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Visiting Friends in the Baltic Region

In late August/early September Marisa and I travelled together by ferry from Sweden to Finland. We set off very early in the morning, on a beautiful summer day. The sea was calm and we sailed gently along the coast and across the sea, till we landed in Turku, where we visited Friends there for a couple of days, and then went on to Helsinki by train. From there another ferry took us to Tallin in Estonia, where we found hospitality with Steve and Myra Ford, and met Anna-Lena Vierumäki. From Tallin we visited Friends in three cities in Latvia – Liepaja, Riga and Daugavpils. The last stop was Kaunas in Lithuania, where we stayed with Auŝrina Aleknaviciute. Auŝrina spoke Russian and Esperanto as well as Lithuania. Between us we have English, Swedish, Italian and German, yet communication was possible – and not only in the silent Meetings for Worship! What follows are some reflections on travelling in the ministry.

My father, an anthropologist and travel-study tour organiser, once told me that people often have deeply spiritual experiences when travelling—regardless of whether they are pilgrims with clear intention toward God or whether they are simply on holiday. There is something about being vulnerable, about being a guest in other cultures, about being away from the familiar and open to new ways of doing things, new sounds and new sights. Sunday the 7th of July 2008 found Marisa and me in Riga, worshiping with Agita Zake and a few attenders in a small flat where a friend of Agita’s has her cosmetology business. We had been on the road a week, being welcomed and hosted by Friends in Finland, Estonia and Latvia. During worship, I remembered reading about the many women travelling ministers who travelled westward, under concern and with deep-felt calling, to the American colonies from Britain during the 18th century. I reflected on how Marisa and I might be connected to these women, many of whom are not remembered in history. More than two centuries separate us, as well as the direction of our travel. We had travelled eastward to visit Friends groups and isolated Friends. We felt quite sure that we would return home safely, compared to the travelers in colonial times, who often left their families not knowing if they would ever return—dangers of sea and land travel were more acute that they are today. We were in daily contact via e-mail and Skype with our families, could keep up other aspects of our work and be in contact with our hosts at the next stop. Our travels covered nearly two weeks compared to the months—and perhaps even years—that our sisters were away from home. Our travels did not include long hours on horseback or on foot.

Despite the great differences, I felt a connection with these early Friends, who travelled to support, nurture, teach and learn. They embodied a Quaker presence and carried a Quaker message. They went prepared to learn about what it is to be a Friend in other places. They went prepared to be cared for in various ways by their hosts. They went to worship together and share experiences of Spirit, to learn how it is to be a faithful Friend in other parts of the world. They were open to the opportunities of Spirit that present themselves when travelling—as I was. It happened, namely, that Friend Agita offered me a Reiki healing session after worship. I was weary and heavy-laden after the recent death of dear Friend Marika Johansson. Agita’s hands sensed that pain, and she suggested that I invite into our session anyone I wanted. I opened myself to the memory of Marika, who also had healing hands. It was both an enlightening and healing session for me. What I did not know was that my dear Friend Pia Hellrup had died that day, unexpectedly, while visiting her son in China. A few hours later, while on the train to Daugavpils and the home of Elena Belajeva, my husband called my cell phone with the shocking news. What a blessing and comfort it was to find that Pia had been known by the Friends in Daugavpils—and indeed in Kaunas, the final destination of our travels! We were able to include Pia in our worship in these places. I felt deeply thankful for the connectedness that modern transportation and technology—despite many of its limitations—makes possible among Friends, but also thankful for the invisible threads of Sprit that connect us. I am also thankful for the precious experience of being welcomed, hosted and cared for while also serving others.

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