When we mention to folks in North America that we are/have been ministry workers in Lithuania, the response is often, “Oh, that’s great!” I can tell that this person feels like s/he should know where Lithuania is, or something about it. Usually, I bail them out by saying something about how much we like “the Baltic coast,” or “being next to Poland.”
Another question folks often ask a bit further in the conversation is, “Did you always hope to live in Lithuania?” It’s a fair question, though sometimes behind it is presumption that no one else could possibly want to live in this country that s/he didn’t know existed until about two minutes ago. But I try to assume the best of people…
I used to say, flatly, “Nope–I didn’t have this burning passion to go to Lithuania. It was simply the opportunity that arose after my PhD, and God closed all other doors. So, we went!” That is true. Corrie and I had long considered the possibility of service outside the USA, either in Bible translation or theological education, but always figured it would be in Africa or South America or some place “less Christian” than Europe or North America. (Of course, this is quite silly–Europe is very secular, whereas Christianity seems to be exploding in sub-Saharan Africa and South America.) Lithuania would not have been on my shortlist–or my longlist.
As I’ve reflected on my stock answer to this question, I’ve realized that God places desires in our hearts and experiences in our lives that turn out to serve a different purpose than we thought they might. Corrie and I can look back over our gifts to missionaries in the first eight years of our marriage and see how God was using these ministries–all people we know from university–to shape our desires toward the sort of work we would eventually do at LCC.
Several of our missionaries work primarily with college-age people; the two that we still support do evangelism and discipleship among young people in the Canary Islands, and with Cru in New York City.
Another single friend whom we supported worked in the Yukon Territory and her native Alaska, in the far north, where temperatures are low, daylight is short in the wintertime, and where there are high rates of suicide and depression. Meagan is now married to another Alaskan, with kids, and they still work with young people in Alaska.
Two couples whom we could occasionally support with gifts worked in Central Asia among Muslims. After they were kicked out of the country, one couple continued to work with the same national group, but in Russia (until recently). These are couples I knew from my home church in New Jersey.
Sometimes God places desires in our hearts that never come to fruition in the way we expect they will. That was the case for another couple who had hoped to move to the Caucasus and work among Muslims–though that move never materialized.
By the time we experienced what we believed was God’s call to move to Lithuania–a colder, darker place than we were used to, with high rates of suicide and depression–to work at LCC, which draws students from the Caucasus and Central Asia, including Muslims–we could look back over our giving history and see God preparing our hearts for this kind of ministry.
Even though I cannot say that I always dreamed of going to Lithuania, I can say that I always dreamed of serving God, and I had come to trust that He would place us in the best situation for our gifts and training. He knows us better than we know ourselves.