A letter from Becky and Eric Hinderliter in Lithuania
Our time of “mission interpretation” has drawn to a close. We’ve been in the United States for just over seven months now, since January 2010. Here are some numbers. By the time we finished we had visited 30 Presbyterian churches in six states — some only one time, others many times as Bible class teachers or Lenten program presenters. We were guests at four presbyteries (Carlisle, Donegal, Huntington and National Capital). This included six sermons, quite a challenge for us. We renewed our connection with short-term mission trip participants who have visited us in Lithuania; we also met with leaders of the Lithuanian Reformed Church who were visiting the United States. We served as Mission Advisory Delegates to the 219th General Assembly in Minneapolis. We participated in the “Sharing Conference” in Louisville, Kentucky, with staff from PC(USA) World Mission and 20 of our mission colleagues from around the world.
And of course we took time to enjoy family and friends, from baseball games to plays and concerts to simple family meals. After two and a half years away we were glad just to see people who know and love us for what we are. There was also sadness with the death of mother Ruth and the worsening health of some of our loved ones.
Our principal message as mission co-workers was quite simple: it is a message of gratitude, a thankful heart for the work God has called us to do, and a hearty thanks for the Presbyterian congregations who sent us to Lithuania and whose giving keeps us there.
During this time we’ve learned much about how to do interpretation. For us a good format is some special gathering where mission is the exclusive focus. Sunday evenings proved to be an especially good time to talk about mission. We were surprised by the good turnout and attentive groups at several different churches on Sunday evenings. We share what we’ve learned about being co-workers with God and our mission partners. Here are the five most effective messages we found when talking about mission:
- “We’re teachers — this is our gift.” We have learned to read the Bible with new eyes. Teaching Bible classes and Sunday School are our best venues. Education is a fundamental value in our Reformed tradition; education is an act of love.
- “We’re lay.” Our Reformed tradition gives equal status to laypeople and clergy. We came out of the pew, ordinary people given an extraordinary task. Our sense of call can be an invitation to people in the pew to grow in their faith.
- “We’re Reformed; therefore we’re ecumenical,” to borrow a phrase from Robert McAfee Brown. The Reformed tradition has real strength — but so do other faith traditions. Focusing on our ecumenical setting in Lithuania gives more meaning to our work.
- “Women — powerful and empowered.” Stories of women we have encountered, finding their vocation and their gifts, resonate most with congregations. Becky herself proves to be a most impressive example of this!
- “Faithful living.” We get many questions about how we live in mission. People want to know what foods we eat, what our apartment is like, how we get around, even what medical care is like. Our ministry is incarnational. We witness with our lives. A plaque at the Presbyterian Church of Danville, Kentucky, expresses this perfectly: “Be careful how you live. You may be the only gospel your neighbors ever read.”
Here’s the tough question: Just how much of mission interpretation is about money? Recently Burkhard Paetzold, our PC(USA) World Mission “regional liaison,” asked two good questions about our mission interpretation: (1) Do people in the congregations respond to your presentations? And (2) Do you find support for your work at LCC? So let me start with how you define and measure “respond” and “support.” The PC(USA) says we are not specifically raising money for our own support. A recent “Q&A” article says: “:Q: Can a Presbyterian congregation or individual support a particular mission worker? A: The General Assembly Mission Council prefers undesignated giving to mission work as it supports all mission workers and projects” (see Presbyterians Today January/February 2010, p. 40). We would be delighted if the response of congregations were more undesignated giving to World Mission to allow more mission co-workers to be sent. Another World Mission representative put the task this way: “We do need to invite donors to step up their giving and to invite new donors. Just something to keep in mind as you visit congregations around the United States.” The stewardship message is a hard message in these times, of course. Faithful mission requires faithful, intentional, sacrificial giving. We hope that World Mission becomes a centerpiece of congregational stewardship programs, along with the many priorities congregations need to consider.
As we are preparing to return to our partner, LCC International University, a number of concerns are on our minds. The stress caused by the economic recession in Eastern Europe, Russia and Ukraine is having a depressive effect on the recruitment and retention of students. LCC continues to be short of qualified teachers willing to stay for the several years it takes to find one’s way in a very different context. Most teachers make themselves available for just a few weeks.& The turnover of teachers limits the continuity of student study programs. Money is also a concern. For its first 15 years LCC operated in a comparatively low-cost environment. However, in the last five years, as Lithuania integrated more fully into the European economy, prices have become more like prices in other European countries. So costs for LCC for labor, materials, services and energy, not to mention textbook costs, have risen to world levels. The joke in Lithuania is, “We’re ok with world prices; we just need to be paid world wages!” We pray that our partner will be able to adapt to this changed environment. We also pray that teachers be called to this ministry. Friends, Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:37-38).
We also leave with concerns about the health of members of our families. For us the cost of mission is measured by our absence from family. Our long absences create some painful voids. We find it difficult, even impossible, to be caregivers from afar. We are grateful for the caregivers in our families.& Without them we could not go out. Yet we know they bear a heavy and sometimes lonely burden. We ask your prayers for the caregivers in our families; indeed, prayers for all caregivers in every family.;
So we are on our way back. Joining Paul we say, “Peace be to the whole community, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all who have an undying love for our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 6:42).
Becky and Eric Hinderliter
The 2010 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 193