A letter from Becky and Eric Hinderliter in Lithuania
In 1994 I taught a Sunday School course on the Lord’s Prayer. The course booklet from the Kerygma program was entitled, “Lord, Teach Us to Pray,” by John C. Purdy. Prayer, the lessons stress, is an act of remembering—remembering “our dependence on God for the primary needs of the body and soul: food, forgiveness, and deliverance.” Prayer we know is both personal and corporate; it is a personal but not a private affair.
But do we really know how to pray? Romans 8:26 says we need help. “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness: for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” The Heidelberg Catechism answers the question, “What is prayer?” in these words: “Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgement of his mercies” (Question 98). Prayer is a time to confess our sins, admit our guilt, and come to terms with the shameful things in our lives. And we need to pray to express our gratitude to God.
In the introduction to A Book of Reformed Prayers (1998) Howard Rice reminds us that life is complex and often ambiguous. We have many reasons to be pessimistic about the human condition. “But we can learn to live with contradiction because of a deep, abiding trust in the God who holds together all contradistinctions. Because of their faith in a God magnificent enough to bear the weight of the world, Reformed Protestants can let go of the need to know” (p. xiv). The daily assault of the world news—of Syria, Egypt, the Congo; of refugees, of weapons, of disasters beyond comprehension—all seems more than we can understand. We pray for peace and reconciliation in a world where ferocious violence claims new victims every day.
We have much to be grateful for. We should pray much more about this than we do—and give thanks. Again the Heidelberg Catechism tells us why prayer is necessary for Christians. “Because it is the chief part of gratitude which God requires of us, and because God will give his grace and Holy Spirit only to those who sincerely beseech him in prayer without ceasing, and who thank him for these gifts” (Question 116).
In the Reformed tradition prayer is personal but also corporate. It has plural forms, the people praying together. We are part of a "corporate" world, the world of the organization called the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the corporation—our mission partner—LCC International University. Becky and I have been classroom teachers at LCC since 2001. LCC aspires to be a North American–style Christian liberal arts college in the former Soviet space in Eastern Europe. The Presbyterian Church is a large part of family tradition. There are lots of Scots in our lineage. My brother Bruce, retired after 40 years in the ministry, says he can’t image any better faith alternative than the PC(USA). We pray for our worthy denomination; indeed for the whole body of Christ, the church universal.
LCC needs our prayers. LCC has a solid record of growth and achievement in the 20-plus years since its founding in 1991. But in recent years strong headwinds have developed. External funding goals are harder to meet; student enrollment targets are more difficult to achieve in the face of declining birthrates, more competition and increased tuition costs. Recently state accreditation standards have leaped ahead faster than our program offerings. Many sister schools in Eastern Europe have been forced to close when accreditation efforts failed. Our mission partner needs our prayers for safe passage and renewed growth in the years ahead.
This summer we reflected on how we got here. The study of the Lord’s Prayer from 1994 contains these words, “When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we take others with us.” This summer we were struck by the mission work of the Presbyterian churches we know in the U.S.A. Here are two mission efforts led by two friends I hope to take with me when I pray. I worked for the City of Harrisburg, Pa., in community development in the 1980s. The most neglected and stigmatized area of the city was Hall Manor. Hall Manor is an old-style massive public housing complex of 540 apartments, isolated from the rest of the city by design. The "projects" seemed to be resistant to change and even beyond hope. Nothing we did in community development made any difference. But this summer we found new hope there. Members of Derry Presbyterian Church in Hershey, Pa., one of our supporting churches, have brought needed accessible primary health care to the residents of Hall Manor. Gretchen Ballard is board chair. The Check-Up Center, a medical clinic, is right in the middle of the most medically deprived census area in the entire region. Young mothers and their children now access the care and support they need for more healthful lives.
This summer we encountered other signs of hope in the Presbyterian Church. For many years we were members of Bethany Presbyterian Church in Lancaster, Pa. Our journey to mission service began in earnest at Bethany. The church had encountered problems in the transition from a long pastorate to new leadership; a number of members left Bethany because of the resulting conflicts. But today the church is full of activity. When we visited this summer, we witnessed marvelous things. The traditional congregation now hosts two other congregations: a Spanish-speaking group and a congregation of the Oromo Evangelical Presbyterian Church (see http://lancasteroromochurch.wordpress.com/). The founding pastor, Gemechisa Guja, from Ethiopia, is our friend and confidant. Gemechisa is a son of Presbyterian mission in Ethiopia. He is featured in the book Presbyterians: A Spiritual Journey (2000) by Dirk Wierenga in an article entitled “Building up the body” (pp. 58-60). Years ago at Bethany he listened to our doubts and concerns about what mission required of us. His encouragement and trust was an important marker on how we got to where we are today. So we remember both the Check-Up Center and the Oromo Church in our prayers. When we pray, we take them with us.
Please know that your prayers and financial gifts enable us to serve in Lithuania. Becky and I are deeply grateful for your interest in and support of our ministry with the students from Eastern Europe and Central Asia who study at LCC International University. We invite you to be part of this ministry as you remember in your prayers those among us to whom we minister and, if you are able to do so, as you contribute to the financial cost of our sending and support in Lithuania.
Grace and peace,
Eric & Becky Hinderliter
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