Friends of Lithuania focus on self-sufficiency, leadership development
By Ivy Couch*
Imagine a country of 2.9 million people – a population bigger than Chicago but smaller than Los Angeles – served by only four full-time United Methodist pastors and a handful of lay leaders. That is the situation in Lithuania, where a group called Friends of Lithuania focuses on strengthening self-sufficiency and developing leadership for The United Methodist Church in the eastern European country.
Methodism was established in Lithuania more than a century ago. However, freedom of religion ceased and Methodist churches were shut down during five decades of Soviet occupation of the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, beginning in 1940. During communist time, Methodist ministry in the Baltic states continued only in Estonia, despite periods of persecution.
The Pilviskiai United Methodist Church in Lithuania. PHOTO: REV. JOLITA PIECIAITE-ERBELE
After the three countries regained independence in 1991, two Global Ministries staff members, the Rev. ST Kimbrough and the Rev. James White, traveled to Lithuania to explore the possibility of renewing the church there. A quarter of a century later, the journey remains difficult. In recent years, more than 600,000 Lithuanians have traveled to other European countries seeking jobs, and this mass exodus has negatively affected United Methodist expansion.
In September 2017, United Methodists from Lithuania, Germany, Norway, Sweden and the United States gathered for the first time outside the U.S. for a historic meeting in Birstonas, Lithuania. They celebrated the appointment of the Rev. Remigijus Matulaitis, the first Lithuanian district superintendent, and listened as he described his vision for the church there.
Matulaitis spoke about two key challenges facing the church – few pastors and limited funds for their salaries. A grant from Norway provided salary support through 2017, but finding new sources is a priority. Matulaitis continues to develop lay leadership, invest in youth ministry and teach discipleship.
“While a traditional approach to mission is often needs-based,” said Jeanie Kurka Reimer, Global Ministries In Mission Together coordinator for Lithuania and Latvia, “the focus is on promoting self-sufficiency versus dependency, so that we participate equally as the body of Christ by using everyone’s skills and resources.
“Working under the basic tenets of the In Mission Together concept founded by Global Ministries,” she added, “we will set goals and priorities with the Lithuanian leadership (district superintendent and pastors).”
HOW TO HELP
To support the continued education of pastors and lay leaders, please give through the Global Ministries Advance (Lithuania Project #12168A).
If you are interested in participating and keeping mutuality in mission alive in Lithuania, please contact Jeanie Kurka Reimer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Ivy Couch is the Missionary Service program area liaison.