A letter from Becky and Eric Hinderliter in Lithuania
November 14, 2010
Becky and I arrived back in Klaipėda, Lithuania, on August 18, safely and on time. We were met at the airport by one of our students and shortly thereafter we were back to the apartment we had left almost eight months earlier. So began our third mission term in Lithuania.
Upon our return we were curious to find out what was on the minds of our students. We heard about their successes: admission to further study, new marriages, achievements in their new jobs. Others related their disappointments: plans for further study that had to be put off because there was no money, parents who were still without work, the inability to find a suitable position themselves. What students say to us is the important stuff of our work and ministry. Authentic relationships with students — daily contact, meaningful discussion, encouragement and affirmation — are what we cherish as teachers. But this takes time. It’s the first question students ask: how long are you going to be here?; The answer determines whether you’ll be merely an acquaintance or might become a friend. We’re glad to be back for several more years — at least until 2013, the end of our current PC(USA) appointment.
This is a year for anniversaries in Klaipeda — many organizations are marking 20 years from the end of Soviet times. It has been 20 years since the local daily independent newspaper, the Vakar ų Ekspresas (the Western Express), reappeared. This year marks the reappearance of public worship at the Evangelical Lutheran Church. And soon the college where we teach, LCC International University, will mark its 20th anniversary. Here history casts a long shadow — historical memory is important in shaping people’s attitudes. We tend to take our basic freedoms for granted in the United States. Here it is common to remember when such did not exist.
But memories can also be selective. Life here continues to surprise us. Post-Soviet nostalgia — the feeling that Soviet times were not that bad — is prevalent as well. Public officials point to the glories of Soviet science. In these rocky economic times — the GDP in Lithuania fell 15 percent in 2009 compared to a much more modest 2.4 percent in the United States — causes many to remember the apparently more stable employment of a state-controlled economy. Unemployment remains high at 18.3 percent in 2010. And for young people the unemployment rate has reached 37.1 percent!
And here’s the news from your side of the world. We’re glad to hear from the congregations we visited during our mission interpretation time earlier this year. Friends from Pine Street Presbyterian and Carlisle Presbytery are organizing another visit to Lithuania in June 2011. We were glad to be in the pictorial directory of Second Presbyterian Church, our hosts during our stay in the United States. Children from Mechanicsburg Presbyterian Church sent us cards. We also received other kinds of gifts. The Lewistown Presbyterian Church includes us in their weekly prayer concerns.
Not all the news from “home” is good. Our daughter-in-law continues to struggle with a debilitating condition. There is much frustration that medical intervention seems to produce so few answers. We’re burdened by the thought of not being there, of not being part of the support we know is needed. We plan a visit over the holidays. We’re glad people pray for us — and for those who really need God’s care and love.
Soon we’ll be observing two personal milestones. Our 39th wedding anniversary is this week. We value the years together and the common memories. We’re glad to be married — to each other. It’s a milestone worth talking about! We usually don’t celebrate much — we just hope to go on living together for many more years. Soon we will mark 10 years of service in Lithuania. I arrived in January 2001, actually before the official PC(USA) appointment was confirmed. People ask us how long we plan to stay. We say, “as long as it is good — good for the students and our partner and good for the church.”
Now we move on to Advent preparations. Today’s question from the devotional booklet These Days asks, How goes it with your soul? What resources do we have? Becky and I have learned the value of “team ministry.” We are each other’s support system, feedback loop and coach. But it’s more than just the tasks of doing — it’s a friendship and union for a lifetime. We also have resources here in the LCC community. We’ve been friends with some fellow teachers here since our Eastern College days, longer than we’ve been at LCC.
Friends, we lead abundant lives no matter where we are. Second Corinthians 9:6-9 (NIV) tells us this: “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written: ‘They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor; their righteousness endures forever.’” God has indeed given us the good seed to sow; Christmas — Jesus’ entrance into the world and our lives — proves this.
Becky and Eric Hinderliter
The 2010 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 193