A letter from Jane Holslag in Lithuania
Greetings from Klaipeda! With this letter I want to tell you about a few things that have caused me to be thankful these months. It has been a summer and an early fall full of gifts, of wonderful moments, people, events, one after another almost to the point of my being breathless at times.
After the Reformed church synod in June, I found a summer rhythm. I spent a few days each week working on course preparation for fall. I also took time finally to sit and to talk with the colleagues and students I’d been gliding by for months, at least those who were still around (LCC empties out quite a bit in the summer). I worked on my ongoing dissertation project, reading a dozen or so books, trying to catch up on developments in missiology over the last 15 years! Time was made precious by its simple passing and the quieter pace of more concentrated study and pondering.
To the delight of the entire town (and mine as well), two events in July transformed our streets and this Baltic seaport. The first was the “Europeade,” an annual European folk dance festival with 4,000 performers from all over Europe. For four days, groups danced in parks, in the old town streets and on stages around the city. The weather was delightful, and between the music, costumes, dancing, food and craft booths, I decided that “vacation” time this year was best spent right in my own backyard!
Then came the annual Sea Festival this year with the tall ships races, a regatta with 100 sailing vessels from our European neighbors. Again the city bubbled. The beauty of these amazing two- and three-masted wooden sailing vessels populating our port was truly incredible. I was even invited to preach for the ecumenical worship service and Mass at the downtown Roman Catholic church on the last day of the festival! The service was full, not with sailing crews but with usual members (very few of whom had any clue about the woman speaking English). There were also about 10 Danish sailors whose “ship’s helper” insisted they wanted to come to church. She is a local resident, a student at LCC and was one of 150 volunteers who served the ships’ crews — attending to medical needs, showing them the city, making sure they had what they needed (as in Sunday morning worship!). It was an honor to participate, but I dare say, I think I was the first robed, Reformed, woman pastor who preached in that congregation!
In August, preparations for the fall semester began to gather momentum, and by the time September 1 rolled around, the calendar had so filled that I really wonder, even now, how I am going to make it. It feels like I’m at a buffet, have filled my plate with entirely too much and no matter how I work at it, food falls off, even as I am trying to eat! However, two grand reminders of God’s goodness punctuate my over-filled and terribly busy days:
- Sigita, my Reformed colleague from Biržai, is now in Midland, Michigan, for six weeks with Mission to the U.S.A., a PC(USA) program that invites internationals to our congregations! She is 36, a single mom of four (two adopted) and braved the call to leave family and to share and learn as a missionary to a Presbyterian congregation. Before she left, we worked together on her sermon and some slide presentations. Since her arrival, we have already “Skyped” twice, and her blog gives folks back here a chance to learn about her reflections (our computer age is amazing). She is being blessed already and will indeed be a blessing, I am sure! Sigita and I have known each other more than 15 years and I am so grateful for this opportunity, both for her and for our denomination.
- This last week, one of our theology majors came to my office for a chat. I wasn’t sure what her “agenda” was, but she wanted to talk. And talk she did, bubbling over with the ways she was being shown God’s care and love through her professors, her classes and classmates and through her small Roman Catholic congregation (she plays the organ for their Sunday afternoon service). She related how her university experience on our campus is unique and utterly unthinkable in the country she hails from. There, any talk of God, especially in the schools or on a university campus, is unheard of and could actually be dangerous. “I am so blessed,” she repeated throughout the hour. I have to admit I was overwhelmed, and at one point I asked why she was telling me all of this. Her answer, smiling broadly and with a twinkle in her eyes, “Isn't that what Christians do in the body of Christ?” Dear friends, that hour was a incomparable gift! I wish you could have been here.
So much to be thankful for, and of course that includes your care, your prayers and your support! God grant us all eyes and ears and the heart to recognize all the gifts he gives.
Grace and Peace,
The 2009 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 178