Ubuntu Stories

Growing Spiritually and Making Lasting Connections in Lithuania

Ubuntu Journey to Lithuania, May 2014

Growing Spiritually and Making Lasting Connections in Lithuania
Making candles

Finally we had arrived, and were now waiting for our luggage. We had been planning this journey for several months, and had thoughtfully reviewed cultural awareness training materials. We had packed and re-packed to get our luggage size and weight down. The women in our group shared a sisterhood in United Methodist Women, and they were adventurous spirits with a love for people and a commitment to the vision of Ubuntu Journeys. We had brought with us 165 beautiful women’s handkerchiefs. And we were in Vilnius!
 
Our Ubuntu team consisted of 10 American women who had signed up with United Methodist Women for the Ubuntu Journey to Lithuania. Ubuntu is an Nguni Bantu term that has no direct English translation, but describes an African concept: When women or men are united through a common purpose, a bonding and a spiritual kinship is created; one that transcends nationalities, race or gender. In the Zulu/Xhosa language, Ubuntu means, “I am human because you are human” — meaning we should all have a respect for our common humanity.
 
The purpose of this journey was to meet with women in The Methodist Church in various parts of Lithuania — to establish social connections between us, to hear each other’s stories, to grow spiritually, and to share the exciting history of United Methodist Women and its far-reaching efforts for human rights, social justice and women’s empowerment. What a thrilling journey to share in! Though a little jet-lagged, we were hyped. In preparation, we had read extensively about the country, its history and the people we were going to meet. Now we finally had arrived!

The Journey Begins

We were met by Helen Lovelace. She and her husband, Bill, have served as General Board of Global Ministries missionaries in many places, and have been missionaries in Lithuania since 2012. Once our luggage was collected, we travelled by bus to Kaunas, which is in the southern center of the country, and is its second largest city. This was to be home base for the next few days, as we “spiked out” into smaller cities in the Lithuanian countryside.
 
With a group of Lithuanian United Methodist Women members from churches at Vilnius, Siauliai, Kaunas and Tauragė, we first traveled to Zaliukiu Village Miller’s Farmstead in the small town of Siauliai. We learned the art of making traditional Lithuanian bread: not only the baking processes, but the time-honored traditions and rituals involved. While we were all shy with each other at first, it did not take long for smiles and laughter to come bubbling forth. Then first attempts to speak Lithuanian and English were tried. With our loaves in the oven and baking, we had time to take a brief tour of the historic gristmill and see firsthand how the local wheat was milled into flour. Leaving the mill and bakery, we went to Siauliai United Methodist Church, where a hearty lunch and an amazing dessert called “Medutis,” a Lithuanian honey cake, were served. Nourished, we visited Siauliai’s Hill of Crosses, a pilgrimage site and impressive memorial to the anti-Soviet resistance.

Hill of Crosses

The first crosses were placed in memory of family members who had died in the 1831 rebellion. After the 1863 rebellion even more crosses appeared, and the numbers of crosses continued to grow over the years. During Soviet occupation, Russian soldiers bulldozed the hill four times, only to find the crosses replaced soon after, often overnight. Today, the Hill of Crosses has an estimated 100,000 crosses; our new Lithuanian sisters pointed out a section of the crosses that had been placed by Methodists. The site is a fervent symbol of Lithuanian nationalism as well as a testament to the Christian faith, and it was very moving for the American women to experience. As dark clouds signaled approaching rain, we collectively grieved for those lives lost through the many years of upheaval in Lithuania. We also grieved for our own losses, and experienced the comfort that comes from being with sisters who can understand our tears.
 
The next day we held a mini-retreat at the Pilvaviskiai United Methodist Church. We shared our songs and our stories, made bracelets to remind us of God’s love for us, and made beeswax candles to remind us that we are the shining light of the world. We also celebrated the ordination of a new deaconess and elder to The United Methodist Church of Lithuania.

A Weekend Retreat

Over the weekend, we held a retreat for the women members of United Methodist Women at Guronys Retreat and Spirituality Center, about 40 kilometers outside of Kaunas. This event provided many opportunities to share faith stories and journeys, exchange ideas and discuss important women’s issues. We did craftwork such as quilling, a Lithuanian folk art, and making angel pins. We sang in harmony as we created beautiful pictures and pins. Helen Lovelace arranged a faith walk with mediation symbols and words for us to consider as we moved from station to station on the grounds; for many attendees this was the highlight of the retreat. Having the full weekend together gave our Lithuanian and North American United Methodist Women participants time to really bond, and to understand our commonalities.
 
And what about those handkerchiefs — 165 to be exact? They had been collected from friends and churches all over the U.S. and taken to share with our Lithuanian sisters at our weekend retreat. The handkerchiefs symbolize that we would remember this very special time together, and would continue to be in prayer for each other.
 
Our 10-member team was co-lead by Debbie Vest and Annette Funk, and Helen Lovelace and Debbie planned the itinerary, organized the logistics and prepared the budget for the journey. Many thanks are extended to Helen for being the principal organizer of the in-country logistics for the journey and serving as our local host and principal local guide.
 
Our diverse and talented American United Methodist Women participants were: Ellen Chaplin (Omaha, Neb.), Josephine Deere (Norman, Okla.), Annette Funk (Tacoma, Wash.), Wanda Holcombe (Austin, Texas), Judy Marnin (Anita, Iowa), Sue Murray (Henrietta, Texas), Ann Newton (Greencastle, Ind.), Kevin Schaner (Cleveland Heights, Ohio), Deb Vest (Lees Summit, Mo.), and Beth Watson (Greencastle, Ind.).
 
Although many of us may never again travel to Lithuania, our connection to Lithuania and our Ubuntu sisters there will remain strong. We are committed to hold each other close through thoughts and prayers. Our time and experiences there will never be forgotten. It was truly a gift to be a part of this amazing journey.
 
 

 

Posted or updated: 7/11/2014 11:00:00 PM

The Hill of Crosses near Siauliai

About Lithuania

The Republic of Lithuania is the largest of the three Baltic states in northern Europe. It is situated along the southeastern shore of the Baltic Sea. It borders Latvia to the north, Belarus to the east and south, and Poland to the south. It is a beautiful country, about the size of West Virginia, with a population of about 3.5 million. Vilnius is Lithuania’s capital and largest city.

Under Communist rule, Christian churches had been repressed in Lithuania. The Lithuanian people regained their independence in 1991. The majority of Christians in Lithuania are Catholic. Today there are 11 Methodist churches, served by indigenous ordained pastors. Several missionaries support the United Methodist ministry in this country as well.

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