A letter from Eric Hinderliter in Lithuania
Paul’s letters describe his missionary journeys. But Paul never travelled alone. He had lots of help. Paul’s letters are remarkable for the number of faithful friends he mentions by name—his letter to the Romans ends with 29 supporters and co-workers being thanked by name. These fellow believers were important to Paul, both personally and in his missionary tasks. These co-workers encouraged and strengthened him. Paul recognizes that “they refreshed my spirit” (1 Cor. 16:18). They provided for his needs; in Romans he calls them his “benefactors” (Romans 16:2). He was often invited to stay with the new people he met on his journey—in fact, the hospitality of these strangers was crucial for his mission. Paul never worked alone. He always mentions that he was accompanied and escorted by other faithful people. In Acts we read about seven people who accompanied Paul, people from cities in Greece and in Turkey and from Asia. In today’s language we would say that Paul headed an international multicultural team ministry composed of men and women with diverse gifts but serving one loving and faithful God.
We are now beginning year 12 in Lithuania. Looking back, we wonder what has enabled us to do this work. We’ve made many friends on our missionary journey. Here are eight of our friends who make the work we have been sent to do possible. It’s our version of Facebook. These are our colleagues—like Paul, we regard these friends as our co-workers in mission.
Dave and Dan Vellenga, twin brothers, are longtime itinerating teachers at LCC. These professors lend their credentials to LCC; this has been critical in convincing government, potential students and donors that LCC is a respectable academic institution. Dave has a long career in teaching logistics. Since Klaipeda is a port with large cargo terminals, logistics is a skill in demand. Dan teaches finance. The Vellenga brothers have sound academic resumes from a lifetime of teaching in U.S. universities. Credentials are important; academic expertise is needed for creditability. The brothers come from the Dutch Reformed tradition; both are proud graduates of Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich. Over the years their fellowship during their annual teaching stints at LCC has refreshed us.
Our Lithuanian colleagues include Jurgita Babarskinė and her husband Romualdas Babarskas. Jurgita is a long-term teacher in the psychology department. She models a good balance between the demands of teaching and the obligations of family. She always has a word of encouragement for us. Romualdas started as a teacher in LCC's theology department; he serves now as the academic dean of the Evangelical Bible Institute in nearby Šiauliai in Lithuania. The Bible Institute is a school for believers who already are a part of ministry in evangelical communities. Both are active here in the “City Church,” a new free Christian church.
Lineta Ramonienė and Donatas Ramonas led us to the place where we have served now for 11 years. We first met Donatas and Lineta in 1999 when I went back to college at Eastern University to get a master’s degree in faith-based economic development. Lineta was in the same classes. Donatas was a student at Princeton Theological Seminary in Christian education. While we were at Eastern, Lineta began to talk about this new Christian college in Klaipėda, Lithuania. At the time she was a recent LCC grad as was her husband Donatas. She described the vision of the college for a Christian liberal arts program in the Baltics. A central part of the Eastern program was a significant time of study and prayer in another part of the world beyond the United States. So off we went to India for six weeks of study at the South Asia Institute for Advanced Christian Studies (SAIACS) in Bangalore. It was at SAIACS that it became clear to us that God was calling us to the task of teaching at LCC. We believe we can hear the call of God in many ways—some are dramatic and mystical; other times the call simply and quietly comes thorough the voices of other people. Lineta and Donatas told us that teachers were needed at LCC, that we would be good at teaching, and that they would support us through their friendship if we came to Lithuania. This has turned out to be true. They continue to extend to us the hospitality of welcome in a foreign land.
And we continue to make new friends. Rev. Tomas Sakas and his wife, Asta, care about how we are doing. Tomas is pastor of the Klaipeda and Kaunas congregations of the Lithuanian Evangelical Reformed Church, a PC(USA) mission partner. Earlier this spring we enjoyed a drive through the Lithuanian countryside with them, a treat for us as we have no car.
There are many other friends here with us we should mention—friends we work with who share a kind word, who encourage and refresh us here in Klaipėda. For now we focus on “this side” of our missionary journey. But there are also many more friends we have left behind in the United States, friends who support us through their giving and their prayers. So like Paul we send greetings to you all “over there,” “because you have become very dear to us” (I Thess. 2:8). It has been truly said that the attitude of mission workers is one of gratitude. Becky and I have accumulated quite a debt these past 11 years. We are grateful.
As always we are looking forward to seeing you once again. We plan to be in the United States for mission itineration in mid-2013. From an earlier age Paul writes, “We longed with great eagerness to see you face to face” (I Thess. 2:17). We write “to let you know how we are, and to encourage your hearts” (Ephesians 6:22). These are the people—our faithful co-workers in Christ here with us. We are in good company; God is in this place. And like Paul’s eight co-workers mentioned at the end of Romans, our eight co-workers send their greetings to you as well (Romans 16:21-23).
Becky & Eric Hinderliter
The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 278
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