A letter from Eric and Becky Hinderliter in Lithuania
July 28, 2009
Last month a short-term mission trip under the auspices of the Presbytery of Carlisle arrived in Lithuania for 12 days of work and study. We were glad to facilitate arrangements in Lithuania for them. The group included some old friends and Eric’s cousin. Five Presbyterian churches were represented: Faith, Pine Street, Paxton and Christ from the Carlisle Presbytery and St. Mark from National Capital Presbytery. The group was ecumenical as well: one was a member of a free church and one was Roman Catholic.
The trip had two parts: service at LCC International University, an ecumenical partner of the PC(USA), and a visit to the Reformed Church in Birzai, another partner in Lithuania. At LCC, the group taught 34 Ukrainian high school students who visit LCC each year for a school excursion and English language practice. The lessons centered on tolerance and diversity. Other members of the team painted the Soviet-era dormitory used by LCC. A day spent with the homeless shelter operated by the Missionaries of Charity (Mother Teresa’s order) proved to be a lesson in faith. The Reverend Jane Holslag, our PC(USA) colleague in mission here, led devotions each morning about the meaning of a life committed to mission in Christ’s name.
In Birzai the group renewed relationship with the Reformed Church that a group from Pine Street Presbyterian in Harrisburg made during a 2006 visit. One team member said, “I must say that in Birzai I could not believe how fondly Rev. Rimas Mikalauskas and his compatriots feel about us. That certainly is a continuing relationship from our work there in 2006. He really rolled out the red carpet for us, had all sorts of events planned for us, provided interpreters, took us to the orphanage we worked on in 2006, showed slides of our work and people in 2006, etc. etc. It was heartwarming to experience that! I would love to go back there and work again for him!” The presbytery did a blog for the trip that can be seen at the Carlisle Presbytery’s Web site.
The group is now reflecting on what they experienced: “I have been talking each day to my husband about the many experiences we had in Lithuania,” one woman wrote us. “It seems even to me nearly impossible that we had so many possibilities. What a history lesson! And though I wish we’d spent more time with the students, it was a wonderful experience. I'm particularly glad to have seen for myself where you live and work.”
The trip organizer said, “the trip to Lithuania was a far greater success than I would have envisioned.” Another reported that, “everyone thought it was a worthwhile trip, we all continued our faith journey, and God enhanced the entire process.” There is already talk of another trip in 2011.
In recent years a flurry of articles and guidebooks have appeared evaluating the phenomenon of short-term mission trips (STM). One study found: “Like pilgrimages, these trips are rituals of intensification” where travelers leave the familiar behind in favor of new “voluntary, sacred experiences” in new surroundings “where sacred goals are pursued, physical and spiritual tests faced, normal structures are dissolved, communitas is experienced, and personal transformation occurs. This transformation ideally produces new selves to be reintegrated back into everyday life ‘at home,’ new selves which in turn help to spiritually rejuvenate they come from, and inspire new mission at home” (quoted by Hunter Farrell, see below). Unlike pilgrimages, however, STM aims not only at self-transformation but to serve and to help in distant places. These are ambitious goals indeed!
It is too soon to measure any long-term effects from the visit, but we can say that we were refreshed and encouraged that so many of our fellow Christians were interested in our ministry here. And we have already seen evidence of some of the hoped-for effects of mission trips. Some participants have returned with a renewed commitment to mission advocacy — both within their churches and at the presbytery level. The most gratifying evaluation touched on the possibilities that STM opens up: “It remains to be seen how new initiatives grow from this trip, but the commitment is visible.” We hope for strengthening of meaningful, faithful, mutual relations in mission between Christians of the Reformed tradition in the United States and in Lithuania.
We all want to engage in good missional praxis. The goal is mutuality in mission. The director of PC(USA)’s World Mission, Hunter Farrell, offers a compelling perspective in his article, “Short-term Missions: Paratrooper Incursion or ‘Zaccheus Encounter’” has many good ideas about how to capture the possibilities of short-term mission. The hope is for a glimpse of Zaccheus-like encounters, encounters with Jesus in the brokenness of this world. Farrell suggests intergenerational teams (equal numbers of youth and adult), an emphasis on mutual mission, intense preparation, coaching and follow-up and a culture of context sensitivity. The focus needs to center on intentional relationship-building activities. Mutuality requires good preparation. Pre-departure orientation is critical as a focus on relationships rather than work “cuts across the grain of the primary U.S. cultural value which is used to justify the time and expense invested in STM work.”
We hope our relationships are characterized by “persevering, long-term, mutual commitments to Christ’s mission based on human relationships.” We all are called to take up our crosses daily (Luke 9:23). We should all endeavor, short-term and long-term missionaries, to be transformed into more faithful disciples.
Eric and Becky Hinderliter
The 2009 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 178