Let me introduce my friend Laura. (Don’t worry. I got her permission before I wrote this.) Laura is from Vilnius, Lithuania and is a second year psychology major here at LCC. I first met her in my Neuropsychology class. She is an outgoing, funny, optimistic, beautiful young lady. Never would I have guessed the past circumstances that God used to bring her to where she is now…
When Laura was born, her mom left her in the hospital. She grew up in an orphanage, not knowing anything about her family besides her mother’s name. It probably goes without saying, but the orphanage was not the most positive environment in which to grow up. Laura dealt with a lot throughout her childhood, knowing all along that, when she turned eighteen, she would be “kicked out” and on her own.
One thing Laura did have was a godfather. This man had a friend (who, for the sake of this retelling, I will refer to as Joyce.) Joyce was married with three young children, and she took a liking to Laura when Laura was a teenager. However, Laura did not care much for Joyce. She thought Joyce was too nice, happy, and friendly, and found these things to be annoying. Not to mention, this woman had three children of her own to worry about… why would she want to bother with Laura? After a very difficult event in Laura’s life, not long before she turned eighteen, Joyce invited Laura to their home on a weekend. Laura did not want to go, but figured she had nothing better to do. She said she thought they were weird because Joyce and her husband spoke so nicely to each other, they treated their children so well, they had a Bible on the table, and they had praise music playing in the house. Also, they went out of their way to do things for her.
Even though she didn’t like talking with Joyce and her husband, Laura found herself at their home every weekend after that. Eventually, she accepted their invitation to go to church with them. Laura had been required to attend the Catholic Church because of the orphanage, and she hated it. She would often sneak out during the service when no one was looking. Joyce attended a protestant church. In Lithuania, protestant churches are few and far between. Many people see them as sects or cults, so it is not favorable to be a protestant. But, Laura found that she understood the sermons at Joyce’s church, and she enjoyed the entire two-hour service every week. (The Catholic Mass was only one hour.) In time, Laura started having God conversations with Joyce and eventually accepted Christ as her Savior. It took time for her to believe that God could be real and actually care about her, but He answered her calls and made Himself known to her.
After a few months, as it was getting closer to the time when Laura would have to leave the orphanage, she started to worry because she had no idea where she was going to go. She prayed that God would show her what to do. She had heard about a speaker who was coming to Joyce’s church to give a presentation on depression and wanted to go. However, she was sick the evening of the presentation. But, God knows what He’s doing… They posted a recording of the presentation online. Laura started listening. During the introduction, the speaker identified herself as a member of the board for LCC International University. Laura paused the recording and Googled LCC. After learning about the school and the requirements to get in, Laura did everything she could to get accepted. When the time came to leave the orphanage, Laura found her new home at LCC.
It is incredible to listen to her tell her story. I wish I could recount every piece of it… this is the short version. Laura is a “new” Christian, but godly wisdom pours out of her. She feels the presence of the Holy Spirit inside of her and sees how God has worked, and is working, in her life. Despite living with non-Christian roommates, she holds tightly to her beliefs and does her best to share them. She told me that she used to ask, “Why me? Why do I have to go through this?” But now she sees why everything happened… because God is using it now. I praise God for Joyce and her husband, that they followed God’s call and demonstrated the love of Christ to Laura. I am so excited to see how God continues to work in and through Laura… I know He has big plans for her! And she knows it, too!
God sure does work in amazing ways. Laura told me that she read my last blog post and, after reading it, felt like she needed to tell me her story. She said she knew in her heart that she should come talk to me. The crazy thing is, I almost didn’t post my last blog update. I felt like it was vague and not super interesting. Little did I know that God would use my entry about learning as an open door for someone to teach me even more!
At the end of our conversation, I told Laura that I was impressed with her. The response she gave: “Be impressed with God, not me.” Alright, I can do that.
The last four days have taught me a lot about who the “real” me is. That may sound strange, but it’s amazing what you can learn about yourself when all of the pressures and influences you’ve grown used to are removed. I’ve experienced a sense of freedom here that has allowed me to rediscover aspects of who God made me to be.
I’m not nearly as productive here as I am back home. When I stop to think about this, it freaks me out. I am so accustomed to “Go! Go! Go!” and never stopping. Heaven forbid something on my to-do list goes undone! But now, I have witnessed the way the Lord provides when I stop stressing about getting everything done. I have spent much more time with people in these first three weeks than I do in a typical semester at IWU! And, I am still learning everything and completing all my work for my classes. I am managing to form meaningful connections with people, experience amazing opportunities, and complete my studies all at the same time! I guess I’m still very busy, but a new kind of busy.
Along with extra time with people, I have been spending “extra” time with God. I am learning how beneficial it is to have a regular time of rest with the Lord. It’s been interesting going from IWU, where there are never-ending spiritual growth opportunities scheduled out for you, to LCC, where there is non-mandatory chapel once a week and you have to seek your own growth opportunities. This has turned out to be a good thing for me. I feel like I am encountering the Lord constantly, and none of it was structured for me.
I have also returned to being brave, adventurous, and spontaneous. I can remember being this way at other times before, but at some point down the line, I boxed myself in too much. I lost some of my day-to-day enthusiasm and joy because I missed all the little things that make each day worthwhile. There is so much to smile about… sometimes I just need to open my eyes and see it. Not to mention, you discover that the view is pretty incredible when you go out on a limb every once in a while.
As a result of all this, my confidence has already grown. I am excited to see how this continues throughout the semester!
Oh, and an update on the mystery meat… I learned that “Soviet Sausage” is actually the kind of sausage. It is named that because in Soviet times, all of the meat was highly regulated and pure. My sausage actually was 100% pork. I still didn’t like the texture or the taste, but at least I know it was pork. I suppose I’ve never been a big fan of ground up, packed together meat, though.
Like a fortune cookie, I am going to teach you a phrase (but not in Chinese, of course). How to say “good morning” in Lithuanian: Labas rytas! :)
Šiandien, aš esu puikiai! (Today, I am excellent!) Classes have already started to improve… thank you to everyone who is praying for me! I can tell there are many prayers being sent up on my behalf. Neuropsychology is still quite the challenge, and it will probably be that way all semester, but class was at least better yesterday. For Introductory Lithuanian, it did not take long for the light bulb to come on again. Once the conjugation patterns clicked in my head, it all made more sense.
Also, God has been blessing me with countless opportunities for incredible, intentional conversations. One of the big American stereotypes I wanted to defy when I came here is that Americans are superficial and judgmental. Well, I have had many chances to be genuine and loving… and it’s amazing! Aušrinė, one of the girls who sit next to me in my Social Psychology class, has become such a sweet new friend. In almost every class period, we have the opportunity to work together, and she loves to ask me questions. Today, we talked about schemas and how much of a difference it makes to have positive schemas. She asked me how I manage to keep such a positive outlook on things and not get stuck on the bad things. Also, my professor brought up the verse Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” So we also got to discuss this verse and how practicing it can really change the way we think and live. It was so much fun talking about this topic with Aušrinė. I can tell that she wants to learn from me, but I don’t know that she even realizes how much I am learning from her, and how much this new friendship is blessing me. It makes me smile!
Now, I come to the title of this journal entry. You may, at first glance, assume it means “Hello!” or some other greeting. In fact, it means “Enjoy your meal!” ... “Why title a journal article ‘Enjoy Your Meal’?” you may ask. Well, for those of you who did not aready read my little blip about this on Facebook last night, let me recap. A few days ago, I got groceries from the Maxima grocery store. I normally go to Iki, the other grocery store they have in Lithuania. (Basically, for the sake of comparison, Maxima is the Lithuanian Walmart and Iki is Lithuanian Target.) Anyway, Maxima was unfamiliar to me. I had hopes of making a family recipe for mashed potatoes with hamburger gravy (using white meat in place of beef) at some point this week. This trip to Maxima was the first time I bought meat since coming here. I know all of the words for different meat products here, so it wasn’t that I couldn’t find the right meat. My problem was that, unlike Iki, the only ground meats were at the deli counter, not in the pre-packaged meat section. I wasn’t feeling confident enough to try to order ½ kilogram of ground chicken from the deli worker, so I decided to replace it with sausage. I found the cylindrical packages that read “Dešra” (“sausage”) and picked one in the medium price range, thinking this would give me a better shot of good quality meat. There were a few other words on the package that I did not know, but I knew it was sausage, so I assumed it would be good.
Last night, I decided to make my meal. I started the potatoes and began making the white sauce for the base of my gravy. Then, I opened the sausage… it looked like a shortened, fat hotdog. Really, it was the color, texture, and consistency of bologna. But, it smelled and tasted like salami. Well, I don’t care for any of those things. However, I was not going to waste it and I thought it might be okay once warmed up and mixed into the gravy. Needless to say, I had to scarf it down because it was a bit difficult to tolerate. I survived, though. Afterwards, I decided to translate the other words from the package. This is what I got: “100% Quality”, “No meat substitutes”, and “Soviet Sausage”. … I have no idea what “Soviet Sausage” means, or why anyone here would use that as a marketing tool, but I will be avoiding it now. Given the color of the meat, I think I can at least safely assume that it was most likely a pork product of some kind. However, because I have leftovers of this bologna-salami-sausage crossbreed meat, I am resisting the thought that it could, quite possibly, contain parts of the pig’s internal organs. Also, I will no longer shy away from ordering at the deli counter.
Another interesting fact about Lithuania: Old Town Klaipėda does not have any churches. This is because most of them were so damaged by artillery fire in WWII that no one tried to fix them. They just demolished them and left squares or parks in their place.
It’s been six days since my last post, but I feel like six months have passed. So many fun, beautiful, challenging, and funny moments have occurred in the last few days.
I finished the first week of classes and managed to be one of the few Study Abroad students who didn’t make any changes to my class schedule. Also, after only three hours of Introductory Lithuanian class and a few hours of practice on my own time, my Lithuanian is already improving quite a bit. Foreign languages have never come easily to me, but I think I might have success with this one! I am adjusting to all the other languages, too. At the beginning of the week, I found it very overwhelming to hear six, seven, or even more languages, none of them English, being used in one room. Now, I enjoy it. There is so much unity amidst all the diversity here. I love being immersed in so many cultures all at once. I have two roommates from Kaliningrad, Russia; one from Chicago, Illinois; and one from Wakonda, South Dakota. On my hall, there is a girl from Germany, a couple girls from other parts of Russia, one from Ukraine, a few kids from other parts of Lithuania, a girl from Dubai, a guy from Macedonia, my RA from Albania, a girl from California, a girl from Indiana, two girls from Connecticut, and a few kids that I don’t know what country they are from. Then there are my classes with students from Belarus, Latvia, Estonia, Moldova, Romania, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, and all the countries also represented on my hall. It is amazing to walk into one of my classrooms and hear four or five conversations all taking place in different languages but then hear each person switch to English when class begins. It makes me wish I were fluent in multiple languages like them.
On Friday, I went with my roommates, Pearl and Danielle, and another girl from our hall, Julia, to Akropolis (the big mall in Old Town Klaipėda) to get Italian gelato. I had never had gelato before so I was excited to try it. We walked all the way there and back, about 3.5 miles each way, in the freezing cold to get a frozen dessert. Yes, to most people, especially in the US, this was stupid and/or crazy… but the gelato was delicious! And, we had to walk around the mall for a while to warm up before we actually got our gelato, so with all our walking, we didn’t feel bad about eating it. However, when we got back to our rooms, our legs and faces were numb! It was a fun adventure though, definitely something I will remember from this semester!
Yesterday, I went with a group of Study Abroad girls back down to Old Town, but not as far as Akropolis. We went to the Old Town Market with hopes of getting handmade wool socks, hats, and scarves. Unfortunately, none of us speak very much Lithuanian yet. So, we were not very successful. A couple girls ended up getting some things, but we decided we need to go back when we know more of the language. We might try to find a couple Lithuanian students to go with us to help translate, too. At one point, an elderly woman came up to a couple of us and started talking with us. She was very friendly and was trying to engage us in a conversation, but she only spoke Lithuanian and Russian. (“Aš kalbu lietuviškai ir rusiškai.” ... which means, “I speak Lithuanian and Russian.”) I understood that sentence. So we said, “Aš kalbu angliškai.” She looked so sad that we could not speak each other’s languages, but she still tried to talk with us for a few minutes. I appreciated her effort so much and did my best to understand what little bits I could and show her my desire to communicate with her in return. I wished so badly that I could talk with her in her own language! Though we never did understand everything she said, I felt like a meaningful exchange had taken place.
After the market, we went to “Bandelės” (Lithuanian for “bun”), a pastry shop, and got some pastries. Lithuanian pastries are very different from American pastries. They are not nearly as sweet or buttery. Also, they have hundreds of different kinds here. Some have meat and/or cheese in them, some have spinach and cheese, some have fruit, some are caramel or cinnamon, some have cream, there are chocolate-filled ones (again, their chocolate has higher cocoa content so it is also less sweet), plus so many others. When I bought my pastries, I did my best to order entirely in Lithuanian, even though I knew the ladies behind the counter also spoke English. “Norėčiau vienas…” (“I would like one…”) I did pretty well, though I struggled to pronounce a couple of the words in the names of the pastries I got. They smiled big at my effort and laughed with me over my terrible American accent, then assisted me using both English and Lithuanian to help me understand. It was my second time going to this particular pastry shop. I enjoy it a lot and appreciate the kindness of the women who work there. I will definitely be visiting them many more times over the course of my time here.
When we had all ordered our pastries, we took them down the street to a coffee shop called “The Coffee Inn” where we ordered warm drinks to help us thaw out while we spent some time just talking about our week. We discussed the things that have been the best and the ones that have been the most challenging so far. It was good to process these things with other American students.
To end our Saturday morning adventures in Old Town, we went back into the cold in search of some good thrift shops. Lithuania has great thrift stores where you can find very nice clothing much cheaper than in “normal” stores. I found a tunic-style shirt, a pretty sweater, and a European-style sweater dress for 60 Litas total (breaks down to about $7.50 each). Brand new sweaters or dresses at a typical store here run something in the range of 80-140 Litas each. Since I was very limited in what I could pack, it made me pretty excited to have a few new things to add to my Lithuanian wardrobe!
Now, I have fallen in love with this place and these people. Today, I attended “City Church”, a contemporary, nondenominational church here in Klaipėda. The congregation was so welcoming. As soon as we walked in the door, a woman greeted me with a Lithuanian welcome, a huge smile, and a warm hug. The two women who led worship had the most pure and gorgeous voices. The service was in Lithuanian, but English translation was provided. The system was actually pretty neat. One of the LCC professors spoke English into a headset from her seat as the pastor spoke. I was given a small device into which I plugged my own ear buds and was able to hear the professor speaking. The worship was all in Lithuanian, but they provided the English words at the bottom of the PowerPoint slides. However, I enjoyed singing along in Lithuanian. It amazed me how easily the words came to me as I joined in worship in a language which I barely know. I truly felt the Holy Spirit connecting us as the Body of Christ. It was beautiful and I couldn’t contain the smiles that came to my face. Another neat thing was that, at the end of the service, a woman announced that the Operation Christmas Child gifts had arrived from the United States. They are holding events on three Saturdays to give away all the shoeboxes to children of the congregation, the children in the orphanages, and children from the community. It warmed my heart to see this connection between “my” corner of the world and Lithuania.
So, over the course of six days, a place that felt so distant to me has become so near. Though I am still on the opposite side of the globe from my home, family, friends, and church, I no longer feel so removed from “home”. I feel like a part of this place, and this place has become a part of me. Though I know there are still going to be ups and downs between now and May, I have this source of peace to keep in mind: God is evident here. I see His image in every person I meet here, no matter what country they come from or what language they speak. And thus, a big world suddenly becomes so small.
Today was the first day of classes here at LCC. I only have two Monday, Wednesday, Friday classes, so it was not too overwhelming of a start for me. My first class was Neuropsychology. It was not bad today, but I have a feeling it will become very difficult as the semester goes on. Neuropsychology only lasts for seven weeks, then Behavioral Genetics Psychology takes its place. My other class today was Introductory Lithuanian I. This is going to be a fun class, though also very challenging. I am excited to learn more of the Lithuanian language and culture. Hopefully, it will help me get around a bit easier.
I have not started my work at the orphanage yet. Later this week, I will receive more information on that in my Cross-Cultural Seminar class. I also need to map out the bus route I will have to take… right now I have no idea! I am antsy to start with this, though. I can’t wait to spend time with all the babies and love on them as much as possible!
Our roommates moved in yesterday, so we finally got to meet them! They are both from Russia… Kaliningrad to be more specific. It is the little “island” part of Russia that is surrounded by Lithuania, Poland, and the Baltic Sea. We talked with them for a little while last night. They asked us about our homes and what parts of the US we have visited. It is their dream to go to the US, but they said it is very difficult for Russians to get a visa into the United States. I told them about how it has been my dream to go to Russia since I was a little girl. It was interesting to see how we have “reverse” dreams, but I also felt humbled to know that my dreams are coming true while they have to work so hard for theirs, which may never be realized.
I have an awesome story to share from Saturday night. Danielle (my roommate from Taylor University), Emma (a SALT student from Messiah College), Sarah (a German student), and I were all hanging out in the kitchen on our floor. We were talking about some of the differences between US culture and German culture. One of the topics led to them asking me a question that spurred me on to share my testimony. I was not expecting this at all, but I felt God tugging on me to be completely open with them, particularly Sarah. I talked about the things in my life that have built my faith and helped me trust God as my source of strength. After this, Sarah overflowed with questions. She asked us about faith, salvation, mercy, truth, why we believe our God is the One true God, forgiveness, purity, grace, and many other things. She said that she believes everything happens for a reason, and there is some “power” out there that makes things happen, but she doesn’t necessarily believe that “power” to be God. However, she also said she thinks she was brought back here (to LCC) for a reason. She goes to a university in Germany and was supposed to study abroad in Illinois this semester. After a summer program she attended here, she decided to come here for a semester instead of Illinois. She expressed how everyone from her home and university thought she was crazy for turning down a semester in the States and accepting a semester at a Christian university in Lithuania. Then she told us that she thought it was for a reason, and that maybe that reason was that she was supposed to become friends with us and talk to us about all these different questions. As we told her about our lives and how we came to have faith, she found it amazing that we could have so much trust in a God who we believed to be working in our lives but who we cannot prove to be present. I told her about how I still have doubts sometimes, but when I do, I think back on the times where I just knew God was with me or had done something for me… times when there is no other explanation but God. She still couldn’t grasp it, but I could see the “wheels” turning in her heart and mind. I am praying that conversations like these can continue to happen, and that God will open her heart and mind to the work of the Holy Spirit. Please join me in praying for this!
I am doing well with taking each moment at a time and avoiding homesickness for the most part. I feel God strengthening me every time I ask Him to be with me. I am continuing to learn new things, as well. One little concern I have at the moment is that I am beginning to get a sore throat today. I have been drinking tea like never before and hope it does not get worse but that it goes away very quickly!
May God continue to be at work in this place, giving me grace to carry on!
It’s a short entry tonight but I am so excited to share some of the lessons God has been teaching me! I couldn’t wait to write about this so I had to do it tonight. As I was lying in bed last night, I started to think about what God has already been teaching me… today, these lessons became even more clear. Such a cool feeling!
Lesson 1: I MUST LIVE IN THE PRESENT. I am such a planner… I always like to figure out the future. God has been working on me for years trying to teach me to relax and let Him have the future. Well, He has brought me to a place where I have no choice. When I look to the future, I become overwhelmed and homesick. When I live in the moment, I experience more and am filled with joy! I’m still not very good at it, but I am working extra hard to take in one second at a time.
Lesson 2: I MUST DEPEND ON HIM FOR STRENGTH. God is enough, and never too much. He is the One who gives me the strength to take each step one-by-one, and the One who will provide everything as I need. Though the people around me are a tool He uses to help me on this journey, they are not where my strength lies.
Lesson 3: KEEP LOOKING OUT. When I start to look in on myself, that is when I start trying to figure out the future, seek to find strength within myself, and grow homesick. When I look out, I see God at work, experience all that He places in front of me, and find purpose in where I am at the current time.
Along with these lessons, God blessed me with several people who gave me advice for overcoming homesickness today. I feel so much better tonight. However, I know that times of struggle with still come at different points thought my time here. But it is so wonderful to have these lessons to keep in mind. I continue to pray for strength and reminders of these truths when such struggles come.
I know that many people have been waiting for an update... sorry it's been so long! I have been kept very busy so far. That has been a good thing for me though. Even with as busy as we have been, I keep getting homesick in the evenings. It seems like once the sun starts to set each day, I start to miss home. I hope these feelings start to pass very soon!
I spent Sunday and Monday in London. It was a really neat experience, and I got to see a lot, but I don’t think it was the wisest thing to do at the beginning of the semester. I was so overwhelmed and homesick that it took a lot of the excitement out of it. I have dreamed about going to London since I was little but while I was there I kept thinking, “This is overrated… it’s not that great.” I think it was just because I really wanted to go home. I did have fun though. I also took a lot of pictures (which will be posted soon… hopefully!). I went to Tower Bridge, Tower of London, Piccadilly Circus, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, the houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace, Green Park, and Trafalgar Square.
On Tuesday morning I flew to Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. On the flight, I met another girl who is studying in the same study abroad program as me! In Vilnius, we met the rest of the SALT (Study Abroad Lithuania) group, although not everyone was here at that point. We had dinner at a traditional Lithuanian restaurant, which meant LOTS of potatoes. I had a potato pancake with pork inside. It was pretty good, but I have a feeling I will be tired of potatoes by the time I get home in May.
We stayed in hostels in Vilnius since the university is actually in Klaipėda. My hostel was the “Doremi” (like the musical syllables do-re-mi), so it was all music themed. I enjoyed this time because it allowed me to get to know some of the other SALT students a lot more.
On Wednesday, we went to the KGB museum, which was actually right across the street from our hostel. This was a shocking experience. The building is actually the same building occupied by KGB, Nazis, and Gestapo, and was used as a prison and location for interrogation/torture. The KGB moved out in 1991 and the building was turned into a museum in 1992, so it was kept just like the KGB left it. Our guide told us about things that happened there and it felt weird to know I was standing in the very place where many “freedom fighters” lost their lives. After the museum, we took a walking tour of Old Town Vilnius. It is a beautiful city! The old architecture is so fascinating. At dinner, I was able to meet even more of the SALT students who had just arrived that day. I met sever students from Taylor University. This made me happy because it felt like a little piece of home. I hope to become good friends with them.
Today, we left Vilnius for Klaipėda. On the way, we stopped at Trakai, and old castle in northern Vilnius. This looked a lot like what I picture in my head when I think of a castle. It had a moat (drained) and everything. We also walked around Trakai a little and got lunch. Trakai is a cute little village full of small, colorful houses. It lies on the edge of a large lake.
Now I am at LCC. It feels nice to be in my room and unpacked, though I had another wave of homesickness just a little bit ago. :( The room is much different than most dorm rooms, but it’s pretty nice (pictures coming soon). I have 2 SALT students in my room and 2 European roommates. The European students haven’t moved back yet, so I have not met them. It will be interesting when classes start on Monday. I’m hoping they will help me get in a groove so I don’t miss home so much. I am also excited to start working at the orphanage. I can’t wait to love on all those little babies!
While home is receiving record low temperatures and lots of snow, Lithuania is receiving abnormal high temperatures and lots of rain. Normally, I like rain, but now I am tired of it. It has rained everyday since I left home, in London and Lithuania. I think my waterproof coat was one of the best pre-departure purchases I made. In London, I bought a waterproof messenger bag… the second best purchase!
Well, I hope to write more, and post pictures, in the next 2 or 3 days. Please continue to keep me in your prayers, especially praying for strength, peace, and perseverance!
Hi, I'm Katie... just a girl, living this adventure for the glory of God. Thanks for reading!