As some of you know, I have been working toward a PhD in Old Testament for the last few years. On January 31, I successfully defended my doctoral dissertation on the book of Chronicles at Stellenbosch University in the Western Cape, South Africa. This is the culmination of three years of undergraduate studies, three years of seminary, and four years of graduate school—so we are very thankful to be finished!
Just before I departed for South Africa on January 23, I was offered a full-time position in the Department of Theology at LCC International University in Klaipėda, Lithuania. After praying and seeking the wisdom of family, church leaders and friends, Corrie and I decided to accept this offer, effective August 2014.
So, we will be disposing of most of our worldly possessions and moving to Lithuania in August! We are both excited about the prospect of launching into a new ministry and scared silly about taking two young kids to a country we’ve never visited.
You probably have many questions, as do we…
What is LCC International University?
LCC is the only Christian liberal-arts university in the former Soviet Union, founded in 1991. About 650 students attend from dozens of countries in Eastern Europe and Asia. Instruction is in English, and all students are required to take Bible and theology courses. Only about a quarter of the students profess an active relationship with Christ. The other faculty members have spoken to us about the wonderful opportunities to preach the gospel to young people from many nations that are still recovering from the darkness and hopelessness of communism. Some students come from countries where preaching the gospel is illegal, presenting the LCC faculty and staff with unique evangelism opportunities.
You can find out more about the ministry of LCC here: www.lcc.lt/video-portrait.
What will you be doing there?
I will be teaching two or three courses per semester, primarily upper level OT and NT courses to start out. I will also continue my academic research on the Old Testament and the Persian period. We will live in an on-campus apartment, and faculty members often host students in their homes for meals, game nights, and Bible studies. Because a larger percentage of the students are women, female staff and wives of staff play a key role in evangelism and discipleship ministry to the students. Corrie will also have opportunities to play music in chapel services and possibly to teach music lessons.
This is somewhat “out of the blue.” Why did you settle on a ministry overseas?
Even before we became engaged, we discussed the possibility of being missionaries in some capacity. Back in 2010, we nearly entered a training program with the goal of going overseas as Bible translators, but we saw the opportunity to get additional training, and we have since felt God calling me more toward teaching in a university setting. We see this job offer as a confirmation of that call.
I have known for the last ten years that I wanted to teach the Bible, and I hoped and prayed that I would have an opportunity to do so at the college/graduate level. As I’ve had this opportunity to finish off the requisite PhD, we’ve seen so many friends with doctorates in biblical studies (and in the humanities) struggle for years (under the burden of student loan debt) to find those increasingly rare full-time teaching positions in North America. We have also been blessed that I have had a full-time job in pharma for the last eight years, so we could wait to find the right position. But rather than spending years adjuncting here and there while trying to publish papers and search for full-time work, we were open to an alternative path.
Furthermore, there is a great shortage of biblical education outside North America and Western Europe. Here, the supply is high and the demand is waning; elsewhere, the demand is high and the supply is desperately low.
In our discussions over the years, we have often felt that we would be well-suited to ministry in Europe. LCC offers a great opportunity to minister in one of the EU’s most recent member nations, an exciting nexus between Western Europe and Central Asia.
How long do you hope to serve at LCC?
We have tentatively committed to this mission for 3-5 years, with the possibility of longer-term commitment.
Are you crazy, taking two kids to a former Soviet country?
Possibly! But Klaipeda is a modern city, with all the recognizable conveniences and annoyances of city life. We can drink the water. We will have cell phones (which are cheaper than here!), wireless internet, and a washing machine. We have corresponded with several other faculty members with young children, and they assure us that it is as safe as most cities, and there are things for kids to do. Daniel will attend preschool, play with the other faculty kids, and run around in the gym and on the quad. He and Elizabeth will probably learn Lithuanian faster than Corrie and I will, though we will take lessons.
Klaipeda has a rich cultural history, having been at various times under Prussian, Nazi and Soviet control. It is a port city, and Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and several other countries are a ferry-ride away. Faculty members also take recruiting trips to other countries in Eastern Europe. If we can afford it, we hope to travel back to the US for the summer months to see family and friends.
How will you pay for this?
Many of the faculty are supported missionaries from the USA, Canada and UK. LCC receives about a quarter of its revenue from faculty sponsors; all donations are tax-deductible through the charitable foundations in the USA and Canada. Just over 40% of revenue comes from student tuition payments. This funding model enables the school to keep tuition relatively low (about $3,700 per year) and to offer nearly $600,000 in merit scholarships and need-based aid.
LCC will provide on-campus housing, including utilities, and pay our Lithuanian social insurance taxes (roughly $23,000 annually). We need to raise support for our expenses, which will be just under $32,000 per year.
How can I help?
The most important way you can help us is to pray for us. Pray for our transition, pray for our funding, pray for our gospel ministry as we reach out to students and the community. Pray that God would bring us closer to Him through this process.
We are also looking for supporters who can partner with us financially in this endeavor. There are several ways to become part of our monthly support team, or to make a one-time contribution to our outfitting/transition fund.
All donations are tax-deductable in the USA and Canada. The easiest way to give is to visit www.lcc.lt/giving-north-america, where you can contribute with credit/debit card, or set up a recurring deposit from a bank account. You may also mail a check. Detailed instructions for contributions can be found here.
If you decide that you can support us financially, please let us know so that we may plan accordingly and thank you personally.
How can we stay in touch?
In this technological age, the world is smaller than ever! Keep track of us on Skype (you can call our USA phone number–email me if you’d like me to share), Facebook and email (benjamingiffone[at]gmail[dot]com).
We will hopefully travel back to the USA during the summer, spending time in PA/NJ and San Diego. If you would like to continue to receive periodic updates about our ministry, please email us and we will keep you informed. If you would prefer to receive paper mail letters, please send us your mailing address.
Thank you for your prayers, love, and encouragement.
Benj (for Corrie, Daniel and Elizabeth)