A letter from Eric and Becky Hinderliter in Lithuania
Greetings from Carlisle, Pennsylvania. We arrived here in early January to begin our time of mission interpretation. Some good news has lifted us up. Just before the end of the year, we received confirmation that our petition for a third mission term had been approved, to 2013. We are grateful for this affirmation and the faithful mission giving that makes our daily and long-term presence in Lithuania possible. And we had the joy of being warmly welcomed by supporting churches. Second Presbyterian Church, Carlisle (we are living next door to the church) is hosting us. Pine Street Presbyterian has extended welcome and hospitality. So we are off to a good start.
After two and one half years away, this has been a time to reconnect with family. Eric is especially glad to be able to see his mother Ruth, age 90. She is in a nursing home just a few minutes’ walk from where we live. We have also enjoyed renewing our relationships with fellow Presbyterians who have visited us in Lithuania and shared in the work of being a witness and friend of students from Eastern Europe.
We are often asked what we miss about “home” here in the United States. For us it’s Presbyterian-style worship. I have heard it said that worship is when Presbyterians are at their best. We like hymns and organs. Pipe organs are not that common in Eastern Europe. For us the organ is a refreshing sound. In the Presbyterian churches where we worship, communion is served in the pew. The contrast with going forward and kneeling at the communion rail, the common practice in Lithuanian churches, reminds us of how Jesus comes to us.
What do we do in “mission interpretation” — and why do we do it?
Advice from the PC(USA) Web site for “doing mission interpretation” seems very appropriate: “‘For I am longing to see you so that I may share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen you — or rather so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.’ (Romans 1:11-12) Mission interpretation is encouraging each other in our faith. Even the apostle Paul sometime forgot that the encouragement is mutual, as is clear from the way he corrects himself in this text from Romans.” We tell of how our faith has been strengthened by our colleagues and by the students we encounter at LCC International University. Just as we were leaving Lithuania, one of our colleagues and former students, presented us with a video featuring the testimonies of 10 of our present LCC students. They speak of the transforming experience of their time at LCC and the importance of classroom teachers in strengthening and enriching their Christian faith. Our mission partnership is very much with individual students, facilitated by their presence at LCC. We strive to be authentic adults — and faithful witnesses — in the lives of the students we encounter. We know their names, we hear their stories and we share in their hopes and dreams. These one-on-one encounters are the basis of our ministry.
Why do mission workers have interpretation assignments? The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) gives us a big task. The guidance for interpretation says, “no one is better equipped or trusted more than PC(USA) mission workers to tell the story of how God is at work in the world for the salvation of all people.” We do sense that we have a privileged time of communication, what we call a “teaching moment.” We pray that we will be given the right words as we tell the story of what we have seen and heard about the work of God in the world. We’re told that “the church needs to hear your story.” Presbyterians do mission in a particular way, often one distinctive from other people with a missionary intent. We’re partners, acting in concert with others in faith. And finally we do mission interpretation because we need to tell our story. It has been said that the attitude of a mission co-worker is one of gratitude. We know we are ordinary people; there is nothing particularly special about us. But what is special is how we have been gifted with vision, energy and support to do this work. We need to say “thank you” and give praise to God for what he has done. These expressions of gratitude need to be frequent, face-to-face and public. Like the one leper who came back, the act of gratitude becomes a testimony to the grace of God (Luke 17:11-19).
Just how the Presbyterian Church does mission these days is changing. We’re participants in congregational gatherings on mission. At our home church, Jon Chapman, area coordinator for Europe and Ecumenical Councils, World Mission ministry area in Louisville, talked about the importance of “partnership” in how Presbyterians do mission. Partnership takes many forms, not just partnering with churches. “When we enter into mission we cross borders — geographical, socioeconomic and cultural. As Presbyterians, we cross these borders by engaging in God’s mission through partnership. In partnership, we are made one by the saving love of God in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. We do this by making disciples, demonstrating God’s love through worship, fellowship, prayer and service with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and by participating in God’s activity in the world through acts of compassion and justice,” (Presbyterians Do Mission in Partnership policy statement). Mark Englund-Krieger, the executive presbyter for the Carlisle Presbytery, described how a new long-term mission position was created and funded in partnership with the Reformed Church in Honduras. Above all it is the local church that drives mission. Many congregations like Second Presbyterian and Pine Street have mission stories to tell; we are pleased to be part of this story. We are looking forward to hearing more mission stories from congregations before our return to Lithuania in August 2010.
The apostle Paul stressed importance of face-to-face encounters in mission. Like Paul, “Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face” (1 Thessalonians 3:10). We still have some open dates for mission interpretation. Contact us through the "mission speakers" section of the Presbyterian Church Web site.
Grace and peace.
Becky and Eric Hinderliter