks.

Kad atceros Dienvidāfrikas zaļos, maigos pakalnus, man ausīs sāk skanēt mūzika no multenes “Karalis Lauva”. Jā, šeit var dzīvot dzīvnieku karalis. Vai variet iedomāties lauvas Latvijā? Es nevaru! Vai arī žirafes? Un ziloņus? Man pietrūks tie lielie plašumi, kur tik daudz savvaļas dzīvnieku.

Dažādību vajag svinēt. Nevis salīdzināt un sacensties. Mēs paši esam tik apbrīnojami, jo esam tik dažādi. Mūsu planēta ir tik skaista, jo daba un skati ir tik daudzveidīgi. Es ticu, ka daba māca mums daudzas un dziļas patiesības, ja esam gatavi ieklausīties. Tā atgādina, ka esam daļa no Radības, kuru mums jāmīl un jāciena. Man Latvijas vienkāršais skaistums ir par svētību, un ceru, ka arī mana klātbūtne ir Latvijai par svētību.

Vēl esmu pateicīga, ka šogad varēju piedzīvot tik saulainu un skaistu rudeni. Krāsas mainījās pa nedēļām un dažreiz dienām. Kā viena liela, mainīga, dzīva glezna. Kā dziesmā, “Nāk rudens apgleznot Latviju, bet nepūlies, necenties tā. Man viņa ir visskaistākā… Tik un Tā!”

Lessons from Ukraine: peacemaking can be counterintuitive

My current ‘office’ is a nice coffee shop in Riga where I enjoy the warmth and tasty treats. The days are getting shorter and the evenings darker. The air is much colder, too. Is it just me or the autumn is a perfect time for reflections?

As promised in my last post about Nobel Peace Prize laureates, I will continue my thoughts on people who are peacemakers. People who should be honored and supported and imitated. And my mind is in a country not too far from Latvia. Where the days are also getting shorter and the weather colder – Ukraine. I think of people in eastern parts of Ukraine who are bracing for another winter without all the things we appreciate so much. Heat, electricity, food, accessible healthcare…

The global community, including Europe, is facing many challenges and it seems that news headlines change very fast. But the issues and conflicts don’t go away just because the attention shifts elsewhere. I wish I could think of Ukraine as “yesterday’s news” but I cannot. The war in the two eastern provinces – Donestk and Luhansk – is still there. Yes, there is ceasefire (mostly holding) and negotiations and different initiatives but there is no peace. Not yet. And it will not come easily.

One of the things I have learned and start to experience in the times of tension, pressure and conflict is that everyone talks about “peace” but not everyone wants to be a “peacemaker”. Because honestly – real peace is counter intuitive. It goes against our emotions and our normal thoughts. It is much easier to get angry and hateful when you get hurt then to do the hard work of searching for some grace and forgiveness deep inside. It is much easier to blame. It is much easier to seek justice as in ‘eye for an eye’ but it has to be ‘my’ justice. Or even revenge as in “your whole head for my eye’.

In the times of war, the peacemakers can be some of the most ‘unpopular’ people. Admired by many but hated by others. I want to honor all the men and women in Ukraine who are committed to non-violent and sacrificial resistance to any kind of oppression, corruption, aggression and hatred. I hope to meet some them in person in the future. Meanwhile one of the ways we can support peace and restoration in Ukraine is by sharing the stories of love and compassion and great sacrifice.

Through social media and some personal contact I know one of these remarkable men. A local pastor from Donetsk who was forced to leave his home city and his church in 2014 because his humanitarian work was putting him and his family’s life in danger. Sergey Kosyak would not like to be singled out but he has inspired and encouraged thousands of people. In Ukraine and beyond. I love his motto “Do good. It is possible.”

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Last year when the violence and conflict broke out, many cities organized prayer tents, including in the Constitution Square of Donetsk. The tent was there for many months with the banner “Pray here for Ukraine” and it united people from all Christian denominations and even other religions. A local Muslim imam joined. They faced harassment, violent opposition, eggs, bottles, even rocks. Eventually the tent was removed by force and destroyed and the prayer movement had to go “underground”.

Here is a story from his FB posts which Sergey Kosyak gave me permission to share. (Also all photos in this post are from his personal archive.) On May 23, 2014 he wrote: “Friends, today was a tough day, but for me very difficult. To begin with, representatives of Donetsk People’s Republic destroyed our tent, and then there was the following story.

Several times I have gone to the city administration building to talk with the leaders of the Donetsk People’s Republic, so I went once again. I didn’t find the person I had talked with earlier there but happened to see someone who attended my church. I was glad when I saw him, but he didn’t seem too glad we met. He began to yell that I was manipulating the people and things like that. In short, the negotiations failed, in the eyes of these people I had become the enemy. You tend to have short conversations with your enemy.

People are very angry, because, first of all, their hearts are empty and not filled with God. I told them that God loves them; I harbored no anger or hatred towards them in my heart, even when they beat me. I will not describe the beating itself, but that I am still alive, is just by the grace of God.

Among them were people who knew about our prayer tent, they cursed the others for what they did to me. After that, they gave me my things back and my money, then asked for forgiveness from me and that I would not be offended.

Before they started beating me I told them about Christ, called them to turn their hearts to God, and while they beat me I just prayed. I couldn’t make it to the prayer meeting in the evening because I had to go to the hospital.

Dark times have come to our region, people hate each other, they’re ready to kill, beat for a preposterous idea, and to die for those ideas. And they cannot see Him for whom it is really worth living and dying. God save the people, turn their attention to You.”

Since my post is getting long, I will continue with other stories later. But let me finish with the same encouragement that is even truer in the dark times… Do good! It is possible!

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Latviski:

Mans patreizējais ‘ofiss’ ir jauka kafejnīca Rīgas centrā. Te ir silts un garšīgi smaržo. Dienas kļūst īsākas, un vakari tumšāki. Gaiss arī daudz aukstāks. Kāpēc rudens vienmēr mani vedina uz dziļām pārdomām?

Kā jau solīju iepriekšējā rakstā par Nobela Miera Prēmijas laureātiem, es turpinu savas domas par cilvēkiem, kuri, manuprāt, ir miera veidotāji. Cilvēki, kurus jāciena, jāatbalsta un jāatdarina. Un manas domas ir valstī, kas nav pārāk tālu no Latvijas. Tur arī dienas kļūst īsākas, un laiks aukstāks. Ukraina. Domāju par cilvēkiem Ukrainas austrumos, kuri gaida kārtējo ziemu bez visām ērtībām un pamatvajadzībām. Siltums, apkure, elektrība, veselības aprūpe…

Pasaulē šobrīd ir daudz grūtību un izaicinājumu, un ziņu virsraksti strauji mainās. Taču problēmas un konflikti nekur neaiziet un nepazūd tikai tāpēc, ka mūsu uzmanība ir vērsta citur. Gribētos, kaut Ukraina būtu ‘vakardienas ziņas’, bet diemžēl tas tā nav. Karš divos austrumu apgabalos – Doņeckā un Luhanskā – turpinās. Jā, ir pamiers (kas pārsvarā tiek ievērots), tiek vestas sarunas, un ir dažādas idejas, bet miers vēl nav iestājies. Un neiestāsies tik drīz, jo smags darbs priekšā.

Es sāku arvien vairāk ievērot un piedzīvot, ka ‘juku’ laikos, kad ir liels sabiedrības spiediens un konflikts, daudzi runā par “mieru”, bet ne visi vēlas kļūt par “miera veidotājiem”. Jo atklāti runājot – īsts miers nav pašsaprotams. Tas ir pat pretrunā mūsu tā brīža emocijām un domām. Ir daudz vieglāk un ‘loģiskāk’ ļauties dusmām un naidam, ja tev kāds dara pāri. Nekā cīnīties ar naidu, un meklēt sevī spēju sniegt kaut kripatiņu žēlastības un piedošanas. Ir daudz vieglāk vainot. Ir daudz vieglāk dzīties pēc taisnības, lai būtu “acs pret aci”. Vēl vieglāk dzīties pēc atriebības, lai būtu “visa tava galva pret manu aci”.

Kara laikā mieru turošie var kļūt ļoti nepopulāri. Vieni viņus apbrīno, citi ienīst vai nosoda. Es gribu izteikt dziļu cieņu visiem cilvēkiem Ukrainā, kuri izvēlas cīnīties pret visa veida agresiju, korpupciju un naidu, bet ar nevardarbīgiem līdzekļiem. Tas prasa no viņiem ļoti daudz. Es ceru kādreiz satikt viņus personīgi, bet šobrīd es vēlos atbalstīt šo pašaizliedzīgo miera celšanas darbu Ukrainā, nododot tālāk stāstus par mīlestību, žēlsirdību un cerību.

Caur soctīkliem un saraksti, es pazīstu vienu lielisku cilvēku, kurš ir šajā komandā. Vietējais mācītājs no Doņeckas, kurš 2014. gadā bija spiests pamest savas mājas un dzimto pilsētu, jo viņa labdarība apdraudēja viņu pašu un ģimeni – sievu un bērnus. Sergejs Kosjaks negribētu, ka viņu īpaši izceļ, bet viņs ir iedvesmojis un iedrošinājis tūkstošiem cilvēku. Gan Ukrainā, gan ārpus tās. Man patīk viņa motto: “Dari labu. Tas ir iespējams.”

Pagājšgad, kad spriedze pārauga vardarbībā, daudzās pilsētās tika uzceltas lūgšanu teltis. Arī Doņeckas centrā, Konstitūcijas laukumā. Telts tur stāvēja vairākus mēnešus zem plakāta “Šeit aizlūdz par Ukrainu”, un lūgšanas apvienoja cilvēkus no visām kristīgām konfesijām. Pievienojās arī vietējais muslimu kopienas vadītājs. Viņi tika nosodīti, apsaukāti, pat apmētāti ar olām, pudelēm akmeņiem. Beigu beigās telts tika ar varu nojaukta, un aizlūdzēji nogāja “pagrīdē”.

Šeit viens īss stāsts no Sergeja Kosjaka Facebook lapas. (Viņš man deva atļauju izmantot gan stāstus, gan foto.) 2014. gada 23. maijā viņš rakstīja tā: “Draugi, šodien bija smaga diena, bet man pašam ļoti grūta. Iesākumā Doņeckas Tautas Republikas pārstāvji iznīcināja mūsu telti, un pēc tam sekoja šis notikums.

Vairākas reizes esmu gājis uz pilsētas administrācijas ēku, lai runātu ar Doņeckas Tautas Republikas pārstāvjiem. Tāpēc gāju arī šajā reizē. Nesatiku cilvēku, ar kuru runāju iepriekšējās reizēs, bet satiku kādu, kurš agrāk bija manā draudzē. Es priecājos viņu redzēt, bet viņš nelikās pārāk priecīgs. Viņš sāka kliegt, kas es grozot cilvēkiem prātus, utt. Vārdu sakot, nekādas sarunas nesanāca, jo viņu acīs es biju kļuvis par ienaidnieku. Un ar ienaidniekiem ir īsas sarunas.

Cilvēki ir ļoti dusmīgi. Pirmkārt, viņu sirdis ir tukšas, un tās nepiepilda Dievs. Es teicu viņiem, ka Dievs viņus ļoti mīl, ka es nedusmojos un neienīstu viņus. Pat tad, kad viņi sāka mani sist. Es nestāstīšu daudz par savu piekaušanu, bet tā ir Dieva žēlastība, ka paliku dzīvs.

Tur bija arī kādi, kuri zināja par mūsu lūgšanu telti. Viņi nolamāja tos, kuri mani piekāva. Tad viņi atdeva visas manas mantas un naudu un lūdza piedošanu. Lūdza, lai es neapvainojoties.

Pirms tiku sists, es stāstīju viņiem par Kristu. Aicināju vērst savas sirdis uz Dievu. Lūdzu Dievu, kamēr tiku sists. Vakarā gan es netiku uz lūgšanu sapulci, jo braucu uz slimnīcu.

Mūsu pusē ir pienākuši drūmi laiki. Cilvēki ienīst viens otru, ir gatavi nogalināt un sist kaut kādu iedomātu ideju dēļ. Ir gatavi arī šo ideju dēļ mirt. Un viņi neredz Personu, kura dēļ tiešām ir vērts dzīvot un mirt. Dievs, izglāb ļaudis.”

Vēl ir daudz stāsti, bet tos vēlāk. Nobeigumā es gribu citēt vēlreiz šos iedrošinājuma vārdus… Dari labu! Tas ir iespējams!

My nominee for Nobel Peace Prize 2015 is …

The laureate of Nobel Peace Prize will be revealed this Friday, October 9. As usual, the nominees are kept in secret and it will be a secret for next 50 years. So, we will not know who were the people and organizations to choose from.

Having just visited Nobel Peace Center in Oslo, Norway, I was thinking about the previous awards. Some amazing people who have given their lives to makes this world a better place. I have my own list of favorites. The official website of Nobel Prize also lists the most popular laureates and there are three Peace Prize awards in the top 10. Can you guess who?

The most popular from all categories is Martin Luther King, Jr. I am not surprised. His life and work continues to speak and challenge us today. We can think of the famous speech in Washington, ” I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.” There are many places in the world where it has not become a reality yet. So, the work continues. He also said and believed that “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” I believe it.

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One of the people who inspired Martin Luther King, Jr, but never received the Nobel Peace Prize, was Mahatma Gandhi. Geir Lundestad, Secretary of Norwegian Nobel Committee in 2006 said, “The greatest omission in our 106-year history is undoubtedly that Mahatma Gandhi never received the Nobel Peace prize. Gandhi could do without the Nobel Peace prize, whether Nobel committee can do without Gandhi is the question”.

Another one of my absolute heroes on the list is Mother Theresa. She needs no comments. Just couple of my favorite quotes from her, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love” and “Live simply so others may simply live.”

Any guess who is another popular laureate? It is the young girl from Pakistan who advocates for female education. Malala Yousafzai is the youngest laureate ever at the age of 17. When she was 11 years old, Yousafzai wrote a blog under a pseudonym for the BBC detailing her life under Taliban occupation, their attempts to take control and her views on promoting education for girls in the Swat Valley. One afternoon in 2012, Malala boarded her school bus in the northwest Pakistani. A gunman asked for her by name, then pointed a pistol at her and fired three shots. She survived and went through intensive rehabilitation. Her advocacy work has become an international movement.

This is what Malala said  at the UN, “The terrorists thought they would change my aims and stop my ambitions, but nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born … I am not against anyone, neither am I here to speak in terms of personal revenge against the Taliban or any other terrorist group. I’m here to speak up for the right of education for every child. I want education for the sons and daughters of the Taliban and all terrorists and extremists.”

So, who will be awarded this most prestigious prize this year? I have no idea but I do know many people I would certainly nominate if I had the authority to do so. There is one person I want to write about but it will have to be the next post. So, I will keep it a secret just like the Nobel Prize committee does. But don’t worry … just for one more week, not 50 years.

Meanwhile, who would you nominate?

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