A Timeless Lesson from the Soviet Years

While reading one of my favorite living poets, Malcolm Guite, I suddenly remembered an old classic Latvian poem by Janis Rainis. I learned it during my first visit to Latvia in 1985. I preached my first sermon in Latvia at the Matthew’s Baptist Church, where the pastor was Arvīds Vasks (pictured above), who was my grandfather’s cousin.

That Sunday morning, I gained more than I gave. 

Janis Rainis (b. 1865; d. 1929 ) was the Shakespeare of Latvia.

Latvia was occupied by the Soviet Union, extremely poor, and without any sense of hope for future freedom.  It was my privilege to preach in three churches.  I am confident that I was more blessed by the services than were the people by my messages.  I couldn’t help but notice that two offerings were collected during each worship service. I further noticed that virtually everyone put something in each offering.

Pastor Vasks explained that the first offering was for the church and the second for the poor. “But isn’t everyone poor?” I asked. He instantly agreed and added, “But some of our elderly are extremely needy and have no one but the church to help them.”

Later that week I read and memorized the Janis Rainis poem:

You may gain by giving;

You may gain by taking

But what you gain by giving,

will never be taken away”