Lithuania is about the size of West Virginia. It is one of the three Baltic nations formerly under the Soviet Union. Although once one of the largest states in Europe (1400s), its history is one of shifting borders, and living under adverse external politics and dominance by a long series of conquering powers. Lithuania struggles with considerable alcoholism and divorce, high unemployment and one of the highest suicide rates in the world as leftovers from the Soviet times. Along with the other two Baltic states, they fear new intrusions and occupation these days from Russia like have happened recently in Ukraine and Georgia.
Centerville UMC first started sending mission teams to Siauliai in 2006 at the request of the District Superintendent of Lithuania who asked that a team come and help with refurbishing of a Methodist building constructed prior to WWII. The teams are part of the Volunteers in Mission program of the United Methodist Church. Since 2006, there have been several different construction projects including help with building a new sanctuary.
Over the years the relationship has shifted from construction to social programs supporting the congregation and children in the community. Our mission teams have provided programs and support for women and children. The women’s programs have focused on developing spirituality and raising self-esteem. The children’s programs have been faith-based presentations for pre-school and elementary aged children at a residential school for speech-impaired children. More recently, our teams have joined with the congregation in their outreach program to teens at the nearby Children’s Home for social orphans. Our mission team traveled to Lithuania in September 2015. The focus of the mission team includes workshops for the women and programs for the children in the orphanages. There is also continued support for the church’s own outreach program for youth from the Children’s Home.
The next mission trip to Lithuania will be in November 2016 to support a Women’s Retreat for women from all of the Methodist churches in Lithuania.