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A letter from Jane Holslag in Lithuania

July 2010

Warm greetings from Lithuania…

Summer is more than half over, and though days are still light and long, it is clear that we are moving toward shorter days once again! These longer days have given me a bit more time for reflection and what follows is part of the outcome!

I love music and though I believe it to be a language that binds and unites, at the last few Saturday evening “concerts in the park” I’ve come to realize the limits of this “universal” means of communication. We’ve heard a brass quintet, a local choral ensemble and the band from the resort city north of Klaipeda, each with a variety of music and musical styles — Bach to Bernstein, Handel to Hancock, Rossini to Rutter, AND Kačanauskas to Ulteravičius (representing guess which national tradition?). The choral group sang “Oh When the Saints” in a medley form — first Mozart style, then Strauss, then boom-chicka-boom, followed by something between Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett, concluding with the more classic and familiar Dixieland style. There were about 75 people gathered on benches, blankets and lawn chairs and I was one of two North Americans present! Both my colleague and I were more than amused, and she actually laughed out loud at the third rendition, which made me turn to the rest of the audience, at that point seemed oddly still, only to see them looking politely appreciative but not a soul was amused enough to laugh. No one else seemed to enjoying this familiar (to us) tune being parodied. Well, what was that about? Doesn’t everybody enjoy a good laugh and good music? Hmmm? It was, I believe, a reminder that I’ve lived away from my home culture a long time. It was also a reminder that context (the one I bring with me and the one I’m in), humor (what’s funny and what isn’t and for whom), appropriate behavior in public (or in certain settings) is not always and everywhere a given, by any means. I am still learning that I am indeed, like in the Old Testament, a resident alien!

The days are seasoned with emails from the United States and Albania, from England and Norway — students in summer jobs around the world. My summer allows for exercise each morning and then making creative attempts to stay cool while I drip on my computer keyboard. It is turning out to be as hot as the winter was cold?! I’m working on my dissertation, tweaking course lectures, extending my devotional time to include some heavier reading, and trying to catch up from the school year. Having gotten my doctoral advisor’s approval for the last chapter written, in preparation for the next chapter I am “coding” interviews I conducted five years ago in Germany. Listening once more to these dear friends’ observation and insights has been both challenging and a surprising gift. One of my coding categories is labeled “essence,” and it refers to the Berlin Fellowship program’s essence, as described by the interviewees. My thesis research question is now focused on the possible “missionality of fellowship.” I am listening to some incredibly insightful Eastern reflections about this Presbyterian visitation program to the former German Democratic Republic (East Germany). Three statements that have caught my breath:

  • Berlin Fellowship communicated the message, you’re not alone.
  • Berlin Fellowship was a large movement of light for me, through the willingness to come to us. It became brighter.
  • You must be visited; otherwise you have no possibility to escape this place …

So often, and I’d say too often in mission, we think we have to DO something, to bring or build something, to fix something, to leave a reminder that we were there — “mission trips” are full of such well-meaning and usually unspoken agendas. Even mission co-workers get caught up in such thinking. These three voices are train-stopping reminders of God’s work in and through our being present to and recognizing the “other” — whoever and wherever they are!

News and prayer requests:

  • I have become friends with two LCC grads; they were both in a women’s Bible study I led five or six years ago. Keep these two sisters in prayer, please! Andreta is headed shortly to Princeton Theological Seminary on a generous two-year scholarship. She knows a bit about us American types, but she’ll soon find herself on our turf. Gražina completed her M.Div. at Duke and has joined the ranks of clergy in her home denomination, the Methodist Church in Lithuania. She taught one theology course a semester at LCC the last two years, but this year she has three congregations in three villages and can’t. Her plate is full! Gražina needs to get a car and a driver’s license, pronto!
  • Keep our students in your prayers as well, the returning, new and visiting North American and Lithuanian faculty, and the ongoing financial strains that the “crisis” has wreaked particularly on students from farther east.
  • A few run-ins with some health issues have recently caught my attention, but after all, I am 62, and some of it just goes with the territory. Prayers appreciated for finding the right doctors.
  • Don’t forget to praise God for his faithfulness in using the likes of you and me (all resident aliens) to be reminders of the light and bringers of the message!

Grace and peace,

Jane Holslag

The 2010 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 193

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