A letter from Jane Holslag in Lithuania
Dear Friends in Christ,
After six months in the United States on itineration leave, I returned to Klaipeda and was sucked into the Spring semester faster than I knew! Three courses and all that goes along with them have kept me out of trouble, so to speak! “Introduction to Bible” continues to be a joy but also a challenge. I am really having to play catch-up with “Faith Themes in Literature.” It’s a course I’ve not taught for eight years, but I am enjoying it thoroughly, though perpetually out of breath. The last and newest course is “Spiritual Formation” in which I have but four students; however, they are bright, inquisitive, and I believe growing. I learn of that through comments like the following from one student whose own encounter with Jesus has him gasping for air! These are his comments in response to various readings: “. . . in Pascal’s writings it goes like this: 'All your intelligence can only bring you to realize that it is not within yourselves that you will find either truth or good.' That’s wonderful! I can live by grace! Simply, there is no other way. It was hard to accept in the beginning, but now the only word I can use is Wonderful! . . . I practice to receive grace, the grace of experiencing God daily, of understanding God more . . . grace is overwhelming me.”
I would add that grace is overwhelming me as well. These three months at LCC have been punctuated by a number of events and encounters that have been solid SIGNS of God’s gracious hand at work in our small university and its mission here in Lithuania.
The first was the Congregational Development Conference in February. The theme centered on missional presence and service in the country, and over 60 church leaders from all corners attended. Workshops led by local leaders focused on matters like youth work, service and care for orphans, and marriage ministry, and for many the conference was again a time of networking and reacquainting. It seems by opening our doors to congregations of the region (Protestant and Roman Catholic), LCC is indeed becoming a place of learning, worship, and fellowship for the sake of the oikumene (world)!
Then, the 5th annual Academic Conference, “Borders, Boundaries, and Barriers, New Paradigms for the 21st Century,” was held just a few days ago. A rather phenomenal and eclectic group of guest scholars, LCC faculty, and students led and attended sessions like “Stateless Persons: The Figure of the Refugee: Life in a State of Exception,” “Borders are Back: The Resurgence of Political Nationalism in Eastern Europe,” “Neighbors Without Neighborhood: The Polish-Kaliningrad Border in the Period of 1992-2011,” and the closing address, “Human Trafficking and Prostitution: Where Is the Hope?” Many but not all attendees were Christian, and this place I call home proved itself once again to be a welcoming and a stimulating setting for all forms of interchange and dialogue! I kept wanting to pinch myself for getting to be part of such an event.
Lastly, Ruta Sepetys, an American author of books for young adults, recently visited the campus, speaking with students and to the entire community, including guests from the larger Klaipeda region. She introduced her latest novel, Between Shades of Gray, a story of 15-year-old Lina, her brother and their mother, all deported from Lithuania in 1941 first to Belarus, then to Siberia, and finally to the Arctic Circle. This fictitious story was based on interviews with survivors of the deportations (from the early 1940s through the early 1950s) and Sepetys’ historical research. I must say I was unsure how an American of Lithuanian heritage would be accepted by people from the community, especially trying to tell this tale. As it turned out, many of those who came to hear this amazing woman were themselves survivors of the camps, now all seniors. The father of one of my colleagues, a camp survivor, said this: “Well, now I understand why LCC exists.” It was beyond touching to listen to these saints talk to Ruta and thank her for giving their stories, their lives, a voice in the English-speaking world. This era and the tragedy remain unknown to many of us from the West. Again, LCC becomes a place for truth and truth-telling.
Grace upon grace . . . and thanks upon thanks for your support and care, your interest and affirmation, for your listening. . . . I am overwhelmed. It was good to travel to more than 25 congregations last summer and fall, to visit with many of you who have stayed the course these 20+ years of mission service, and to make new friends as well! It is now GOOD to be back again teaching and learning—yes, learning, as evidenced by what I’ve just shared and learning from my students again that God’s word and work “happens” even when we least expect it. A student came up after class just this week and asked to speak to me. She proceeded to talk about her own journey, and I wasn’t quite sure where it was all going. After some minutes, she then thanked me for what I’d said (we were slogging through some hard spots in Romans). I asked exactly what she meant, and she said something like, “Well, maybe you didn’t say it, but I heard God speaking anyway.” Oh, my word! And isn’t that just how it goes?
Blessings of grace and peace,