As in awakening from a dream, the Lithuanian adventure is over. Also as a dream, it seems as if no time has passed – a blink of the eye, and it’s almost as if we had never left. But, we did. And herewith, in our final post, my reflections on what it all meant to me, to LCC, and to my students, and what I learned along the way.
It is a big world out there, but also very small in so many ways. I certainly didn’t expect anything too exotic in Klaipeda – after all, Bonnie and have been to too many countries to expect that – and I wasn’t surprised. The pervasiveness of Western culture – or American culture, as many would have it – is evident. Shopping centers look like shopping centers everywhere. Retail outlets of all stripes, ditto. The one exception to this rule I observed was Humana – a chain of second hand stores. Much more prominent than I’ve ever seen in the States, and most understandable given the sky-high prices of new clothing. (No Walmarts there.) Food was a bit different – especially pizza. Mayonnaise on pizza? Cepelini and cold herring soup not found much in the US.
LCC wasn’t exactly like Siena Heights. Narrower in focus, and not quite as secular as the Heights used to be (and I presume still is), but not as religiously centered as I expected it to be. Campus politics – there is always campus politics – were rather to the left, as one would expect in the US, with rare exceptions. However, witnessing to the faith was encouraged, and that is certainly different. The students were essentially the same as would be found in a college here. They are relativists, as I anticipated, although rather more proud of that fact than I expected. Religiously they are largely indifferent, with a sprinkling of atheists and believers on each end of the spectrum.. My Seniors, or about 80% of them, strongly affirmed that “we create our own meanings” for life. LCC makes a profound difference in a few students’ lives, but most make it through largely untouched. But as I had long conversations with a few of my students, especially my most outspoken atheist, who knows what seed may sprout one day?
Whatever impact I had, or John, or the rest of LCC, comes against a strong and depressing background of official Soviet atheism and despair and meaninglessness of life. Of my 103 students, only four did not come from the former Soviet block. Although twenty years have passed since the collapse of the Soviet system, its echo powerfully lingers on. Lithuania leads the world in its suicide rate, and is also one of the highest in emigration. For so many eager to leave home – and life itself – cannot be a good thing.
My strongest impression of the whole experience was that it got better with each passing week. After the first day of classes, when I got back to the dorm after almost continuous standing and teaching for seven hours, I thought as I took pain medication for my aching legs, “What have I gotten myself in to?” But as each day passed, I got more up to speed, got used to the new technologies (especially the `smart board’ – a running joke with my classes over who was smarter), got to feel more comfortable with my students, and became more knowledgeable of the culture of Eastern Europe.
Then there were the many interesting people I met on the staff and faculty. It was a diverse bunch, from all over North America. (Sadly, the Lithuanian staff kept to themselves, with very little interaction with the North Americans.) Mennonites and Presbyterians were the most numerous on the ground, but a sprinkling of others were to be found. Very surprisingly, in a country historically Catholic, with a significant Orthodox Russian minority, only the Lithuanian staff reflected these faith traditions. Personally I enjoyed many times to chat over a red pop or lunch with a few of my fellow ex-pats. Not all – many kept pretty much to themselves.
Especially rewarding was a small Bible study group for women which met on Wednesdays at the Pepto-Bismal House – named for its color. This group had nothing offical to do with LCC, and was started by a group I’d never heard of before that does these studies all over Europe. Anyway, a few men had already decided to join up, and after a few weeks I decided to accompany Bonnie when, for once, I didn’t have work to do on Wednesday night. I dearly wish we could have some type of small group here, but it has proved impossible to do. No matter how earnestly Bonnie and I would like to be part of a group, it takes a group to make that possible. Playing tennis alone doesn’t cut it!
All in all, it was a very rewarding experience. If any of you reading this want to know more about a specific aspect, please ask. Otherwise, this will wrap up our posts. I get asked if I would do it again. Sure – if it weren’t so disruptive of life. Thanks to church friends and neighbors, the home fires were kept burning, but one can’t go to that well too often. Although Bonnie also found the experience rewarding, not by enough to offset the losses of being away from home. But, as is often said, man proposes, but God disposes.
Bonnie and I hope that you, our faithful readers, have found some things of interest, and we hope that someday many of you will actually visit Lithuania. It will reward the effort.
Some final pictures for you:
Chuck in the classroom.
Chuck masters the Smart Board–no more chalk dust.
Chuck is recognized for his service by the university president and receives a LCC sash.
Addendum from Bonnie :Driving from Klaipeda to Vilnius to catch the plane home, I took the following photos–our last view of LIthuania on a lovely, but cold day.