A letter from Becky and Eric Hinderliter in Lithuania
We’re back at school. Classes began September 3 at our mission partner, LCC International University, here in Klaipeda, Lithuania.
The summer here has many events that commemorate recent Lithuanian history. In the U.S.A. historical memory is often fleeting; here it is different. The Second World War is a living—and often contested—memory. Lithuanians often see themselves as a nation of innocent sufferers. June 14 is known as the day of deportation. In June 1941 the Soviets who then occupied much of Lithuania began rounding up anyone thought to be a possible opponent and deporting them to Siberia. Often family photos have members marked as “sent away”; many perished in Siberia. In Klaipeda a small ceremony features testimonies of survivors. Later, August 23 marks the anniversary of the secret Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, which on the eve of the outbreak of war in 1939 divided Lithuania into spheres of influence between the Nazis and the Soviets. The pact and its secret protocols divided Eastern Europe into spheres of influence and led to the occupation of the Baltic states in 1940. The date became the occasion for the first anti-Soviet public rally in 1987 and “the Baltic Way” in 1989, a human chain from the capital of Estonia to Vilnius in Lithuania. Around 2 million citizens of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia joined their hands spanning over 600 kilometers across the three Baltic states to demonstrate their determination to be free of Soviet occuptation.
Historical memory is contested. What was to become known as the Holocaust—the systemic murder of the Jews—began in June 1941 in Lithuania with special Nazi killing squads, aided by some Lithuanians who viewed the Jews as Communist sympathizers and collaborators. Today the memories of the Holocaust and Soviet crimes remain largely separated. The Jews are often not considered part of Lithuanian history but as a different people foreign to Lithuania. Yet Vilnius was once the seat of Jewish culture, often referred to as the “Jerusalem of the North” for its famous great synagogue and prominent rabbis and artists. The Holocaust wiped out the Jewish community. For many years the Gulag overshadowed the Holocaust in the public mind; today Jewish Lithuania is mostly deteriorating buildings and rarely visited extermination sites. Yet some positive efforts are under way to renew the common history of Jews and Lithuanians and to recognize long-standing Jewish claims for compensation, recognition, and justice.
Speaking of the past and efforts of renewal today, our friends the Lutherans have started their ambitious plans to rebuild St. John’s Lutheran Church in Klaipeda. One of the oldest Lutheran churches in the region, the large church building was badly damaged during the war and subsequently demolished by the Soviets. A symbolic groundbreaking was held on August 1 this year. The congregation is active and growing; we often worship with them. Funds for the reconstruction are still needed but hope abounds.
As our partner LCC International University begins its new academic year, it faces many challenges. A reorganized administrative team is in place and has started its planning. Immediate challenges include an accreditation review by the Lithuanian education ministry. Those of you familiar with Christian higher education as mission will know that accreditation in a state-dominated and often hostile environment is often very difficult. Yet without accreditation a university cannot operate. We have witnessed two sister schools struggle over accreditation. The European Humanities University, founded in Minsk, Belarus, was forced to flee into exile in Lithuania when the repressive government of Belarus arbitrarily withdrew its operating license in 2005. The Russian-American Christian University (RACU) in Moscow recently lost its state accreditation and thus can no longer admit students for regular academic study. Thankfully the environment in Lithuania is comparatively much more open—but the accreditation standards are rigorous. Students are entitled to a quality, competitive educational program. In an arena of high student mobility, attracting and retaining students requires a sound, relevant curriculum. LCC faces increased competition for students even as tuition costs rise, compounded by the negative effects of massive currency devaluation in LCC’s recruitment areas such as Belarus and Ukraine. To combat these challenges LCC needs increased giving and more qualified, long-term faculty. By providing mission co-workers to LCC (there are currently three of us here, along with several additional Presbyterians as volunteers), the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is helping to offset costs and to provide stability in long-term faculty. A key to an accredited university is a critical mass of faculty who can build the program and provide the core experience of student-faculty engagement students seek. Our presence—and your continued support—are an anchor to our collective Christian witness.
Personally, we are glad to be where we are. God has called us all to meaningful tasks in his world. For us, we believe we are where we ought to be. Our sense of call remains strong. We pray daily for the health—and patience—for some more good years of teaching and interacting with young people. Our faith journey continues to unfold. Our prayer is this: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection… This one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:10, 14). When the time comes for our departure from this mission task, we hope to be able to say: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).
Next spring and summer 2013 we will be on “home assignment.” We are now beginning to arrange for four months of mission interpretation in the U.S.A. from May through August 2013. If you would like a visit please let us know. We are teachers, so activities such as Bible study and adult forums are where we are at our best. You can contact us at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org (or use the links below).
Grace and peace,
Eric & Rebecca Hinderliter
The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 278