A letter from Eric Hinderliter on home assignment from Lithuania
We are now deep into our “interpretation assignment” (IA) here in the U.S.A. We are beginning to recognize that the "interpretation" part of this assignment is not just relating what we have done as mission co-workers in Lithuania for these past 12 years. The deeper question is, what have you become? Being versus doing. We think about how we have changed over the 12 years in Lithuania. We are less worried about the doing part and more concerned with a lifestyle of service that is an authentic witness. What has become important to us is what students often report they are seeking—an authentic relationship with a caring and trustworthy adult. Our investment of time and energy, made possible by your gifts, is devoted to relationships with students, relationships that transcend the classroom and that last well beyond their graduation.
It has been said that missionaries have great credibility; their message receives much attention in the church. Like Paul and Barnabas at the end of their first missionary journey, we want to report “all that God had done through them and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles” (Acts 14: 27). So what exactly have we been saying?
We relate the stories of faith—God at work—among the students we encounter. Here is one of the many stories we share. A graduate of LCC International University from our early days as teachers wrote to us about God’s call to her, about how she found that all things work for good for those who love God. After many false starts, Vaida has found her true vocation as a logistics officer for the Tearfund, an evangelical relief and development agency in the United Kingdom. Finally, she reports, she is working in a field that is “exciting and utterly fulfilling. … I had to wait 7 years to get this job, just like Jacob working for 7 years to get Rachel." Her work has taken her to South Sudan. “Sudan was an amazing experience. While I was there, God showed me once more how everything that I went through in life comes together and makes the next experience easier to handle. Even memories from living in the Soviet Union, growing up in Lithuania, living in Birmingham (in the United Kingdom) (which looks and feels like the Middle East or Central Asia) [editors’ note: one of the most diverse cities in the UK] – everything started to make sense and I could see why they were necessary.” God is at work among the students we know. And we know this is not our doing. Our watchword, one that has taken on deeper meaning since we first read it on the great stone at the entrance to a Christian institute in India, remains "This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes" (Psalm 118:23).
A question we often ask people who visit us on short-term mission trips to Lithuania is “Who do you think they think you are?” We ask ourselves the same question. Robert Burns expressed this question a different way: “God give us the gift to see ourselves as others see us. “ How are we recognized? Peter and John were recognized because of their testimony about Jesus, and the boldness of their witness (Acts 4:13). So what is required for us today to be recognized as “companions of Jesus”? Students tell us that we don’t realize how "vivid" we are. They watch us carefully for what we hold as first importance in our lives. We aspire to be recognized for our witness to the gospel and not because of wealth, status, or power.
Our goal during IA has been to visit as many of the 20 Presbyterian churches that support us directly as we can to say thank you. We hope our visits have had some effect on the congregations we visit. Paul was clear in his objective for his interpretation: to strengthen and mutually encourage one another in the faith (Romans 1:11-12). One of our students, Aina, a recent graduate from Albania, knows that we too need to be encouraged. She wrote recently: “I hope and pray that you are at the moment deeply encouraged and excited for what the Lord has done through you and what He plans to do through you in the coming academic year. Please, don't ever forget: He uses you in mighty ways, many of them you probably don't know or notice.”
In August we’ll be at the Big Tent celebration in Louisville, Kentucky. It’s been called “a giant Presbyterian family reunion.” The theme is “Placing God’s First Things First” (Matt. 6:33–34). We will be part of the World Mission Conference, "The Power of We: Collective Impact in God’s Mission," exploring how can Presbyterians engage in global mission for collective impact. We hope to greet many of you there. For more information go to the PC(USA) website www.pcusa.org/impact.
We return to Lithuania on August 23, in time for the September start of classes at LCC International University. We wonder now what will be required for us to be faithful servants and witnesses over the next four years of teaching at LCC. As we have been changed—even we dare say transformed—we have come to terms with many things: how to deal with the unexpected surprises of opened situations and unpredictable people. Our plans are no longer set before we arrive. We need to adapt to the changing scene to remain relevant and respectful in Lithuania and the post-Soviet spaces to the east. We also increasingly recognize the realities of personal powerlessness and what Anthony Gittins calls “institutional obtuseness,” the cares and frustration of working in large organizations like universities and denominations. Faithful service is all we can hope to offer in the face of what has been described as the seismic shifts in the institutions we are part of.
Thank you for being part of this journey with us. Your prayers, emails, and cards uplift our spirits and, together with your financial gifts, make our ministry possible, and we’re certainly in need of more of each! The Presbyterian Mission Agency in Louisville speaks of a seismic shift in how mission is done these days—and how co-workers like Becky and I are supported: “As churchwide funding changes, direct financial support from individuals (over and above their congregational giving), combined with Basic Mission Support from congregations, is vital to enable dedicated Presbyterian mission personnel share the love of Jesus Christ.” Please continue to support us so that we can continue walking with young people in this part of the world.
Grace & peace,
Eric & Becky Hinderliter
The 2013 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 284
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