A letter from Eric Hinderliter in Lithuania
May 3, 2012
Greetings from Klaipeda. Recently I’ve picked up an old Sunday school lesson booklet—my mother used to call these the "quarterly"—from 2005 on the Book of Acts. The story of the Spirit-led expansion of the church from Jerusalem to Antioch to Rome and the ends of the known ancient world started me thinking about the past months here in Lithuania. Reading the Scripture with new eyes is one of the gifts we receive as mission workers. Antioch has become a new metaphor for us.
This spring our lives centered on three big events. The first was the visit of Presbyterian leaders, Amgad Beblawi and Burkhard Paetzold, to Klaipeda. Amgad is the new area coordinator for the Middle East and Europe, based in Louisville. Burkhard is the regional liaison for us, based in Berlin. For Amgad this was his first orientation to LCC International University, our mission partner. Our goal was that they see LCC in action, that is, engage with students. Burkhard taught classes in political economy on the Roma, the largest minority group in Eastern Europe. Amgad gave a lecture about the Arab Spring in the class on the economics of conflict. Amgad met with the LCC leadership to probe the question about how to ensure the centrality of Christian faith and witness in the future of LCC. We all participated in communion at the Evangelical Lutheran Church on Sunday. Personally we made our case for reappointment for a fourth mission term. There is still work to do here to model the gift of the Spirit, “the repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:18).
The second big event was academic. In mid-April students present their final academic work, their capstone. I was advisor to five economics students: two from Moldova, two from Ukraine, and one from Lithuania. The students chose complex but socially redeeming topics: the determinants of democracy and political stability in post-Soviet states, the use of remittances (money sent back home by workers abroad) to promote economic growth, how wages are set in the Ukrainian steel industry, the link between corporate social responsibility and profitability, and the workings of state policies designed to help the unemployed get jobs in Lithuania. As a teacher, three things stand out. These students are highly motivated to do good work; they are committed patriots who sincerely want the best for their countries; and they are fragile young adults who want—and deserve—affirmation from responsible and caring adults. Nearly every day one of these students would slip into my office with a question, a question that often led to discussion of hopes and dreams and values in life worth holding onto. We’re glad to send them off but often with a sense of loss that fruitful relationships do come to an end.
The third big event was the close of the academic year. On graduation day 118 students received their bachelor’s diplomas. Of these, 101 were business majors; the remainder were split between English and psychology. This year the international character of LCC is very apparent. It was an Antioch moment. Nearly half the diplomas were awarded to students from outside Lithuania: 18 were from Ukraine, 16 from Belarus, 14 from Moldova, 3 from the Russian Federation, 3 from Latvia, 2 from Albania, and 1 each from Romania and Nigeria. The Distinguished Alumni Award was given to alumna Jurgita Choromanskytė, currently chief of staff for a European parliament member. Jurgita founded a free market political think tank and a foundation engaged in political education and grassroots movement mobilization for elections. Jurgita was one of my thesis students back in 2005 and a student in Becky’s classes, so we were pleased to claim some credit for the kind of LCC graduate we hope to produce.
At the closing assembly at LCC Becky and I were recognized for 10 years of teaching at LCC. This is a good time for reflection on the question "Where are we?" In an essay from another time entitled “After ten years” Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes, “Ten years is a long time in anyone’s life” (Letters & Papers, p. 4). We are still at LCC, still serving as classroom teachers, so at one level not much has changed for us in 10 years. But much has changed in 10 years at LCC. Ten years ago there were only a tiny number of “foreign” students. The first Ukrainian student graduated in 2005. Joining the EU in 2004 brought profound changes, including greater student mobility. Now a near majority are from outside the EU. Organizationally the founding generation of LCC Board from the 1990s is nearing the end of their service. The transition of mission-founded institutions like LCC is often difficult. The question at LCC is whether we are in Jerusalem or Antioch. The expansion of LCC beyond Lithuania and its founders challenges us all to remain open and ecumenical, to welcome new people and new ways brought, in the language of the Book of Acts, by the God-fearers, Hellenists, and Gentiles of our day. But we need to keep the “essentials” (Acts 15:28). We are praying for the Spirit to be poured out that through our teachings we might be known as "partisans of Christ," that is, as Christians (Acts 12:26).
And what has become of our faith in these past 10 years? Bonhoeffer continues his essay with this question, “Who stands fast? Only the man whose final standard is…exclusive allegiance to God—the responsible man who tries to make his whole life an answer to the question and call of God.” Our goal remains to run this race with perseverance, to be faithful to the end, to “press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). Pray that God grant us the energy and the patience we need!
Becky & Eric Hinderliter
The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 278
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