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Interview with our Bishop Christian Alsted

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

My name is Christian Alsted and I am 60 years old. I was born in a town that is located on the East coast of Jutland peninsula. My mother used to take me and my brother to Sunday school classes, but being 8-9 years old, I would rather spend time with friends or play football than attend church. When I was 14-15 years old my mother told me about a youth pastor at the local church and about the great youth meetings taking place. She wanted me to attend, also. One night I thought – OK, I will go there. Maybe it will be boring, and I will be able to tell my mother that I gave it a chance and I would not have to go anymore. So, I went there, and I found it interesting because they were reading Bible together and talked about what it meant to be a Christian, therefore I kept attending these youth meetings. And after some time, I started acting as if I were a Christian, although I really was not. When I was 16, during a summer camp, I knew I had to do it..

I had to bring these two worlds together – my life at church and my life outside of it needed to become one whole. I decided to follow Jesus!

After gymnasium, I was planning to study to become a teacher, but then I decided to volunteer to serve at church as a youth worker for one year. In many ways, it was a very challenging and wonderful experience. At that time, I started to get these ideas about becoming a pastor which was a truly frightening idea, resulting in me moving to Sweden to study theology at a Methodist seminary. After studies, I got married, became a pastor at 22 years old, and moved with my wife to two small congregations on the West coast of Denmark. After five amazing years of ministry, we moved to Copenhagen, where I was a pastor for 20 years.

As a bishop, you travel a great deal. How does your family perceive your absence and how do you balance work and time for your family?

The last two years I have not been traveling a lot, but before that I had been away for maybe 180-200 days a year, I was sleeping in hotels from 130 to 150 nights a year. I think, after the pandemics, the travel time will become similar to what it was. Before becoming a Bishop, I had a lot of other responsibilities which required me to spend time away from home, although it was not as often. When I became a Bishop, we did not have small children living at home. I would not have been able to do this ministry with small children, it would not be right to do it. I think that we have been pretty successful in managing our time between work and family because this year in June we will celebrate 38 years of marriage, and we still love each other.

Is there any curious/amusing incident during your bishop’s ministry that always makes you smile?

It was during my first visit to Latvia, when the Annual Conference took place in Kuldiga. There were a lot of people, and it was very hot therefore we were sitting in the sanctuary with open windows. Some young boys were passing by the church threw in some teargas through an open window. I had never experienced a church being emptied so fast. I am using this often as an illustration when talking about our usual struggles to get out of the church building to serve the society. But, if someone threw teargas through the window, it might help us…

Is there a place in Latvia where you would like to come and relax, explore, and get to know more?

Yes, there are several, including the aforementioned Kuldiga. The town and its surroundings are really pretty… But, you know, every time I am going somewhere, I am there to meet people and to participate in Conferences. It is always about the people; it is not very often about the place. I would like to travel to Latvia as a tourist to explore Kuldiga. I am amused about the large quantities of storks in Latvia. I suppose you see a lot of storks in Latvia during summer, but here in Denmark we see them very rarely. Maybe there are 2 or 3 couples of storks in Denmark hence when someone finds out about any new nests or stork cubs, the story makes the headlines of daily news. I would say that Latvia is a truly beautiful country, and you can be proud of it.

Have you been on mission trips, and do you recommend everyone to try it, why?

I have been traveling a lot, I have visited churches and places where people have gone on mission trips, but I have never been on a mission trip myself.  However, two of my children have been on mission trips. They have had a huge impact on their spiritual lives, as well helped them to form a better understanding of the world. I think that a mission trip can change one’s life.

Where do you get inspiration or get inspired?

I read books, listen to podcasts, receive newsletters from varied sources. I get inspiration from Canadian pastor Carey Nieuwhof. I also get inspiration from Lewis Center for leadership, from my congregation, from our church leadership and teachers. Occasionally, I watch lectures on YouTube, for example, Tom Wright, who is a New Testament scholar. I tend to draw inspiration from varied sources. I read newspapers, watch the news, and I think it is really necessary to us all, especially to pastors, to be aware of what is happening in the world and to continuously reflect upon what it means to live as a Christian and to be a church in the current world.

How would you explain God’s work to a non-believer?

A lot depends on the situation. You know that part of my family are not Christians. If they were to come to me and ask – what is Christianity? Can you explain? Can you explain the Christian faith? – I would begin to talk about Jesus. Talk about who He is, what He has done, and that He invites us to form relationship with Him.

Essentially, I think that being a Christian means being in relationship with Jesus Christ.

There is a lot to talk about, for example, about the journey, the Christian teaching and understanding of varied topics on faith, but basically, when we are talking about the center of faith, it is about… What is the experience in relationship with Jesus? What does it do to you? What does He want from us? What is He giving to us? I would begin with this. However, often times it is about the small things. For example, someone tells you about a problem they are facing, say, with their marriage or someone is ill in their family, to which you can simply answer – I will pray for you because I am a Christian and I believe that can help. Sometimes, it is about little things – how we live our life, paying attention to people around us, how we treat others, take care of others.

 Have you experienced disappointment being involved in some ministry?

Yes, I have experienced disappointment several times in my ministry. It can happen. For example, when, as a pastor, I have invested a lot of time in someone with a potential and very good leadership traits, whom I have helped doing my best for him to grow in faith… but then something happens and he turns his back on faith, which is the worst. Or when such person decides to move to another church because it seems more exciting. That can be disappointing. Or when a high-quality leader, a Christian, gets into trouble and consequently abandons their ministry. To see and experience this, sometimes can be very painful. Or, when you put in so much love, prayers, and effort into the ministry and don’t see any growth you had expected. It can make you disappointed, but it is important to remember that this is God’s church, and He will take care of His church.

God has not called me to be successful and for me to be called a super leader or a super pastor because, in fact, I am simply a follower of Jesus, God has invited me to be faithful with the gifts and grace that He has given me.

It is essential to remember that God has a way. God does not turn His back on anyone. God is good.

Do you think that a person can experience God only spiritually or is it possible to feel Him physically?

It is possible to experience God also in a physical way, to experience His presence. One can also experience His presence with a physical reaction, for example, by crying or trembling. Or simply by being in a wonderful loving atmosphere. You can experience God in physical or spiritual ways, or in a combination of both. I have experienced God’s presence with a physical reaction. I had no doubt that He was present with me. I have experienced it several times, but I have never seen God. I know of people who have seen God and I have no reason to doubt them.

We assume you believe that what is written in the Bible is the truth, but do you believe that God wrote the Bible by revealing His message to the people who wrote it?

I think that Bible is God’s Word that reveals God. He reveals Himself through His Word. Nowadays, we have so much written down, right?  But in those days writing down anything was very, very expensive. To us, the only known time when Jesus was writing anything was when jews had caught a woman who had committed adultery and Jesus was writing something on the ground. Jews, at the time, had a very well-developed verbal culture therefore they knew many patterns how to precisely tell about what had happened. Jesus also used several of these patterns, for example, when He was telling parables. For example, the parable about a woman and the lost coin. She called all of her neighbors to celebrate finding of what had been lost. We can find this parable in Gospels by Mark, Mathew, and Luke. It is written there once. My guess is that Jesus probably told the story 10 or even 20 times because He wanted them to remember it. Therefore, what is written in the Gospels is what people decided to record considering God’s guidance of utmost importance. I think in Gospel of John, chapter 20, it is written that John says – there is much more that could have been said about Jesus, but it would have filled many books. But this is written so that you would know that Jesus is Christ. And if you believe in Jesus, you will find light. No, I don’t think that what is written in the Bible was dictated by God, but there is no doubt that God is a part of it and that God fully reveals Himself in His Word.

Do you think God’s patience is immeasurable and how have you experienced His patience in your life?

I hope and think that Gospels declare it to be so. It is good that God’s patience reaches further than human’s and surpasses all we could imagine. I think that I am experiencing God’s patience all the time. Since I am human and I tend to make mistakes, sometimes in places where I should know or I know better, I am sure that God’s patience with me is great. And I have been reminded of this when I see this same patience in my children towards my grandchildren. You know, small children can wear you down, for example, my grandson is a little troublemaker, he tends to do varied things which he knows he should not, nevertheless, he does them anyway, and sometimes he does them while looking at his parents. Despite that, his parents still love him, and they know that they just have to be patient with their child. Sometimes my children would raise their voice a little on my grandkids by saying – no, you should not be doing that – but they are still being patient. And, if I am reading the Bible correctly, Jesus says that a man, being evil, gives good gifts to his children. How much more would the Heavenly Father give good gifts to His children. Therefore, I am quite sure that God is patient.

In the church often people hear – God is love and forgiveness, but less that He is angry, jealous and a God of war. Do you think that God makes these qualities (love and forgiveness) stand out more often than other qualities or people do that?

All these attributes describe God. I think that God is not angry, but He can become angry. He is angry at sin, evil, everything that destroys life. He is angry with us when we destroy each other’s lives, and sometimes we do that. You know that you can get angry, and sometimes God gets angry with us, but He is slow to anger, quick to love and to forgive.

God is more merciful than He is angry. He is good.

That is why I consider it of great importance to lift up love and forgiveness. God is forgiving, but that does not mean that He is happy with our evil deeds. In my opinion, you can notice that when reading the Gospels. Jesus is the image of God – He is God. And Jesus sometimes became angry, but He never became restless. Do you remember who used their powers to oppress others? Who used to tell others that they are not good enough for God to love them? That is the reason Jesus was hard on the pharisees and the scribes. However, Jesus was gentle on the weak and the poor. In my opinion, that is how God is like.

Have you experienced the wrath or anger of God in your life?

I may experience it when I have done anything against another human being. For example, if I had done something that I knew was not good. In that case, I have to ask God for forgiveness, and if there is another person involved – ask forgiveness to them also.

Is there a prayer that can offend God?

I don’t consider God to be easily offended. In my opinion, there are prayers that we should not be praying, for example, to ask for blessings at the expense of others or to aim our prayers against others. Such prayers are wrong, and indeed, we can find examples of such prayers in the book of Psalms, but the reason of this is our human nature. I think that people cannot understand why their enemy would be doing so good, they need to be punished by God which leads to our prayers to God to punish our enemies. It is humanly, but I don’t think that God was offended by these prayers, otherwise they would not be included in the Bible. They sound quite offensive, but I would say that they are only humans.

We don’t know what would be better, but God knows, hence there are prayers to which God’s answer is – no, I will not do it.

 In your opinion, would God allow himself to be approached by a man whose list of sins is impossible to read in 24 hours?

Yes, I think so. God’s mercy is limitless if a man sincerely turns his heart towards God. Naturally, we can point to people in history who have lots on their conscience, for example, Stalin, Hitler, but we ourselves also have things on our conscience. Jesus’ mercy is important, and this mercy reaches much farther than our understanding. Maybe you won’t agree with me that the conscience of these people is equated to our conscience but know that in God’s Kingdom people that turn their hearts towards Christ, receive forgiveness despite all else.

In your opinion, when would be the best time to seek God and what would you suggest beginning with?

These questions have been researched by science, religion, psychology. In such research they have looked at varied religious phenomena and they have also studied conversion and have concluded that the majority of people turn to seeking God when they are teenagers. It is also the reason why youth ministry is so crucial. When did you become Christians? As for me, I was a teenager. I think that there are two factors – age and friends. In my opinion, the majority of people becoming Christians is through friends who share about their faith and invite their friends to join them. Of course, there are exceptions, but the vast majority is at teen age.

What would you like to wish to the readers and creators of our newspaper?

My wish would be that “Bākuguns” would continue to inspire people to take the next step in following Jesus. And that “Bākuguns” would become a tool to share also with non-believers so that they would be inspired to take the next step of faith towards Jesus!

Interview and outline by Austra Peltmane and Laura Sudāre

watch the interview record here ..