Letter from Jane Holslag in Lithuania
Greetings from Klaipeda!
We stood at the flagpole, some hushed in silence, others whispering and watching the two students fiddling to get the Polish flag attached. A brisk, damp sea breeze made me wish I'd worn a coat. About 60 students, staff and faculty had gathered at noon to “remember” and to honor those killed in the tragic plane crash on Saturday in Smolensk. The flag was finally hoisted and then sank again to half-mast; we stood in prayerful quiet. Many of those gathered are foreigners in this land, though none from Poland. It was a modest gathering to show respect and solidarity for a neighboring country, and I was caught by memories and a wave of emotion. I recalled how the very nation of Poland had twice disappeared completely from the map of Europe, how proud and full of hope Polish friends were in the early 90s to be a free nation once again, and then I thought of the decade-long Polish-Russian dispute about Katyn — a place I'd often heard referred to in both Germany and Poland, mostly with bitterness. This ceremony at the site near Smolensk was to mark a new era in Polish-Russian relations and then came the crash. Oh my goodness. On official buildings and many houses, the Lithuanian flag is flying this week as well … each flagpole also bears a black ribbon. History up close and live.
The early spring months have been punctuated with other less somber history-being-made occasions. There was the Pastors’ Conference in February which LCC International University hosted; over 65 pastors and priests from all over the country convened in our halls to discuss “Pastoral Care in a Post-Soviet Era.” Though ecumenical relations are in a slow but steady process of improving, this two-day meeting was labeled by its enthusiastic participants as ground-breaking. A hard-working team of LCC’ers put together a phenomenally fine event; I got to be a prayer partner and participant. God is clearly at work, and our small university may have “found” a role here — to be a bridge; a presence; a warm, hospitable, and neutral place for such gatherings in the future. This is my ninth year at LCC, and for me personally, it was a “mini-miracle” I still marvel at ...
Then at the end of March, the new president of the university was inaugurated. An opening chapel service, receptions, teas and luncheons, and board meetings preceded a joyous and festive inauguration ceremony. Guests from the entire country came, including the U.S. ambassador! In spite of the ongoing challenges this small institution faces, the economic crisis continuing to beat on all doors, and a demographic shift affecting enrollment, the celebration was a loud testimony to God’s faithfulness in this corner and place.
As if those events weren't enough, the 3rd annual Academic Conference happened this last weekend, with speakers haling from Switzerland and Spokane, Ireland and Klaipeda. It was well-attended, interesting, provoking and just a good nudge to think harder and deeper about this 21st century, post-modern world we are living in, calling for “Responses to Cultural Homogeny: Engagement, Resistance or Passivity.” Whew! My brain got tickled by colleagues’ excellent presentations and my heart warmed by student surprise and enthusiasm.
These are just a few glimpses into my days here in Lithuania … I close with words from Ephesians that in truth describe what I am being given in this place of service and ministry, a dwelling place for God. ”He came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near … and in him you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.”(Ephesians 2.17, 22)
The months since last writing have been punctuated by ponderings about the nature of fellowship and community, reconciliation, being recognized by someone you've just met(?), the mystery of what happens when we listen and are listened to … all part of the research and writing I'm pursuing. However abstract these phrases may sound, they have actually taken on life in conversation upon conversation, as well as in the places and events I've just described, in my reading and even in my lectures!
It is indeed because of the One who came, lived and died, rose and will come again that in these places we become a dwelling place for God. Being built together in these places … where we live and work, where we pray and worship, where we celebrate, learn, and remember, where we belong and even where we are the “stranger” — all these places and us in them … are God’s dwelling and in him is peace.
Blessings of the Easter season,
The 2010 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 193