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Missionary to Lithuania says church gives people hope

Missionary to Lithuania says church gives people hope

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Missionary to Lithuania says church gives people hope

Jan. 14, 2005    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
407-897-1140     Orlando  {0228}

An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz**

LAKELAND — Violetta Talandis wants Lithuanians to know one thing — hope is in the air.

Talandis, a United Methodist missionary working in Kaunas, Lithuania, said Lithuanians have just begun to experience freedom in the past 13 years, after more than 50 years of Soviet occupation. The financial market is surging ahead, with shopping malls popping up "here and there" and banks willing to make loans for large purchases, once unheard of, such as buying a home.

Talandis said Vilnius, the capital of Kaunas, is bustling with the anticipation that goes along with its country's new-found freedom, and that's where the United Methodist Church will play an important role in this generation and generations to come.

"The local church is focused on youth-oriented work," said Talandis, who visited the United States last fall for home itineration. "They (youth) are focused on wearing the right sweater, the right watch. They want to do, wear, say whatever in order to appear to be a successful and up-and-coming European, and to them you don't do that by going to church."

KAUNAS, Lithuania — A United Methodist volunteer (right) serves sandwiches to neighbors through a church-sponsored feeding program. Photo by Violetta Talandis, Photo #05-0136.

Talandis first went to Lithuania in 1996 and became a commissioned missionary in 2004. She has been working in Lithuania for a year and a half. She considers her ministry with Lithuanians a combination of humanitarian work and social justice mixed with a large dose of evangelism in the form of social outreach programs. Those programs include a greeting card ministry to deal with rampant unemployment, a shower ministry to combat the lack of adequate plumbing for bathing in many of the homes, coupons for food because the collective farms remaining from the days of Soviet control have been neglected and yield little, if any, food, and home health care for the elderly, who are largely neglected by society.

There are the physical needs, but Talandis is also working to meet Lithuanians' spiritual needs.

"I want them to know Christ is already in their lives, has always been in their lives and wants to be in their lives," she said. "I want them to know the identity, security, peace of mind and all the things they can't find in the real world can be found in Christ."

The 12 churches in Talandis' district, the size of West Virginia, have about 485 members who are served by eight missionaries and three pastors. The Lithuanian United Methodist Church serves about 1,325 people each year.

Talandis said it is surprising people with so little are dedicated to helping others. She said the Lithuanian United Methodists are loyal volunteers in the church's programs, such as the alcohol and drug prevention program, and have created a support fund to purchase necessities, such as eyeglasses.

"It's exciting to see how the Holy Spirit is alive and working," she said. "The biggest surprise I have seen is how these people, who think they have no hope in their lives, feel like they can help others."

There remains little hope in the lives of the majority of Lithuanians because the average Lithuanian earns $3,000; there are many reports of 14-hour days, with few or no days off; and most workers earn a monthly income of about $200, according to Talandis. She said in the employer's market, mainly in the service sector, many fear for their jobs and don't complain, even if they're not paid for several months.

In the despair, she says United Methodists are there. The Lithuanian United Methodist Church has dedicated lay leaders who encourage and build their churches, while living as members, Talandis said.

"The people get a charge out of making a difference in someone's life," she said. "They are working to make a difference in someone's life, socially, physically and spiritually."

United Methodist Lithuanians are also working to bring their faith to their unchurched neighbors at home and throughout Europe. Mission teams from the Lithuanian United Methodist Church have been visiting the Russian region of Kaliningrad and Sweden.

Talandis said it a huge leap for Lithuanians to witness or share their faith with others because they are not typically known for openly sharing about themselves with strangers.

"They are working to be able to share who they are with total strangers," she said. "One by one their friends and neighbors want to know why we're so happy. We desperately want them to know we're as happy the rest of the week as we are on Sunday."


This article relates to Missions.

*Wacht is director of Florida United Methodist Communications and managing editor
of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.