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Ukraine and Russia and LCC

Josh and the residents from one of his floors sit down to feast on the pizzas they made together.
Alisha leads a panel of LCC student leaders as they share their experiences.
The situation in the region, at the political level, changes hourly. It could be a full-time job to keep up with the news media regarding Ukraine and its neighbors. In the news, it seemed just a few weeks ago to be a relatively peaceful protest movement in Independence Square in Kiev related to alignment with the EU or Russia (with the Winter Olympics the center of attention in Sochi). 

It then quickly changed with a government overthrow and almost 100 deaths, to now a situation related to the autonomy vs. foreign occupation of Crimea, and it bleeds into Lithuanian uncertainty with Russian naval exercises in the Baltic Sea and on and on...any description of the situation is rendered simplistic because of the layers of history and regional relations involved. The point here is not to describe the political context.

As a small university in Lithuania, LCC International University’s primary impact is not at the political level. But we believe we do play a very important role.

The LCC pond isn't frozen now, but broomball/hockey was a great
success this winter while it was.
We demonstrate community. We are an international university – and we happen to have 69 Ukrainian students, and 53 Russian students on campus. Each one of us has strong opinions about the current situation, opinions that are determined by life experience, or education, or the opinions of others. 

As a community, LCC states, “We celebrate diversity of cultures and traditions, personalities and opinions.” (Core Value #5) Living in community means that we work on what unites us, and not what divides us. We are people interacting with people, not representatives of a government interacting with representatives of a government. 

The orphanage is still a big part of our lives. And orphans still
love Josh's beard.
We serve a God of peace.  In John 14:27, Jesus says: "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." 

Especially when it feels like peace is being threatened, we must continue to carry a message of peace and reconciliation.

Alisha is, at times, the mature mama bird the Study Abroad
students need, as the picture above illustrates.
We stand for justice. We must be Micah 6:8 people: “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” 

When God models justice, it is never modest or polite or understated. Justice is bold. But it is accompanied by a love of mercy. We must live and speak accordingly and we teach from this perspective.

Viktorija, who attends the Klaipeda Vineyard Church with us,
shows off her painting after a community event that combined
art and faith.
We care for the needs of our students. Very practically, we are monitoring the fluctuation of currencies in the region. In the year ending on Feb. 28, the Ukrainian currency had devalued by 26 percent. Four other regional currencies had also devalued by 15+ percent. As always, we have emergency financial aid available should it be necessary. 

We are people of prayer.  Above all, we must demonstrate our faith in the One who holds the future. We pray for each other, for national leaders, for safety and security, for the church everywhere, for peace. We encourage each other by praying for each other. 

And we go on. We've just had mid-term exams, spring break, underground potlucks, and chapel. Our lives cannot be defined by politics. But sometimes political situations help us clarify our message and provide new opportunities for demonstrating who we are.



Stirring things up

Second semester at LCC is already off to a bang and we are very excited with how things are developing. If last semester was one of learning and absorbing, then this is one of creation and implementation.

We're not saying we've mastered life here (sweet biscuits the Lithuanian language is difficult!), but we're certainly in a better place to initiate ideas that will impact the lives of those around us here at LCC.

For example, first semester we helped plan the university's first ever Art Week, which was a huge success (check out our blog post HERE for a recap). Students were coming out of the woodwork when given a means to exercise their creativity. Since then, Alisha has been building and growing relationships with some select students and including them in her art projects. This semester, Alisha's taking it to the next level and is starting "Art Club" -- a group meant to bring artistic students together and foster a community where they can use their creative talents. The first poster hasn't even been hung and already there is a buzz and a stream of students asking Alisha, "Is there really going to be an art club?"

Finding needs and filling them.

One thing we were told about before coming is that there is a group on campus that works to fight the human trafficking issue that is a big problem in Eastern Europe. That group, "Roots of Justice," is re-launching this semester with Josh being groomed to be next year's staff advisor. The group is also being adjusted so that, starting next fall, it will function as a year-round service/activist group that will hopefully gain momentum on campus rather than starting over every-other semester. A major part of the group's efforts go into creating Revolution Week -- an educational week devoted to teaching LCC students about sex and labor trafficking that happens both in this region and in their own countries. Many students also find themselves victims of labor trafficking during their summer jobs and internship which take them all over the world and this year an extra focus is being made to help them be more aware of when they are being taken advantage of.

Finding needs and filling them.

Last week we finished LCC's first "Green Week" -- a time when we educated students about sustainability and how to live in a more environmentally friendly fashion. As is true virtually anywhere you travel in the world, there is a surprising amount of misinformation about these issues -- specifically recycling, sustainable farming (and food consumption), and harmful effects that a hyper-consumer economy has on the health of the planet. The response from students was overall positive and it feels like we've definitely encouraged a conversation here that needs to take place.

Finding needs and filling them.

Alisha's "Peasant Bread" -- a staple of our time speant conspiring.
Perhaps the most ambitious undertaking we're working on this semester is a humble attempt to bring the type of faith community we found in Trinity Mennonite Church in Glendale to the students (and our peers) who are seeking an alternative to the "normal" church experience. To be clear, there are churches here and they are very fulfilling to lots of people. But we've found a population of students here who are very interested in Jesus but skeptical of "the church" and institutional religion. And those are the students we find we most closely relate to. So we've set out this semester to re-imagine what the church could look like in Europe's post-Christian society with a few other friends.

Finding needs and filling them.


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Alisha "Awkward" Garber

Living in Lithuania is not without its challenges and cultural misunderstandings. For those who know me well, having the middle name “Awkward” only adds to the occasional faux pas.

This guy has stories.
For example: last week in Lithuanian class we began to study adjectives. Being two staff members auditing a student course, it sometimes can be embarrassing to offer our own answers or questions in an audience that is not our peers, but those we mentor. 

Our professor, Radvyta, advised us to turn to the proper page in our text book— it was filled descriptive images of different physical attributes, labeled in Lithuanian. Immediately, I pointed and said: “Hey, it’s Josh!” pointing at a pirate-esque male character with an eyepatch and stubbly beard. 

Immediately, the class roared with laughter. 

After further inspection, I did not identify a pirate, but rather the pictured example for “ugly.” The eyepatch was a Band-Aid and the stubble was acne. Not the best way to describe your spouse…

Uncomfortable situations aren’t always bad. I love shopping at the open-air market and grocery store. We’ve been frequenting one called “Maxima.” Their shopper’s rewards program earns credit at the local movie theatre—eventually we’ll have enough credit for a date night! 

Home-made Cheezits, complete with hole!
Upon one visit to the grocery, Josh and I were inspecting something to drink and deciding whether it was the right choice. Around the corner came a very distinguished gentleman, in cap and leather-elbowed blazer. He looked down at the package in my hand, up at me, and down at my hand again. Making eye contact, he blew me a kiss and continued with his shopping. The decision had been made — into the cart it went!

Unfortunately, Maxima doesn’t carry all of the creature comforts we were accustomed to at home. We have had to adjust our diets and frequent recipes to the ingredients that are available. There’s no cream of tartar, Crisco, Chocolate Chips, or Cholula hot sauce… but we’ve made do. I’ve even attempted making my own Cheezits (and they were pretty satisfying). It’s all part of the journey.

Students paint a collaborative picture
during Art Week.
When times seem difficult, it’s not hard to find encouragement. This past week the Resident Life team sponsored “Art Education Week.” There were nightly events to inspire and engage the student body in the musical and visual arts. 

Since LCC International University does not currently have fine arts programs, our hope was to fill that gap with some intentional programming. 

It was AMAZING. The response was so great to the “Funky Jam” on Wednesday night that we hope to host more in the future. We also had an art show on Thursday with over 50 pieces of student art on display — the talent pool here at LCC is unbelievable. 

Additionally, we started work on a mural and it’s almost finished. There are about six core girls who are helping paint it and it’s been lovely to get to know them better as we paint together. (We'll post pictures of its progress in a future post)

The Funky Jam, an improv
jam time, is one way students can
exercise their creativity.
Through all these adventures, I never forget those we’ve left behind in the States. I had the unbelievable pleasure of chatting tonight with Steve and Darla Schrock and welcome their son, Samuel Joseph, to the world. I cannot express the joy and sadness it brought to my heart to share some time with them on this happy occasion, but to be so far away from such dear friends during such a blessed event.

Occasionally, I feel the spirit of Hal Shrader calling out to me when a song pops into my head. I’ll be walking from the dorm to DeFehr, the main academic building, to pick up printing and, out of the blue, I start singing: “Hey, I just met you and this is crazy, but here’s my number, so call me maybe…” 

For those who don’t know Hal, he’s quite fond of this Carly Rae Jepsen chart-topper.  Although catchy, it’s not one of my favorites, so I like to think that when it comes to mind, it’s Hal thinking of me all the way from Arizona.

Hey, I’ve just blogged a bunch, and this is crazy, but I’d love to video chat, so Skype me maybe?

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