A letter from Jane Holslag in Germany
June 24, 2009
Dear Friends in Christ,
My bookmark in the PC(USA)’s 2009 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study contains the following quote:
Say yes to the surprises that annihilate your dreams, which give a completely different direction to your day and, perhaps, even to your life. They are not a whim of fate. Let your Father in Heaven decide for himself the course of your days and your years
—Archbishop Dom Helder Camara, 1909-1983,Brazil
It recently dawned on me that this is indeed God’s “watchword” for my last months. I am not sure that I have had dreams annihilated, but I have had my plans changed, days turned upside down and much of what I thought was going to happen either be postponed or morph into something completely other than I planned.
The spring semester kept me jumping! The students were for the most part attentive (after all, Intro to Bible is a required course!), and more often than not, conversations after class revealed genuine curiosity and fascination with this fellow, Jesus. It shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did; first off, a student asked to read more about Jesus, and as I handed her a few books on basics of faith from my shelf to take home to read for the summer, she seemed genuinely heartened. Please keep this seeker in your prayers.
My vacation was a speedy three weeks in Germany, Hungary and “tour guiding” in Lithuania. I visited friends in Berlin and Schwerin and spent three research days in a library. In Eger, Hungary, I “conferenced” with over 450 Christians from all over Europe. The European Leadership Forum is a great look at what God is doing in countries from Norway to Romania, Ukraine to Spain. I didn’t really belong there though, for the conference is intended for Europeans, and I was duly reminded that I am a guest and a stranger in this part of the world! (cf. Ministry at the Margins, Strategy and Spirituality for Mission by Anthony Gittins, highly recommended reading). However, I was fed with stimulating teaching and genuinely gladdened by the singing and fellowship and am determined to encourage colleagues from LCC and congregations in Lithuania to attend next year. One highlight was getting to meet Myrto, the only other woman in the Theologians Network. She’s finishing her doctorate at Tyndale House, Cambridge, and will soon return to an ecumenical Bible institute in Athens, the only one of its kind in Greece, as the first woman theologian in that setting. She’s on my prayer list!
Long-time friends from Berlin, the Harveys, braved the cool fall weather we’re having this June and came to Lithuania; our “tour” went on despite wind, cold, rain and not enough sleep for the guide! For some pictures, I invite you to visit PC(USA)’s new Mission Crossroads Web site; you will have to sign up and “join” to see the photos. I have hopes and plans to make this my new and more immediate way of communicating, so give it a try, please! The more of you who register there, the easier it will be to assemble the correct email addresses for supporting congregations and several hundred individuals on my current mailing list. I will be organizing a “group” on the Crossroads site soon, so please post your presence on my home page. (This is the “whim of fate” part from the quote: I have the technical computer skills of a small house plant; yet I am determined to try.)
It is indeed a decision we make, to let God set the “course of our days and our years.” As I head off to teach and visit a student spending many years of his young life in prison and then travel on to the synod meeting of the Reformed Church, I remember the first Easter I spent in Lithuania, March 1991. I was traveling with church folks from Berlin; it was a journey of reconciliation, Germans going to Russia and the Baltics on the anniversary of their invasion during World War II some 50 years prior, to ask forgiveness, open the dialogue, show a “sign” of hope. After incredible days in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) and Riga (capital of Latvia), we attended the first public Easter services in Lithuania in over 40 years, with both Lutheran and Reformed congregations. Both buildings had just been returned from the state, neither in great shape, but the gathered saints didn’t mind and the services went on for hours. What an Easter celebration that was! I could hardly believe I was there at that amazing time. And now I am here, in this amazing time.
I could have no more guessed God’s plans and ways for my life that icy Easter in Vilnius than I can say what tomorrow will hold, but “I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day”" (2 Timothy 1.12). Please pray with me as I entrust to him these hours and the work I am called to do this summer — continued reading, interview analysis and writing for my dissertation, course reading and planning for the upcoming school year, preparation for chairing the faculty council and the theology department (this fall we’ll be nine strong). Pray with me for conversations with colleagues and Lithuanian friends I otherwise don’t see much of during the school year. May I be faithful to God’s call in this time and place and with these efforts.
Thank you for your letters and notes, your prayers, your financial support, your care!
In the love of Christ,
The 2009 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 178