We recently took our first trip in a new missions partnership with our IMB missionaries in Lithuania. In early October, we flew out of Norfolk International to JFK, then to Helsinki, Finland, and on to Vilnius, the capital city of Lithuania. We spent an incredible week in Lithuania that I’ll be reflecting on in this series of posts.
This was my first trip to Europe. I’ve always wanted to visit the continent, but never envisioned Finland as my entry point nor one of the Baltic states as the place I’d spend my time there. Earlier this year, the SBC of Virginia hosted Milton Magalhaes, IMB missionary to Lithuania, at one of our monthly pastors’ lunch gatherings. Milton told us about the work they had been doing in Lithuania for nearly 20 years. He told us that he and his family were the only full time IMB presence in a country with nearly 3 million people. He told us their greatest need wasn’t for us to send money or construction crews. They were looking for churches who would send people to evangelize and serve by helping to plant churches.
Our church, New Song Fellowship, had been looking forward to the day we could play a part in international missions by going ourselves. I’m thankful for the increased giving we’ve been able to see through the Cooperative Program and especially the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. As lead pastor, I knew I wanted to find a partnership where we could really invest ourselves. I wanted us to be able to stay in contact over a period of at least several years—regular communication, sending encouragement and teams, staying committed in prayer.
The SBC of Virginia was organizing this Lithuania partnership with the goal of several small churches teaming up, each sending one or two small teams per year. That way we would have a regular presence in Lithuania without overwhelming any one church. This all seemed like a perfect intersection for our church. Our people are the best resource we have. I knew we could send teams of godly, willing, capable people who would be ready to serve in any way asked. I knew our people are ready to share the gospel out of their comfort zones. I knew financial resources might be a hindrance to the big dreams we might have, but that this partnership offered a great opportunity to minimize that hindrance and jump in, ready to go.
And go we did. One of our church members and I joined pastors and members of three other SBCV churches and one of our SBCV staff to spend a week in Lithuania. I’m typing this on our flight back to New York, reflecting on an amazing trip and the possibilities that lay ahead.
Our Trip Schedule—Camp and the City
There were two main goals for our one-week mission trip. The four Lithuanian Baptist churches have several retreat camps throughout the year. Our trip coincided with one of these retreats, so the pastors from our trip were going to do some of the teaching for the conference. Our church members were going to teach and lead the small group time. The camp would be the first major part of the trip. Meeting the Lithuanian church leaders and members was unforgettable and I’ll post again soon about this part of the experience.
The second major part of our trip was traveling to the city of Panevežys (pan-a-va-ZHEES), the fifth largest city in Lithuania, and the city where we’ll be working to plant the fifth Baptist church in the country. (Four of the largest cities already have churches that have been started and nurtured by Milton and his wife Lara.) While in Panevežys, we were planning to visit some possible lease locations for the church plant to meet, talk with people about our plans for the church plant, and even try to arrange a meeting with the mayor of the city (this last goal deserves a post all by itself, just wait ’till you hear this story!).
Through this series of posts, I’d like to convey some of the following points that were compelling takeaways from my time in Lithuania:
- We have incredible IMB personnel on the field. We saw, in a very personal way for our church, incredible servants’ hearts from Milton and Lara.
- We saw a recently retired couple volunteering to help and coordinate missions work in Lithuania. They are freely giving of themselves, their money, their time, and many other ways in order to see our SBC mission work multiplied in a country they’ve grown to love.
- We saw spiritual warfare unlike what we’re accustomed to seeing here at home. Not only that but we saw God clear paths in some very unexpected ways.
- We saw great value in the IMB vision of limitless mission teams.
- We saw a state convention in the SBC of Virginia who is operating with excellent stewardship to make sure priorities are where they should be.
- We saw a small but vibrant group of Lithuanian churches whose existence, growth, and continued health is due in large measure to the faithful work of Milton & Lara.
- We saw a country, Lithuania, with amazing people, a heartbreaking history, and a deep need for the hope the gospel brings.
My hope is that this series of posts will encourage you as you hear about the incredible trip we had, but also intersect well with the discussions about the IMB we’re having as a convention right now.