It’s been a very long time since I’ve shared a personal update on this blog–or really, anything other than sermons and links to publications. I suppose I have been so busy living life–surviving, if not always flourishing–that I have not always had time to process and share. Academic writing and preaching is a big part of how I process and share these days–and I have been doing plenty of that.
But it seems an appropriate time to share some important news, and what the past few months have looked like, and what we’re looking ahead to in the months to come.
In our last update to our prayers supporters, we shared the news that we are moving on from LCC International University, and moving away from Lithuania. This was a difficult decision, made with much prayer and consideration, after eight years of involvement and two stints here, including the last five years. There’s a lot behind this decision, but it’s sufficient to say here that I felt that it was time to move on from university teaching more generally, and we are also feeling the draw of a season spent close to family in the USA. Corrie is finishing up her MA studies here in August, and we had originally said that this stint would be five years, with the possibility of more. So it seems as suitable a time as any to leave.
Of course, there are many friends and relationships we will leave behind here, especially for the kids, who will turn 12 and 9 this summer. They have only ever gone to school in Lithuania, in Lithuanian language, so this will be a switch for them. I’m thankful for the stability of the last five years, that they have lived in this house in Klaipėda longer than they have lived any other place. There is much we will miss about this home.
For me, the biggest loss will be our church, which invited me in two years ago to serve as a pastoral associate. As I felt a bit disconnected from LCC through the COVID years, our church has stayed open and kept going, and even kicked into gear to help Ukrainian refugees in the last few months. They knew when they asked me to serve that we might leave at this time, but it is still sad to go. But we feel that we are leaving the church better than when we found it, and that God will raise up others to serve in ways that we have, and in ways that we cannot: the church is now trilingual, with Russian language added to the service to allow Ukrainians to participate. Just this past Sunday, a man who served as a deacon in Ukraine preached a good sermon on worship, and it was translated from Russian into English and Lithuanian. Three Ukrainians have served on the music team, playing with Americans and Lithuanians. So the Lithuanians are stepping up to make our services hospitable for these newcomers, who themselves have much to offer.
As we prepare to move out of our house here, it does feel like a season of conclusions. I finished off an edited volume in May, and completed a draft of my monograph just last week (it’s now with my editor, who will take about two months to proofread and construct bibliography). I also had the chance to prepare a course for Hindustan Bible Institute and College in Chennai, an MTh level course on biblical interpretation. I prepared about 20 hours of video lectures in May, and also readings for the students to do in advance of discussion meetings.
This course has been in the works for a long time, and we weren’t sure whether it would be possible for me to travel to Chennai to teach in person. Corrie and I decided that online was the way to go, because we are moving out at the end of this month. It turns out that online was a good choice, because due to some unforeseen circumstances (floods and an accident!) most of the students had to drop out. But I met daily for the last two weeks with one faithful student, who is already teaching at a small Bible institute in South India. And I am already making plans to run the course again with other students, which will not require much preparation since the videos and readings are all prepared–it would only require discussion meetings and grading their research papers.
We also made this decision to leave Lithuania before we had a clear picture of what was next. I have been disappointed with the lack of impact of LCC’s BA Theology program in the churches in the region, and also the lack of connection between LCC’s staff/faculty and the local churches. I have felt the draw to pastoral ministry, but also the idea of seminary teaching in a cross-cultural environment to support the church. We are also conscious of the ways that moving back to the US will be a loss for all of us, that we will need to process.
I had applied for some pastoral positions over the last year, trying to see what possibilities were out there. We had targeted Western, PA, which is an area in which we haven’t lived previously, but my mom and my brother’s family live there. Eventually, we reached a point in May of feeling that it would not be possible for us to decide between these two paths–US church ministry, or raising more support for seminary teaching overseas–until we actually got back to the US in August.
However, since then, things moved quite quickly with one of the churches to whom I’d sent an application in early April. This is a rural church in a sister denomination, and it happens to be in the very town where my mom and brother live! After only two online interviews with the search committee, they offered me the position of (solo) pastor, and after two weeks of prayer and discussion, Corrie and I decided to accept this as God’s leading.
I don’t want to share too many details, because the call has not been confirmed by the church yet, and my transfer of ordination would still need to go through the proper process. But it seems like God has shown us the next way forward, and provided for our needs in the next stage of life and ministry. The more I think about the prospect of serving in pastoral ministry full time, the more excited I become! And this church is supportive of our continuing involvement in the global church, so even though the “intercultural” piece of our lives will have to move to the back burner, we pray that those connections will endure and enrich this local church as well.
Looking ahead to the next few months, we will be in a time of unsettledness! The kids are just finishing school and will go to church camp next week. We will vacate our apartment by the end of June, and move our packed things into the apartment of a colleague who lives down the street but is spending the summer in Germany. Then we will have two European trips of about 10-21 days each. We will travel to Poland to see some sights and some former students, then on to Hungary for a few days. In the middle of July, we will return to Lithuania for a wedding, and my mom will join us here. Next, we will take the ferry to Sweden, visit Stockholm and some friends near Gothenburg, and then to Western Denmark to see other friends.
Upon our return to Lithuania at the end of July, Corrie will finish her MA tasks, including a thesis defense. My mom will depart for Pittsburgh, and then we will leave August 15 for Newark Airport, somehow then getting to Corrie’s mom’s house in Eastern PA.
Then the task will be to readjust, and reestablish live in the US: phone service, car, place to live in Western PA, etc. I estimate about two-thirds of our stuff, including our furniture, is in my mother-in-law’s house, so that will need to be packed and prepared for a move. I don’t know when we will feel “settled” again–perhaps not until later this year.
I have no idea if this transition will mean more blogging for me, but it’s hard to imagine it could mean less blogging than I have done in the last couple of years! And I don’t know when I will be near a computer with time. God only knows! But He is guiding our steps. I will try to make important announcements here.