A letter from Jane Holslag in Lithuania
Greetings of grace and peace!
Thirty-two years ago this month I made my first trip to the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). It was that trip that launched the "journey" I’ve been on ever since. In those first weeks visiting with Christian sisters and brothers from another culture, language, and political system, the fact of oikumene first really struck me. Of course this is a reality I’d already given thought to. As a student at Princeton Seminary, I was informed…but as I reflect back, I think then this funny Greek word was but an intellectual term espoused by professors and touted loudly as what Presbyterians affirm; it wasn’t really IN my living and experiential vocabulary. That this oikumene, this whole earth, is indeed the place where God is at work, in and through the Church, the Body of Christ, was just becoming real. Sure, I’d been on mission trips to Mexico and to various places in the U.S., but this fact of God’s hand at work in and through his people was yet an abstract "something" or "somewhere" I’d not really come to grips with.
That year, both my 1980 culture-bound worldview and my own Christian self-understanding were turned upside down. What oikumene can be about became real on site—through an experience of fellowship (koinonia) in Christ with those I met, conversed with, listened to, learned from, and was changed by. This wide world and God’s work in it, well beyond my imaginative powers to fathom or understand, was somehow miraculously mediated to me in shared meals, long walks, Bible discussions, and often difficult and labored discussions (all via translation). We talked about Russian and U.S. medium-range missiles facing off across the border between the two Germanys, about how conflicts might be dealt with in a congregation, about hopes and dreams of youth and children for education, about health care needs, medical research possibilities, care for the handicapped and elderly—about what it means to be a Christian, to live the Christian life in our families, our home societies and cultures.
WHY am I telling you this? First, I am writing from Berlin, where I am finishing up several weeks of final phase research for the doctoral dissertation that I would very much like to be defending sooner rather than later! Its focus is on the missional nature of fellowship, as some of you know. This brief stay has given me the chance to visit again with some of those friends I met in 1980, whose homes and hearts are ever yet as open and as welcoming.
—Gerlinde and I "clicked" on that first visit and have kept in touch ever since; then, neither of us could really speak the other’s language, but indeed the Spirit led! Her witness to me then as a mother of three young sons, a Christian educator, and a youth worker is yet encouraging; her activities occasioned a rather long Stasi (ministry of state security) file. Today Gerlinde is ever as engaged and active, serving today in the city parliament and in her congregation. Our friendship would have never come to pass were it not for God’s hand in and through oikumene and koinonia!
—Then I’d like to mention Joachim and his five children. He was a pastor in a small village west of Berlin, and all of his children were barred from higher education—a price paid by many for a defined and public faith stance. This June Joachim celebrated his 70th, and I just happened to be near enough to hop a train and join the festivities! What a treat and a blessing, for the party was punctuated by all his children, 11 grandchildren, people from their partner church near Heidelberg… and a many-houred program of saxophone solos, organ (all hymns accompanied by grandson Max, age 8), a rock ’n’ roll band, skits, poems, slide show and a brass band. This was a congregation and family with whom teams of Americans often concluded their 12-day visits to East Germany…always with laughter and singing, and American and German tears of gratitude at the farewell.
In the next weeks, I will return to Klaipeda, finish my thesis work, and continue preparation for the coming semester. Though one can’t prepare for conversations and encounters with students from more than 20 countries, I do work at learning about current events and happenings; Western news services report seldom about Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova or Kazakhstan, but life happens in all of those worlds as well! Many of our international students coming to Lithuania are new to both the "world" of an international university and to Christian faith lived and witnessed to in the community of staff and faculty. It is just that fellowship and community that many students say draws them in. It is clear that this university is a piece of the oikumene, with faculty from all confessions and many countries. Further, it seems that this world koinonia in Christ dare not be underestimated. That means, continued prayers are welcome—for all of us in classrooms, for Christians students in their daily witness, for staff and administration in all manner of work (accreditation issues are the fall agenda!) and most certainly for those students who have yet to encounter and recognize God’s love for his world or the central role of fellowship in Jesus Christ.
In His Care,
The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 278
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Thank you for your faithfulness through the years and dogged determination to finish the thesis. Prayers continue with you, dear one. ML & Russ Chandler
Hey! Concluding a half- dozen weeks in Izmir, Turkey w/son Nate, wife Mailin & grandsons: Luka 5 (he's teaching me chess) & Mikah 2 (he's teaching me patience). To NJ to visit family, back to CA to sort & toss (retired Ifrom Jr. Hi. position), see daughter Abbi get married, then back to Izmir to learn to play the ka-nun & probably each English @ the kids' pre-school. Now that we'll be closer, once you are Fräulein Doktor we can hang out! Hugs, Rx